Category Archives: Marriage

Meeting Your Husband’s 5 Most Important Emotional Needs

9780800719388Willard F. Harley’s excellent marriage book His Needs Her Needs, is an exploration of the major emotional needs of husbands and wives. He asserts that the major cause of extramarital affairs is unmet needs, spouses rely on each other to have their needs met. When one partner goes long enough without major needs being met, they are more susceptible to temptation. He presents the 5 most important needs for each spouse, interestingly demonstrating how the corresponding need in the opposite gender can either compliment or conflict with it. For example, the most important emotional need for wives is affection. They need shows of affection, like touching, thoughtful gifts, loving words, etc. The corresponding need in men is sexual fulfillment. Men tend to do well meeting their wive’s affection need during the courting phase of the relationship. However, after marriage meeting the affection need becomes less urgent, though for most men having their own sexual needs met becomes a more pressing concern. As focus on fulfilling the wife’s need for affection dwindles, wives tend to be less in the mood for meeting their husband’s sexual needs, largely because affection in other areas of life is a large part of foreplay. It’s important to note that this cuts both ways. When women become less interested in ensuring their husband’s sexual fulfillment, men become frustrated and are less inclined to put effort toward showing their wives affection. When both parties take a stance of intentional selflessness toward their partner, the system works better. When one or both become overly focused on their own needs, things tend to break down.

Yesterday I posted an article that looked at the 5 most important needs to women. The following are the 5 most important emotional needs for husbands:

• Sexual fulfillment- Men are sexual and sexuality tends to be the most important need for many men. Please note that this is being classified as an emotional need, not a physical one. There is a tendency to think of men’s sexuality as being a mere physical need, but men largely experience affection sexually. There is a element of physical need, but the emotional element cannot be ignored. It is to men what affection is to women. Men’s sexuality is usually deeply connected with their sense of identity, which makes it important for this need to be met, as not having this emotional need met will affect the husband to his core.

251604_10151004434496599_528697307_nRecreational Companionship- Recreational companionship refers to engaging in activities together. Where women need conversational connection, men need to do fun things with their spouse. During the courting phase of the relationship, this is easier. Dating usually revolves around engaging in activities together. After marriage it’s not uncommon to find it easy to engage in their own hobbies and activities, going their own ways. Men have a need for companionship in activities. They like it when their spouse does things with them. This is largely because men tend to be doers and enjoy action over discussion. Relational companionship need not be active participation, though it’s a good thing when husbands and wives engage in activities together. Wives can watch their husbands, support them, or take an active interest in order to meet this need.

• Physical Attractiveness- This is a harder need to understand for many people. Men are very visual creatures. They tend to experience a lot of sexual attraction through what they see, which is why pornography for men is largely visual, because men respond to visual stimulation. This doesn’t mean that the wife must fit into the same dress she wore on their wedding day or resemble a supermodel at all times. Rather, a wife’s attention to visual cues is important. It’s generally important to men that their wives take care of themselves or try to look attractive. I’ve spoken to men who lament that their wives wear lingerie with less frequency the longer they are married or stop taking care of themselves physically altogether. It sounds shallow and crass, but it’s more a product of how men are hardwired. It’s not uncommon for men to become frustrated when they find their wives less attractive, but cannot discuss it because of the overall sensitivity of the subject matter.

• Domestic support- Whereas women often have a need for their husbands should work to support the family, men tend to want for their wives to help maintain and ordered household. This may come across as a desire for the ideal 1950s TV wife. However, it’s more a need for a spouse that helps take care of the home. How pressing this need is depends on the husband and the family composition. Many men are happy to help take care of domestic responsibilities, but feel a need for their wife to help with cooking, cleaning, and childcare.

• Admiration- Men have an inborn need to be respected and looked at with admiration. When a man feels disrespected or looked down upon by their wife, their pride can be significantly wounded. This need is generally a counterpart to family commitment. Women have an emotional need that the husband be committed to caring for and raising the family. Men, on the other hand, have an emotional need to be looked on as the leader in the family. They have a need to be treated with respect and admiration.

The key to understanding the proper handling of emotional needs as presented by Mr. Harley in his book is a degree of selflessness. Meeting needs in the marital context works best when both partners set out to meet their spouse’s needs without concern for seeking out the meeting of their own needs or judging your partner’s needs. Further, communication over these things is important. People will generally vary in their relational needs. Open communication is key to helping each other know what needs to be done in order to meet needs effectively.

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Meeting Your Wife’s 5 Most Important Emotional Needs

9780800719388One of the better books I have read on marriage is His Needs, Her Needs by Willard F. Harley. Harley’s text deals with the major emotional needs that are typical of husbands and wives. He argues that one of the major causes of extramarital affairs is unmet needs in the relationship. Spouses cheat because they are looking to have their needs met. The books operates on the premise that meeting each other’s needs is a way of affair-proofing your marriage. Aside from affair-proofing, meeting the needs of your spouse is a good way of helping to ensure happiness in the marriage. Further, knowing the needs of your spouse is important for selflessly serving her or him.

The book addresses the five most common emotional needs found in husbands and wives. Interestingly, each of the major needs corresponds with a similar need in the spouse of the opposite gender. Often, these needs can make meeting the spouse’s corresponding need difficult if either partner is wholly focused on themselves. A degree of selflessness is vital in this discussion because it requires that we stop looking to what we desire and instead focus on meeting their needs.

This post will focus on the 5 most important needs for women, as described by Harley’s text. A future post will consider the most important needs for husbands. I am choosing to start with wives’ needs because I would argue that husbands have a special obligation to serve their wives, as a matter of divine directive.

  • 221957_10150160757389352_1925480_nAffection– Affection is the expression of care and attention. Acts of affection include hugs, touching (generally non-sexual), holding hands, giving flowers, going for walks, writing love notes, thoughtful gestures, etc. Women largely experience love through shows of affection. During the courting and early stages of the relationship, this need is usually well met. However, as time passes, men often shift out of courting mode and affection wanes.
  • Conversation- From an early age women are more verbal. They learn to talk earlier and tend to be much more expressive. In relationships, women need communication. They feel connected when talking takes place because it involves sharing openly of themselves. It involves attentiveness, balance, and sharing. One of the challenges that takes place in marriage involves the tendency of men to talk less. They are typically less verbal and tend to see less value in conversation.
  • Honesty and Openness- Wives tend to feel more secure in their relationship when their husband shares his thoughts, feelings, wants, and needs with them. The connection created by openness builds trust. Many women feel more fulfilled when their husbands are open with them.
  • Financial Support- This need can be misunderstood. It is easy to misperceive this need as a wife wanting her husband to work while she fulfills the 1950s housewife role. The reality behind this need involves a sense that men ought to work and provide. At a minimum, they ought to contribute to the family’s financial security. Expectations in this area are often difficult to express and deal with because there is a sense that it is a shallow expectation or counter to romantic love. In the real world, a working/providing husband is important.
  • Family Commitment- The need for family support is the need for commitment to family. Wives have an emotional need for their husbands to be committed to caring for and raising the family. Family commitment goes beyond just sticking around to help take care of the family, though that is certainly a part of the need. It also includes mentoring and loving the children. Wives need husbands to be committed to being fathers to their children.
These needs are not definitive of every wife in the world, largely because all people are different. However, these represent the typical needs wives have. For husbands, this list is best used as a guide for serving and caring for his wife. His major job in the marriage is showing Jesus to his wife through his actions and attitudes. Knowing the right areas to serve his wife is vital to doing this job right.
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Competing With My Wife

267685_10151393255501835_1082856663_nSeveral months ago, my wife and I ran in the Montana Spartan Race, a 5-mile obstacle course race. I ran in the race last year and initially signed up again to try to beat my time. My wife signed up as well and we both set out to prepare for event. About halfway through the training process, my wife asked me if I would run the race with her. My initial response was “no.” I had set out with a goal and was quite intent on achieving it. Running with my wife would not likely make my goal reachable. As time passed, I began to reflect on this decision in relation to my job as a husband. Ultimately, I realized that the decision came down to whether it was better to try to accomplish my own goals or to help my wife reach her goals.

10246306_10152054429836835_5303789864703335495_nThere is a line in Ephesians that talks about the idea that husbands are the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. Many folks have read this as meaning that men have the right of dictatorship in their marriage. I would argue that to understand the passage in this way is to ignore the context. Scripturally, Jesus’ role in relation to the church is that He dies for it. Jesus demonstrates leadership by serving. He lives out the attitude He has toward the church when He washes his disciples feet at the last supper, literally doing the job reserved for the lowest servant in the household. Jesus instructs His followers to emulate His attitude. If this is the attitude of the head of the church and the Bible says that husbands are to emulate the head of the church in relation to their wives, then it follows that husbands ought to have an attitude of service and humility in relation to their spouse. This attitude of service is rooted in love. Further, it is an attitude that is aimed, not just toward serving, but toward preparing the church to be found holy and sinless before the Father. Jesus’ ultimate act of service is to offer his life as a sacrifice from the sins of the world. Certainly no husband can imitate that example, but husbands can live their lives to help their wives grow into the sort of clean spotless bride they were designed to be.

10353550_10152063252201835_6463084067521874879_nI would argue that this is not an easy task for husbands. Men are hard-wired to strive for accomplishments and to compete. Even further than this, our culture highly values accomplishment and success. These are not inherently bad things. They can be negative if the accomplishments and measures of success are misaligned. The Bible presents the idea that the greatest among Jesus’ followers are those who happily assume the position of the least and the servant of all. For husbands and fathers, this is the path assigned to them by the scriptures. We are to serve our families and sacrifice of ourselves for their benefit. We are to help our families grow personally and spiritually.

In the end, I changed my mind and ran the race with my wife. I encouraged her, cheered her on, and even helped
her a little. I did not accomplish my goal of running the race faster than last year, but I did accomplish my goal of being the kind of husband God is calling me to be, even if it took me a few months to figure out that that was what I really wanted. It’s much better to run the race with my partner than to run the race alone.

Originally Published In the Big Sandy Mountaineer 5/14

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5 Date Night Ideas for Couples Stuck in a Rut

IMG_1564After 16 years of marriage, my wife and I have noticed that it has become easy to fall into a rut with the time we spend together. For example, since the kids came along we have had begun doing the “grocery store date”, which involved going out for dinner, then going grocery shopping. This date pattern came about for fairly obvious reasons. It’s easier to go to the grocery store without the kids. If we already have a babysitter, why not have an easy night of buying groceries? On the plus side, it meets the basic requirement of spending time alone together.  The problem is that this outing isn’t particularly exciting and is really just doing home maintenance without the kids along. Dating your spouse should be about enjoying each other’s company and spending quality time together, unfortunately its easy for it to devolve into an obligation or routine.Because of this, we have put effort into coming up with new and novel activities to engage in on date nights that shift us out of our rut. Here are a few of our favorites:
  • First to pick up their phone loses- This one isn’t as much a game as a strategy for enjoying the evening. Cell phones have invaded so much of our interaction and demand a great deal of attention that it is easy to sit across from each other, surf the net, and never talk. This activity is aimed at curtailing this trend. It starts with a bet. Both partners select the stakes and the first to pick up their phone for any reason loses. Some decent stakes include: breakfast in bed for the winner, loser plans the next date, or the winner gets to sleep in while the loser takes care of the kids in the morning. It’s best to be creative and friendly with this. It’s also smart to set a special ringtone for the babysitter to prevent missing emergency calls.
  • Book Store Gift Shopping- One of my favorite date night games involves a visit to Barnes and Nobles with $30. Each of us takes half and spends 20 minutes picking out a book for the other. The book can’t be an obvious choice, but should 1480537_10151792771816835_1306916336_nreflect something that you think your spouse might find interesting, something that is a sort of project or activity work on together, or anything else that might spark conversation. Afterward we spend time talking about why we picked the book we picked and our reactions to the book we received. The important part of this game is spending time talking about it afterward and sharing reasons for picking the book. It can be adapted to other settings if you aren’t a reader. The game can be played in a mall or almost anywhere else.
  • Playing Games at Denny’s- This one may sound silly, but we have done it on more than a few occasions and find that it makes for a fun evening. You go to a restaurant that would generally expect patrons to sit for a little while, like Denny’s, Perkins, Tim Hortons, or a coffee shop. (We did this at a sports bar once.) Once seated you start a game. We have played dominoes, scrabble, and cards, though these are not your only options. Pick a game you both enjoy playing. It’s kind of neat to sit and play a game while being waited on. It’s particularly great to play a game without little hands grabbing the pieces or asking to help you play your side. If you tip well, most waitresses won’t mind if you sit for a while.
  • Walking- Early this year, my wife and I had a small window to go out. We visited a local restaurant. After the meal, we were at a loss as to what to do next because we live in a very rural area, with somewhat limited options for outings. I called a friend who owns some land on the river near our town. He directed us to a trail that ended at a cliff overlooking an island on the river. We walked a few miles along the trail, enjoyed the view, held hands, talked, and spent no money. Walking in parks, along trails, even through your neighborhood provides an opportunity to spend time together and just talk. Bring dessert or a picnic for dinner as well to enhance the outing.
  • Questions- Take turns asking questions. This may sound corny, but it provides conversation starters and can lead to knowing each other more intimately. Questions can be on any subject and should be answered to the best of your ability. Some questions I remember asking include: Best time we ever had together? Most memorable date? Favorite gift you’ve gotten from me? Really, the point of this is just to ask each other’s thoughts and feelings on different issues.
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5 Ways for Husbands to Sacrificially Serve Their Wives

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Ephesians 5 is perhaps one of the most argued about scriptures in terms of male/female relationships. Arguments over who is in charge, what submission means, who owes who what, whether or not it is even relevant to modern matrimony, and all manner of other junk dominate the landscape of popular discussion of this passage. Interestingly, much of the discussion centers around a philosophical assumption regarding our rights in the marital setting. The question of who is owed what and what are my rights demonstrates something significant about how the discussion is being engaged. Namely, that the discussion is missing the point of Paul’s words. Paul isn’t talking about what each spouse is due. He is explaining how imitating Christ looks in the context of marriage. I’d love it if my wife submitted me, always treated me with respect, and had Proverbs 31 tattooed on her soul, but that is between her and Jesus. My job, and the job of every husband, is to love their wives like Christ loved the church and to prepare her to be presented to God as a pure, spotless individuals.

The specific meaning of this phrase cannot be missed. I cannot look at my wife as a subject, or someone who owes me something. Instead, I need to love and serve her sacrificially. I need to give of myself, selflessly and set aside my own desires for her benefit. Jesus washed his disciples feet to demonstrate the lowness of our attitude of service. In addition, he died for the church. As husbands, our job is to serve and to aid our spouse in spiritual growth. We are to help our wives become Christlike. If we spend time concerning over her responsibilities and what she owes us, we cannot fulfill this directive. Such thinking runs counter to it. This raises an important question of how do we follow through with this in a concrete way. I, like most men, like “to do” lists and concrete directives. Its easy to act when we know what we are supposed to do. Here are 5 things I have come up with for selflessly serving our wives:

Maintain our own spiritual health. The reality is that this is a humanly impossible task. People are naturally self-centered and selfish. Giving of self is not gonna be our strength for the long term. God understands this and makes a way for us through his Holy Spirit working in our lives. This is not instant, it requires spiritual growth. A decent place to start is reading about Jesus and talking to God. We must grow if we are to love and lead our wives.

Lead spiritually. Leading spiritually begins with praying for our wives. This is a daily task that prepares us to sacrificially love them. Worshipping with our wives is another important part. Far too often I see wives who bring their kids to church while husbands sleep in on Sundays. Leading spiritual growth in the family requires participation in the spiritual practices. A final component worth implementing is leading the spiritual development of the family through study, discussion, and family prayer.

Doing chores, without ulterior motives. Finding things that need to be done and doing them is service. Changing toilet paper rolls, doing laundry, bathing kids, or any other chore efforts are concrete shows of love and grace. It’s important that as these are taken on, it is with a heart of service and not in an effort to receive a reward. I cannot tell you how many men I have spoken with, who are frustrated when they do dishes, vacuum, or undertake any other household chore only to be angered when their wives don’t amorously reward them for their efforts. I’ll admit that I am guilty of this too. Serving selflessly means not seeking reward. Its a gift, not a job done in search of a reward. Wives aren’t stupid, they generally see through these ploys. Further, it ruins the blessing we bestow in our act of service. Selfless is the watchword here.

Giving them time away. It is easy for wives to feel overwhelmed by the constant demands that are made of them. This is particularly the case when kids arrive, because their demands on mommy’s attention can be nearly constant. I’ve found that one of the best acts of service I undertake is letting my wife nap or spend time to herself. Taking the kids to the park or out for an evening is one way. There are all sorts of others, like taking care of chores so she has no pressing concerns or planning time away from the house.

Courting her. After marriage it is so easy to stop romancing our wives. We don’t need to convince her to marry us, so we stop buying flowers, taking her out for dinner, talking for hours, listening to her share her feelings, hugging, kissing, holding hands, etc. There are many ways to demonstrate affectionate attention that show her how important she is to you. There is a caveat here. If these things are always done with selfish motives and in an effort to get her to reciprocate physically, it will ruin the whole thing. I’m not saying that sex isn’t important to marriage. Rather, that selflessly serving is just that. Shifting service and affection from being a gift we give to a commodity we trade is sort of the antithesis of Christlike behavior.

This is a brief list. It is by no means all encompassing. Its purpose is to get your brain moving in the direction of how to serve. The biggest key is doing it with right motive, which is a product of prayer and the Holy Spirit working in us.

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5 Principles for Disciplining Children

10362863_10152240653161599_2278280600722933084_n  The day after my daughter’s second birthday, something crazy happened. My sweet little princess almost instantly transformed. She went to bed a cute ball of sugar and cuteness. She woke up the next day a tiny tyrant, complete with temper tantrums, stomping and screaming, throwing herself on the floor, and occasionally pulling handfuls of hair out. I haven’t figured out what caused the change, I’m pretty sure there was something in the cake. The terrible twos had begun and there was no going back.

I’ll admit that deep down I wonder if she will grow out of it, or if I will raise her into one of those adults who throws tantrums at the grocery store because the line is too long. This shift has prompted a number of discussions between my wife and I on the matter of proper discipline. We don’t always agree on the right way to discipline, but we agree that correction is important to raising a child who has learned how to live and act properly. Here are some of the basic concepts that come into play in our discipline strategy.

Discipline is an act of love. As tough as it seems, discipline is a loving response to incorrect behaviors. The author of Hebrews points this out.

And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”   Hebrews 12:5-6

God demonstrates wise parenting by redirecting behaviors to change the direction of those he loves. Discipline turns us from decisions, behaviors, and attitudes that could potentially cause us great harm. Ignoring destructive behavior or responding in a manner that is inadequate to change the behavior may feel nicer than punishment, but it brings more pain when ingrained behaviors need to be relearned later.

IMG_2431Discipline is best when it instructs. One of the clearest memories I have of being disciplined as a child was that it was always followed by my parents sitting with me and explaining the purpose for the correction and basic instruction on how to behave.

Discipline must be proportional. There is a hard balance to manage with children and discipline. Micromanaging a child crushes them. Responding to minor infractions with huge punishments is out of proportion and will only result in either a crushed sense of independence or resentment. The real objective is a chance of direction. Paul presents this idea in the household code he included in his epistle to the Ephesians.

Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.  Ephesians 6:4

Discipline must be timely. Discipline must be clearly associated with the behavior for it to be effective. The age of a child is important to take into account when determining timely discipline. A 3-year old doesn’t do as well associating consequences with behaviors the further apart they take place. Correcting a toddler for behaviors that took place a week ago simply won’t be effective. They don’t think that way. Teenagers, on the other hand, are a little more mentally advanced and can associate consequences with actions that are a little more removed. Another important component of timeliness is the emotional state of the child at the time of correction. It always makes me scratch my head when I watch a parent trying to reason with a child in the middle of a full tilt tantrum. Tantrums are the point where thinking isn’t going to happen. Period. Instruction at this time will not correct the behavior.

IMG_0912Consistency is key. Children are keenly aware of how you are going to respond. They know if they can get away with things because you aren’t going to respond. Further, sending mixed messages will only confuse them. There is a degree to which discipline is classical conditioning. Inconsistency will undermine the conditioning component. If you make a threat of punishment and don’t follow through, you will have more trouble in the future. If parents are openly divided on discipline issues, the child will recognize it and figure out how to work the division to their advantage. It’s necessary to figure out your approach and stick with it.

Remember that you love your kid. When your child picks the worst possible moment and way to act out, it’s hard to remember that you are responding out of a desire to correct their behavior so they will be successful adults. Kids have an innate skill for driving their parents nuts. The only reason they can do this is because they are so precious to us. When other people’s kids have tantrums, I don’t pull my hair out the same way I do with my own. It’s harder because we love them.

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A Romantic Dinner for 3? 5 Strategies for When the Kids Decide to Join Date Night

titus dnnerFriday, my wife and I had planned a stay-at-home date night. I grilled steaks, lit candles, and planned out our activities for the evening. That was when the baby started crying. He is 16-months old and has the sharpest radar for detecting parental enjoyment of any child that I have ever encountered. A diaper change and a bottle of milk later, and my beloved son was back in bed screaming like a banshee. My kids share a room, which means that all that screaming was libel to wake the preschooler. After a brief discussion, my wife and I agreed that the best course of action was to get our boy out of bed. He then joined us for date night. Mind you, this was not 30 minutes of our alone time. Several attempts to put him down for sleep ended in failure. He managed to stay through almost 3 hours of our date night. So, what happens when the kids just won’t let you have alone time?

Plan ahead. Perhaps the best way to make sure that you don’t have any pint-sized guests to your stay-at-home date night is to make sure they are worn out. Take the kids to the park, run them around in the yard, play with them, chase them around, skip or shorten their nap, and whatever else needs to happen to wear them out so they go to sleep. Planning is the key to avoiding the loved, but unwelcome dinner guest.

Maintain the regular routine. Children respond well to routine. Establishing a bedtime routine and sticking to it will help train them to go to sleep when the time comes. Think of it in terms of Pavlov and his dogs. He rang a bell when he fed them. Eventually, the dogs learned to associate the bell with feeding. The same principle works with children. Brushing teeth, reading stories, singing songs, going potty, and saying prayers are a good set of bed time activities that can serve as cues for the child to go to sleep. Because kids usually can’t tell time, this training can be effective even if bedtime is moved up an hour or two. Stick with the routine and your odds of smoother bedtime is more likely.

Plan to stay up late. With children who have a tougher time going to bed, it may be necessary to plan late nights for dates. You can do this on Fridays, especially if neither of you are getting up in the morning.  You can go to bed earlier the previous evening or  nap during the day. This may require some give from one or both partners, but time together, alone is vital to relationship health. Later date nights are an easy solution.

Make the best of it. Sure adding a kid to the mix throws off the romance of a candlelit dinner and makes cuddling through a movie nearly impossible. It definitely throws cold water on many of the sorts of plans husbands and wives usually make for evenings alone. It’s not ideal, but generally even the most stubborn children go to sleep eventually. As frustrating as an awake child is, working your way through the situation with the best attitude possible is sometimes your only option. The worst thing you can do is get frustrated, angry, resentful, or upset. A foul mood is far more toxic to intimacy than a child. Make the best of it. Eat dinner, watch your movie, play a game, skip or shorten naps, or do whatever it is you need to do until your precious child goes to sleep.

Don’t give up. It’s easy to get frustrated. If one night doesn’t work, perhaps the next night will. It is crummy when a fancy dessert or surprise roses are deployed on a non-date night, but it’s important to work together and put frustrations aside. Dating is important to the relationship and needs to be pursued for the good of the relationship and the kids.
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Dad’s Rest Day: 5 Basic Rest Realities

935835_10151451295271599_1447668726_nIt’s Sunday afternoon. My wife and daughter are at a baby shower. My son is taking his standard, extremely long, post-church nap. My standard Sunday afternoon counseling appointments all cancelled for the day. No family, no work, no honey-do projects. I don’t have anything I HAVE to do. I am in the strange position of having no seriously pressing obligations, apart from some writing I’d like to get done, which I could reasonably do tomorrow. Because of the odd demands of being a small town, small church pastor I work most days. When I am not working, I am being a dad or a husband. I am not complaining about these things. I love them. The real trick is that I don’t often take time to rest because I am so busy being busy.
Rest is a need that is built in to all of us. We need to stop and breath periodically. It’s so important that God requires that we rest in the 10 Commandments. We are literally commanded to take time to rest and spend with God. Rest is important because it gives time for our souls to recharge. We need to discharge our stress and be replenished by God in order to continue to be sharp. I often talk to folks who struggle with keeping their spiritual fervor active and vital in their lives. In every incidence of this struggle, the folks in question don’t take time to rest and be intimate with God. Really problematic is the sad reality that, in many cases, we have forgotten how to rest and recharge, instead choosing to always zone out and escape. Over the years, I have learned a few things about rest, largely because I don’t slow down all that much.

UnknownRest is more than shutting off:
 Rest isn’t just napping in the hammock, though that’s one of my favorite leisure activities. Rest includes, among other things, mindless detached time, investment in relationship for the purpose of refilling personally, time spent with God for the purpose of maintaining spiritual health and peace, and times of reflection and quiet. Each of these components has a place in rest, though for many the detachment of TV time has become the sole focus or rest.

Rest needs to be regular and intentional. If you are not naturally inclined to slow down and take it easy, it is necessary to be intentional about resting weekly. It’s no coincidence that the Bible directs us to take a Sabbath day of rest. If we run too long, we wear out. Once a week is an appropriate interval for resting, though down time on a daily basis is good if you can manage it.

Time with God is important! One of the major components of rest is time spent with God, praying, meditating, worshipping, or reading His word. This is important because we were designed to be in relationship with God. Maintaining intimate relationship with God is vital to maintaining our spiritual vitality. It’s a little like  tuning up a car. The car may continue to run if it’s not tuned up, but it won’t run right. We are similar. We may be able to maintain our spiritual lives without regular visits with God, but we won’t run as well. Eventually, a lack of regular maintenance will result in breakdowns.

It’s important for men to spend time with other men. It’s pretty common for men with careers and families to fall off from interaction with other guys. However, men challenge each other to excellence in ways that really doesn’t happen in other relationships. It’s worth noting that this time needs to be significant. Many men have only surface relationships with each other that never delve any deeper than opinions on sports or politics. Deeper personal connection is important. This is somewhat taboo in our culture where guys are encouraged to be unfeeling and as deep as most kiddie pools. The reality is that deeper personal connection leads to recharging and growth in ways that simply does not happen in other relationships.

Family time is important. Spending leisure time talking and playing with family is an important component of rest. Family relationships are central to a man’s life and occupy a center point in his relationship sphere. Spending time with family playing and enjoying the relationship is a big deal. This needs to take place as a whole family and also with spouses only, because the marital relationship ought to be the source of significant relief as well. This is a big deal because family relationships can often be a source of enormous stress due to obligations and responsibilities. Without leisure time, it’s easy to grow resentful of the personal toll that accompanies family obligations. Intentional rest together can fall to the wayside in this sort of environment.
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Dating My Wife

During the first year after having our daughter, my wife and I went out alone twice. 944422_10151382747321599_1727274684_nWe didn’t live near family, weren’t comfortable with leaving our baby with anyone, were constantly tired from late night feedings, and were so busy with family and work obligations that we just didn’t go out. We didn’t have time, lacked opportunities, and really lacked the energy necessary to go anywhere. As time went by, we began to go out together again, until our second baby came along. This time, as our time together began to wane, we both noticed the trend and agreed to make changes. Spending time together -and alone- is important to the health of our relationship in the long term. It’s a basic maintenance practice for a healthy relationship. Without time spent focusing on each other, the relationship can eventually grow stale and cold.

Recognizing the pattern and responding: When we realized that we were falling out of the courting pattern and into a parenting-only pattern in our relationship, we started by occasionally finding a sitter and going out for dinner. This happened mainly when we noticed that it had been a while since we had gone out. The problem with this approach was that it tended to result in us going out on dates about once a month, sometimes less often. Sitters can be difficult to arrange, expensive, and it can be tough to build the energy for an outing. Though this was better than going out every 6 months, we quickly recognized that this as-we-noticed-we-needed-to approach left us fairly distant. Our solution was to agree on an appropriate frequency for dating and come up with a plan for date-planning.

1926840_10152187510656835_205969447562527891_nThe need for intentional planning: The big key to ongoing, active dating life after kids is intentionality. When we don’t have a pattern to follow, we tend to let it fall to the wayside, behind parenting, work, or church obligations. Our solution was to agree that we needed dedicated one-on-one time at least once a week. We also agreed that this time should not consist primarily of engaging in life maintenance activities, though it is tempting to go grocery shopping without the kids along. We agreed that we would take turns planning the weekly date night. I plan one week, she plans the next. This way we are given a little time between having to put a bunch of effort into organizing and plan an evening together. In addition, planning the date is a simple way of serving each other.

Stay-At-Home-Dates: Because of the challenges associated with going out, we have also begun planning stay-at-home dates. A stay in date night begins early in the day, when we run the kids ragged so they will sleep early. After putting the kids to bed early, we spend the evening together. There is a temptation to just watch movies on stay-at-home date night, but we try not to fall into this pattern. Date night usually features a nice meal, though I’ll confess that my wife is better at planning and executing date night dinners than I am. She is good at planning unique dishes and varied cuisine. I usually plan dessert well, making fondue or baking cookies. Sometimes we light candles, sometimes we don’t. We always try to do the best we can with the circumstances available, particularly when a fussy baby joins us for a romantic candlelit dinner. Apart from dinner, date night often includes board games, though sometimes we watch movies. We always try to spend time talking and enjoying each other’s company.

1521517_10151723998876599_1632361690_nThe Spirit, Rather than the Letter: I wish I could say we are consistent, or that every date night is the stuff of fairy tales. In reality, we are doing our best for each other. It’s difficult to invest in your marriage when there is so much other stuff that is demanding time, energy, and money. The dividends paid out on this investment is worth the effort. In the end, we try to approach the whole thing with grace and commitment. Sometimes, I plan more than one week in a row. Sometimes I’m too busy or tired to do much of anything. We don’t judge, we work together as a team to improve our relationship. Marriage is a team effort.

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When Elephants Fight, the Ants Lose: Divorce and Its Effect on Kids

For around three years, I ran a class designed to help children whose parents were going through divorce cope with the emotional strain they were experiencing. During the years I ran those classes, I was frequently struck by the recurring comments made by the young people who participated in the classes. elephantsComments ranged from dismay over the loss of family to frustration over newfound awkwardness in parental relationships to consternation at their parents’ inability to just stop being so cruel to each other. It was seldom the case that a class went without a child breaking down and crying. Interestingly, I never once saw any of the children tease each other over tears shed in that setting. Except in instances of an absent, addicted, or exceptionally abusive parent, I never heard a child say that the divorce was a welcome change.

In contrast, on the occasions that I ran the adult version of the class or interacted with parents before or after the class, I frequently heard parents say things to the effect of: they were ready to move on or anxious to close that chapter in their lives. The prospect of freedom from the unpleasantness of the marriage relationship was a breath of fresh air that would free them up to find someone new. It’s interesting that few parents acknowledged that their new found freedom would not be shared by their child, who would hence forth live in the far more difficult circumstance of trying to navigate their adolescent years with two families, rather than one.

There is an old adage: “When the elephants fight, the ants lose.” For all the unpleasantness spouses experience in disintegrating marriages, children are the ones who are unintentionally stepped on. The most important element in the life of every child is stability. They need it in order to thrive and are usually poorly equipped to deal with the stress of such a major life change. This is why children of divorce are statistically more likely to turn to drugs or alcohol, perform poorly in school, have behavioral difficulties, and be incarcerated. Worse still is that children from divorced homes are far more likely to get divorced themselves.  The biggest loser in divorce is the one member who did not ask to join the family, and is the least equipped to cope with change.

The responsibility in the parenting/married relationship belongs to the parents. This often elicits the response: “So I’m supposed to stay in a miserable relationship forever?” This is a case of asking the wrong question. Parents are not responsible to be tied to a miserable relationship. They are burdened with the responsibility to work together to make certain that the relationship is durable.  This is easy to do while dating because courting is hard work. Couples have to listen, say nice things, buy gifts, go on dates, talk through problems, and try to be romantic/attractive in order to get to the altar in the first place. The trick is that the work doesn’t end there. It goes on for life. This is also the responsibility of married parents. A happy and stable marriage/family takes as much hard work as a career and it is a commitment requiring daily effort that we vow to take on from the moment we say “I do.”

This is not to say that everyone who gets a divorce ruins their children forever or that they will instantly go to hell. Though the Bible presents a pretty negative view on the topic of divorce, there are instances in which provision is made. There are circumstances in which the protection of the child or one of the spouses may be at stake, infidelity, abandonment, and so forth simply force the issue. The larger point here isn’t to attack those who are divorced. Rather, it is to encourage those who are married and raising kids to put in the work to keep their relationship healthy. Divorce hurts children deeply. It is important that parents make every effort to maintain a healthy relationship as a protection against the potential for hurting their children.

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