7 Acts of Grace in a Marriage

happy young couple

After years of working with marriages, including my own, I’ve come to a conclusion. Marriages that struggle are often lacking one key ingredient. It’s something that, when missing from any relationship, will cause trouble in the relationship. The missing ingredient is called grace. And, when applied appropriately, it’s amazing.

If the marriage is struggling, one remedy is to apply more grace. Of course, it ultimately takes two people to make the marriage work, but one way to improve things is to interject more grace. When both parties are grace-giving to each other, the marriage can soar.

Here are 7 acts of grace in a marriage:

Recognize differences – You first have to know them, but you have to give grace for your uniqueness. No two people in the world are alike and that’s never realized as more true than in a marriage relationship. The more you understand those differences the better you’ll be able to grow the strength of the marriage. And, if you live in the grace of marriage you’ll spend a lifetime in discovery…never believing you’ve got this person completely figured out, but always dating, always exploring new dreams together, always learning about each other.

Respect differences – It is not enough just to know the differences, you have to accept them. Respect them. This doesn’t mean making excuses for them but fully embracing the other person’s uniqueness as a gift to the marriage and allowing them to work for the marriage rather than against it. I’m an introvert. My wife is an extrovert. I can’t always be introverted and respect her extroversion. And vice-versa. I need to talk and listen sometime for her. She needs to allow quiet sometimes for me, but when we blend the two differences together, we become a power couple for the ministry God has given us.

Clear boundaries – Don’t hold your spouse accountable for what they don’t know. Understand the unique needs of each person to keep the marriage strong. Establish the boundaries that are reasonable and agreed upon by both spouses, then live within them. It’s not legalism, it’s giving grace to the other person. For example, I know that Cheryl needs quality time. It’s her love language. I extend grace to her when I protect my schedule to spend ample time with her during the week. She knows I am fueled on her respect of me, so she “graces” me by not speaking down to me in public.

Forgive easily – Have high standards for your marriage, but recognize two imperfect people are trying to uphold them. You’ll make mistakes. Both of you. You aren’t perfect. And, neither is the person you married. You extend grace when you practice granting forgiveness more than you practice holding a grudge.

Serve expecting nothing in return - Part of gracing one another is doing for each other with no strings attached. The goal is not a 50/50 partnership, but that each spouse extend 100% grace to one another. When a couple mutually submits to one another…even out-serving each other…the bond of the marriage is strengthened. (See Ephesians 5:21)

Extend trust – A marriage won’t grow far beyond where trust is still being earned. Many of us bring our own hurts into a marriage. It can be difficult to place full confidence in the other person, especially after mistakes are made. For a marriage flourish, you have to risk being hurt and extend the grace of trust. (There will be those reading this who have had reasons to mistrust their spouse…I get that…and it takes time to recover from severe hurt in the marriage. At some point, however, for the marriage to ever be all it should be, a risk of trust will have to be given again. That takes grace.)

Love the mundane – Let’s be honest. We live in a fast-paced world and sometimes, if things aren’t moving fast enough, we can fall into routines and life can be boring. That bothers some of us more than others. For some of us, we love the big…the grandiose. We love the mountaintop weekends and the pinnacle vacations. We want every moment of our life to be extraordinaire. And, frankly, it’s not. It can’t be. And, if we aren’t careful, we can get bored even in the marriage. In fact, I’d be bold enough to say boredom is a leading cause of marriages that fall into trouble. It often starts there at least. Grace in a marriage means that we learn to love the highs…which is easy…and the lows…which is hard…and the mundane…which is sometimes…for some people…the hardest of all.

Can I ask you a question? Will you be honest with yourself?

Is your marriage suffering from a lack of grace?

7 Ways a Wife Injures a Husband…Without Even Knowing It

counseling distressed couple

I was talking to a man the other day. He’s injured. Not severely. He will survive. Hopefully. The wounds aren’t deep. Right now. But, he is injured.

It’s an emotional injury. Sometimes those are the worst kind of hurts.

The person doing the injuring: His wife.

And she…most likely…doesn’t even know she’s doing it.

Surprised?

I’m not. It happens all the time. She’s probably injured too. And, he doesn’t even know he’s doing it to her. Marriages are made of two very different, imperfect people. Plus, we often injure most those we love the most.

My friend is newly married. Over the course of the last few months he’s began to realize how many things his wife is saying and doing that are causing him to pull away from her. He even recognizes his reaction as a defense mechanism. Rather than start a fight, he withdraws. And, he’s withdrawn to the point that he was willing to admit his hurt…which is difficult for any man to do. I was proud of him for being humble enough to ask if this was normal in a marriage.

It didn’t take long before I realized, however, this marriage is heading for disaster if they don’t address their issues soon. There’s a great chance she has questions about the relationship also. Thankfully, they’re in a great season to ask hard questions…learn valuable lessons…and strengthen the marriage.

I should be clear. This is not a counseling blog. And, this couple needs counseling. Even though I have a degree in counseling, this is simply a blog where I want to help people. Mostly that’s by addressing leadership issues, but sometimes I address the issues dealing with relationships…families…marriage…children. Because, those issues impact us all. And, our leadership.

Which led me to this post…addressing the ways wives injure their husbands…without even knowing it. I realize this works both ways. As a man, I feel most prepared to address this side of the issue. I consulted with my wife for the companion post 7 Ways a Husband Injures His Wife…Without Even Knowing It.

Here are 7 ways a wife injures her husband (without even knowing it):

Put him down in front of other people – Most men will not counter this type of humiliation in public…if ever. They will simply take it…and hurt. If they do eventually address it it will be out of stored up resentment…maybe anger…and it won’t be pretty.

Go behind him when he tries to do something at home – When you always show him how much better you can do things than he can do them, his ego is injured. When he fixes the bed…for example…and you follow behind him showing him the “correct way” immediately after he finishes, he is reminded he doesn’t measure up to your standards.

Constantly badger him – If he doesn’t do what you want him to do…and you remind him. Again. And, again…it never accomplishes what you think it will. In fact, it injures him with the opposite result.

Use the “you always” phrase…excessively – Because…he “always” does… Not really, but when you accuse him that he always does…sadly, it only helps build him into a man that always will.

Hold him responsible for your emotional well-being – Acting as if he’s the reason you feel bad today…and every other day you feel bad…puts undue pressure on him he doesn’t know what to do with. And, you don’t have to tell him. Subtly, just be in a bad mood towards him…without releasing him from guilt. He’ll take the hint…and own the responsibility. He will think it’s his fault even if it’s not. And, he caries that pain.

Complain about what you don’t have or get to do – He has a desire to fix things. He wants to be a provider. Every man does. Some attempt to live it out and some don’t. But, when he’s trying, doing the best he can, yet he feels he isn’t measuring up…he’s crushed. When you are always commenting on what other women have…that you don’t…he carries the blame…even if you’re not intending it to be his.

Don’t appreciate his efforts – Want to injure a man? Refuse to appreciate the things he feels he does well. It could be work, a hobby or a trait, but he feels part of his identity in the things he does. When you don’t find them as “valuable” as he does, his ego is bruised.

The reality is a man’s ego…self-confidence…sense of worth…is greatly tied to his wife. Just as a woman’s is to her husband. We can be fragile people. Some more than others. And, some seasons more than others. Understanding these issues and addressing them…with a third party if necessary…build healthier, stronger and happier people…and marriages.

I understand some women, especially the equally or more wounded women, are going to take offense to this post. I get that. I’m prepared for that…I think. All I can say is that you can’t measure my heart or my intention. As I said, I aim to help. You can’t address what you do not know. If you are guilty of any of these, the response is up to you. If not, well, thanks for reading to this point in the post anyway.

I’m praying this lands on ears that need to hear.

For a similar post, click HERE

(Note: I used this post in a message I preached on marriage. You can view it HERE. Also, I wrote a parenting version of this post about ways parents injure a child. Read it HERE.)

4 Easy Reminders to be a Great Parent

Couple giving two young children piggyback rides smiling

Parenting is hard. I have two wonderful adult children, but I’m still wondering why God blessed us with such grace. But, looking back I’ve learned there are a few principles that actually work.

The title says these are “easy”…and they are in some ways. None of these are hard to remember. None of these are hard to implement…with personal discipline. But, living them daily, in addition to the normal stresses of life…can seem very difficult at times.

But, great parents are continually working at them.

Here are 4 principles to be a great parent:

(Or the best parent you can be…)

Be present. Be there for your kids. Stay committed to them throughout their life. Be willing, especially in the formative years, to sacrifice your time for them. They’ll know whether or not you really want to be with them. And, something positive happens when they have your full attention. They model. (So also live a life worth modeling.)

Be intentional. Make a plan for each individual child based on their needs and work the plan. Introduce them to Christ. Involve them in church regularly. Help them with their school work. Teach them Biblical principles. Do what’s best for them…even when it isn’t popular with them.

Be relational. Let love reign. Keep grace flowing. Provide healthy discipline…because you love them and they need it at times. Be patient, recognizing they are learning….even when it seems some days they are not. Don’t ever let them think they have to earn your love. You may not always approve of their actions, but be sure they have no doubts that you approve of them. Spend time with them doing what they enjoy doing. Sacrifice your time to play with them…even at the end of a long, hard day. It will be worth it.

Be consistent. Keep doing the right thing…always…continually. Over and over again. That’s what the great parents do.

Even if you do everything you know to do, children are unique individuals…with wills of their own. They will make choices in life…and mistakes…just as you do.

Parenting IS hard, but you’ve got this. And, the reward of seeing adult children thrive…worth every sacrifice.

A Key to Keeping Any Relationship Strong

Elderly couple

One key that helps keep any relationship strong…especially the marriage relationship…is what I call…

Keeping Short Accounts

The premise is simple. If something is bothering you now, even if it is a small matter, it will only bother you more in days to come if you don’t deal with it. You basically have two choices. You can choose to let it go and live with it (Which most of us are not very good at doing) or you can address the area of concern. One of the two must be chosen or the issue will eventually become a major problem.

I realize the first option seems to be the easier option many times. It avoids conflict. It keeps things from being messy. It’s a passive approach that works for a time.

But, here is a truth you cannot escape: Over time, small problems become big problems and big problems destroy relationships.

Learning how to handle conflict is critical to any relationship…especially a healthy marriage, so begin to deal with the issues of concern in the relationships you care most about protecting before they begin to negatively alter the strength of the relationship.

What is bothering you about a relationship in your life?

If the problem never goes away, can you live with it and the relationship still be healthy? If not, keep a short account…address with the problem…get outside help if needed…and get on to making the relationship better.

10 Life Reminders from “It’s a Wonderful Life”

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Cheryl and I saw “It’s a Wonderful Life” again this year. That isn’t unusual. It was probably about the thirtieth time or so. We love the movie. It may be considered my “favorite”…if I ever had to declare one.

This time we got to see it on the big screen. One of our local, historic theaters, shared the film for Christmas. There was something even more wonderful about “It’s a Wonderful Life” in that setting. I took time to reflect on the moment. I was reminded how many life lessons this movie provides.

Here are 10 life lessons from “It’s a Wonderful Life”:

It’s not just about us.

When we hurt, we hurt others.

We can’t hide our pain from people we love.

We need community. (Even better, a community of prayer.)

There is power in cooperation.

We seldom know the impact we have on others.

Character speaks louder than cash.

“All you can take with you is that which you have given away”. (Peter Bailey)

No man is a failure who has friends”. (Clarence)

Our life matters. Your life matters. (“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” – Clarence.)

What did I miss?

7 Tips for Healthier Marriage Communication

happy couple 2

Marriages are built on communication. Improve communication…improve the marriage. Poor communication…it will be very difficult to have a successful marriage. We could all stand to improve in this area.

Here are 7 tips for better communication in marriage:

Be a good listener – You can never expect to grow in your communication until you learn to truly hear one another. Have you been listening lately?

Timing is important – Don’t try to address major issues when the other party is distracted. Set aside time to address important topics. Know when to speak and when to listen. Do you need to be silent more often?

Never criticize the person – You can address actions, but when you attack the person, defenses rise and communication fails. Every time. Are you being critical of the one you are supposed to be building up?

Be willing to give each other credit for differences

There are so many…

Men, you can’t talk to your wives as you talk to your guy friends…She is more tender hearted…understand that an deeper meaning is often attached to what they are saying.

Women, if you want your husband to understand something…You must say it in a language he understands…simple…straight-forward…men don’t as easily read subtleties or between the lines.

Keep emotions under control – When the female starts shedding tears or the males anger rises, even though both can be natural responses for either person, communication is hindered. Wait until the intense emotions calm, then address the issue. But, definitely address the issue.

Prompt resolutions – Don’t let issues linger too long. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. The longer an issue lingers, the harder it is to address. Do you have some issues you need to address?

Be willing to humble yourself and forgive – Marriage is hard; people make mistakes; marriage must be free flowing with grace. Are you holding a grudge you need to release?

What would you add to the list? What has improved the communication in your marriage?

Be honest: What is the real state of your marriage communication? Be willing to get the help you need.

There’s a difference in knowing and doing. Let’s commit to improving our marriage communication. I’m in…how about you?

For more help for your marriage, click HERE.

10 Ways to Overcome a Sense of Christmas Loss

Christmas tree gifts

Christmas is a wonderful time of the year. As the song goes, “it’s the most wonderful time of the year”. But, for some people, Christmas can be a miserable time. Many have lost a loved one, suffered the end of a significant relationship, or even had a severe personal loss of income or health and Christmas is a just another reminder of what they no longer have. If we aren’t careful, the joy of Christmas is covered over with the emotions of loss, and rather than appreciating what we have or looking forward to what’s to come, we find ourselves in Christmas misery.

In a recent Christmas message, I shared some suggestions for dealing with the emotions of Christmas loss. I consulted with two professional Christian counselors in our church Jennifer Degler and Elizabeth Ellis. With their advice and some of my own, I’m offering some practical ways to overcome that sense of Christmas loss.

Ideally, Christ is the answer (and in the message I make that clear). Apart from Christ there is no Christmas and there is no peace. These are not designed to take the place of that truth, but rather to give some practical things to help you deal with loss at Christmas.

Here are 10 ways to overcome a sense of Christmas loss:

List your losses – Death, divorce, injury, finances…children moved out this year…whatever they are…write them down. I’ve personally found journaling to be helpful. Admit the pain…write them down.

Share them – Certainly with God, but with a close friend, or with people who have experienced your loss. Don’t be ashamed to see a professional counselor. Find support in a Bible study group or prayer group. We were designed for community, especially for times like this.

Grieve the loss – Every loss must be grieved. The intensity of the grief may be determined by the intensity of the loss. Some form of depression is a normal response to grief. We’ve almost created a culture where we think suffering is abnormal. Don’t be afraid to grieve…even publicly at times. It’s okay to be human.

Resist falling into despair – That’s where you live in a false reality that all hope is gone. It’s not. By the way, you don’t do that by ignoring them.

Take care of your physical body- Eat well, exercise, and get adequate rest. It’s more important during a sense of loss.

Be aware of negative thinking – Catch the negative thoughts and replace them with thoughts that are positive and true. See Philippians 4:8.

Do something for someone else – There are many opportunities during the holidays to help people. Helping other people reminds us that loss is universal and that other people are struggling with you.

Force yourself to participate in social activities – You won’t feel like it, but social support is critical in recovering from loss. No one benefits by becoming a recluse. In fact, you actually increase the likelihood you will become clinically depressed.

Avoid the comparison game – Don’t compare your losses to other people’s losses. Significant loss naturally makes us focus inward, but that never works. And, it’s dangerous.

Honor you losses with new traditions – Begin some new family rituals that will help you reflect on the good things you experienced with the person you have lost or will help you remember happier days to come.

I shared one more suggestion, one I believe is the most powerful of all, in the Christmas message. It’s this: We have to learn to worship in tears. Obviously, Christ is the peace of Christmas, and He can fill your brokenness. You can trust Him. This Christmas, let the Christ of Christmas fill the void and loss you have in your heart and life.

You can find all my messages on my Vimeo page at vimeo.com/ronedmondson. This message is titled Obstacles to Christmas Joy: Loss.

The Best Christmas Present You Can Give

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Give words. Give 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 great gift. An expensive gift at the time.

But, inside she included these handwritten notes. She shared her heart. She wrote Scripture that 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 still have the Bible…although I have many other Bibles on my shelf…but I can replace the Bible. I can’t replace these notes.

My grandmother died a few months ago. 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…

(Take a hint…who needs a letter from you?)

5 Tips for Teaching Children Cooperation

Ants Carrying an Apple

My boy’s can “fondly” remember the time we drove from our driveway heading to an undisclosed location on vacation. I decided in advance not to tell them where we were going, but to let it be a surprise. We were actually heading to St. Louis, but to complicate the situation, I decided to drive all side roads. We went through what seemed to be every back road between our house and the hotel. What should have been a four and half hour trip ended up being an eight-hour trip. The boys complained frequently, which I expected, but when the trip was over, they realized we had experienced a great time just being together.

Why did I put my boys through such misery? Am I a bad dad? Well, the jury may still be out on that answer, but my logic was simple. I wanted us to enjoy the day together as a family and I knew if I told them in advance what I planned for us to do and how we would do it, there would have been no cooperation on their part.  As it turned out, we had a great trip, saw things we wouldn’t have seen on the main roads, and enjoyed the time together. In addition, it gave us a lasting memory and joke of a time when they were “miserable”.

How many times as parents do we wish our children would just go along with the plan? Are there days we simply wish they would cooperate, because we know in advance that if they will, everything will be so much better? Do we want our children to cooperate with others, maybe even others with whom they do not agree on every issue?

We are each born with natural tendencies towards selfishness and independence, but families work better when everyone gets along and cooperates. Teaching your children to cooperate should begin at an early age, as they first begin to play with other children. Once a child reaches elementary school there is a certain expectation, that he or she knows how to cooperate with other children. Learning to cooperate with others, however, is something in which each of us continues to mature throughout our life.

If you are struggling with instilling the value of cooperation in your children, here are some suggestions:

Do not make your children think they are the center of the world.  Sometimes we mistakenly give our children everything they want, refuse to see their faults, and never allow them to fail. The danger is that when they become adults they expect equal treatment from the world.  How is that working for you as an adult?

Model cooperation with others. Let your children see you getting along with other people, including people different from you. Be kind to the waitress who serves you. Don’t always have to have your way or prove your point. If you are constantly complaining or arguing with your spouse or other family or friends, your children will be more inclined not to cooperate with you or others and they will have learned it from you. Do you need to reconsider how you talk to people around you?

Do not provoke your children.  Ephesians 6:4 is our encouragement here, which says, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children”.  I was probably pushing that limit with the illustration above, but I kept it light-hearted and I knew my limits. Don’t make your expectations for them be so high they can’t live up to them. Don’t set unrealistic goals for them that are really your goals and not theirs. Remember they are children you are teaching how to be mature adults. Are you placing too high of expectations on your children for their age?

Be a giver. Let your children see and participate in opportunities to give to others.  Find ways they can observe you being generous with others and look for family activities where they can help you bless other people. Do a service project together. Be a giver. What is a way you could lead your family in a project to give back to others?

Live life with other people. One of the benefits of being in a healthy church or playing on a local sports team is your children get to be around other people and are often forced to figure out how to get along with each other. Find ways to allow your children to experience different cultures. Take a family mission trip. How have you exposed your children to people different from them?

What ways have you taught your children to cooperate?

5 Suggestions for Teaching Children Honesty

boy and father

When our boys were in middle school, we did not allow them to roam the mall on their own without an adult in the building. I know, call us bad parents, but we believed their safety was more important than their coolness with other children.

Once when our school system was closed because of snow, one of our boys spent the night with another boy his age. He told us they were going to a gym and would be home afterwards, but before he returned home, we received a call from another friend that had seen him at the mall. He was BUSTED! What was worse for him was when he found out that we would have been fine with him going to the mall, because the parent was going also. That was a huge lesson for him in honesty. Years later, when this same son had another situation that required honesty, he told the whole truth and nothing but the truths…so help him, God. As an adult now, I would “honestly” say that honesty is one of his best qualities.

Scripture is very clear for the believer about how we are to approach honesty. We are told to “let your yes be yes and your no be no”. Honesty is a value, however, that is shared by believers and non-believers. It’s sort of a baseline moral standard of expectation of society. Raising our children to be honest, therefore, is an important part of our parenting.

With that desire in mind, that is the purpose of this post.

5 suggestions to encourage your children to be honest:

Model it – If your children see you being dishonest, even on the telephone with the telemarketer or with your employer as to why you are not going to work, they are learning bad habits. Be honest with your words and your time.

Teach it – The Bible is full of great stories about honesty. Spend time reading and discussing them with your children. A few suggestions are stories such as Joseph and his brothers, Esther and her situation with Haman, and the story of Jacob and Esau. Obviously, you will need to study them first so you can discuss them with your children. Ask questions to see if they understand and what their values are towards the issue of honesty.

Enforce it – There are some issues that should be handled more strongly than others in parenting. Enforcing honesty is one of them. If you allow even little actions of dishonesty to go unchecked, you are building a negative principle into your child’s life that you will one day see again and regret. Of course, the punishment should always fit the age and the severity of the wrong, but the issue of honesty is one area where zero tolerance should be a part of your disciple plan.

Encourage it – Honesty should become an aspired value in your home. Find examples of honesty around you and talk about them with your children. When you see good news of this value being demonstrated, whether in the news, the church or community, make sure your children are made aware of the positive effects of honesty. Again, ask questions to make sure they understand the importance of being honest.

Reward it – When your children are found being honest, reward them. Our boys were told consistently that if they told us the truth we would respond much differently than if we had to figure out the truth on our own. Make being honest a big deal to them, even something to celebrate.

Working to establish honesty in your children early will help ensure they live honest lives as adults. Even though honesty is a shared value, most of us would agree, our level of trust in others has diminished in recent years. As parents, we play a large role in raising the level of honesty in our society, one family at a time.

What tips do you have for teaching children honesty?