Breath – The Pause for Connection

In marriage therapy work, one of the listening and connection skills we practice is sharing our feelings/experiences and validating our partner’s experiences. This is a fundamental building block of relationships, and it can lead to significant communication complications when it breaks down. Let me give you some examples of how it can break down. 

Husband (H): I am upset and angry that you spent so much time on the phone with your mother when we had plans to go out with friends. It made us late. I hate being late. I guess you care about your mother more than me. 

Wife (W): I hear that you are angry. You just don’t get it. My mom needed me. You have never liked her anyway. 

H: Now you are just turning this on me. Always blaming me and never apologizing. 

W: I might try to apologize if you were nicer to my mother and me. Don’t you remember how you treated her last Christmas?

(The conflict escalates here as the couple no longer discusses the original problem). 


Here is a second example.

Wife (W): I felt alone and rejected last Tuesday when you got home so late. I had no idea that you planned to watch the game with friends. I had supper ready for us, and honestly, I was planning to watch the game with you after we ate. 

Husband (H): I can see being lonely. But what do you mean rejected? I am home with you every night. I have not been out with friends for over two months. It was Steve’s birthday. Maybe I should have texted you to remind you, but I told you about these plans on Sunday. It makes me angry that you are accusing me of rejecting you.

W: You never told me about these plans on Sunday. I was out with the kids most of the day, so we were never really together on Sunday. You think you communicate, but you don’t. 

H: You never listen to me. We were standing right there in the kitchen. You even told me to have a good time. Honestly, your accusations make me not want to spend any time with you because I can never get it right. 

(You can also imagine how this little exchange only gets worse). 


I want to present a model for how to have these conversations calmly, improve your connections, and reduce the intensity of conflict. In the example above, the couples do an excellent job of starting with sharing their feelings. These are good “I” statements. And the response of their spouses begins well. You might even say they were validating because they at least “parroted” back what their partner said. “I can see being lonely,” or “I hear that you are angry.” 

But each partner quickly switches into a defensive mode of blaming or playing the victim. These words of accusation and victimhood undo any sense of validation between the couple, and it severs their connections. At this point, it becomes a tit-for-tat explosion. 

Validation requires two components:

  1. Make sure your partner feels heard. Use your own words.
  2. Taking ownership of the problem or offense. Admit what you did that caused the offense. 

Let me show you a better validation from each of the examples above. In the first example, it could have sounded like this:

W: I know it made you mad for me to spend so much time on the phone with my mom. Being late has never been your favorite thing and it probably made you embarrassed that all our friends were there waiting on us when we arrived. (The wife has been on the phone for a long time, and she summarizes her partner’s feelings in her own words.)

In the second example, the husband could have started here:

H: I regret that you were lonely and even felt unimportant when I didn’t come home. I want to spend time together, too. I thought I had told you it was Steve’s birthday, but somehow, I failed to make sure you knew about these plans. It might have helped for me to text you during the day to make sure we were on the same page.  (Again, he used his own words but also offers a bit of what he wished he had done differently).

So these modifications are suitable, but often, in any problem, there are two perspectives. The partner who offers validation can end up asking in their mind, “Well, what about me? When does my partner understand me?” 

This is where the often missed step of “Taking a Breath” is omitted. If you look back to the original examples, the spouse who got defensive was using their failed validation as an attempt to present their viewpoint/feelings/perspective. This is a “cart before the horse” scenario. Breathing is the secret to reaching a point where both partners are heard. 

Here is how it works. Imagine that each partner in the examples above gives the improved “edited” validations I offered. After saying those validations, they want to get confirmation from their partner that they feel understood. They might say something like, “Yes, thank you.” Or “I appreciate your understanding.” There might be some nonverbal confirmation of a smile or relaxing sigh. If you are unsure if your partner feels you “get it,” you can always ask, “Do you think I understand?” If you receive confirmation, you can take a breath and offer your feelings/perspective.

Feelings – Breath Cycle

So, let’s rework the above conversations with the Validation-Breathe cycle and see how they improve and how both partners feel heard and respected. 


Example 1

Husband (H): I am upset and angry that you spent so much time on the phone with your mother when we had plans to go out with friends. It made us late. I hate being late. I guess you care about your mother more than me. (This last statement is a criticism and not appropriate. But if the spouse does the validation, it will help settle any anger).

Wife (W): I know it made you mad for me to spend so much time on the phone with my mom. Being late has never been your favorite thing and it probably made you embarrassed that all our friends were there waiting on us when we arrived. (The wife owns being on the phone for so long, and she summarizes her partner’s feelings in her own words).

H: You are right; I was embarrassed. Thank you for understanding.

W: BREATHE

W: I felt trapped that night. I knew we needed to be leaving, but my mom was really struggling with a serious problem. I know my mom is difficult, and I don’t even like dealing with her all the time, but she is my mom, and I am the only support she has right now. 

H: Trapped. Like you were feeling pressure from both me and your mom? 

W: Yes.

H: I can see that. I am not sure how we could have solved that situation better, but from now on I can try to be more understanding of how hard it might be to have to be the only source of support for you mom.

W: Thank you. 


Example 2

Wife (W): Last Tuesday, I felt alone and rejected when you got home so late. I had no idea that you planned to go watch the game with friends. I had supper ready for us, and honestly, I was making plans to watch the game with you after we ate. 

H: I regret that you were lonely and even felt unimportant when I didn’t come home. I want to spend time together, too. I thought I had told you that it was Steve’s birthday, but somehow, I failed to make sure you knew about these plans. It might have helped for me to text you during the day to make sure we were on the same page.

H: (a bit unsure of what his wife is feeling) Do you think I understand what you are trying to say?

W: Yes. I am sorry. I appreciate you hearing me. 

H: BREATHE

H: I was a bit confused today when you brought this up since I thought I had communicated with you. Again, I may have not give you the message clearly. I appreciate that you wanted to spend time together because I want the same thing. Can we try again and find a time to schedule?

W: I agree we somehow missed each other in communicating plans. Can we just plan for this next game night to be our time to watch the game together?

H: Yes, I cannot wait. 

Pausing and taking a breath are a couple of small ways to enhance validation and connection in your marriage. Those “little things” create a space of safety between the two of you. Pause and breathe, slow down the process, and keep you from rushing into sharing your feelings/experiences. Intimacy requires both partners to feel understood. Love chooses not to rush the process – “It [Love] does not insist on its own way.” (I Corinthians 13:5, NRSV) 

Therapy in Bare Feet

We have developed a significant comfort level with telehealth options for our medical and mental health care. My private practice has shifted from providing in-home therapy to meeting with clients solely via encrypted and secure video. Following the pandemic, I found this method highly effective, convenient, safe, and practical for couples and families. 

Doing so much by video has changed many things. And one of those things is what we wear while conducting business by video. Since we only see each other from the chest up, this has lent itself to greater freedom in clothing options from the waist down. This may have created some rather embarrassing moments for some, but I can guarantee that I have consistently maintained a must-be-wearing “jeans” policy for all therapy sessions. But I do have a confession. I am barefoot for nearly 100% of therapy sessions. I even have a small heater for my feet in winter because cold toes can significantly distract me. 

Walking barefoot has many benefits. So many nerve endings in the bottom of the foot are stimulated when freed from shoes. Before you read any further, go outside and stand in the grass while you finish this blog. Imagine walking on the beach, splashing in the water, and enjoying the sand between your toes. When I walk outside to get the mail, my feet on the grass or pavement causes feelings to move up my entire body. If you are in the grass, notice that now. Those nerve endings activate and cause all manner of emotions. New sensations move from the bottom of our feet through our entire body. Feeling new phenomena in the grass, sand, or concrete often brings unique, heightened awareness. We might be more careful with our steps or slow down and experience the sensations deeply. The effect of the new feelings and heightened awareness is that we are more effectively attuned to our environment.

Another benefit to walking barefoot is loosening constraints. Taking your shoes off after a long day can feel so freeing. There is a bit of tension relief. Having your feet free can even be soothing. There is freedom in being barefoot. Now, I am confident the ladies understand this more than we guys do. You ladies have shoes that press and contort your feet in all manner of uncomfortable ways. We do many things for style and having the right image. We often want to “put the best foot forward” (sorry, I couldn’t help it). But all this foot dressing is also limiting. Something we need freedom from. Being barefoot frees us from the superficial coverings that bind and create discomfort.   

I never set out to do therapy in bare feet intentionally. The context of using a home office has made the choice a natural one. And the experience of doing therapy in bare feet has helped connect me with some important values for treatment. 

Heightened awareness of self and our other relationships is necessary for change in therapy. We have to learn to slow down and listen more. We tune into our feelings and reactions to understand their source better. Just as walking barefoot helps us feel new feelings and possibly feel them more deeply, participating in therapy can do the same. Feeling deep and connecting with our inside selves is a part of the therapeutic process. We call this process insight or gaining self-awareness. It requires us to observe, reflect, and draw inferences about our experiences, feelings, and emotions. When working with a couple, individual, or family, I find success in peeling past immediate problem-solving solutions and helping make insightful connections to our inner experiences and feelings. This process is not always comfortable, and it can even be painful. It is like stepping on an unexpected sharp stone when walking through the yard (or a Lego in a dark house). But it is often in these new spaces of awareness we can see, understand, and experience our problems in a way that can facilitate change. 

Just like removing our shoes loosens constraints, we must do similar things in therapy. We must push our boundaries, nudge outside our comfort zones, and challenge our conventional thinking. When we experience problems in life, they are often supported by assumptions, beliefs, and values that can bind us. We may feel compelled to live behind a mask or project a particular identity.  Change is at the center of therapy. Change means many things, including seeing, thinking, feeling, and behaving differently. To experience change, we have to get unstuck; successful therapy helps us to do that. Hopefully, working together in therapy creates a type of freedom. In this space, we can test, challenge, and change those constraints in our lives that have us trapped or stuck.

Therapy in bare feet is a good idea. I encourage you to do the same. Take your shoes off and walk in the grass. Feel new things. Feel them more deeply. Find the freedom to explore new feelings, test your assumptions, and challenge yourself to growth and change. Show your therapist your bare feet on the screen or take your shoes off in their office. Tell them you want to do therapy in your bare feet. I don’t think they will mind.

Listening

Listening is an essential skill in marriage, but it is also challenging. When we listen well to our spouse, we enhance the connection and overall well-being of the marriage. Unfortunately, we will likely need help with some bad habits in our listening. I want to identify six bad habits and offer you some antidotes to the bad habits.

Interrupting
This habit is self-explanatory. We cut off the statement or thought of our partner to share our thoughts or feelings. This makes our partner feel we don’t care what they say. We place more importance on our position.

Story-Topping
Story-topping is the choice to connect what your partner is saying with something about you. It often comes with the message that what you have experienced or think is more important than what your spouse says. It can create a one-up environment where you compete for importance.

Bright-Siding
When you are “bright-side,” you are trying to get your partner to move off the negative and focus on the good parts of their story. You might think this optimism is encouraging. But the truth is it can be invalidating of your spouse. It can make them feel like they are exaggerating their negative response and their feelings are unimportant.

Being Right
You can quickly escalate conflict when you must point out your position on a problem. This is a confrontation with what your spouse is saying and implies there is one correct position or perspective.

Being All-Knowing
The popular term for this tactic is “mansplaining.” This attitude of having an answer for everything can be off-putting. It can make a spouse feel like you think they are stupid or incapable.

Advice-Giving
Giving advice is another way to invalidate your partner. This behavior wraps up being right and all-knowing into one. It is an almost guaranteed way to create conflict. I think it is best to offer advice when directly asked.

Remedies for lousy listening habits

Patience
Listening cannot be done with speed. It takes time. The agenda needs to be set by your partner and their story. When you interrupt, you often rush a process that takes time. Before you respond or interrupt what your partner is saying – pause and take a breath. Could you slow the process down?

Prioritize your Partner
When your partner shares something with you, whether small or very significant, they are the most critical thing. They are your priority. Connecting their story to something about yourself elevates you when they should be the focus.  Don’t be Penelope from SNL.

Presence over positivity
This is probably the biggest struggle for someone like myself who sees the world in a “glass half-full” way. What our partners need is our presence. They need us to be with them and validate their feelings and concerns rather than just trying to put a positive spin on the situation. Sometimes, our response is unnecessary; they need us to say I am here and will stay with you.

Permit their perspective
Listening to our spouse often involves discussing a problem or potential conflict. We need to permit their perspective rather than engaging in a point-counterpoint debate. This usually means we must take ownership of our contribution to the problem.  Once we have validated their experience and taken ownership, we can share our perspective on the problem more successfully.

Practice Humility
Whether we are “mansplaining” or need an ego boost by trying to show how much we know, these behaviors are unnecessary in marriage. We should all know that we don’t “know it all.” And even if we are very knowledgeable about a topic, we need to have the humility to recognize that sharing our supposed wisdom negates the benefits of our spouse feeling heard.

Promote their needs
The most important result of good listening must be meeting our partner’s needs. Sometimes, they will directly state their needs, but we might have to infer their need by listening well. We should always check and promote whatever our spouse needs. Giving advice does not meet their need. It is rather dismissive and can make a person feel as if you are blowing them off. When our spouse is hurting, they don’t need advice. Your spouse needs your ear, understanding, and intentional actions to meet their needs in the moment.

How Comparison Damages Marriage

The digital information age has its upsides, but like most anything, it creates some problems. We are constantly bombarded with information. This comes through our televisions, streaming services, social media, email inboxes, etc. Imagine 100 years ago, before television, when your sources of information were limited to the newspaper and the stories from your neighbors, family, or friends. Go even further back another 100 years. You may be working the family farm, and your information is limited to those in your household, the occasional letter/telegram, or a visit from a friend or family member.

The rapid rise of the flow of information has bombarded us with details, insights, facts, figures, and probably too much misinformation. It becomes hard to sort and retain the information and separate truth from fiction.

This information onslaught impacts our marriages. We are offered any number of blogs (this being one), articles, and videos to help. There is no limit to the tabloid offerings to tell us the latest about celebrity and royal marriages. Our social media feeds let us know what our family, friends, and acquaintances are doing in their marital bliss (or blues). All this data on all these marriages can lead us into the dangerous territory of comparison.

  • Why do they get to go to the Bahamas?
  • How did their kid make the varsity team?
  • At least we are not struggling, fighting, or having their problems.
  • One expert gives this advice, while another shares the exact opposite opinion. Which one is right?

You get the idea. Whether we say these comparisons out loud or speak them in our minds, the large amounts of data we have about others opens this door too quickly. Can you imagine 200 years ago knowing nothing about the royals or your 500 friends on Facebook? All you would have known is those in your immediate circle. In terms of marriage, you may have had a significant awareness of the goings on in your marriage and one to two other marriages. This would have severely limited the data pool for comparison.

So what is it about the comparison to other marriages that would damage my own? It erodes commitment and can lead to broken trust.

Bluma Zeigarnik was a young psychologist in 1922. One day she was eating in a Vienna cafe when she observed an interesting phenomenon. Wait staff had excellent memory recall for the orders of various tables they served. Still, once the orders to any table were fulfilled, they could no longer accurately recall the information about the orders. These observations and future studies led to the concept named after her – Zeigarnik Effect. It is that we have better recall for uncompleted tasks/events than those tasks/events that we have finished or processed. Our memory recall can be up to 90% higher for unfinished business.
When you are overloaded with too much information or tidbits of information you cannot process, you tend to hold onto those things. And Dr. Gottman, in his research with couples, found it was the negative tidbits that we kept in the front of our minds. This is how comparison erodes the connections and commitments in your marriage.

Like all marriages, yours deals with conflicts and disconnections. And if no consistent repair is made to those ruptures, you are open to the impacts of comparison. In all the flow of information in your world, you start to notice what you don’t have, how your marriage feels distant and disappointing compared to others. You wish you had their trips, their money, their happiness. You have no space to process these feelings of discontent or grief properly. The people you use for comparison are not readily available to process, and talking to them about these feelings would be inappropriate. Isolation and disconnection increase, and the list of irritations and hurts in the marriage grows. This only makes the gap between the reality of the marriage and the greener grass outside the marriage grow. At this point, the real danger exists in considering alternatives outside the marriage.

  • Maybe my spouse is not my “true love.”
  • I could be happier on my own.
  • My friend/coworker cares about me more than my spouse.
  • I feel more attracted to my neighbor than my spouse.

The list could go on, but if we start to act on any of these thoughts, we open the door to broken trust in the marriage. The foundations of commitment become shaky, and our choices to act cut deep wounds of betrayal. This all starts with comparison.

The solution to comparison is proactive prevention. All marriages deal with injuries and disconnections, but healthy couples consistently repair those hurts. The diligent effort to minimize the impacts of minor injuries offers a protective safe space to process hurts before the dangers of comparison can enter the marriage. These preventative efforts help maintain a strong commitment and trust in the union. So as information enters our world that could be used for comparison, it can be easily dismissed or processed with our spouse because there is confidence and safety in the marriage. Here are a few ideas to help consistently repair and avoid the dangers of comparison.​

  1. Cherish your partner – It is essential to validate, compliment, and honor the best parts of your spouse. Though it can be easy to fall into noticing and remembering the things that annoy you, you must be consistently focused on what you value. Share those compliments. There needs to be a 5 to 1 ratio of compliments to complaints in your marriage. We can all do better in this area. 
  2. Choose gratitude – Make a list of things to be thankful for each day in your marriage. Share at least one thing you are grateful for daily with your spouse.
  3. Listen with empathy and understanding – When your spouse shares strong feelings or complaints, it can often be upsetting and escalating. Maintain a space of calm to truly hear your spouse and choose to validate their experience and feelings before offering any advice or suggestions. Haim Ginott, a psychologist, once said, “…advice is always more effective when words of understanding precede words of advice.” And often, words of advice are unnecessary. 
  4. Limit your intake of information – The information age is here to stay. But we can set boundaries on media and technology to limit the flow of information into our minds. 

These are a few strategies to help avoid the dangers of comparison and hopefully protect the essential ingredients of commitment and trust in your marriage.

Blossoming New Life Into Your Marriage

April is spring and more importantly it is the season of Easter. This is the time we celebrate new life and the new life given through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We see grass, plants, and trees blossoming as they waken from their sleep. And as part of this season of resurrection, I want to share some connections with marriage. 

One of the most “revolutionary” ideas in my book, Revolutionary Marriage, was the idea that resurrection is part of marriage. 

Marriages unfortunately experience death. Not only do partners die, we grow apart. We injure each other and even kill the marriage through divorce. 

But I suggested a primary goal for marriage was to bring new life – resurrection. The most obvious way this occurs is through conception and childbirth. But spouses also bring new life to each other by our actions and how we live together. In this blog I am wanting to identify some specific ways you can bring resurrected new life to your spouse. 

In my book I wrote the following: 
I have often struggled with those marriage retreat weekends that seem to offer quick fixes for marriages. Their recommended solutions present often illusory experiences that offer emotional highs but don’t resolve the underlying disconnection and relationship decay. They too often feed the myth that excitement and joy are signposts of a successful and vibrant marriage. For example, most retreats suggest the importance of regular date nights. I support that idea, but too often they are superficial acts that cover over a lack of grace and goodwill in the marriage. Date nights are nice, but the small and ordinary acts of grace will keep love alive.
The veneer of financial success, great vacations, and well-behaved children can be very thin. It does not help the husband and wife who are celebrating their 25th anniversary, but haven’t slept in the same room for 10 years. Wives promote the success of their children, but secretly resent their husband and his work. Husbands earn sales awards and build huge retirement funds, while having no desire to share retirement years with their wives.

Those examples are marriages where the interior of the relationship is rotten and dying. Our goal in marriage needs to develop a rich, fertile and vibrant interior of the relationship. It is from that space each partner can grow and flourish. 

Today I want to recommend four ways to bring new life into your marriage and your spouse. 

  • Speak words of life.

I address this topic in Revolutionary Marriage. The wisdom of Proverbs tells us that “the tongue can bring life or death”, Proverbs 18:21. Or in Proverbs 15:4a, “The words of the godly are a life giving fountain.” Your words either brings life to your spouse or in the worst of circumstances your can speak death. Our words are powerful and we should be careful with them. Above all we should avoid criticism. Let’s spend far less time correcting each other pointing out what we did wrong. We should validate. We should compliment, and speak words of admiration to our spouse. We need to express our gratitude for our spouse’s gifts (skills). Our spoken thankfulness is like watering the garden of our spouses spirit. 

  • Listen in ways that makes your spouse feel understood.

Listening empathically is a core ingredient of intimacy and connection in relationships. From a mechanical standpoint this means being able to parrot or repeat what our spouse says. This is a good start but it will never be enough. Listening must be a matter of our heart where we give ourselves over to hearing what our partner is saying. It means putting aside your own personal agenda. It means hearing and accepting your spouse’s feelings even if you don’t agree. It means asking them questions so you can expand your understanding. You should have a heart of curiosity. It means hearing what is not being said and reading between the lines. It means connecting with something in your own experience that shows you can identify with what they are describing. There are so many tools and ideas for being a more empathic listener. Google “empathic listening” and find a few articles. They will all be of help. This is the fertilizer that sustains healthy growth.

  • Serve them in small sacrifices.

We want to do the big stuff in marriage that makes the big splash. Fancy dates, big vacations, and extravagant gifts. But a happy marriage is not built on these things. If you are hoping for more of these things to make you happy, your are setting yourself up for disappointment. Because the thrill will be so short lived and it will never be enough. You need to find joy in providing and receiving the small sacrifices. What little chores can you do to help around the house? Can you take care of bath time? Can you be the one to get up and do night time feedings? Can you fix that broken appliance that you promised to take care of six months ago? It is doing these little things, without looking for rewards that brings life to marriage. These things are the seeds of new growth.

  • Eliminate contempt from your marriage.

I mention this idea in Revolutionary Marriage. But I speak at length about this topic in my marriage conference for couples (It is available online here). Contempt according to Dr.’s John and Julie Gottman, is “fueled by long-simmering negative thoughts about one’s partner, and it arises in the form of an attack on someone’s sense of self. Contempt, simply put, says, ‘I’m better than you. And you are lesser than me.'” Contempt is fatal assault on the identity of your spouse. Contempt has no place in marriage. Expressing contempt is committing an evil against your partner. Why? Because you are denying their image bearing goodness. Love builds up – it never tears down. You will bring life to your spouse when you help them be their best image representation of Christ. Encourage and support them in this endeavor. This is the process of pruning for fruitful growth. It must be done with tenderness and love. Contempt condemns the plant as worthless. Love prunes the plant to produce its life-giving best.

Should a Christian Marriage Have Roles?

What is a man and a woman? The definitions of gender have changed over the centuries and have been shaped by myths, culture, economics, religion and families. And these definitions shape how we view and live in marriages right now. In recent decades there has been a frequent debate among Christian communities over Complementarian and Egalitarian views of marriage. 

I address this debate in my book Revolutionary Marriage. The complementarian camp believes there are scripturally ordained roles for males and females in marriage and church structure. They believe there is a created order. This order places men in greater importance than women, and men by virtue of being male, are designated leaders in both the home and church. The Egalitarian camp emphasizes equal value between the genders and there are no ordained roles for men and women in the church and home. In the egalitarian view, women or men can hold any role equally effectively. 

The debate between these two camps sets up a dichotomy or either/or choices. But the world functions in gray more than black and white. We need to get more comfortable with this diverse uncertainty. Paul uses the idea of “mystery” to describe marriage and I think this reflects the complex “grays” that are experienced in most marriage relationships.  

I discuss the  weaknesses of both of these positions in my book Revolutionary Marriage and propose a third way that works outside the dichotomous debate. It was my hope to suggest a view for marriage that helps us navigate mystery in marriage. When we settle for the certainty of either the Complementarian or Egalitarian views, we miss out of the rich diversity that can bless us in marriage. I want to focus on one idea that I suggested in my book to help move past this debate. 

We need to stop thinking about genders having specific roles, and be more concerned with what gifts, skills, talents, or abilities a particular partner brings to a marriage. When we focus on roles we create a context where  people often feel shamed or less than. The constraint of a specific role can lead them to feel stuck, unfulfilled or even a failure. 

The number of conflicts I have seen in Christian marriages over disappointment with roles and expectations are too numerous.  A wife might feel like her husband needs to live up to his role as spiritual leader of the household and the husband feels inadequate to the task. A husband may be hypercritical because his wife does not manage the household like he expected. I have seen husbands feel inadequate because their wife has a larger salary. Wives can feel insecure over their abilities to nurture their children, as their husband might be more skilled at soothing an upset child. 

So if we stop insisting on specific gender “roles” then how does my solution of focusing on gifts, skills, or abilities work?  

God created males and females in His image. This means both genders represent God and reflect his glory to all of creation. God is so vast, the diversity of reflecting his image is immeasurable. Roles are far too limiting. Marriage, the joining of two distinct representations of the Creator, is but one way God allows humanity to reflect His glory. A husband and wife both bring unique gifts and skills to the marriage. It is the responsibility of the couple to capitalize and utilize those gifts to best reflect God’s image to those around them. Teaming together, the couple becomes a witness of God’s identity to their community. Let me give you an example from our marriage. 

Early in our marriage I attempted to manage the budget, bills, and money. And honestly I was not good at it. After a few bounced check fees, my wife took over the duties with our money. Patricia is strongly gifted in organization, planning, and scheduling. She can visualize future challenges and creates structure to best avoid those problems. These are gifts of administration,  and often in complementarian marriages associated with a male type role. But she skillfully managed this part of our home and family with great success. She created a budget structure that we follow today. She also created a system for managing our money and paying our bills that I have since taken over and it works seamlessly. Even though I currently manage it, all the underlying processes were set in place because of her gifts. As a result her gifts have allowed us to be good stewards of our blessings.

This is just one example, and I could give many others with more space and time. So should a Christian marriage have roles? The answer is No. As a couple you should identify and capitalize on the gifts that each of you bring to the marriage. So what steps can you take to escape roles and better reflect God’s image?

1. Identify your gifts, talents and abilities. This is a fun discussion. What are you good at? What talents has God blessed you with? Let your spouse tell you what they see as skills and abilities in you. These talents may be nontraditional for your gender. That is wonderful. List them because God made you that way. 

2. Start planning as a couple how to implement each of your gifts. One of you may be a more natural caregiver so you might be the person who takes kids to the doctor. One of you might be a better teacher, so you might be helping with homework more. There needs to be some balance here, so that the total workload is shared. Remember you are a team and staying in unity with your spouse is a central goal of a Christian marriage.

3. Humbly accept that your spouse’s gifts can teach you. You can learn from your partner. My wife has taught me much about organization and administration. I am a better therapist because of her.  Allow the things you learn from your partner to grow you, change you, and benefit your family and others. 

This work is hard. Don’t be deceived by the notion that you can find the right partner and it become easy from that point on. Diligently pursuing bringing the best out of each other is ultimately rewarding because you get to enjoy the intimacy of your spouse’s best. So commit to the effort and work together. 

Remember the goal is for your marriage to be a reflection of God’s glory. Your marriage should reflect God’s image. The goal should never be to squeeze into a box of a certain predefined role. Rather, how the two of you work together to show God to others and the community is what is most important.

50 Ways to Say ‘I Love You’

February is the month of Valentine’s Day. You may love this day or have some dislike for the greeting card industry creation, but it is a reality that it can put some tension in even the best of marriages. What are we going to do – eating out or staying home? Are we buying a gift, exchanging cards, or will a handwritten note be the most meaningful? Regardless of what happens in your home, this day reminds us of the diversity of ways to say ‘I Love You!’

I would sure encourage everyone reading this blog to not go into the day of Valentine’s blindly. Discuss it early. And I am sure what you decide to do will be good for your relationship. But, we need to be saying ‘I love you’ on more days and in more ways than what we do on Valentine’s day. Expressing love is a way of life in marriage and it should be there air that we breathe. So I want to offer you a list of 50 ways to say ‘I Love You’. 

  1. Give a hug (for at least a minute).
  2. Kiss your spouse good morning. 
  3. Compliment your spouse.
  4. Mail a card to your spouse’s work.
  5. Make your spouse’s favorite meal.
  6. Write a poem for your spouse.
  7. Initiate sex.
  8. Unload the dishwasher.
  9. Fold and put away the laundry. 
  10. Go to your spouse’s favorite restaurant. 
  11. Look at the stars while laying on a blanket
  12. Sit by the fire together.
  13. Make them a playlist of favorite songs. 
  14. Empathy.
  15. Take a road trip to find a new place to eat.
  16. Serve them breakfast in bed.
  17. Email them a video telling them 10 things you love about them.
  18. Go for a long walk.
  19. Take a class together. 
  20. Watch their favorite movie. 
  21. Draw them a picture.
  22. Massage their neck and back.
  23. Chocolate.
  24. Make a video of telling a joke and send it to them by text.
  25. Frame a favorite picture of the two of you together. 
  26. Send a romantic GIF.
  27. Practice and become a great listener.
  28. Forgive your spouse when they disappoint you. Tell them you forgive them.
  29. Write them a note (handwritten).
  30. Give them their favorite snack.
  31. Tell them about your favorite memories that you have shared. 
  32. Pray for them (with them).
  33. Cuddle in bed in the morning.
  34. Make them a favorite dessert.
  35. Hold hands.
  36. Tell them something about them that you are proud of.
  37. Care for them when they are sick.
  38. Give your spouse a foot massage.
  39. Plan a weekend away together. 
  40. Take ownership when you have hurt them.
  41. Exercise together – go to the gym. 
  42. Ask them about their day? – Listen.
  43. Look at their eyes for more than five seconds – say ‘I love you’ just with your eyes. 
  44. Share a dream about your future with them – ask them to share a dream with you.
  45. Go to the store with $10 each. Buy a gift for each other that is less than $10. Go home and exchange your gifts.
  46. Massage their scalp. 
  47. Scratch their back.
  48. Brag about your spouse to others/friends.
  49. Put loving messages on sticky notes throughout the house.
  50. Speak life into them by encouraging them.