Standard of Beauty:

Marriage books come and go.  While there are great marriage books out there (including the one we’re looking to study in depth this Fall), stepping back to look at much older literature often helps us to see things about the  marriage relationship that authors today may not naturally pick up on.  For example, the Bible shares immense wisdom in the realm of marriage.  It includes wisdom on how to be loving, the excitement of the sexual relationship and oh, so much more.  But there’s another piece of wisdom that’s sometimes overlooked, and it’s one that ought to be of great significance, even in today’s culture.

After God creates everything in existence and continually deems everything to be “good” or even “very good”, something in the script changes.  In Genesis 2:18 says, “It is not good for the man to be alone.”  Afterwards, God creates Eve, and when Adam sees her for the very first time he says a phrase that is the first piece of poetry ever spoken:

This one, at last, is bone of my bone
and flesh of my flesh;
this one will be called “woman,”
for she was taken from man.

It goes on say that both the man and his wife (terminology indicated they were indeed married) were naked, and felt no shame.

Now, there’s a lot going on here.  We could write about how they were naked and felt no shame and the significance of this in their sexual relationship.  But there’s something else going on here as well.  Adam was the first man.  Eve was the first woman.  There were no other human beings on the planet at this time.  Therefore, Eve was the standard of beauty for Adam.  And Adam was the standard of beauty for Eve.

Adam wasn’t tempted to look at other women.  Eve wasn’t tempted to look at other men.  All they knew was that they could look at each other and feel no shame.  He didn’t have to feel like she was comparing his body to anybody else, and she didn’t have to feel like he was comparing her body to anybody else.  Visually, emotionally, spiritually, they each defined one another’s standard of beauty.

Indeed the world has changed a lot since then.  Today, there are over 7 billion people in the world.  Men see scantily clad women in advertisements dozens of times a day.  And sadly, men today are often shown in one of two extremes, either as strong and sexually attractive, or as unintelligent, unattractive oaf’s who don’t know how to lead their family.  Given this onslaught of attention our culture gives to sexual appeal, we would do well to remember our own standard of beauty – our spouse.

As Adam looked at Eve and broke out in poetry, so today should men be able to look at their wives and see her for who she is.  Not comparing her to anybody else.  His standard of what’s attractive, what’s beautiful, what’s alluring ought to come from his wife, and only from his wife.  The same goes for women.  Women ought not see attractive men in advertisements and visually compare them to her husband.  Instead, her standard of beauty comes from her husband.  He ought to be encouraged about his looks just as she should, and he ought to be encouraged about how he can lead and not be ridiculed because another man may be a different type of leader.

Looking at our spouse as our standard of beauty will change the way we view other relationships as well.  Indeed, other friendships outside of marriage will come and go through the years, but our relationship with our spouse will surpass them all.  They are our standard of beauty in all areas of life.  They are the one with whom we can share everything.  They are one with whom we can be vulnerable in all areas of life, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  Truly, it is with them and them alone that we may be naked and unashamed.

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In what ways does your spouse define your standard of beauty?  What precautions do you and your spouse keep in place to ensure you remain one another’s standard of beauty?

30 Day Challenge: Communication

One of the things we’re challenging the Marriage Works crowd to do is to complete a 30 Day Challenge in the area of communication.  The challenge: clearly communicate with your spouse 15 minutes a day for 30 straight days.

Some may think this sounds easy.  But we’re not talking about the, “Can you pick up some eggs at the grocery store?” conversations.  Nor are we talking about the, “The kids need to be here, here, here and here this week…let’s get on the same page and figure out who’s taking them there and when.”  Instead, this is REAL conversation.  This is, “How are you doing?  How are we doing?  How are the kids doing?  How can I support you this week?  What struggles are you currently having?”  These kinds of things and many more…for 15 FULL minutes every single day.

Some of you may be excited to dive right in…but some may not even know where to begin!  For those who fall into this 2nd category, here are some ideas to get some conversations started.  It’s not a list that must be followed for the challenge, just some ideas to help you out.  Who knows, 30 days with 15 full minutes a day may start a pattern that you hope to continue for many months and years to come!  So have some great communication with your spouse.  Be reminded that you’re “one flesh”…be reminded that you’re best friends.  Be reminded that no matter what happens in life, you’re going to go through it together.

  1. If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
  2. Name something you’ve never done but would like to try. Why does it appeal to you? What’s kept you from trying it?
  3. If you weren’t in the profession you are, what would be your other dream profession and why?
  4. If someone gave you enough money to start a business of your own, what kind of business would you start?
  5. Think back to your childhood or teenage years.  What do you miss doing the most?
  6. Can you think of something you craved when you were young and were denied?
  7. What was the best part of your childhood?
  8. The one argument your parents had, that you try to avoid, would be over…
  9. If our house was on fire and you had a chance to grab only five things before leaving, they would be…
  10. What friend has most influenced your life?  How?
  11. What is an accomplishment you feel most proud of?
  12. What do you think is your greatest personal strength?
  13. What do you think is your greatest personal weakness?
  14. What’s the one thing you would want to be remembered for?
  15. What do you feel the most regret about in life?
  16. What fears do you wrestle with the most? How do you manage them?
  17. What makes you most angry (in marriage or life)?
  18. What three things do you like doing with me the most?
  19. Can you name three qualities that attracted you when you met me/got to know me?
  20. Whose marriage do you most consider to be a model marriage? What is it about their marriage that you most admire?
  21. Are there some times when a disagreement needs to be postponed? if so, when? How can we discern those kinds of times?
  22. What have you learned to appreciate about me that you didn’t know when we first married?
  23. Are you satisfied with the amount of time we spend together? The amount of time we spend separately?
  24. At what times have we felt happiest together?
  25. How much is each of us contributing to our financial health? (In dollars, or otherwise.) Is each person’s contribution acceptable to the other?
  26. How have we learned to cope with the normal, day-to-day irritations of married life? How could we handle them even better?
  27. Do we feel more emotionally connected than we did early in our relationship?
  28. How are we doing at keeping our marriage a priority?
  29. Tell me about a time when you felt really close to me.  What made you feel that way?
  30. Is our sexual connection satisfying to you? To me?

Guide For Newlyweds: A Message for Men

We have some friends who are nearing their wedding day, and this has helped us to realize that there isn’t a great deal of information out there for what brand new couples should expect in the bedroom.  We are – and always will be! – strong advocates of waiting until marriage to experience sexual intimacy.  Our series on the Pain of Past Sexual Experiences is only the tip of the iceberg on why we believe all couples should wait before considering any type of physical sex.  But what should couples think through and discuss before they get married?  What specifics should each know before diving under the covers for the first time?  In this post we wanted to cover a few things men need to remember and consider before their first sexual experience:

1) You can’t mentally prepare for your first sexual encounter

We’re always writing about how each spouse should mentally prepare for sex throughout the day to help be emotionally ready for sexual intimacy.  But a word of caution to men: don’t do this for your first sexual encounter.  Sure, you can mentally prepare for the overall enjoyment that you will experience, but we can assure you that your first time won’t be anything like what you think it will be.  She may (or may not) be very nervous about availing her full body to you.  Chances are, she’s not going to be overly vocal and tell you how amazing the experience is while it’s happening.  To be honest, the first time penetration occurs may prove painful for her.

If you want to emotionally prepare for your first time, prepare words of encouragement for your wife.  Be sure to tell her it’s a new experience for you as well and how much you’re looking forward to finding out what works for you both.  Emotionally prepare yourself that it won’t be anything like what you may think or imagine.  Emotionally prepare yourself that you may ejaculate before she reaches climax.  Emotionally prepare yourself that she may not orgasm and you shouldn’t feel like a failure because of it.  Emotionally prepare yourself that your body is just as much hers as hers is yours.

2) What pleases you won’t please her

There seems to be this misnomer (and the entertainment industry does little to help) that you’ll both enjoy sex in the exact same ways and you’ll both experience orgasm at the exact same time.  Sorry to break it to you, but this just isn’t going to happen.  In fact, there’s a very good chance that she will not attain orgasm during your first sexual encounter.  Nevertheless, do your very best to take your time.  Your in-and-out thrusts probably won’t excite her and very well may make the experience shorter than need be.   Once penetration occurs, give her the opportunity to verbalize what feels good for her and what doesn’t.  If it is slightly painful, discuss if any lubrications may help (but don’t use them unless you need to!) or change positions.  Consider allowing her to start out on top so that she controls all movement.  This will help her to more quickly learn what she likes, when she likes it and when/how to be touched, kissed, and caressed.  And as you discover what she likes, you’ll discover that what pleases her DOES please you, but in a much different way than you may have anticipated.

3) Get to know her body

While you’re more than ready to jump in the sack, you really need to understand your wife’s body.  Yes, she has breasts and you’re now free to fondle them.  Yes, she has a vagina that awaits.  But you must understand that not all sexual stimulation happens through her breasts or vagina.  Get to know the clitoris.  If necessary, allow her to show it to you during foreplay as you begin your first sexual experience. This little knob of flesh is the absolute lynchpin to much – if not all – of her sexual stimulation.

In fact, for your first encounter it may be a good idea to have an extended make-out session where you have the opportunity to kiss and touch parts of her body that have never been revealed.  As she begins to be more and more open to the experience that’s about to take place, begin by rubbing your hand up and down her inner thigh.  Once she responds positively, slowly work your way up and gently massage all flesh around her vagina.  Be sure to touch her directly on the clitoris and use a little bit of lotion if necessary.  As her body warms up to you, her vagina will naturally secrete fluid that will make penetration easier for you both.  Just remember our words of advice from above, it’s still a good idea to give her permission to control the movement.  You want this moment to last and you want her to enjoy it as much as possible.  If you take your time, who knows, you may discover that she is able to climax during your first sexual encounter.  If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen.  Whatever happens, don’t beat yourself up and remember that you have a lifetime to continue to get to know each other sexually.

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We’ve got more to say on this subject of sex for newlyweds including thoughts for her. But if you have other intimacy related things men should know ahead of time, feel free to drop a line in the comments below.

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.