Making Peace with Your Body

During a time of year when people are making weight loss and fitness goals, I (Megan) thought it might be important to discuss how to make peace with your body.

My story includes a fair share of issues with weight management and fitness failures, but over time I have really made peace with my body. Not because I have “arrived” at some perfect state but because I am choosing to live well in the midst of imperfection.  Having had an eating disorder through most of my childhood and it rearing it’s ugly head again just a few short years ago, this is an area where I must be extremely diligent in what I allow myself to think on. So please understand, I won’t use the words ‘simple’ or ‘easy’ in this post.  Making peace with your body, as many of you already know, is not a simple process.  There is no magic wand to wave that makes us fall in love with the way we look.  However, I do know from personal experience that it is possible to feel comfortable in your own skin. Here are some suggestions to help you on the journey:

1.  Recognize the lies media and pop culture are selling.  When you know someone is lying to you what do you do?  You don’t trust them!  You are cautious of their opinions or disregard them all together.  This is an important first step to making peace with your body; call the images you see everyday in magazines, TV commercials what they are, lies.  Airbrushed beauty is not real and if we continue to hold ourselves to that standard, we will never measure up. If you really want to make peace with your body, take some time to figure out what lies you are believing and then silence them.

2.  Stop negative self talk. I already mentioned this wasn’t going to be easy didn’t I?! Once you recognize the lies you are believing the next step is to silence another altogether negative voice, your own. The “Fat, Dumb & Ugly” soundtrack isn’t doing you any good. In fact, it has never done you, your friends or anyone any good. Ever.  So ditch it. Strive to put an end to negative self talk and adopt the more healthy habit of reflective evaluation. Rather than condemning or judging your own perceived failures, you should seek to understand what is at the base of your emotional reactions to the way you look or feel about yourself. If you discover your feelings stem from shaming words spoken to you as a child, seek help or counsel on how to overcome that. If you find depression, perfectionism, people pleasing or a number of other motivations at the root, open up and become vulnerable with a person or group you can trust.  Finding the peace and healing you desire in this area will require work. It may be slow and it may be painful at times but it is worth it to live at peace.

3.  Lean into the people in your life who find you beautiful.  For me the greatest advocate I go to for affirmation of my beauty is my husband.  I know he finds me attractive and I don’t doubt my beauty in his eyes.  I know that for some of you though, your husband is not your advocate.  In fact he may be part of the problem as to why you don’t recognize your own beauty.  In these instances I encourage you to believe the voices of those people in your life who will draw out and call on your beauty as they see it.  If you don’t have anyone who does this in your life, pray that God would bring an encourager into your life.  We all need them and it is helpful for the people we are living life with to be a positive voice in our own journey.

4.  Learn what God says about you.  On this journey called life we are all trying to figure out who we are and why we are here.  These questions cannot be answered without the help of the very One who created us.  If you want to make peace with your body, with relationships or with God; you must know who God is and what He has done for you through His Son Jesus Christ.  Your identity must rest completely in that knowledge.  Then and only then will you be able to experience peace. He loves you for who you are right now. Don’t miss out on experiencing that love.

Sex Positive Voices: Part II

I (Justin) have read many of the same marriage blogs and books that Megan reads.  And after reading through some of these sex positive voices posts I could only think, “Why is it that only women can write their top 10 list as to why they choose to have a sex positive voice?  Is this not an area men can freely and openly speak out on as well?”  So I wanted to offer my reply and share ten reasons why I, too openly talk about sex within the marriage relationship.

1. Sex is way better than the entertainment industry makes it out to be.  I mean seriously, the music and entertainment business thrives year after year on the “sex sells” mantra.  And they’re right, it does sell.  A lot.  Prior to marriage, I was immersed in this culture as any high-school and college student of the day could be.  But I now know that while sex does sell, the sales aspect of sex advocates only that of a physical release.  There’s a spiritual and emotional aspect of sex that is just as deep for men as it is for women.  Sure, sex does bring a physical release.  But the emotional and spiritual side of sex makes it far more glorious than a degraded woman in an advertisement could ever make it sound.

2. Sex helps bring me back to reality.  I work pretty hard throughout the day and my mind is often pulled in dozens of different directions.  I’ve got people to contact, volunteer schedules to fill, and weekly deadlines that can’t ever be postponed — as we say in the pastor’s world, “Sunday’s comin’.”  So, I sometimes find myself working from home, or just trying to escape the realities of life.  But sex isn’t an escape.  It brings me back to the reality of knowing I have a loving, faithful wife.  A wife who helps me see the demands of reality, but acknowledge that those demands are not nearly as important as we are to one another.

3. Sex helps me sleep.  This is a common physiological response in men more often than in women, but when feeling emotionally wired and unable to rest, sex helps to not only bring me back to reality, but to relax and know that tomorrow is a new day, and that this day will go out on high note.

4. Sex brings children.  Don’t get me wrong, sex is good.  Real good.  But for those who have children, having sex with the intent of having children is different.  You’re bringing two bodies together with the sole purpose of bringing new life into the world.  Connecting in this way can only be described as magical.  As mentioned above, this is far from physical.  It’s truly an emotional and spiritual moment that cannot be described in words.

5. Sex reminds me that life isn’t all about me.  Megan mentioned this on her list as well, but I must agree with it.  As a husband, I’m going to pleased in the bedroom.  So my primary desire  isn’t all about me, but about whether or not I can please my wife as well.  To be honest, I’m thrilled to know I have a wife who doesn’t “fake it”.  Knowing that I have the ability to serve my wife in that way makes the experience much better than if I were in it only for my own satisfaction.

6. Sex is better than any book on marriage/intimacy.  I’ve read numerous books on marriage and sex.  The “this formula will improve your marriage”.  The “try new positions”.  The “forgive yourself for your past.”  And truth be told, I’ll continue reading more on the subject as well.  But there’s something about the act of sex itself that just can’t be written down in words.  At the end of the day, the formulas may or may not work.  The communication could be better. But sex provides something that no poet, screenwriter, or storyteller could ever communicate.

7. Sex is better than video games.  OK, there…I said it.  I still play video games.  Not like some other guys do, but on occasion I’ll still pick up a controller and take on the bad guys.  Those who play video games know that there’s often a pattern.  It’s not necessarily what needs to be done, as the objectives are clear.  The programmers have written in some kind of “this is how it has to be done” formula”.  Once you’ve figured it out, you’ll get through that level.  Well, in an appropriate marriage relationship, sex has no step-by-step pattern.  In fact, it changes every time.  Sure, there is one primary objective, but how you get there will change.  So I’m constantly able to study my wife, and always respond differently depending on the circumstances.  And unlike a video game, I’ve never gotten killed in the process.

8. Sex is better than sports.  I know, I know…two “sex is better than ______” points in a row.  But hey, it’s true, sex is better than sports.  As a football and hockey fan, you’re constantly waiting for your team to score, but you never know if they will or not.  Well in a great marriage, you know you’re going to score.  And it’s kind of fun to think about how high a score you can run up.

9. Sex reminds me of vacation.  Ever have that perfect vacation?  I have.  For me, vacation isn’t run-run-run, it’s rest-rest-rest.  A while back I had the best vacation I’ve had in years, a trip to a secluded beach.  Every family at this location was able to have their own private beach area 50 yards or more away from anybody else. It was fantastic.  It was restful.  It was sexy.  Sexy?  Yeah, sexy.  Megan and I got a lot of “personal time” on vacation and even though we were there as a family, it was a great week for our marriage.  As I mentioned above, sex is a great reminder of what’s important – my wife and my family.  Just as a good vacation brings us closer together, sex does the same.

10. Sex is a reminder of the gospel.  People may think this is strange, and to be honest, it kind of sounds strange.  But in Ephesians 5 Paul likens the marriage relationship to that of the relationship between Jesus and His church.  Is there any closer a husband and wife can be than during sexual intercourse?  No, there’s not.  So, sex is the ultimate reminder of how much God loves us, and how wonderful it is to be in that kind of relationship with Him.  And I believe having that reminder more often than not is best.

Over The Edge:

We often receive questions about what orgasm feels like or why someone can’t achieve orgasm regularly.  People often want to know if there is a magic secret that will push them over the edge every time they have sex.  We always answer, “Not that we can find.” There is no certain technique that will work every time nor is there some magic equation that guarantees that your toes are going to curl and your voice will wake the neighbors when your spouse does such and such.  Sex is far more complicated than just having a few good moves.  Great sex is a combination of mental, emotional, spiritual and physical factors and learning to appropriately prepare in all of those areas may just be the push to help you fall over the edge. Today we will take a look at some of the factors that may be keeping you from going over the edge.

1. Mental – Just where is you mind going?  If there are business meetings, household repairs, parenting concerns crossing your mind before or during sex, they can prove to be a distraction. Taking time to clear your mind of these distractions, as best as you can, is an important step to take.  If you need to make sure you and your spouse are on the same page about a parenting issue, a bill payment or a scheduling conflict then by all means talk about it.  It may deflate the mood for a moment but that can be recaptured.  What you don’t want to happen is to be only half-present during your time of intimacy because your mind is filled with thoughts of things other than how good it feels to be together.  If you struggle to remain present while making love because you feel that it takes too long, recognize that being half-present will make it take longer with less satisfaction.  Being mentally prepared for sex has far greater rewards than just presenting your body to your spouse for their benefit. *

2. Emotional – Being angry, frustrated, discontent or annoyed with your spouse will affect your sex life and your ability to orgasm.  Unlike the things that distract our mind from being ready for sex, when our emotions are not ready for sex it takes more effort than just a few minutes of talking before sex.  Being emotionally prepared for sex takes effort because it means not letting things build up, continually clearing the air.  There are some offenses that need to be released without discussion and there are some that need to be brought into the light.  Openly communicating about the things that hurt you, upset you or frustrate you is the only way to live in freedom in this area.  While it is impossible for you to change your spouse and how they respond to your openness, you can know that you have done your part by not holding bitterness and resentment toward them.

3. Spiritual – Yep, you read that right, spiritual. Some may be reading this and thinking, “I don’t need somebody telling me about God and how I respond to Him matters in my sex life.  Sure, my intimate life isn’t great but I’m sure I can figure this out on my own.”  Well, if you haven’t fully figured it out on your own, perhaps turning to God isn’t such a bad idea now is it?

Sex IS a spiritual affair and when there are problems on a spiritual level they can and will show up in the bedroom.  Holding onto hurt, unforgiveness, anger and pain will lead to problems with intimacy.  Husbands and wives are meant to be one and sex is the greatest example of this oneness that exists.  When either the husband or the wife is unwilling to accept the spiritual side of sex there is a great void in intimacy. Dealing with the spiritual depths in life is time consuming and often uncomfortable.  In this area you’re often confronting yourself, not your spouse.  You’re realizing some of your inadequacies, which are often judgmental thoughts toward your spouse or others.  Once you release this hurt, unforgiveness and anger over to God, you’re free to experience what He created, naked and unashamed.  Make no mistake, it is the most crucial aspect of sexual intercourse.

4. Physical – When there are physical insecurities or embarrassment in marriage they can prevent the over the edge feeling of sex. If you don’t know how to enjoy sex because you feel you “don’t know how to do it right” then take the time to figure it out. Reacquaint yourself with your body through your senses.  Invite your spouse to explore your body and explore theirs as well.  Allow them to touch, feel, tickly, kiss, blow, etc. various parts of your flesh and let them know what you enjoy and what turns you off.  Enough practice will get them reading your body language as to how they can please you the best.  Just be sure to keep your head clear of the emotional/mental stuff, and enjoy the wonders of oneness with your mate.

*If part of your mental struggle with sex is that sex is dirty, not good or unimportant we recommend you check out what we have written about that.

Sex: Over, Under and Around

Sex: Understanding

Sex is..Not a Dirty Word

Sexual Rhythm:

Within our house we are rather eclectic regarding the types and styles of music we enjoy.  Justin and I (Megan) both privy ourselves musicians. I am classically trained, Justin is self taught.  We’ve spent hours crafting and fine tuning our skills and training ourselves to make beautiful music.  We’ve spent years perfecting our sense of rhythm, the central pulse that makes organized sense of music.  We find that this applies to our marriage as well.  Marriages and sex lives need a good cadence.  A strong central rhythm that makes organized sense of two different people coming together to make beautiful music.

Within marriage, there are times when sexual rhythm may seem a bit off.  Maybe you aren’t connecting as often or there is some other factor that is infringing on your intimacy.  Today we want to explore common factors that lead couples to get out of rhythm sexually.

1. Mismatched libidos. 

Sometimes one of you wants to “get it on” and one of you doesn’t.  Most marriages have “I’d rather” moments, moments when sex is just not going to happen but it is important to remember these should be the exception not the rule.  Marriages which consistently experience times when libidos (sex drives) just don’t seem to match up need to keep a few things in mind.  Having open lines of communication is essential to understand what is really happening.  Are there an over abundance of activities on your schedule that are making finding the time difficult? Are you truly tuned in to what turns your spouse on or off?  Are there relational issues under the surface in your marriage? Taking time to actually discuss and figure these types of questions out will truly help your libido’s line up with one another.  Often the discrepancy between your sex drives is not a disdain for sex but a problem communicating what gets your spouse in the mood.

2. Physical limitations.

Throughout marriage every couple will experience times where physical limitations disrupt your sexual rhythm.  For some couples these limitations are brief such as pregnancy and child birth or healing from surgery.  These disruptions are often easily overcome once the physical healing takes place.  Taking time to connect emotionally and physically in addition to preparing your mind for sex is often all that is necessary to get back into a healthy sexual rhythm.

For others, however, chronic pain, erectile dysfunction, vaginismus, and other limitations take considerably more effort and commitment to overcome.  A healthy sex life is important in marriage.  If there are physical reasons sex is painful we recommend seeking the advice of a professional health care provider.  It may seem very uncomfortable to discuss such private issues with a healthcare provider but it is well worth it.  Getting help that allows your sex life to flourish is worth the temporary embarrassment and extra effort.  However, for some, the pain and disability is still very difficult to overcome.  During these times it is imperative to have open, loving conversations about how you can work on fulfilling each others needs in this area.  There are so many ways to have a close physical relationship with your spouse that don’t necessarily include intercourse.  There are ways to satisfy your God given sexual desires for your spouse.  Just take some opportunities t0 think creatively and feel free to try new things out.

3. Emotional reservations.

Feelings are a fickle thing.  There are plenty of times in marriage when words are said, actions are done and behaviors are repeated that cause one or both partners emotional pain.  At times these situations are resolved, apologies are made, forgiveness is offered. Other times, however, there is never a proper resolution and these types of underlying emotional issues can disrupt your sexual rhythm.

If you’re having trouble “connecting” due to some other marital factor or problem (finances, disagreements in parenting, who will drive the ‘nice’ car, etc.) then you need to take some serious opportunities to talk these things out.  Most couples decide to grin and bare it, believing the lie that “this is just the way marriage is”.  This. Is. A. Lie.  And it’s often small emotional decisions that turn into bigger ones and drive a marriage into the ground.  Get on the same page in every major area of life first (finances, parenting) and decide on the little stuff later.  If one of you thinks you need counseling to get through it and the other doesn’t – chances are you probably do.  And if you don’t like the term “counseling”, then don’t think of it that way.  Just sit down with a trusted married couple who has weathered the same storms and ask them how they did it.  It may not take professional “counseling”, but having a few well-experienced married friends over through the course of a month and asking them some specific questions about how they pulled through the tough times will reap dividends for your own marriage relationship.

4. Mental Apprehension

We regularly write about how sex is not just physical.  Sex is also spiritual, emotional and mental.  Working through your reservations, fears, misconceptions and misunderstanding about sex is important.  If you have negative opinions concerning sex, seek understanding.  Openly communicate with your spouse that you want to work on your sex life and then invite them to help you figure it out together.  The greatest sexual organ you have really is your brain so training and teaching your mind to have positive associations with sex is going to go a long way in making your sex life great.

Because of the emotional and spiritual power of sex there are times where sexual rhythm is disrupted by thoughts or emotions that you thought had been dealt with already.  You are in the moment, enjoying your partner then all of a sudden there is a flash back, a sensation, a smell that shows up completely uninvited. In those moments it is important to stop, communicate with your spouse what it happening and allow them to help you build a new memory to replace the old one.  Thoughts cannot be ignored but they can be dealt with properly.

5. Physical absence.

For most couples, traveling is at least a minor factor that disrupts sexual rhythm.  Some couples deal with extensive traveling or periods of absences. There is much to be said of the feast or famine sex lives that some couples have.  Sexual rhythm is certainly out of whack when you aren’t even together to enjoy each other.  But really, the best way to handle this type of situation is to change your mindset.  Your sex life is normal for you.  Don’t compare your sex life to others who don’t experience long absences.  Evaluate your relationship on how close you are emotionally.  Spend time in regular conversation with an emphasis on a great friendship. Don’t evaluate your marriage based on how many times you have sex each week.  Build each other up, encourage one another and enjoy your times together immensely when they come. In fact, your anticipation might be so big you can’t wipe the grin off your face for many days afterwards!

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Linking to: Women Living Well, To Love Honor and Vacuum

The Pain of Past Sexual Thoughts: Sexual Encounters of the Mind

Today, Megan shares a personal story on past dream-state sexual encounters.  This story is shared in order to help others recognize that the vast majority of sexually explicit material may cause uncontrollable damage.

I was a college student the first time it happened.  A virgin, a clean sexual slate.  I had never viewed porn or read any erotic novels.  But there I was feeling violated, dirty, scared, confused.  “What is happening to me?  What is wrong with me?  How can I stop this?”  I was having sexually erotic dreams.  Nightmares really.  Some of the nightmares were of being raped.  Some included me being promiscuous.  None of them left me feeling sexy or turned on.  I felt defeated and discouraged.  I went to bed in fear, never knowing how to truly prevent my subconscious from going down a path I didn’t want to follow.

I recognized it was a spiritual attack, so I prayed, read and memorized scripture and the nightmares would subside for a season.  Still, these nightmares have never been completely absent from my life.  For 15 years I have battled in different seasons these same sexually violent and erotic dreams.  Each time it happens it reminds me just how vulnerable and susceptible my mind and heart are to sexually explicit thoughts.  Thoughts that do not build intimacy between Justin and I but serve to depress and destroy the sexual union in our marriage.

For certain, this is one of the reasons I am passionate about sexual intimacy in marriage….because it matters to God, it matters to my husband and it matters to me.  The most uncomfortable thought is that it matters to the enemy of my soul as well. I believe that at a young age my mind was invaded by dreams that were meant to destroy a beauty that had not yet been experienced.  The joy and bliss of marital intimacy.  The joining of bodies in the deepest emotional, mental, spiritual and physical way possible.  My marriage could have easily begun with a deep sense of shame and disgust for sex but thanks to a great God that did not happen.  For that I am grateful.

I make love with my eyes open and my mind intent on my husband.  Erotic thoughts and visual stimulation could easily show up if invited.  I don’t give the invitation.  I never did.  And it is only through the grace and power of God that those uninvited thoughts and images are made to vanish.

I don’t believe I am the only one susceptible to sexual manipulation.  We all are.  Sex is incredibly powerful.  It is incredibly powerful in positive ways and incredibly powerful in destructive ways.  Basing your sex life on what God intends it to be will never leave you lacking.  Basing it on what others say it should be will leave you searching for more.  As for me, I don’t search for more.  I have a great, satisfying and fulfilling sexual relationship with my husband.  It has grown better over the years because I have loved, listened to and been guided by the God who invented the whole idea.  I know that there is great freedom behind closed doors because I have experienced it.  I know that sex does not have to remain distorted.  I know that what the enemy sent to cause destruction actually built and strengthened my own marriage and planted a seed to minister to other marriages.  I know that the same can be true for you.

This very personal story is shared, in part, as a response to a very erotic book that is currently being sold, “50 Shades of Grey.”  Many other marriage bloggers I respect and admire have written more specifically about the book but this is just further insight into my experiences in life and why I will not invite erotica such as this into my bedroom.  For further reading check out To Love Honor and Vacuum who today posted about this subject and included several links to other blogger’s thoughts.

Identity Crisis:

Over the last several months, I (Megan) have been wrestling through some identity issues.  I don’t really need to go into details in this post but I tell you this because I know that most, if not all, marriages will encounter a season where one spouse goes through an identity crisis of sorts.  Re-evaluation of self worth and identity often happens when big or difficult life changes occur.  Since marriage is supposed to be the one constant relationship that weathers these life changes, it stands to reason our marriages will encounter some identity crisis.

Here are a few things to keep in mind if your spouse is struggling with difficult questions and trying to figure out what the best next steps are for their life.

1.  Support rather than condemn.

Wrestling through the BIG questions in life is never easy and sometimes leaves one feeling condemned or alone.  When it’s your spouse wrestling through these questions, they already feel the complexities of life and may want to try to figure out the answers by themselves.  In this situation, you only have two options.  You can either 1) react or 2) respond.  To react is the choice of most individuals, and isn’t always done with your spouses best interest at heart.  To react is to do so swiftly, and oftentimes negatively.  But when you respond, you take the time to appreciate who they are, encouraging them to better explore and understand who God made them to be.  Taking time to think it through and respond accordingly means only good things for the marriage relationship as a whole.

2.  Love them just because.

There are many reasons you love your spouse.  They are kind.  They are funny.  They are thoughtful.  They are sexy.  They are…  When your spouse is wrestling through something, take the opportunity to remind them of these things.

But remember: during an identity crisis, these reasons may not always seem apparent.  Some of these characteristics may even change through time.  Does this mean you love your spouse any less than the day you married them?  Of course not!  In marriage, you love your spouse…not the individual characteristics of your spouse.  Help them find their identity within themselves and the person God created them to be, not the individual characteristics they act out each and every day.  Love them the way you promised to on your wedding day.  Love them the same way God loves them (1 Corinthians 13).  Love them, because they’re worth it.

3. Develop a network of supportive relationships.

This is important for both you and your spouse.  Your spouse needs people in their life to be honest and real with.  Unfortunately, the times when we need others most are often the times we isolate ourselves from others the most.  If your spouse is needy and does not have supportive relationships, that need for support often falls onto you.  When you feel you can’t give anymore, take the opportunity to rely on those in your circle of friends who can give you energy and encouragement to continue giving your spouse what they need from you.

4. Find something to laugh about together.

Laughter is a gift.  It’s good for you.  It’s great stress relief.  It’s helps you forget about your day, a day that was anything but ‘positive and encouraging’.  That being said, we know there are times when laughter just doesn’t come easily.  During these times, try to find something to bring humor into your spouses life.  It could be anything from a joke, to a comedy movie, to tickling them with a feather while naked.  When they know you can make them laugh even when they’re in the midst of an identity crisis, it helps them find a part of their identity directly in you.  And that may be the small nudge they needed to help discover the rest of it.

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How do you help encourage your spouse when they’re struggling with their identity?  Feel free to leave a tip in the comments below.

Follow us on Twitter: @_DoNot_Disturb

Understanding “Love”: Introduction

Before I (Justin) get any deeper into this post, I want to let you know something about myself…I don’t have many pet peeves.  I really don’t.  Sure, there are things in life (and others’ lives) that bother me from time to time, but not often in such a way that I have a real disdain for it/them.  However, there is one thing that makes me pretty judgmental: people who use the dictionary to define words while public speaking.  High School graduations, College graduations, other public speaking events, even the occasional blog post…it doesn’t really matter.  When I hear somebody say/write, “Webster’s dictionary defines ____________ as…” I think to myself, “Really?  I mean, C’mon…is that really the best you could come up with?”  Today, I eat my own words, because in just a few moments, I’m going to bust open the good old Webster’s dictionary.  If you have as much disdain for this sort of thing as I do, I encourage you to keep reading, as I have excellent semi-good reasons for doing so.

Anyway…now onto the post.

“Love” is one of those words that gets thrown around a lot in our culture.  In fact, it happens so much so that I’m not completely convinced many people truly understand what it means to “love” another person.  Evidence of this sometimes comes from crumbling marriages.  When the marriage is over and the divorce finalized one spouse may say something to the effect of, “Well, the truth is…over time we just fell out of love.”  Really?  How does that happen?  How does a couple go from falling in love, to falling out of love?  Other evidence comes from casual everyday conversations.  In one day you may hear the same person say, “I love my wife…I love my car…I love this book…” and so on.  To make matters worse, people often declare, “God is love,” but then are unable to clearly describe what that means.

Now, before I go digging into the dictionary, stop reading, grab a piece of paper, and write out a definition of love.  You don’t have to tell anybody else what you write.  Just write, “Love is…” and then finish the sentence. Go on…you know you want to.

Finished?  Great!  Welcome back.

Now, here is a look at how the Webster’s Dictionary defines “love“:

lovenoun \ˈləv\

a (1) : strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties <maternal love for a child> (2) : attraction based on sexual desire : affection and tenderness felt by lovers (3) : affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests <love for his old schoolmates> b : an assurance of affection <give her my love>

2: warm attachment, enthusiasm, or devotion <love of the sea>

3 a : the object of attachment, devotion, or admiration <baseball was his first love>

OK, the first thing I would like to point out about this definition is that it seems very culturally accurate.  What I mean by this is that Webster’s [purposefully?] puts the NOUN definition of love first.  It’s an affection, attraction, admiration…etc.  Translation…it’s an emotion.  It’s something one feels and given the right set of circumstances that feeling may be very strong, or very weak.

To be fair to Webster’s, they do provide a VERB definition of love as well:

1: to hold dear : cherish

2: to feel a lover’s passion, devotion, or tenderness for b (1) : caress (2) : to fondle amorously (3) : to copulate with

3: to like or desire actively : take pleasure in <loved to play the violin>

This is our modern-day culture’s understanding of love.  Emotion first, act second.  Sadly, as I observe modern-day culture, I think Webster’s has nailed it.  However, once upon a time, our culture was quite different.  In fact, the 1828 Webster’s Dictionary defines “love” like this:

LOVE, v.t. luv. [L. libeo, lubeo. See Lief. The sense is probably to be prompt, free, willing, from leaning, advancing, or drawing forward.]

1. In a general sense to be pleased with; to regard with affection, on account of some qualities which excite pleasing sensations or desire of gratification. We love a friend, on account of some qualities which give us pleasure in his society. We love a man who has done us a favor; in which case, gratitude enters into the composition of our affection. We love our parents and our children, on account of their connection with us, and on account of many qualities which please us. We love to retire to a cool shade in summer. We love a warm room in winter. We love to hear an eloquent advocate. The christian loves his Bible. In short, we love whatever gives us pleasure and delight, whether animal or intellectual; and if our hearts are right, we love God above all things, as the sum of all excellence and all the attributes which can communicate happiness to intelligent beings. In other words, the christian loves God with the love of complacency in his attributes, the love of benevolence towards the interest of his kingdom, and the love of gratitude for favors received.

2. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

3. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Matt. 22.2.  To have benevolence or good will for. John 3.

Quite a difference isn’t it?  You see, a couple hundred years ago everybody had an understanding that “love” was something to be offered, as well as received.  “Love” was much more than an emotion.  Not only that, but culture as a whole thrived on a Christian worldview.  God was important, very important.  So much so that scripture verses were used to help define certain words.  We’ve come a long way, haven’t we?

OK, we’ve looked at 2012, and then the 1828 [western] understanding of love.  Let’s take the clock back a little further and look at the first century:

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NIV)

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Take a moment to look at your definition of “love.”  Which of these three definitions best matches your own?  Did you use love as a noun, or as a verb?  Is it merely emotional, or is there something deeper to it?  If there’s something deeper, what is it?   Where does it come from?  How does it get there?

Regarding your marriage, take the opportunity to evaluate your marriage based only on the 1 Corinthians 13 understanding of love.  Are you loving your spouse by being patient with them?  Are you loving your spouse by showing kindness in all situations?  Are you loving your spouse by honoring him/her?  Are you loving your spouse by…not keeping any record of wrongs?  Knowing that your spouse has done things to hurt you, and may do it again.  Are you continually loving them by not keeping any record of wrongs?  It’s not merely about the emotional aspects of love, it’s about being loving.

This post is a simple introduction on understanding “love”.  We’re going to keep the theme running for a while, and continue to look into other cultures much older than our own to see how they applied “love” in their relationships, and perhaps getter a better understanding of how we can do so in our marriages as well.  Until then, here are some things to think about:

1) Which of these 1 Corinthians definitions of love do you find most difficult?

2) What does it mean to keep no record of wrongs?  What does that look like in a healthy marriage relationship?

3) What one thing can you do today to surprise your spouse in a loving way?  Don’t tell us in the comments below…just go do it!  (But be sure to come back later and write a comment…we’d really like to know!)  🙂

 

Linking with: Women Living Well, To Love Honor and Vacuum

Emotional Connection:

A couple of weeks ago we started a series on the subject of “Emotional Nakedness.”  One of the big lingering questions after our first couple of posts was, “How do we grow in emotional nakedness?”  Today we want to offer a few suggestions.

1.  Start small.  If it has been awhile since you and your spouse have had discussions about things of a very personal nature then start small.  We published the 30 Day Challenge last week and it is a list of 30 questions to discuss with your spouse.  The questions are designed to start off easy and get progressively more personal. We don’t touch on deeper issues right away as the questions are meant to reconnect you on a friendship level first.

2.  Go first.  If you are hesitant to be emotionally naked in front of your spouse, they will sense just that.  When you are guarded your spouse will not want to display their faults, their weaknesses, or their hidden secrets.  By going first, you are telling them that you want to be vulnerable and you want to be known in a deeper way.  The added benefit of airing your junk first is that after you share you are more able to extend grace and understanding to your spouse because you realize just how much you need.

3.  Listen.  The greatest skill in communication is learning to really listen.  Listening without reacting, interrupting or judging are important steps in emotional nakedness.  What often happens is a spouse confesses or shares a struggle but quickly learns by way of poor reaction, judgement and/or condemnation that it is unsafe to be that open in marriage.  Emotional shutdown occurs because it is apparently easier to stuff all the emotions than deal with the fallout that happens with emotional honesty.  In order to really listen to your spouse you must focus on them and not yourself.  All relationships require putting selfishness aside in order to hear and accept others where they are at rather than filtering what they say through our own selfish desires for them.

4.  Remember love.  Marriages are a test of true love because the marriage relationship puts us in a context where we  can truly live it out.  We all naturally react in selfishness, self preservation and self awareness.  (Did you catch how natural it is to think about yourself?)  The thing about marriage is that it is not designed as a mere propagation of self, it is designed in such as way that two become one.  It is no longer what “I” want but what “We” want.  It is not about personal desires but about putting someone else’s needs first.  It is during these times that we need to truly practice love as choice rather than love as feeling.

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Do you have any additional thoughts on emotional connection?  Feel free to let us know in the comments below.

 

Linking to: Alabaster Jar Marriage Monday

Nakedness: Emotional (Men)

Last week we posted about physical nakedness and emotional nakedness.  While these posts can be attributed to either men or women, the thoughts presented may lean more towards women.  Therefore, I (Justin) wanted to present some thoughts for men regarding this subject of Emotional Nakedness.

Megan and I have been married nearly 12 years now, and we dated for a full 3 years prior to marriage.  Throughout these past 15 years I’ve come to notice just how much Megan appreciates me being not simply open and honest, but completely open about how I’m doing emotionally.  In fact, when Megan and I first met the one thing that really attracted her to me was my openness in how I communicated with her.  I was open about every aspect of my life, what I did for a living, what I hoped to do as I grew older, what my former relationships had been like…just about anything I could talk about, I opened up.  She loved this about my personality.

Fast forward 15 years, and I can honestly say that this kind of openness is no longer natural.  I hold my emotions in more often than not and sometimes I’m tempted to think she doesn’t even notice.  But she does.  She always does.  Even if she asks, “How are you doing?” (which she does because she recognizes there is something bothering me), I’m still tempted to reply with the normal answer, “I’m doing fine,” or perhaps, “Life’s just really busy, you know.”  But these kinds of responses are disingenuous.  She knows it – and if I’m honest with myself – I know it, too.  Therefore, I’ve come to acknowledge I must be emotionally open with her even during seasons I’d prefer to emotionally shut down.  But what is it most men need to understand about being emotionally open with their spouse?

1) Understand how much your spouse can encourage and support you

If you look up the the first marriage in the bible, you’ll read about Adam and Eve.  One of the things the author of Genesis writes is, “It is not good for man to be alone, therefore, I will create a helper suitable for him.” As you can imagine, that word “helper” has created a great deal of dialog through the years. But the book of Genesis wasn’t written in English, it was written in Hebrew. And the same Hebrew word for “helper” is often used as a descriptive word for God, such as God is my “strength” or my “help”. It’s not a term for “personal assistant”, but instead a term of relational connectedness and oneness.

That said, I’ve come to recognize Megan as a great sense of strength and encouragement in my life. When I’m going through a really difficult season emotionally, I’ll tell her I need her encouragement. Oftentimes she’ll send middle-of-the-day texts to tell me how much she appreciates me and my support of our family. Sometimes she’ll think of other ways to encourage me. But she only does this because I’ve come to recognize her as a true strength in my life, and my guess is that your spouse would love the opportunity to be your strength as well.

2) Understand the freedom that comes with being open (emotionally)

I live in a world of full-time ministry. In this world I’m often tempted to think that nobody else really knows what my life is like, and that only those who are involved in ministry full-time “really” know the difficulties in this profession. The truth is, I think this is often a cop-out thought process that all men struggle with from time to time. We think about raising a family, providing for the same family, taking the next step in our career, etc.  In time all of these thoughts weigh on us. To make things worse, our culture tells us that we need to “man-up” and deal with things like men – though nobody ever really explains what that means.

I’m here to tell you that you can suppress these thoughts and emotions all you like, and you will be miserable for a long, long time. But choose to release these thoughts and struggles to your spouse (your helper) and you’ll feel a wonderful sense of release. By opening up and talking through these things you’ll be reminded that you’re not in this alone and you’ll feel encouraged and greatly supported to make difficult decisions but to do so with confidence. If you really want to “man-up,” do what you know to be right, and know that your wife is with you every step of the way.

3) Understand you are in control of your emotions

One of the things people often struggle with is not knowing what emotions they’re experiencing. Have you ever been there? I know I have. If you honestly cannot pinpoint what emotions you’re experiencing (joy, anger, peace, frustration, hate, etc.) it’s probably because your emotions are controlling you and not the other way around. And yes, yes, yes, this can happen to men just as often as it can happen to women. Understand that you can control these emotions, not simply suppress them. You can understand when they come, why they come, and through practice, you can understand how to control them. While I can’t get into too much detail in this post, I want to encourage you to begin thinking about whether your emotions are in control, or whether you are. Also, take the opportunity to think about the above points as well. Are you giving your wife opportunities to be your strength? Are you desiring to be free from emotional baggage?

I recognize this post may not sound overly “manly” according to our culture. But I also believe that for marriage to work as God has intended, we as men have to take the difficult step to open up emotionally with our wives. It may not always be easy, but the rewards of doing so far outweigh the risks involved.

Nakedness: Emotional

Last week we talked about how physical nakedness can be difficult.  Today we’d like to continue this series and focus on emotional nakedness.  Emotions, we believe, are severely misunderstood in today’s culture.  Emotions themselves seem to be greatly feared because many believe it impossible to control them.  Due to this, when it comes to emotional nakedness in marriage, the subject first appears quite confusing.  What does “emotional nakedness” actually mean?

Marriage is about nakedness.  Part of the reason we are not supposed to be naked physically with someone before we are married is because we must first learn to be naked emotionally.  Physical nakedness is best in the context of emotional and spiritual connectedness.  One of the definitions for the word naked is being devoid of concealment or disguise.  What better place than the marital relationship for this to occur.  When you join your lives and your bodies as one there should be no need for a disguise.  Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done.  Self-protection is a very human experience, and one which we never need to receive any training.  We often self-protect ourselves by  concealing and disguising, and we do this just as much emotionally as we do physically.  Here are some reasons we wear disguises that make emotional nakedness hard:

Hurt and pain from past experiences.  Sometimes this pain occurred in childhood.  Sometimes it happened in previous relationships or marriages.  It may even show up in your current marital relationship because of intentional or unintentional conflict.  Our past experiences affect our current relationships in incredible ways.  In all areas of life it is important to face and deal with our past.  We will always be trapped and our growth stunted if we are unwilling to look into our past and search for freedom from the hold it has on us.

Inability to trust in or depend on our spouse Marriage is a partnership.  God designed men and women to compliment and complete one another.  Whenever self-centeredness or self-reliance enter the marriage it is not as it should be.  Husbands and wives have a lot of freedom to make decisions regarding how to best use their abilities and natural inclinations to serve each other and live their lives but if there is a constant fear or being used, overlooked or put down, emotional nakedness is not happening.  In order to let go of the disguise we must learn to work as a team.  We must put the needs of our spouse ahead of our own.  The disguise can only be destroyed when we are willing to see that we need to trust and rely on someone other than our-self.

Fear of coming undone.  We live in a culture that values strength, not weakness.  Self-reliance, not interdependence.  Control, rather than the unknown.  For all these reasons and more, learning to be emotionally naked in marriage is counter-cultural.  Somewhere the fear that our spouse will reject us because of our “junk” outweighs the risk.  We become comfortable with our disguise and it stays in place because the fear of humiliation and shame don’t seem worth the effort.  We get by and resign ourselves to thinking this is just the way life is.

The only hope to experience freedom from these masks is humility.  To be emotionally naked requires humility.  It requires us to humbly admit we don’t have it all together.  To admit we don’t even have words to describe what we are feeling.  To admit that facing our past scares us so much we don’t want to go on.  To admit we have needs we cannot fill.  To admit we can’t live life in a pretty little package all tied up with a bow, we need to come undone.  None of these thing are possible without the help of God.  We can never learn to be emotionally naked with our spouse if we are not aware of our deepest need, the need for a Savior.

So, yeah, emotional nakedness is hard but it is so worth it.  The experience we have in our marriages when we become emotionally naked is just a taste of the beauty we can have in our relationship with God.

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How do you and your spouse become “emotionally naked” with one another?  What kinds of open-ended questions do you regularly ask one another to ensure you keep vulnerable with one another and your marriage stays strong?

 

Linking with : WLW and WW