For a week and a half, our kids are staying with their grandparents and my wife and I have time to just relax together. This past weekend, we were in Seattle for a wedding and a number of times I felt like I was forgetting something. My greatest fear is losing my daughters somewhere. So as Hillary and I explored Seattle there were definitely times where my thoughts jumped to, “Where are my daughters?”
It is hard to shed our roles as parents but it is a healthy practice to spend time away from our children so we can concentrate on our more important roles as husband and wife.
Our role as spouses comes before our role as parents. I dive deeper into this here.
So it is important to find a babysitter or a grandparent or a friend to watch our children on a regular basis so we can concentrate on our role as spouses and strengthen our marriage. This is most important when our children are young because they demand more of our time and energy.
So get away from your kids on a regular basis.
Make time for regular date nights.
Play hooky from work and go out for breakfast.
Take a vacation without the kids.
Find a group of parent friends and alternate who watches the kids so you can each have a date night.
But most of all, make your marriage a priority and you will be a better parent.
In February Hillary picked up a part-time position at our our daughters’ elementary school as a paraprofessional. Neither of us knew it at the time, but this change to a dual income family has changed our marriage and family life in some significant ways.
At the beginning Hillary only worked about one hour a day helping a teacher with iPads in the classroom. With testing and other needs in the school, Hillary quickly started to work more hours. For the past month she has been at school for six hours a day. Before working outside the home, Hillary managed our finances, shopped for our groceries and many other responsibilities around the house.
Now that she works during the day, many of those responsibilities have changed. She no longer has time to get it all done while balancing work and home life. Through the last few months we’ve learned a couple of things about surviving in a dual income family and I think it has actually been a good thing for our marriage and family life.
Here’s an eye into what we’ve learned and are continuing to learn:
Communicate, Communicate, Then Communicate Some More
For this to work Hillary and I both need to communicate honestly about our roles and responsibilities and how the changes have impacted us personally. This is easier said than done when we both have a long day and just want to veg in front of the TV and watch Duck Dynasty. But to thrive and not just survive, we need to communicate daily about our struggles and what needs to be done.
I shopped for the family groceries for the first time since our kids were born. Stay at home dads you can laugh at me now. Hillary gave me the list and I pulled it off and just forgot to get Wheat Thins. This was a huge step for Hillary to hand over the grocery list. It was hard for her to give up control of the list. When our girls were sick I was the one who stayed home so Hillary could work. To make this work, we had to take a look at the family responsibilities and see who could accomplish it even if it meant that I bought the weekly groceries.
No Lazy Dad
It is easy to come home and just let Hillary take care of the girls. Hey, I work all day and deserved to rest. There is so much wrong with this scenario. Honestly, it is just plain selfish if I buy into these ideas. And now that Hillary works with kids all day at school, there definitely isn’t any room for me to just sit back and be the lazy dad. Hillary deserves to rest and get a break. It truly needs to be a partnership at night until the girls go to bed.
Last fall Hillary was struggling to find her purpose and connection to what I was doing in Edgewater. But now that she is working at the school and investing in neighborhood kids, she is finding her purpose. Though it is hard to work with kids all day, she is finding fulfillment in her work and is excelling in her role. In just two months she is known for her encouraging spirit and excellence in the classroom. We are truly a team now in reaching out to the kids in our neighborhood.
After two months as a dual income family, we definitely haven’t arrived in figuring this all out. But as we communicate and change our roles and responsibilities, our marriage and family life is better for it.
“You are getting engaged too quickly. You’re going to get a divorce.”
I remember the conversation like it was yesterday. A fellow student at Taylor University, who I didn’t know very well, asked if he could have lunch with me. Though I thought it a little strange that he would want to have lunch with me, I consented. While eating he explained how he was very concerned that Hillary and I were getting engaged after only four months of dating. He stated it like biblical fact that we needed to date for at least a year before getting engaged. I patiently explained our thought process and how we felt like God was leading us this way even though it went against the wisdom of some. I wanted to just light him up. He didn’t even know us well yet he had pronounced a judgment on us. Read the rest of this entry
We love our kids dearly but after ten years of marriage, we knew we needed to get away and take a longer vacation without the kids. Hillary and I have gone on a couple vacations just the two of us for a day or so but never for almost a week. After watching the hilarious movie “Couples Retreat” about four couples who go away for a couples only retreat, we talked to some other couples about having a couples retreat of our own. Read the rest of this entry
Today is Valentine’s Day and love is the big word. But what is love? New polls show that over half of singles have sex on the first date. Sex is quickly being substituted for love. As a follower of Christ and believer in the principles for intimacy in Scripture, I believe that God lays out the best design for love, sex and intimacy. It all starts with spiritual intimacy not sexual intimacy.
Early in our six month whirlwind romance, Hillary and I realized that spiritual intimacy was an important part of our blossoming relationship. We were students at a Christian college and had many examples of godly marriages all around us. I remember drawing the love triangle that you see above for Hillary. We had heard numerous talks about how a Christian couple needs to seek God first and as they grow closer to God, they will grow closer together. So being the good Christian college students we were, we started praying together about our relationship. As we prayed together our spiritual intimacy grew and our physical intimacy wanted to keep up. (Note to dating couples: praying together is dangerous). At some point we realized that it wasn’t good to pray together after 10 pm.
Then when we were married and we could fully express our sexual intimacy, our spiritual intimacy quickly fell out of practice. I remember at one point about 2-3 years into our marriage realizing that praying together was awkward. Something had changed in our spiritual intimacy with God. It was at this point that we realized that something needed to change in our relationship with God as a couple.
Now ten years after that whirlwind romance, we are experiencing the benefits of keeping spiritual intimacy as first priority in our marriage. It isn’t something that just sticks. We have to work on it each day both individually and together. But the benefits of seeking God individually and together has big payoffs in our emotional and sexual intimacy.
Here are some of the practices that have helped us keep spiritual intimacy at the forefront of our relationship.
Develop a Personal Devotional Rhythm
Spiritual intimacy in marriage starts with each of us individually. How do you connect with God on a daily basis? Are you developing a rhythm of daily Scripture reading? YouVersion and Examen.me are two great online resources for starting a daily Bible reading schedule. Getting “fed” at church on Sunday mornings is not enough nourishment to grow in our relationship with the Lord just as going to the gym once a week or talking with our spouse once a week is not enough.
Hillary and I have tried different things over the years. There was a time that we prayed each morning before I left for work. Now with Anna in school and Hillary watching a friend’s baby, this is hard to do. So now we pray together after we watch our weekly online sermon from Lifechurch.tv. This is a great time to talk to God together and share what is on our hearts spiritually. Find a rhythm that fits your schedule and lifestyle.
Hillary knows my struggles and temptations. Nothing is hidden from her. I know experientially what it is like to keep a secret from Hillary and it is not worth it (see Psalm 32:3). The best picture we have of true intimacy is in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve could walk naked with God and feel no shame. This was much deeper than just a physical nakedness but a spiritual nakedness where there was no sin or hidden secrets. Does your spouse know what you struggle with? I know we like to portray our strength and not let our spouses know where we are weak, but true strength comes when we admit our weaknesses and need for help.
Spiritual intimacy doesn’t happen overnight. It takes work each day. There are definitely days and seasons where I don’t feel like praying with Hillary or sitting down to read my Bible. There are nights when I just want to come home and veg in front of the TV. But there are huge benefits to seeking spiritual intimacy first with Hillary.
So focus this Valentine’s Day on spiritual intimacy with your spouse. We were designed and created for it.
Sex is a taboo subject in church. Sure there are pastors that encourage church members to have sex with their spouses every day for the month of February. The pastors giving these sermons are male which shouldn’t come as a surprise. I wonder how the wives in those congregations feel about the challenge. These sermons are the exception though.
We don’t talk about sex in church. The only message is to wait until you get married to have sex with your spouse. I would argue that we need to talk more about sex at church because it is an important part of marital intimacy (but not the only part, men). I have chosen the bedroom for obvious reasons as we talk about how men can take leadership in their marriage.
How can we experience sex in the pure, euphoric way that God intended it? How can we as men lead our wives sexually?
Sex is a taboo subject in too many Christian marriages. Honesty is the foundation of a healthy marriage and this means we need to be honest with our partner. It is hard to start conversations about sex with your spouse but the more you talk about it, the easier it gets. Men, we need to take the lead and start this conversation. Just start with the question, “How satisfied are you with our sex life?” Encourage your spouse to be brutally honest. Don’t defend yourself. Just listen.
It is sad to me that some women think their role is to submit to their husband whenever he wants it. This is not the biblical idea of submission. Husbands need to love their wives as Christ loved the Church (Eph 5:25). This radical, selfless love is different than the male chauvinism that is present in some Christian circles. Men, how often do we serve our wives in the bedroom? Have we ever asked our wives what they liked and followed through on their desires? I dare you to serve your wife in the bedroom and see what happens.
All right men this is where it gets tough. Is your wife the sole object of your sexual desires or is she competing with others? In this oversexed culture, temptation is everywhere. Advertisers know what gets us going. Just watch ESPN and count how many of the commercials show off alluring women. It is said that 95% of Christian men struggle with pornography and the other 5% are lying. Pornography ruins the pure sexual experience that God created for us to enjoy.
We need to be honest with our wives if we struggle with pornography. If you thought it was hard to talk about sex with your wife, it is even harder to talk about our struggles with pornography. But we need to be honest with our wives. The love and grace that can come when your wife loves you in spite of your struggles can be transformational in your life. It will take time though. Find other men who can keep you accountable to your commitment to purity. Get an internet filter or accountability software like x3watch. Encourage your pastor to dedicate one Sunday as Porn Sunday (see video below). We have to work together to find freedom from the chains of pornography. The health of our marriages depends on it.
It is easier to talk about sex with our buddies than it is with our wives. We need to man up and lead our wives in the bedroom. The journey is tough and awkward at times, but a pure, honest sex life is worth the journey it took to get there. You will not have any regrets.
Last Saturday Hillary and I took an hour to reflect on the past year and talk through what we learned. Hillary found these great reflection questions from Simple Mom that were our guide for the discussion. Some of the questions were easy for us (What was your biggest personal change from January to December of this past year? – we moved halfway across the country). Other questions were hard (In what way(s) did you grow in your relationships with others?). It was definitely a meaningful exercise for Hillary and me.
This Saturday we are going to work through the next set of questions focused on how we will flourish in 2011. It is important for us to learn from the journey of last year but also to set good practices in place for 2011.
During our time in New Mexico last week, Hillary and I had an experience that defines our marriage. Hillary’s dad loves toys and one of these toys is a four wheeler. With us in New Mexico were Hillary’s two sisters and their husbands. After shooting an AK-47 the day before, we decided to borrow another four wheeler and head out to some open space. Hillary was definitely not excited about four wheeling but she didn’t want to be the only wife not going, so she went.
Before I tell you the rest of the story, I want to explain one part of our marriage relationship. Very early on in our courtship, we realized that I was the dreamer and driver while Hillary was the discerner and voice of reason. When I asked for Hillary’s hand in marriage, it took her a half an hour to say yes because she had to think it through. Almost nine years later, we both know it was a wise choice. Since then I have been the one to dream and carefully help Hillary out of her comfort zone. She is the one who carefully helps me think through my wild ideas and throw out the crazy ones. The key word here is “carefully.” It is a perfect balance most of the time.
So back to the story. We drove out to the open space and I could tell that Hillary was not too excited for the four wheeling experience. It was soon our turn to ride the dirt trails of Roswell. I jumped on with intense zeal and Hillary reluctantly climbed behind me. As we started up the first small hill, she clung on for dear life. Here’s a picture of us starting off:
After the first hill, I drove slow because I really wanted Hillary to enjoy four wheeling. Then we came to the “Ruts of Death!” There were two deep ruts in the dirt and I chose to go to the right and keep two wheels in the middle of the road and two wheels a little higher off the road. I went a little too slow and the four wheeler leaned left at about a 25% angle. Hillary instantly freaked out and slid off the side of the four wheeler. As she slid off, she yelled, “I’m done! I’m walking back!”
I knew I couldn’t talk her into jumping back on so I drove off and she started the short walk back to the car. I looped around and came back to her and carefully convinced her to get back on and I would slowly drive her back to the car. As we slowly and carefully drove back to the car, we both knew we had just had a “marriage moment.”
This was one of the marriage moments when my zeal got the best of me and Hillary strongly reacted against it. Buying our big screen TV a few years ago was another one of those moments. I don’t have any principles for marriage yet from this experience, just that I won’t try to get Hillary on a four wheeler again.
If you want to hear Hillary’s side of the story, check it out here.
Have you ever heard someone introduce their spouse as their “better half?” What do they mean by this? Did they give up half of themselves when they got married? For guys does this mean we give up part of our maleness and give in to romantic movies and a feminine looking bedroom? What does marriage do to our separate identities? What does it mean to become “one flesh?”
This week my wife, Hillary is out of town with my daughters in New Mexico spending time with the in-laws. When we are away from each other, we both feel like part of ourselves is missing. If we are each one half in the marriage, this would mean that I would fall apart without Hillary. The writer of Genesis says, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (2:24). What does it mean to become one flesh? Part of it is becoming one sexually through the physical act, but on a deeper level a married couple become one person. Does this mean we give up part of ourselves in marriage?
I think that becoming one flesh mirrors the relationship that the Godhead has. God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are one but yet they are three persons. In sort of the same way married couples are one but yet two people. As we become one in marriage, I don’t think that this means we have to give up who we are so that there are two halves. In our marriage, I think I have become more complete individually as a person. Through marriage with Hillary, I have learned more about myself and Hillary has brought out parts of myself that I never knew were there. And she has grown in the same way. We have discovered ourselves as we have discovered the other person. And yet when we are apart, we definitely feel like something is missing because we are missing the physical oneness of our marriage.
What are your thoughts? What does “becoming one flesh” in marriage mean to you? How do we embrace oneness and grow as individuals?