5 Reasons Your Dream Life Never Came True

Many of us start out with better dreams than we are currently living.

The fact is I talk to a lot of frustrated people in my work. I meet people frequently who are always chasing after something – trying to realize their dream – yet they never seem to catch what they are chasing.

Many times – and we are all prone to doing this occasionally – we make excuses better than we make progress.

I think there may be simple reasons some people never realize their dreams.

Here are 5 of the real reasons many dreams never come true:

People quit trying.

They gave up. They may have tried before and it didn’t work, so now they don’t try at all. Seldom is a dream – a worthy, God-given dream – realized on the first attempt or without a lot of effort. The greatest discoveries are seldom found along the path of least resistance. Dreams are realized with prayer, persistence and perseverance. The best dreams are usually achieved just past the point where average effort stops.

People aren’t willing to work hard enough.

I think sometimes we expect dreams “just to happen”, because we had the dream. But, dreams don’t happen by chance. Being lucky isn’t usually a required skill in achieving dreams. You might occasionally be “in the right place at the right time”, but those opportunities are rare. If you have a dream it will be difficult to achieve. Should I say it again? It will be difficult. There will likely be lots of long days, sleepless nights and sweat equity. Otherwise it’s not much of a dream.

People put too much hope in others and not enough confidence in themselves.

Others don’t put as much energy or thought into your dream as you do. Many people never realize a dream because they expected something from others they never agreed to do. If you want your dream to come true you will have to go for it even when others aren’t as supportive as you would like them to be.

I should not here – this doesn’t mean we discount the voices of others completely. For example, I don’t believe God calls a married couple to competing dreams. He may lay a dream on one heart before he does the other – and one person may be more adventurous than the other – but, in the end God will bring the two together on the same dream if it is His will for the couple. Sometimes we need others to help us discern what God is calling us to do and what he is not.

People have unrealistic dreams.

This may be where other people help us discern our dreams. Some dreams simply aren’t realistic. If the dream is for a trouble-free, perfect life – that’s probably not going to become a reality. Winning the lottery as a retirement plan – statistically speaking – may not be a realistic dream. Expecting your family to always be “drama free” – well, best wishes on that dream. Learning to navigate an excellent dream in the midst of a world full of sorrow is a key to discovering the greatest and most achievable dreams in life.

People devalue the dreams already realized.

This is a biggie. What if you are already “living the dream”? Right now you may not have all you want, but considering the fallen world around us many of us have pretty good lives comparatively. Sometimes contentment is our problem more than not achieving the next great dream. If we always live thinking the “grass is greener” with the “next big thing” we never fully appreciate the dreams God has already given us. In fact, I believe God may often wait to give us what’s next until we learn how to be satisfied (in Him) where He currently has allowed us to be.

I am a proponent of dreaming! I think it can be healthy for us personally and even for couples. I am more of a dreamer than my wife, but dreaming together has been a part of keeping our marriage strong over the years. We’ve loved dreaming ahead, watching, waiting, and working for what is next. Here’s to better dreaming in your world!

10 Things I’d Do If I Were Raising a Son Today

I revised and reposted 10 Things I’d Do If Raising a Daughter Today recently. In this post, I will focus on raising a son.

I know a little more about this subject, having two incredible sons of my own. But, we always look at life differently from the other side of it. My boys are grown. I’m still parenting, but in a completely different way. My parenting these days is one of influence. Thankfully, both boys still come to me desiring my input into their life. There is no greater joy than seeing boys become God-honoring young men. I’m thankful to have a front row seat with my sons.

But, even knowing the incredible young men I have as sons, there are things I would do differently if I had that part of life to do over again.

I know boys become men. And, every man I know, whether or not he admits it, struggles at some level with confidence. He struggles to know he is enough, that he can do what God calls him to do. Every man is desperate for someone to believe in him.

And, sadly, we are living in the age where the absentee father is normal. It once was the exception. (That’s the subject of another post, but it’s plaguing our society. Check any statistics.)

I was mindful of these truths when my boys were young, but I’m older now. The seasons of my life have taught me so much more.

So, I would be even more intentional today – if I were raising sons.

Here are 10 things I’d do if raising a son today:

I would introduce him to Jesus from the day he was born. Every little boy likes to role play and act out their heroes – even if only in their minds, and I would engage him in the stories of the Bible. We would learn truth, faith and courage as we role played scenes of valiant warriors for God, such as David, Gideon and Daniel. (Acting out Jonah might be kind of fun too.)

I would show him I believe in him, by learning to enjoy, value and support the activities and dreams important to him – including loving his friends. I’d tell him daily I’m proud of who he is and the individual God created him to be.

I would make myself available to him when he needed me. Not only when it was convenient or didn’t interfere with my work or my hobbies, and assure him I would never leave him or reject him. I would want him to know I would be there for him all of his life – through good days and bad.

I would strive to personally live a respectable and God-honoring life, so he could model after me, and likewise be respectable – knowing respect will be his greatest need in life.

I would model for him how to love a woman, by valuing and treating my wife as a treasured gift from God. He would never hear me degrade anyone, but instead hear me valuing others. He would see me living a life of a servant – attempting to make a positive impact on the world around us.

I would help him build confidence by giving him ample opportunities to explore, to dream, to be adventuresome, to risk it all, even allowing him to fail under my watch, so I could encourage him to start again, explaining to him the only way to be a failure is to not get back up from a fall.

I would help him develop confidence, strength and courage through his walk with Christ, gaining the awesome reality the only limits on him would be the ones he set for himself.

I would let him know the boundaries of the house, being certain he would test them, so he could learn even in freedom there are consequences for misbehaving and sin. And, I would model for him the value of a sincere apology – learning how to give and grant forgiveness.

I would teach and model for him character and integrity – that the real value of a man is not in the sum total or his possessions, but in the sum total of knowing God intimately and when those who know him best honor him most.

I would build deep faith in him, at times, letting him see me afraid, even seeing me cry, to show him a man can be courageous and still be vulnerable. Then I would let him see me following even closer after God for direction and strength to continue the journey – even when afraid or the answers are unknown.

That’s if I were raising a son today.

Are you raising a son? Tell me about him.

Final note on these two posts, one for raising daughters and this for raising sons. They are somewhat interchangeable. Some of each list could apply to raising boys or girls. They are aspirations. There are no perfect parents.

I have observed, however, there are parents more intentional than others. There are parents who parent with the sober reality we have precious little time to mold children who will be adults longer than they are children. Parents who know it takes time, energy, consistency and intentionality to parent well. Mostly knowing it takes the grace of God to be a great parent.

10 Things I’d Do If I Were Raising a Daughter Today

I wrote this post a few years ago, but it came to my attention again after someone shared it, so I decided to revise and repost it. 

I never had a daughter. I have a great daughter-in-law, and she has a special relationship with her dad, but I never got to raise a girl. We are hoping some day for a granddaughter – should the Lord provide. 

I watch from the sidelines some of my friends who have daughters and know I missed something special without a “daddy’s girl”. (I guess that’s why we’ve chosen to have female puppy dogs.) 

Don’t misunderstand me, I wouldn’t trade my boys. I’m thankful for them and our relationship, but there is something unique about the relationship between a father and a daughter. 

One thing I have observed, even in my own life, is what an important role a dad plays in a child’s life. And, again, watching others, it seems to me if the right foundation is set, the role of a dad can help a girl have confidence, feel loved and beautiful, and achieve great things. The right foundation can help a girl avoid, or at least recover, from many of the scars life naturally will bring. Even when a girl becomes a woman. And, the dad plays a huge role in establishing this foundation – either by what he does or doesn’t do, whether fully present or completely absent. 

All women (all people) have scars of some kind. Sadly, I know a few girls – most of them now grown – who have scars caused by a dad. And, the scars caused by a dad may be among the worst.

As I’ve counseled dozens of hurt or angry girls over the years, I’ve often wondered what I would have done if I had raised a girl. Would would I do now if I were raising a girl?

Certainly the world can be a crazy place. Our children need us – perhaps now more than ever. If I were raising a daughter I would want to be wise and intentional. Maybe one dad out there will read this, consider his own role as a father, and be even more intentional in this important responsibility. 

(In my next post I will share some thoughts about raising a son.)  

Here are 10 things I’d do if I were raising a daughter today:

I would introduce her to Jesus, let her hear me pray for her daily and strive to live a godly life, after which she could model – and trust me to be consistent, although helping her discover I am not perfect, and the only real place to find fulfillment in this world is in a relationship with Christ.

I would let her see my wife is the most important woman in the world to me and encourage her to wait for a man willing to say – and live – the same.

I would dance with her, take her on regular dates, and hold her hand frequently, telling her daily how beautiful she is and that I love her unconditionally.

I would let her know, in word and actions, she is more important than my job, my hobbies, my favorite sports team and my iPhone. (And, actions do speaker louder than words.) 

I would encourage her to take risks, to defy the odds, to dream bigger dreams which may seem impossible and then help her have the confidence to go for them with everything she has in her – consistently reminding her she has what it takes to do anything she sets her mind to do and to settle for nothing less than her best.

I would hold the standard high for her, but instill in her the belief I’m here for her, regardless of what she does wrong, and nothing she could ever do would cause me to turn my back on her.

I would get her self-defense training – and teach her where to kick, but most of all to know how to face all her fears with courage and conviction. 

I would encourage her talents and abilities, to discover things about herself she didn’t know she could do, and instill a belief in her that God has great plans for her and will use her in incredible ways.

I would help her understand every boy’s intentions are not honorable, the world is not always kind, but she is worthy of and should always demand respect. 

I would teach her the world does not revolve around her, but around God, and show her how to love others even more than she loves herself. I would challenge her to be a giver in this world – making a difference and leaving her legacy on it by how she lives her life every day. 

That’s if I were raising a daughter.

Are you raising a daughter? Tell me about her.

7 Suggestions for a Leader to have a Better Weekend

Hint: It takes intentionality

If you are like me you love your weekends. T.G.I.F., right? In fairness, my weekends are shorter than some. My busiest day is usually Sunday. But, I love the weekend I have.

In my experience, however, if we are not careful the weekend passes so quickly we begin another work week feeling we wasted the weekend we had. Or we are so stressed by the week behind or the week ahead that all we do is catch our breath and we can’t fully enjoy the weekend.

This is true for everyone, but from my perspective as a leader this is especially a problem. For most leaders, we never feel our work is done. What we are leading – and even more who we are leaving – always weighs heavily on our mind. This makes enjoying our weekend even more important, though – so we can be prepared for the week ahead. We need quality down time to experience the best quality “up” time.

So, how can we help guarantee better weekends? Every weekend – or at least most. I have learned the more intentional Cheryl and I are about planning for it, the better weekends we had as a family when our boys are home and now as empty-nesters.

Here are 7 suggestions for leader:

Plan well on Monday

Set your week up for success. Plan what you can realistically do in a week and end the week with a sense of accomplishment. I use checklists every day and every week. I try to end my Friday being as “done” as possible.

Do hard things now

Handle the hard stuff as they arise. Try not to carry it into the weekend. Obviously this is not always possible, but many times it is. For example, don’t put off a difficult conversation you know you have to have until Monday if you can and should do it today. It will haunt you all weekend. Whatever the issue, bite the bullet and handle the tough issue, as soon as effectively possible.

Be honest with others and your schedule

Don’t feel bad about declining activities on the weekend. If you want to go somewhere then go, but if you’d rather relax – don’t feel guilty saying so. The quality of and your ability to say no always determines the quality of your life and ultimately your leadership. Say yes sparingly when accepting weekend appointments. Invitations sometimes sound good on Monday, but are less exciting on Saturday morning.

Attend church

This is an appointment I think you should keep. Obviously this one doesn’t apply to my pastor friends (except when you’re on vacation and then I do think it applies – I wrote about that in another post), and I know it seems self-serving to suggest it. You should know I’m certainly not being legalistic. This is not my nature or theology. It’s just that I’ve hardly ever heard someone say they wish they’d skipped church. But I’ve heard many who believe it gave them a better weekend. We tend to think the opposite, especially on a busy weekend, but God always seems to bless the time we give Him.

Do things during the week so you can have a true Sabbath

Even though it makes for slightly longer weekdays, try to accomplish many of the “chores” you have to do before the weekend. Try to have some unplanned time simply to do what you enjoy. Sometimes I have no choice. Some projects require my Saturday, but if possible, I’m going to worker longer weekdays to enjoy a lighter Saturday.

Keep a fairly normal sleep schedule all week

If you always have to “catch up” on your sleep on the weekends, or you spend your week tired because of the late nights on the weekend, you never gain a healthy rhythm for life. Be reasonably consistent in your bedtime and waking up time and you’ll feel better and enjoy a more productive awake time.

Share time with people you love

And, doing the things you love. The best memories center around time with people we love and things we enjoy doing. We certainly have to balance the two. When the family is running in many different directions you end the weekend feeling like you “missed” the weekend. This means you may have to limit activities you or your family commits to or do things your family can do together. This takes prior thought and coordination, but makes for a more enjoyable weekend.

Pastors, this list includes you, too. I originally wrote it for you and decided to expand it to a more general audience. Your weekend may look different, as it may for other leaders, but you need to protect it. I wrote THIS POST on how I protect my Sabbath.

What tips do you have for a better weekend?

Five Personal Reflection Questions to Evaluate Your Year and Start the New Year Right

I’m a reflective person. This time of year, when we start to see all the “best of” reflections online and in the news, I like to do my own personal reflection. How was the year? What can we learn from it? How can I do better next year?

I think its a great exercise.

Perhaps you need a little help getting started. Take a couple hours over the next week or so – get alone – and reflect.

Here are five questions to get you started:

What was great?

List some of the highlights of your year. What gave you the most pleasure in life? Make sure they merit repeating – sin can have an immediate pleasure – but plan ways to rekindle those emotions in the new year. Most likely they involve relationships. The new year is a great time to plan some intentional efforts to strengthen relationships – spend more time with family and friends. Maybe you enjoyed the times you spent writing. Take some intentional steps to discipline yourself to do that more. Remember how good it felt that day you served people less fortunate than yourself? Well, now you know something you need to do more of in the new year.

What wasn’t great?

Think of some things that are draining to you personally. Again, it may be some relationship in your life. It could be a job or a physical ailment. It could also be that whatever it is that isn’t great has been around for more than a single year. But, chances are you’ve never taken the hard steps to do something about it. Sometimes recognizing those things is the first step to doing something about them. (Your answer may be that a relationship has ended – and there’s nothing you can do about it. Maybe this is your year to move forward again – even in spite of the pain.) Could this be the year?

What can be improved?

Sometimes it isn’t about quitting, but working to make something better that makes all the difference. Intentionality can sometimes take something you dread and make it something you enjoy. I’ve seen couples who appeared destined for divorce court turn into a thriving marriage when two willing spouses commit to working harder (and getting outside help if needed). I was out of shape in my mid-thirties. I’m healthier today in my 50’s than I was then. The change began in one year – one decision – one intentional effort. Conventional wisdom says a new habit begins in 21 days, but some now believe it may take as long as 66 days to really get a habit to stick. But, would it be worth it if you really began a daily Bible reading habit? Or the gym really was a part of your life more than just the first couple weeks in January? Maybe this is your year to get serious about improving some area of your life.

What do I need to stop?

Maybe you need to stop caring so much what other people think. Maybe you need to stop overeating. Maybe you need to stop worrying far more than you pray. Maybe you need to stop believing the lies the enemy tries to place in your mind. Maybe you need to stop living someone else’s life – and start living the life God has called you to. Maybe you need to stop delaying the risk – and go for it! Maybe you need to stop procrastinating. Do you get the idea? Sometimes one good stop can make all the difference. What do you need to stop doing this year, so you can reflect on this year as your best year ever? Start stopping today!

What do I need to start? 

Think of something you know you need to do, but so far you’ve only thought about it. Maybe you started before but never committed long enough to see it become reality. Often, in my experience, we quit just before the turn comes that would have seen us to victory. Is this the year you write the book? Is this the year you pursue the dream? Is this the year you mend the broken relationship? Is the year you finish the degree? Is this the year you get serious about your financial well-being – planning for the future? Is this the year you surrender your will to God’s will – and follow through on what you know He’s been asking you to do? Maybe getting active in church is your needed start this year. Start starting today!

Five questions. When I’m answering questions like this, I like to apply them to each area of my life – spiritual, physical, relational, personal, financial, etc. Reflect on your life with God, with others, and with yourself. This can be a powerful exercise.

Try answering some of these questions and see how they help you start your best year ever!

The Best Christmas Present You Can Ever Give

Give words...

What’s the best Christmas present you can ever give?

Give words. Give the gift of written words.

Years ago, when I was almost 18, and just about to graduate from high school, my grandmother gave me a Bible for Christmas.

It’s a great Bible. In fact, it was my first study Bible – a New American Standard, Ryrie Study Bible. I still have it and occasionally use it today. It was a quite expensive gift for her at the time.

But, the greater part of the gift was a supplement to the book inside the Bible.

Inside she included these handwritten notes. Please understand, I know the words of the Bible are eternally more important than the words of my grandmother, but I have lots of Bibles. These words cannot be duplicated by anyone else.

She shared her heart. She wrote Scripture which was important to her. She encouraged me to live a life of value. She expressed her joy in being my grandmother.

It was the greatest part of the gift. The most valuable.

It was then and it is now. I’m 52 years old – almost 53 – and this is still one of the best gifts I’ve ever received. 

I still have the Bible – and, like I said, it sits tighter with many other Bibles on my shelf. I could replace the Bible. I can’t replace these notes.

My grandmother died in 2013, a few months after my grandfather. She was my last remaining grandparent. As soon as I heard of her death, I went to that Bible – to read the notes she had written. I have read these notes 100’s of times since she first wrote them. I’m positive – Lord willing – I’ll read them 100 more.

The best Christmas gift ever- at least that a human can give – is to give the gift of words.

Who needs a letter from you this Christmas?

Maybe a child, a grandchild, a parent, a spouse, a friend. Write! Give. Bless.

7 Simple Ideas to Strengthen Your Marriage

I’ve shared recently about ways we injure our spouse without even knowing it. You can read the husband’s post HERE and the wife’s post HERE.

A common request after those posts was I should share ways to strengthen the marriage. I should note I’m hesitant to offer what appears to be therapy by list, because a good marriage is far more than a formula. Actually, all of life is, including leadership. Any area of our life where people are involved – which is pretty much all our life – can never be reduced to 7 steps or 7 suggestions.

Plus, just being honest, it’s always easier to point out the problems than to fix them.

So, you’re naturally wondering, why I share so many lists. I’ve been called the “list king”.

Well, for one, it is the way I think. I also know, however, one reason some enjoy my blog posts is I give lists which people can easily identify with and apply to their own life. finally, lists can be effective. My theory is we can often determine the things which stimulate or encourage outcomes.

Basically, using this idea, I can’t force my marriage to be better. I also can’t change my wife. (Not that she needs changing – but for discussion purposes. I’m likely the one who needs the most changes in our marriage.) But, there are things I can do which can help my marriage improve, and often those things don’t start with my spouse – they start with me – they start with things I do or we do together.

One suggestion someone offered as a way to improve a marriage is to consider the opposite of the ways we injure our spouse. Just take the 7 points in each of the above referenced posts and do the opposite of them. That’s good, but I thought I would add some more. Another list of stimulants.

Do you want to strengthen your marriage? No, there’s not a formula. But, maybe some of these ideas can help.

Here are 7 simple things you can do to strengthen your marriage:

Share calendars

This one certainly seems simple, but it gives Cheryl great comfort to be able to follow my schedule throughout the day. I know many spouses, probably especially some men I know, reject this idea as too intrusive, but for us, it has strengthened our relationship. Cheryl knows who I’m meeting with, what the key stresses of my day are, and usually what time I should be home so we can eat together. (Or if we have dinner plans.)

The bottom line here is Cheryl loves living life with me. For most wives, they go through their day thinking about the people they love. (Not that men don’t, but it’s different for most of us. We tend to think only about the thing we are concentrating on at the time, whether work, our hobby or our family.)

By sharing a calendar there are fewer surprises for Cheryl (and me). Sure, everyday is full of things we didn’t plan, and we can spend the evening talking about those, but it helps us feel a part of each other’s day when we have a general idea of what we are doing.

Want an action step? Spend 30 minutes this weekend sharing each other’s calendars for the next month. This is a seamless process for us now. With Google calendars when I add to my calendar or the person who keeps my work calendar does, it instantly updates for Cheryl to see.

Plan frequent escapes together

Periodically we place an escape on the calendar for a few weeks or a couple months from today. We both live stressful lives and our best times are often when we purposely get away from everything and everyone. It could be for a day trip or a couple days, but we need to know the “catch up” time is coming. The more stressful the season the more this is needed.

One actionn step here is to look a couple months out and plan an escape. Put it on the calendar you now share. Do it today!

Have a date a week – or as often as possible

Once a week is preferable, but I realize this is difficult during certain seasons of life. But, Cheryl and I need time for just us – often. Even as empty-nesters we’ve learned how critical this is for our marriage. We have a tendency to fill our schedules with lots of activities and we need some time to slow down. This goes on our calendar. Every week if possible.

I realize this can get expensive for young couples with children. This is a great place to build relationships in the church with people in a similar place in life. Offer to trade babysitting for babysitting, so both couples can more affordably invest in their marriage.

Here’s an action step – Find one night (or one day) and put it on your calendar for the next couple months as close to once a week as you can – until it becomes a habit. Then keep it there.

Increase communication

Cheryl and I can usually tell when we haven’t been communicating enough. We start to miss details about each other’s lives. We have to repeat ourselves to each other. It’s usually when one or both of us has the heaviest agendas and we are running at full speed. It’s easy to get into routines and have surface conversations. In times like this, we will often discipline ourselves to take a walk together, go for a drive, or even go to the mall together. It takes us away from the routines, phones and television and forces us to simply be together and talk. Communication is the fuel of a healthy marriage.

Again, I hear young couples all the time say they can’t make this work. For Cheryl and I when we were in this stage of life it was usually the last minutes of the day before we turned out the lights, but we were intentional to unpack the day together. If you find time to update Facebook and surf the web – or keep up with your favorite televisions program – you have time to talk. It takes an intentional effort.

Want an action step? Tonight – put your phones down, close the laptop, cut off the television, and for at least 30 minutes, talk. Bonus health points to take a walk together. (If you’re old enough – like us – you can even power walk the mall. 🙂 )

Communicate better

It’s not enough to spend time talking. We’ve got to learn to communicate more effectively. We all need to practice our listening skills and the gestures and body language we use. Often these are heard louder than our words. If you become as conscious of how you are saying something as much as what you say, you’ll find yourself injuring the other person less and causing fewer conflicts. It’s important to ask each other questions which spur deeper discussion and get to the heart of an issue rather than surface talk.

An action step here is to come up with a series of open-ended questions, 3 to 5 total, of things you’re curious about your spouse. (Such as: What’s your favorite memory of our first few dates together? Be creative here. Act like you’re getting to know each other all over again.)

Spend time dreaming together

Dreaming stretches the heart and mind and there’s no one we should dream with more than our spouse. As couples settle into routines, sometimes we stop doing this the way we once did. Dreaming together aligns the couple around shared values and goals.

Here’s an action you can do. Make a dream grid for each of you and for the couple. It can be one grid combined if you prefer. For each spouse and for the marriage, list 2 or 3 dreams you have. If there were no limitations, what would you like to do? Where would you like to go? Who would you like to meet? Place this somewhere in your house you’ll see often and discuss them on your date night.

Pray for one another

Did I really have to list this one? But, would you be honest enough to admit almost all of us are weak in the area of prayer at times? And, who more important to pray for than the one with whom we are to be becoming one?

An action step you can do today – Buy a notebook of some kind and make it a prayer booklet. List new prayer requests for your spouse and update old ones at least weekly. Spend a few minutes each day praying for the love of your life.

This is obviously not an exhaustive list. No doubt you’ve got your own ideas. Of course, none of these are fool proof. There’s no secret formula to a good marriage. It takes commitment, intentionality and hard work – and two willing people. But, two people working together can take actions which can spur a healthier marriage.

What tips to you have to strengthen a marriage?

Read the comments on THIS POST for some cheap date ideas.

10 Prayers Every Wife Should Pray for Her Husband

Dear Lord,

Please help him to learn and manage healthy balance – between work, family, and play.

Allow him to know his full potential and how much his family believes in him.

Give him confidence in his God-given abilities.

Soften his heart to appreciate and enjoy the things which please you most.

Remove guilt from his life and let him rest in the sufficiency of your grace extended to him.

Give him meaningful friendships with other men who will challenge, encourage, and hold him accountable.

Grant him wisdom to know Your will so he may lead his family and life well.

Supply him with God-given courage to face the challenges which come our way with strength and boldness.

Help him to slow down, enjoy life, and appreciate the little things, which are often proven someday to be the big things.

Grow his love for You and his family daily. Keep him as the apple of your eye.

In Jesus name,

Amen

7 Suggestions When a Good Marriage Isn’t Working

All marriages go through periods where things just aren’t as they should be. It’s a natural occurrence in any relationship involving people. (I suppose this would include most marriages). The stress and pace of life causes tension in the best marriages. Even good marriages suffer at times.

Cheryl and I have had several of those times, usually due to external pressures we did not cause or invite. It could be my work – or hers – or family situations. Outside stress causes tension in the relationship. Things aren’t falling apart. We aren’t questioning our commitment to each other, but we both know things aren’t working as well as they should be. We are having more miscommunication, we are more tense in our reaction to each other, or we may just feel we are passing each other through our days, not connecting as well as we usually do. Thankfully, we’ve always been intentional during those times.

Those times are usually seasonal and they happen in most every marriage. This appears especially true in the earlier years of the marriage, but we shouldn’t be surprised if they happen later in a marriage either. When major changes in the marriage or in life occur, such as children moving out of the house, loss of job, or other serious trauma, marriages can struggle for a time. That’s normal.

Those periods can last a week, a few weeks, or a month or more. It isn’t that the couple doesn’t love each other, or even that they want out of the marriage, but that they just aren’t on the same page as much as they should be. The key in those times isn’t to panic, but to intentionally work to restore total health to the marriage.

Has your marriage ever been there?

During these times the way a couple responds is critically important to the long-term strength of the marriage. Ignoring these times – or pretending they don’t exist – could have disastrous consequences.

Here are 7 suggestions for those seasons of marriage:

Communicate

It is especially important during stressful seasons you keep talking, to each other and to God. Even when it’s awkward to do so keep the lines of communication open. Admit where you are in the marriage. Again, this may hurt for a time, but it’s better to be honest now than to allow the marriage to fall apart or slip further from health later. You may need to schedule times to talk – timing is important – but don’t neglect this one.

Stay close

Keep doing things together. Sleep in the same bed. Find times to do special activities. Have regular date nights. Talk. This will help protect your heart from wandering. You must not let the tension of the times become a wedge between you. This includes letting other people – friends, coworkers, in-laws, parents, even children – should not intefere in the closeness you share with your spouse. Protect the integrity of your relationship. At one time you would have probably considered yourselves best friends. Rekindle those days.

Discipline yourself

There will be times when you are tempted to say the wrong things or treat your spouse unkindly. It will require discipline to do the right thing, and say the right thing, but it will help protect the marriage. Here’s where you may have to use the Spirit of God’s strength working in you. Before you start to say something you may regret – whisper a prayer asking for God’s help.

I always suggest this question. Would you let other people talk to your spouse the way you are talking to them?

Get help

Don’t be afraid to ask for help – and, don’t wait until things are beyond repair to do so. Even the best marriages need some at times. This may be counseling, meeting with Christian friends you trust, or doing a Bible study together, but it is important you invite someone to speak into your life. This is an investment in your marriage which may help you get to a new level of trust and intimacy you’ve never experienced – or haven’t experienced in a while.

Of course, the greatest help you can get is from the Creator of marriage. Now is a time to grow your relationship with God individually and as a couple.

Learn

There are always principles to strengthen your marriage that can be learned during these times. Cheryl and I have learned, for example, that during especially stressful periods we have to be more intentional with our marriage. You may need to learn how to communicate better, how to handle conflict, or how to dream together again. This is a great season to do some of those things. It’s also a good idea to surround yourself with people in stronger marriages – maybe even find an older, mature couple to mentor you in marriage. (This is usually not parents. You need more objective voices.)

Be Patient

When you are in a “season” you’ll want change immediately, but relationships don’t work that way. Chances are it will take longer than you expect or want it to take to get through this period. Be patient. A good marriage is worth it.

Hang on

This may be the most important. Don’t give up! Renew your commitment to the marriage and each other. These seasons won’t last forever if you continue to work on your marriage. Be committed enough to your marriage to stick with it until this season passes. Every marriage can be restored and improved with two parties working together – especially if you are intentional and do something before things get desperate.

Keep in mind, I’m not talking about times of abuse, neglect, affairs, or severe marriage issues. I’m speaking of times when the marriage just isn’t as much fun anymore. This is also when both spouses still want the marriage to work and are willing to work at making the marriage better. If any of those more serious issues are occurring, get serious help immediately.

You might also read my post “Making Marriage Fun Again“.

Again, have you been there?

Help others out. How did your marriage survive through a stressful time in marriage?

4 Ways to Keep Your Marriage from being Injured During the Holidays

The Christmas season can be hard on relationships. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met with a couple after the holidays because of problems developed – or were exaggerated – between Thanksgiving and New Years.

How can you protect your marriage this Christmas? Sounds like a good goal, right?

Here are 4 suggestions to keep your marriage from being injured during the Christmas season?

Plan a budget together.

Agree upon how much you are going to spend – and, stick to it. This may require compromise. There will often be one spender and one saver in a relationship. Or two spenders. A good principle is don’t spend in December what you’re going to regret in January. Be wise on the front end.

Protect your family first.

Even if it means saying no to some extended family events or time with friends, put your immediate family needs ahead of other obligations. Have time together as a family. (For years we did this wrong and we regretted it later. It wasn’t until our boys were in high school and they could voice that they wanted more time with just us that we started to scale back our schedule.) As a couple, agree on where you’ll spend your time before you spend your time anywhere this holiday season. You may have to support each other with the other spouse’s families. (Wives speak to their families. Husbands speak to their families.) This doesn’t mean your decision will be popular or that it won’t be challenged, but your children will only be children for a few short years.

Build traditions which help build the family.

We often get distracted by things which matter less. Find a way to celebrate the reason for the season together. It could be reading the Christmas story or serving at a homeless shelter or annually letting Linus from Charlie Brown’s Christmas remind you of the true meaning of Christmas as you watch it together. The baby, who is a Savior, has been born – He is Christ the Lord. Lead your family to celebrate Christmas – the real Christmas – and you’ll enjoy it even more.

When tension is outside don’t let it reign inside.

The Christmas season can be so busy. It’s hard to be everywhere we are expected to be. It seems emotions run abnormally high this time of year. People who don’t see each other often are in close quarters with one another. It can lead to tense relations. There’s often tension in the stores and on the streets and in someone’s kitchen. Decide now nothing will distract you from the closeness you have as a couple and as a family. Make this a celebration season which grows your heart stronger as a couple and a home.

Just a few suggestions. Any you have?