The Game Changers

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I know very little about football. When I say very little, I mean I honestly have no idea what my husband is talking about when he uses terms like safety, blitz and line of scrimmage. But one thing I do know is the goal of the game. Get the ball into the end zone more than the opposing team and you are the winner… right? It’s a game with many confusing rules (at least to me), but one clear objective, to win. Kind of like marriage. More specifically, conflict in marriage. Figure out the rules, then do whatever it takes to get the win. We each receive our training in vastly different arenas, with a wide variety of instructional techniques. Some of us learn the subtle strategies of manipulation to get what we want. Some know nothing but full blown free-for-all brawls, where the last man standing wins. Still others have found that the only safe thing to do is avoid conflict at any cost and opt out of the game altogether. 

I’ve always been one to jump right in the game; I’m not much of an avoider. Partly personality (I kind of like to win) and partly just survival (my family dynamic was less than supportive). Of course, my husband comes from a completely different kind of family. Mostly avoiders, unless the conflict grew to mammoth proportions and one particular person finally exploded. Two entirely different backgrounds, two entirely different set of rules. So, yeah, that’s been fun. 

Surprisingly, we never fought during our 3 1/2 year dating relationship. But from day 1 of marriage, the gloves came off. And we spent 11 years getting pretty much nowhere, feeling like no matter who won the argument, we both just lost the game. How could two educated, semi-mature, mentally stable people who cared about each other be so horrible at conflict resolution? Why did we seem to go round and round and finally just give up in frustration, building up more and more resentment? We loved each other deeply, but we were positioned as opponents on this playing field. And neither side was winning. One day, we finally had enough. We decided it was time to recruit some professional coaching. This “coach” (i.e., highly qualified therapist) gave us three key rules for fighting fair. Over time, we realized these weren’t simply new rules, these were game changers. They revolutionized our fights and our marriage. They taught us how we could both win the game/argument every single time. 

RULE #1 USE THE INVALUABLE TOOL OF A CRITICAL PAUSE

A Critical Pause is basically just a grown-up Time Out. Time to calm down, allow for some space and gain some clarity. I’ll be honest, this one was really hard for me at first. I couldn’t stand unsolved problems. I needed resolution to be okay. And that was a big part of the problem. My co-dependence drove me time and time again to push closure on an issue before one or both of us were ready. My own insecurity brought feelings of panic when conflict arose. I was afraid of what it meant for our marriage when we had major disagreements. Was it over?  Would he leave me? Would we never resolve the issue? What we realized, however, is that when emotions are high and tempers volatile, conversations are usually less than productive. In fact, this is often when the most hurtful, careless words are spoken. And once they’re out there, they can’t be unspoken. Which creates a whole new set of problems. 

The Critical Pause is a tool that has helped us learn to process our thoughts and feelings so we can respond in maturity and not react in anger. We’ve learned to pay attention to where there’s “heat” in our communication. When our voices start to rise, when we start feeling defensive and angry, one of us can call a Critical Pause. We use this time to process our own feelings through prayer, journaling, or with a friend. Once we both feel ready, we come back and revisit the issue. In the beginning, we sometimes needed several Critical Pauses for the same argument!  But it has been amazing to see the difference in our ability to communicate and work through issues when we use this invaluable tool. 

RULE #2 ACKNOWLEDGE THAT AN ARGUMENT IS ALMOST NEVER WHAT IT SEEMS TO BE ABOUT

When used correctly, a Critical Pause usually reveals that the heated feelings are almost never about the issue at hand. Instead, we often realize the issue has triggered far deeper feelings beneath the surface. These heated arguments can be opportunities to process and work through unresolved pain, anger, fear, trauma, etc. Maybe there are serious trust issues that need to be worked on. Maybe we feel unappreciated in general and haven’t known how to communicate that to our spouse. Maybe we are depressed or in a spiritual crisis. 

Taking time apart often reveals that the issue at hand is really not that big of a deal to us after all… maybe we realize we are just completely exhausted or hungry or upset about something that has absolutely nothing at all to do with our spouse. It can be very scary and painful to dive beneath the surface and get down to what’s really going on. Sometimes we must acknowledge root feelings of rejection and unworthiness and allow God to heal the woundedness that occurred long before our spouse came along.

RULE #3 REMEMBER THAT THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IS HOW YOU TREAT EACH OTHER IN THE PROCESS

This rule flipped everything completely upside down. Our whole lives, we’d been trained to believe that the most important thing is the outcome. Getting our way. Being right. That was certainly the case in my family of origin. But maybe it’s not the most important thing after all. Maybe, in our most treasured human relationship with the person we have committed to love, honor and cherish ’til death do us part, the most important thing is not getting our way, but how we treat each other in the process. Talk about a game changer! The outcome might be important, but it’s not what’s most important. This one truth is the very definition of what it looks like to LOVE. And putting it into practice has transformed our relationship into something really beautiful.  

The power of these rules is that they create a win/win for both people. The drawback is, it takes a LOT of practice and a great deal of failure to get good at keeping them. Five years in, I’m still really not that great at it. I am, however, light years from where I was. I still have these out of body experiences as I see myself slipping back into old patterns and hear myself communicating in old, unhealthy ways. Let me be clear, however, that since the first time my husband and I put these three rules into practice, we have never, not once, come to a stand still on making a decision or working through conflict. When we use critical pauses to process through heated feelings, acknowledge and work through underlying resentments and unresolved issues, and treat each other with kindness through the process, we always come to a mutual agreement. Everything changed when we realized we could be on the same team, with the same goal. And then we both win. 

Held by Him,

Leslie

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When I Just Want To Make It All Better

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I recently read about a gal who had experienced both a bout with cancer and a 2 1/2 year nurse anesthesia program. When asked if she was forced to endure one of the two again, her choice was clear. She would chose cancer. The sentiment is both terrifying and oddly comforting as my husband is in month 10 of a 27 month crna program. So we aren’t total weaklings who just can’t hack it. It is stinkin’ hard. And in one student’s opinion, harder than cancer.

In addition to the fact that my husband is the ripe old age of 41, married with 3 children, and attending a school three states away from our support system of 20+ years, the program requirements themselves are monumental. It is, without a doubt, one of the most difficult challenges he has ever faced. And I am pretty much just a spectator of the roller coaster ride from “you know where” that is crna school. Day after day, I witness the physical, emotional, mental and, yes, spiritual battles my husband endures. The truth is, we were warned about how difficult it would be and we still chose this battle. And the other truth is, it’s still worse than bad. I hurt deeply watching my husband’s struggle. And I just want to make it all better.

A few weeks into this third semester, my husband came home from a particularly awful day in the OR. He had, once again, been berated in front of the entire staff, his first exam was coming up in a few days, and he needed to spend hours preparing for upcoming cases the following day. I could almost see the weight of the world sitting there on his shoulders as he slumped down on the couch with his head in his hands. He was reaching a breaking point. In 14 years of marriage, I had never seen him like that. And it terrified me. Immediately, I did what I do best… I started talking.

I reminded him of all the good things that were happening, the progress he had made, every positive I could think of. Then I listed all the “at leasts”. I told him how bad it could be but wasn’t, perhaps implying that he should be feeling grateful instead of defeated. Finally, I optimistically reminded him that he only had a few months in this, the worst semester, and that the time would fly by. He just sat there as I rattled on and on. His posture didn’t change and he said nothing. Then, from out of nowhere, I heard a voice loud and clear in my head. “Stop talking.” Huh? “Just be quiet.” What? How could that possibly be helpful?

Whatever I was doing didn’t seem to be working, so I might as well give it a try. (It was harder than I thought.) But I did it. I bit my lip and I shut up. Then I moved over closer, put my hand on his knee and just sat there. Instead of my help, I gave him my presence. And in those next few moments together, we had one of the most bonding experiences of our marriage. It was a moment of deep connection to each other and to God.

It turns out that the last thing my husband needed was for me to make it all better. He didn’t need my list of positives vs. negatives or words of encouragement or calendar countdowns to the end of the trial. What my husband needed was for me to just sit with him in the hard stuff, in the struggle, in the sadness. What I didn’t realize is that he needed to feel the weight of his burden and the enormity of the task ahead. Because it was in his helplessness and despair that God met him. In his weakness, he realized his deep need for God’s strength. He was then able to surrender that which he could not control and cry out to God for strength to continue.

This little scenario has made a profound impact on my idea of what it means to come alongside and support those I love. I recognize that my need to talk my husband out of his fear and pain has a lot more to do with my own unease than it does with actually helping him. I am starting to see that I often need him to be okay so that I can be okay. Because his pain makes me uncomfortable. And that, my friends, is classic codependence. 

I now realize that while I so desperately want to make it all better for my husband, my children, and my friends, that may not be what they need at all. Maybe God is actually leading them into the valley where they will hear the voice of their Shepherd and a deep work of the Spirit will move them forward on their sanctification journey. And maybe instead of trying to minimize and move them past their pain, God is calling me to courageously enter into the valley with them. I am learning that what they need most from me is a listening ear, compassion, and most of all, my presence. They need to know they aren’t alone in their struggle. And I need to learn to stop trying to rescue them from their struggle, which might just be exactly where God wants them.

Held by Him,

Leslie

 

 

 

 

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Five Things Biblical Submission Is Not- Ephesians 5:22-33

Ephesians Bible Study Lent calledforsuchatime.comMy family members claim that I came out of the womb with my hands on my hips. I am a leader; passionate, ridiculously verbal and, on my not so good days, bossy and opinionated. For personality types like me, submission in marriage is neither a natural nor easy command to understand or accept. It takes a conscious effort which consists of processing, wrestling and surrender- the evidence in my life continues to be a slow evolution. As God works to mature me in Him, I learn more and more with each passing year just what Christ-like yielding looks like for me. That being said, in my almost 15 years of marriage, I have learned five important things biblical submission is not.

#1 Submission is not suppressing my God given personality.
I was created in God’s image with distinct personality traits that, when reigned in and controlled by the Holy Spirit, contribute uniquely to the building of the kingdom of God. But because all of life is marred by sin, things get real ugly relationally when my strong personality goes unchecked. It is vitally important that I remain tethered to Christ, constantly submitting my will and relying on His strength to obey His commands- one of which is submitting to my husband in marriage. But in doing so, God never intended me to become someone I’m not, someone different than who I was created to be. In fact, even passive, quiet, type B personalities can be far from submissive by using manipulation or passive aggressive behavior to undermine their husband’s leadership. True Biblical submission is not about personality, it’s about humility.

#2 Submission is not a position of powerlessness.
Contrary to common worldly beliefs regarding submission, we need only look to our ultimate example in our Lord Jesus. Paul says in Philippians 2:5-8 “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Jesus, who is our example in all things, came not to be served but to serve. He willingly laid down his own deserved glory and power to submit himself to the will of the Father. That is the very opposite of powerlessness. It required incredible strength and control.

In my own life, submission to God, to authorities and to my husband require a spirit of constant reflection, caution and restraint. Like Jesus, I must draw near to my Father daily so I am able to hear His still small voice of guidance and receive His strength to surrender my own will. Biblical submission is a voluntary relinquishment of power. In God’s economy, that is far from weakness, it is true strength.

#3 Submission is not abdicating responsibility.
While some of us struggle with issues of trust and surrender, others have no problem releasing control. Conversely, it comes as a relief! So much so that there can be a pendulum swing in which we are tempted to completely “check out” and abdicate our responsibilities as an active participant in the marriage. But as an equal partner in a God ordained union, our opinions, beliefs and desires are just as important as our husbands. While he is ultimately responsible as the head, I believe it is our responsibility and privilege to contribute to decision making in the relationship.

Many times in marriage we must acknowledge and speak the hard stuff when we’d prefer to keep the peace by remaining silent. Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:15 to “speak the truth in love so that we will become more like Christ“! Ultimately, love is acting in the best interest of our beloved. In the relationship with the person we are supposed to love the most in this world, it would never be in his best interest if we turned a blind eye to unwise choices, unhealthy behavior, sin, and certainly not abuse.  In marriage God uses us as a part of our spouse’s sanctification process because, “as iron sharpens iron, one man sharpens another” Proverbs 27:17.

#4 Submission is not an opportunity to master the art of manipulation.
In the bumbling, fragile hands of sinful humans, our best efforts to obey such lofty, holy commandments so often morph into destructive actions. Serving becomes penance. Discernment becomes judgement. Rule keeping becomes legalism. Submission becomes manipulation. This one is hard because it’s so easy to rationalize, excuse and talk ourselves out of acknowledging our intentions for what they really are. It’s especially hard when we are dealing with someone who is clearly unreasonable and downright wrong! (Or so we think.)

What we proudly claim to be submission can easily be distorted into the art of secretly and unfairly influencing another person to get what we want. Instead of sharing openly and honestly and then trusting God with the results, we might use tears, pouting, half-truths, persuasive arguments or even subtle threats of repercussions to manipulate our husbands so that we get our way. It is deceitful and it is anything but submissive. Only a brave, teachable heart open to the Lord’s loving correction will repent from the sin of manipulation and ask God for the strength to surrender control.

#5 Submission is not about my husband.
Ultimately, submission has nothing to do with my husband at all. Instead, it has everything to do with my hidden life in Christ. My marriage is a primary workshop in which I am made more like my Savior. Likewise, God’s command in the same passage that my husband both submit to me (“submit therefore to one another“) AND to love me “as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” is a critical means of his sanctification, an integral part of working out his salvation. Fundamentally, submission is a radical opportunity to demonstrate trust in the sovereignty and goodness of God. It confirms to the core of my being that God is FOR ME. When I choose to surrender control, I am affirming my belief that He will work all things for my good and allowing Him to transform me more and more into the image of His Son, walking in the footsteps of my Savior.

The mystery of the gospel is that it flips everything on it’s head. 1 Corinthians 1:18 tells us “it is foolishness to those who are perishing.” The paradoxes of “the least shall be the greatest” and “the first shall be last” are tremendously difficult realities for us believers to wrap our minds around, much less the lost who are blinded to the kingdom of God. The world will never, ever understand it. While there are incredibly poignant expositions on the meaning of biblical submission in marriage which are well worth examining, at the end of the day, it is a mysterious means of my sanctification. And I can rejoice in anything that makes me more like my Savior!

Held by Him, 

Leslie

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Perfect for Me

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I love my husband.  I have to say.  By God’s grace I have been blessed with a husband who truly is my best friend, who loves the Lord, and who has always been so good to me.  Perfect?  Not even close.  Perfect for me?  Absolutely. 

If I think back to before I was married and to the “perfect man” I dreamed of, he looks much different from the man God gave me. 

An out-going social butterfly, at ease in any situation, on whose arm I could happily float around a room?  No, my husband is quite content to sit in a corner alone and watch the action happening around him.  He loves people, but not crowds. 

A charmer who would make everyone he meets love him?  No, he is not interested in making people think anything of him.  He just is who he is. 

A music lover who would make me mix tapes that declared his love for me, could play his guitar and sing me into a love-struck stupor?  No, my husband only really loves country music, doesn’t play any instruments (ok, he played the trumpet in middle school and can play a few songs on the guitar), and can’t sing the right words to songs to save his life. 

A hopeless romantic who would marvel at the perfection of our intertwined hands, lovingly brush my hair away from my face and look deeply into my eyes before kissing me passionately each and every day?  Well, I will give him props for being romantic in some ways.  He is great at planning romantic surprises or special events for me.  But in the area of everyday romantic, affectionate gestures – oblivious!

Our culture of romanticism draws us into our happily ever after dreams of what relationship and marriage is “supposed” to be.  We hear it from the time we are kids.  My girls are Frozen crazy these days and we are listening to the music constantly.  Now I realize this is not supposed to be reality, it IS a fairytale, but read these lyrics:

“Say goodbye to the pain of the past. We don’t have to feel it any more. 
Love is an open door. 
Life can be so much more. With you, Love is an open door.”

I really think this is what most of us think when we say “I do.”  No more pain, my life is complete.  Everything will be better now.  But one only has to be married 5 minutes to know that this is just not true.  In fact, usually the pain of the past reveals itself more strongly and with greater consequences in marriage.  At least 50% of couples just walk away rather than having to feel it or plunge through it anymore, saying, “It was not ‘supposed’ to be this way.  I am not happy anymore.” 

Marriage is not easy.  It simply is not always happy.  We may even have days when we truly dislike the person we have vowed to love and cherish.  “We can run from the challenges of marriage…or we can admit that every marriage presents these challenges and asks us to address them head-on.  If we find that the same kinds of challenges face every marriage, we might assume that God designed a purpose in this challenge that transcends something as illusory as happiness (Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas).”

I believe that each one of us is on a journey, specifically designed by our Creator God, to achieve the greatest level of intimacy with Him, glory for Him, and good for us.  For one that journey may mean singleness, for another marriage, for some childlessness, for others lots of kids, for yet another adoption.  Wherever we live, work, or serve, all our joys and successes, and all our loss, suffering and pain is part of the journey.  All of it meant ultimately for our good and God’s glory. 

Do you know why my husband is actually perfect for me?  Because in every way that my husband has not fulfilled my “dreams”, he has caused me to draw closer to the only One who was ever meant to fulfill my dreams.   What if, indeed, the purpose of marriage is not to make me happy, but to make me holy (as Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas suggests)?

 So, my husband is shy and introverted.  His character has shown me the value of deep friendships.  I don’t need to flit around crowded rooms making friends with everyone.  He has shown me the great value of investing in people one-on-one. 

 So, my husband doesn’t value making great impressions on people.  His character has served to expose the fake in me.  The need to keep up appearances.  The need to be liked and approved of.  There is nothing superficial about him and I have come to appreciate that very much. In fact, one of the reasons I loved him in the first place was that he was real.  He was deeply caring in a way that didn’t need grandiose demonstrations.

 

 So, he doesn’t pull out the old guitar and woo me or lovingly gaze into my eyes each and every day.  But now I realize that much of my need for woo-ing and affection stemmed from a deep need that I should have been turning to Jesus alone to fulfill.  The healthiest marriages happen when two people are individually complete in Christ – not looking to the other person to complete them – so that they come together with the single goal of serving one another.  When I look to Jesus to fill all the holes in me, validate me, and give me my identity, then I am free to love and serve my husband without the desperate need to receive from him.  And the good news is, when he does the same he will also be able to serve me from a place of completeness in Christ. 

Of course we should always work as couples to learn one another, to grow in intimacy, to improve our communication and conflict resolution skills.  It is a grand partnership, worth cherishing and fighting for.  And I thank God for giving me a partner who is perfect for me.   For better or worse, for richer for poorer, in good times and bad, forsaking all others, we will press on to help one another know Him more.

Live Free. Lived Loved.

~Kerri

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A Place to Start: Book Recommendations on Love, Marriage, and Relationships

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There are hundreds of books on the market that tackle the topics of love, relationships, singleness, developing a self, and intimacy. Perhaps so many, that you may be wondering where to begin if you are interested in learning more about God’s design for marriage, how to be in healthy relationships with other people, and what God says about living and loving from a place of freedom.

The following are some books that we have read and have found very helpful in our journey to know God more and honor Him in the way that we live our lives individually and in relationships with others.

1.  Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No, to Take Control of Your Life   by John Townsend and Henry Cloud

This is one of the best books I’ve ever read! A few years ago, it seemed my life was spinning out of control. I was completely exhausted, unable to say no, had no idea how operate from a principled place, take ownership for the things in my life, or set up appropriate boundaries with those with whom I was in relationship. In learning more about this subject, I understand more the concept of “keeping my side of the street clean” and letting those around me be responsible for their own behavior. Setting appropriate boundaries gets me out of the role of always trying to control, which has transformed my marriage, friendships, and parenting! This book tackles topics such as codependence; boundaries in marriage, friendships, and parenting; confrontations and conflict; boundaries within families, people pleasing, and living a life of freedom. It also answers the questions:

  • Can I set limits and still be a loving person?
  • What are legitimate boundaries?
  • What if someone is upset or hurt by my boundaries?
  • Why do I feel guilty or afraid when I consider setting boundaries?
  • How do boundaries relate to submission?
  • Aren’t boundaries selfish?

For a brief overview of boundaries, this is a great article: http://www.cloudtownsend.com/articles/scoop-on-boundaries/  

~Carrie

2.  Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas

What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?

That would mean my trials could be used to draw me closer to God, my struggles can grow my character, and my purely romantic view of marriage is incorrect.

As Katherine Anne Porter, a Pulitzer Prize winning American journalist put it, “Marriage is the merciless revealer, the great white searchlight turned on the darkest places of human nature”.

This was my first introduction to the fact that what occurs in my marriage is largely about making me more like Jesus. It was also a challenge for me to learn how to love like Christ loves. I recommend this book to single and married men or women. I would also recommend it to older teenagers as they begin to contemplate the complex and often misunderstood reason God gave us the institution of marriage. 

~Lisa

 3.  The Calvary Road by Roy Hession

Originally published in 1950, this Christian classic is a powerful reminder of how followers of Christ are changed at the foot of the cross. It is not a marriage book, per se, but the author describes the radical relational changes that take place when believers surrender their lives to Christ and learn to live like Him, with humility, sacrifice and love. 

~Leslie 

4.  The Seven Levels of Intimacy: The Art of Loving and the Joy of Being Loved by Matthew Kelly

I have been married for 15 years and still struggle with meaningful intimacy. Until recently, I rarely thought about the word “intimacy” or its implications on my life. Or even what it MEANT. Had you asked me, I probably would have equated the word intimacy with sex. Interestingly, sex does not equal intimacy. They are NOT synonymous. Intimacy is not just physical, nor is it just emotional. It is a mixture of all four aspects of our being: the physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. “Intimacy is sharing the journey to become the best version of ourselves with another person. It is a mutual self-revelation that takes place gradually, cannot be rushed, and can only be realized by the commitment of time.” This book takes you through an explanation and exploration of why it is so important to know yourself. The first and most critical step to achieving intimacy with others is being comfortable with who YOU are. It goes on to define the purpose of a relationship and discusses the seven levels of intimacy.

The Seven Levels of Intimacy Are:

  • Cliches (the “how are you, I’m fine” conversations)
  • Facts
  • Opinions
  • Hopes and Dreams
  • Feelings
  • Faults, Fears, and Failures
  • Legitimate Needs

And I’ll leave you with the title of Chapter 5: The Opposite of Love is Not Hate.

Coming from someone who did not have much childhood modeling of healthy intimacy, this book has begun to change the way I interact with people and how I demonstrate and receive love. 

~Lisa

5.  Extraordinary Relationships: A New Way of Thinking About Human Interactions by Roberta Gilbert

This book has been described as “a refreshing alternative to self-help approaches”. It addresses the importance of relationships in each of our lives, and how the only way to further develop your relationship is to further develop yourself. This truth plays out in the home, workplace, families, etc. This book is a bit dense, but filled with great information about self and relationships. I have learned a great deal from reading this book that I can apply to all of my relationships, even my relationship with God. 

~Carrie

6.  The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God by Tim Keller

Keller, with contributions from his wife, writes about a balanced, Biblically-based view of marriage. He offers both God’s purpose and vision for marriage as well as practical applications for honoring Christ through this primary earthly relationship. 

~Leslie

 

 

New layer…
New layer…
New layer…
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Five Lies About Married Sex

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We wanted to republish this post from earlier in the year as we look at love and relationships this month.

The last thing I intend to do is jump on the Miley-bashing bandwagon. I’ve been around the block long enough to see this kind of spectacle (i.e, money-making formula) time and time again.  To be honest, I’ve seen far worse behavior exposed in the real lives of God-fearing Christians.  And I certainly fight pride and lust and greed in my own heart.  While her recent performances and videos make me sad because I recognize that she is selling a distorted, empty version of a God-given gift, the truth is, we’ve all seen this many times before.  Nope, it isn’t the twerking or the drug references or the naked wrecking ball that surprise and irritate me, it is Miley’s statement in a recent Today Show interview about MY SEX LIFE that has actually stopped me in my tracks…

“I heard when you turn 40, things start to go a little less sexual. Probably around that time, I heard that’s when people don’t have sex anymore. I guess maybe around then.” 

I am, in fact, 40.  And this statement is, in fact, a lie. It has me wondering what kinds of lies we believe about monogamous, married sex. Single/in your face/do whatever feels good sex is all over the place. But what IS the truth about married sex?  Is it really as dull and dysfunctional and non-existent as a 20 year old pop star thinks it is?  Probably.  For some couples.  But definitely not for all.  Does satisfying married sex just happen or does it take time and effort to cultivate and enjoy? Definitely the latter.  Below are five lies about married sex and a little truth to set the record straight.

 

LIE #1 – SEX IS BEST WHEN YOU’RE YOUNG

Let me be perfectly clear.  Sex in your 40’s+ can be infinitely, extraordinarily, incomparably more satisfying than it ever was in your 20’s. While physical and life stressors are often more challenging, the confidence that comes with age just can’t be matched.  Oh the irony of finally accepting our bodies and the core of who we are just in time for the wrinkles and sagging and stretch marks to set in.  The best sex, as God designed it, takes place when two people love and accept themselves and each other just as they are, flaws and all.  And for most of us, that only comes with time.

No matter how “in love” you are when you get married, there is no substitute for decades of walking through life with your partner.  Navigating your way through the valleys and struggles of life and storing up countless treasured memories create a bond and comfort level in marriage that make physical expression of love incredibly fulfilling. There is such freedom when sexual intimacy takes place in the safety of a relationship built on acceptance, commitment and genuine love.  You know your partner inside and out.  There is no hesitation in sharing what you like and don’t like. When couples continue to mature emotionally, spiritually and relationally, it doesn’t get old, it just gets better!

 

LIE #2 – SEX WITH THE SAME PERSON IS BORING

I suppose this becomes a question of breadth or depth.  Would I rather have a shallow connection with many people or a deep connection with one?  The reality is that monogamous marriage means just one person forever. There are dozens of reasons outside the sexual realm for choosing depth, but that’s for another post. Variety or commitment? In a healthy marriage, the answer to this question is BOTH!  Relationships in which each individual is constantly seeking to grow are dynamic, not static.  We discover new things about our spouses as they change and evolve. Different stages bring new areas and levels of connection. After 14 years of marriage, my relationship with my husband is far from boring!  Sure, there are seasons of monotony, but just when it starts to become routine, there are twists and turns that liven things up and create opportunities for new connections and deepened intimacy. 

 

LIE #3 – SEX IS AS GOOD NOW AS IT’S EVER GOING TO GET

It is a lie from the pit of hell to believe that people and relationships can’t change. No matter how bad it is, it can always get better… much, much better.  I can cite example after example from my own circle of family and friends as proof that PEOPLE CAN CHANGE!  And I have seen it in my own life and marriage.  This is no Pollyanna perspective.  I am not saying that people will change, but that people can change, and sometimes they do change. So don’t give up.

Just like anything else in life, the grass is greener where it’s watered.  I’m not talking about “how to” instruction, I’m talking about spiritual and emotional work. From my own experience, and that of my close friends, I would say that 95% of sexual issues in marriage are symptomatic of emotional and spiritual unhealth.  If sexual intimacy is lacking, it’s a red flag that there are bigger problems in the relationship.

I have seen miracles… raising of the dead miracles…take place in marriages.  It’s amazing how working through resentments, building strong communication skills and working on our own emotional/spiritual health can transform a marriage and sexual relationship for a couple.  A qualified therapist, two willing participants and an openness to change is a good place to start.

 

LIE #4 – SEX DRAWS YOU CLOSER TO YOUR SPOUSE

I think this is the biggest fallacy out there regarding sex. I believed it hook, line and sinker for most of my life and marriage. There was a revolutionary change in our relationship when my husband and I learned that sex was created to be an expression of an emotional intimacy that already exists.  Now don’t get me wrong, sex enhances, enriches, and bonds a marital relationship.  But when couples try to create intimacy through physical connection, it’s never going to happen. Trying to gain emotional intimacy through physical intimacy is getting the cart before the horse.  The truth is that if you took sex away from a healthy marriage, the relationship would still be fulfilling and meaningful and rich.  Sex is the icing on the cake.  It’s not the cake.

 

LIE #5 – YOU WORK ON YOUR SEX LIFE IN THE BEDROOM

Making sex better and more satisfying doesn’t begin anywhere near a bedroom.  In fact, that’s just the place where the benefits are reaped.  Sexual satisfaction in marriage is in direct proportion to three things:

  1. The state of individual emotional and spiritual health.  Sexual problems in a marriage (unfulfilling or lack of physical intimacy, pornography addiction, adultery, you name it) are all symptoms of emotional and spiritual problems. Healing and change happen in places like small discipleship groups, a therapist’s office, 12 Step meetings, coffee dates with supportive friends and consistent quiet times in the Word and prayer.
  2. The quality of communication.  Healthy people in healthy relationships talk about everything. They share their struggles, joys, fears, dreams and frustrations.  They learn to communicate their feelings and thoughts in calm, kind ways.  They process issues until they are resolved. Good communication=deeper emotional connection.  Deeper emotional connection= better sex.  It’s not rocket science.   
  3. The willingness and ability of each partner to approach the relationship with the objective to give, not take. This kind of selfless love only comes from God, from spending time in His Word and prayer and asking Him to replace our selfishness with Christ’s selflessness. It is led by the Holy Spirit and practiced every day in both the big and little choices of putting the needs of our spouse on the same level as our own.

Don’t believe the lies. The TRUTH about married sex is that if we are willing to put in the work, it can be an incredibly fulfilling part of a committed relationship for a lifetime.  

 

Held by Him,

Leslie

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A Different Kind of Valentine’s Day

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I’ve always had a bit of a love affair with Valentine’s Day. I determined from an early age that this was one of the most important days of the year. As a little girl, I would dream about celebrating Valentine’s Day with a “love” and couldn’t wait for that day to come. As I got older, I valued myself and the success of the day based on whether or not I had a boyfriend with whom to celebrate. Many years passed and I was alone. I was sad, disappointed, and felt totally worthless. Not celebrating Valentine’s Day seemed a tragedy.

On the day I married my “Valentine,” I thought most assuredly that I would never again spend another Valentine’s Day alone, not celebrating the fantastically romantic day. Interestingly, my husbands perspective of this “holiday” was quite different than mine. His view: Valentine’s Day was created by Hallmark to fill the void between Christmas and Easter. He thought it to be a totally ridiculous and pointless day.

Needless to say, we bumped heads a little on this issue. From the day we married, I expected roses, cards, and romantic evenings to celebrate this glorious day. Year after year, that just didn’t happen. I threw numerous fits, shed many tears, and felt totally disappointed. Why didn’t my husband love me the way I wanted him to love me? Why didn’t he love me the way I loved him?

Clearly, the issues were much deeper than the lack of celebration of this day in February. I just couldn’t see that. I didn’t understand what in heaven’s name was wrong with my husband? Why wasn’t he being the loving, romantic, doting husband I had always dreamed about? The ones from the Hallmark movies?

As I’ve written before, (My Life as It Relates to Humpty Dumpty), these thoughts as well as many other frustrations began to well up inside of me. What was happening to my “happily ever after” that I thought I’d gotten on July 24, 1999 when I walked down the aisle with my husband??? I had everything I ever wanted, but days like Valentine’s Day were quite common. I was so disappointed with the way my life was turning out. I felt empty and in my heart I knew something was terribly wrong.

Through a series of events, God mercifully began to show me that I was more in love with the idea of being in love than I was with my husband. The concept of having the perfect husband, who would meet my every need, and having the perfect children, house, etc. had become my idol. I was looking to those things to give me the hope and joy that could only come from Christ.

they worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25).

In the book Counterfeit Gods, Tim Keller, describes what an idol is. “It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.” He goes on to say,

“Every human being must live for something. Something must capture our imaginations, our heart’s most fundamental allegiance and hope. But, the Bible tells us, without intervention of the Holy Spirit, that object will never be God himself. If we look to some created thing to give us the meaning, hope, and happiness that only God Himself can give, it will eventually fail to deliver and break our hearts.”

Idols: They can be subtle and dangerous. They can be good things … that seize our time, hearts, and attention, maybe without us even realizing it. They are the things that become more important to us than God.

Children

Spouse

Job

A desire for something

Money

TV/Electronics/Video Games

Sex

A Position

Social Media

Desire for approval

Religion

Love

Success

Until God opened my eyes, I had no idea that I had elevated the God given gifts in my life to a position of idolatry. One day, as I spent time with Jesus, I was overwhelmed with grief for my misplaced affections and disordered attachments. In that moment I sensed God’s deep love for me. A love so great that He sent His only Son to save and redeem me.

See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us His children, and that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1).

As I think about just how much I love my children, I am in awe that God’s love for me is like that, but even more than I can imagine with my human mind and heart – His love is perfect, strong, and unconditional. It’s a love that delights in me, regardless of my failures and inadequacies. It’s a love that is never ending and never failing. It’s a love that chases me all the days of my life.

Last year, I began praying specifically for a greater awareness of God’s love for me. As I studied His Word and spent time in fellowship with Him, something amazing happened. TRANSFORMATION.

A Different Kind of Valentine’s Day

I spent years dreaming of the perfect Valentine’s Day. Why? Because Valentine’s Day is about love. And I desperately wanted to be loved. In realizing more and more God’s deep love for me, I am being changed from the inside out. I am falling more and more in love with Jesus. I am looking to Him to meet my deepest needs; to give me meaning, hope, and joy.

So, Valentine’s Day looks very different for me than it used to. First and foremost, it’s a day that I celebrate the love of God and my sweet and deepening relationship with Jesus.

We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

It’s this Truth that allows me to love my husband and children and the others with whom I am in relationship in a Christ-centered, God honoring way. I love them out of the overflow of what He has given me.

Though for me the concept has changed, I still love Valentine’s Day. This year, it’s filled with the hustle and bustle of the kids passing out Valentine’s cards, chocolate, and even a special date night with my sweet husband. But I’ve changed. I’m no longer desperate to be filled up with the things this day offers. Because my true love is Jesus Christ: the perfect source of all I need.

Lovingly His,

Carrie

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No Jerry, She Will Never Complete You!

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You complete me. One of the most remembered lines of all time from a romantic movie. Did your heart melt like mine? I saw that movie when I was about 18 years old and I thought to myself, “I can’t wait to find that person. The one who will complete me. Who will look me in the eyes, just like Tom Cruise, and say those words to me: You complete me.”

Fast forward 3 years. A cinderella wedding. Nine beautiful bridesmaids and handsome groomsmen. A room filled with family and friends. As I stood at the back of the sanctuary, arm looped through my dad’s, I began walking towards my soul mate, the love of my life, the one who would give me my fairy tale ending. The one who would complete me.

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Behind the scenes of this gorgeous, dream-filled wedding, was a whole lot of baggage. Both mine and my husband’s. Broken dreams, broken hearts, broken lives.

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As I stood at that altar, unbeknownst to my dear husband, I had that suitcase firmly gripped in my hand. As I said my vows, which were very traditional, what I was really saying was this:

“I, Carrie, take you John to be my husband. Here is all my junk: all my hurts, broken dreams, disappointments, and unmet expectations. I expect you to fix me. I expect you to meet all of my deepest desires. I expect you to be loving and romantic all of the time. I expect you to know what I’m thinking and give me everything I could ever need. I expect you to provide the happily-ever after that I’ve always dreamed of and seen in all the movies. I expect you to be my Savior. I expect you to complete me.”

Sadly, he had his own suitcase, his own junk, expectations, and “vows” as we stood there on the altar before family and friends.

Wow! What a heavy weight to carry at the beginning of our marriage.

What we didn’t know that stifling hot day in July, was that this was never God’s design for marriage! Jerry was completely, utterly, 100% incorrect. Of course, I didn’t come to that realization easily. In fact, it took a lot of pain, a couple of therapists, lots of time spent in trusted community, and a deepening relationship with Jesus to even begin to figure this out. My spouse was NOT created to complete me. No one person ever could.

God’s perfect design for marriage includes two individuals who are complete APART FROM ONE ANOTHER. A complete me and a complete husband. Two lives that are complete in Christ. Two separate lives that are invested in growing in spiritual, emotional, and physical health.

I We Circles

As these two separate lives are separately receiving God’s love and pursuing relationship with Him and with others in community (the Body of Christ), there is an overflow of love and self that can be freely given in a marriage relationship, rather than the pressure that comes from looking to the other person to be complete. 

After spending time investing in my relationship with God, myself, and community, I am finding that I have so much more to give to my husband. I am able to love from a place of fullness because I understand more and more God’s love for me and am daily being filled with “all of the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:16).

I see more now that God’s design for marriage isn’t necessarily to make me “happy.” As Gary Thomas writes in his book Sacred Marriage, “what if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?” What if God’s design for marriage is to sanctify us?  To draw us into a deeper relationship with Him?  To be the tool by which deep things are worked out in myself individually? What if, ultimately, one of God’s purposes in creating marriage was to reach a lost and dying world?”

This is not the kind of relationship that we watched on the big screen with Tom Cruise and Rene Zellweger years ago. It’s not the kind of marriage that we see in most of the world today. While that scene in Jerry Maguire may seem so utterly romantic (I recognize to some it was just cheesy!), there’s a big problem. That kind of relationship is destined to fail. Because you and I were never created to complete another person. That job belongs to one Person: Jesus Christ.

[Jesus], YOU bring the healing and hope our hearts always hunger for”

(words from Wonderful, Merciful, Savior by Dawn Rodgers and Eric Wyse).

 About a year ago, I wrote a new set of “vows” to my husband. One day, I would love to stand before our children, friends, and family and say these to him.

Bear (it’s really John, but this is his nickname!)

I commit to you first and foremost that I will continue to pursue a deepening intimacy with God. I commit to look to Him to meet my deepest needs, that only He can satisfy. I recognize now that you were never meant to complete me and that for years I put a pressure on you that God never intended for our marriage. I commit to continue to pursue deeper spiritual, emotional, and physical health. I know there is still plenty of “my junk” to be worked out, and I commit to remain vulnerable, transparent, and open in both my relationship with you and community as God continues to work these things out in me. I commit to continue to trust God and His sovereign plan for our lives, recognizing that I don’t have to control everything, because He’s got it! I commit to keep focusing on this truth, especially when things are difficult.

I commit to love you and support you for who you are, not the person I think you should be. I will support you in your relationship with God and your community. I commit to be your ally, not your enemy. And I commit to do my very best not to “run away” when things are difficult and I am afraid. I want to know you more and develop an even greater intimacy and friendship with you. I want to grow old with you and look forward, each day, to the adventures that God has for us. I am able to look forward to the days and years to come with hope … not hope in our marriage, but in Jesus Christ. I trust that the work He has begun in each of us, HE will be faithful to complete.

I love you deeply and look forward to what God has planned for both of our lives as we continue in this great journey.

I am so thankful that it’s never too late to do things differently. That God graciously showed me that there is much better plan for doing marriage than what I believed the day I said “I do”. I’m excited about the opportunity to continue walking out God’s design for marriage, not Jerry’s.

Lovingly His,

Carrie

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An Apology To My Husband

It’s hard to believe I’ve known you less than half my life. Four houses, at least four careers, and four children feel like a forever. At times I panic at the thought that we won’t remember all the good things. That there aren’t enough smiling snapshots and happy stories packed away for our rocking chair years. Because some mighty rough waters have flowed underneath our bridge. Roaring rapids that chipped and chiseled and changed us permanently. A lifetime full of heartache packed into 18 years of togetherness. Lost dreams, lost connection, lost loved ones, lost son. The struggle of letting go of all we’d hoped for us and learning to live all He’s planned for us. It’s agonizing. And it’s good. And, surprisingly, the good is getting even better. Going on 4 years of better than we ever dreamed, in fact. 

I still can’t believe we both stuck around through it all. The cynic in me blames it on my codependence (I was too afraid to be alone) and your laziness (It was just too much work to leave). No, I believe it was a force outside of ourselves that kept us together like some kind of crazy glue. Like we couldn’t have gotten out of the sticky, icky mess no matter how hard we tried. Someone knew that it was right smack dab in the middle of the mess that we would learn to LOVE. And He was right.

Learn to love we have. More and more each day. And my dear, you are learning to love me well. I marvel at the man you’ve become. Humble, brave, caring, honest. Looking back I wonder how much I might have crushed this “becoming” through the years. How much I pushed and pressed and held you back. How my neediness might have sucked the life out of you or my withdrawal left you all alone. How I could see your faults with such clarity and was often blind to my own. So for all the ways in which I’ve hurt you, I want to say I’m sorry.

How could you know that from the very beginning you were destined to fail? Though I was completely unaware at the time, I wasn’t looking for a partner, I was searching for a Savior. Although Soul Mate or The One sounded a whole lot better in my head. But my unspoken expectations were clearly there and I’m sorry. Because that was unfair. Because you’re not Jesus. 

I’m sorry that I believed marriage would miraculously heal all our broken places. We didn’t enter this thing called love empty-handed. We both brought some heavy baggage along on the journey of us. And mine were pretty darn full. I am a woman, after all. You know I don’t travel light. From the very beginning, every unmet expectation, every harsh word, every denied affection reopened decades-old wounds. Your voice may have been the only sound in the room, but in my head there was a screaming chorus that included every single loved one who had ever broken my heart. That is why they held so much power, and might help explain the overreaction, fyi.

We both tried to make it better and there were definitely good days, but with each new tragedy or hardship it seemed we were starting all over again, back at square one. Nothing either of us did could ever be enough to fill the emptiness of what we’d lost. I am incredibly sorry for the many years you felt the weight of my disappointment. I’m sorry for the times I was tempted to believe the grass might be greener on the other side. For acting as if the problem was only yours. For all the times I forgot that “wherever I go, there I am.”

Finally, I’m sorry it took so long to get here. To this new place of healthy boundaries and kind communication and unconditional love. I just had absolutely no idea how to get us to healthy. The problem wasn’t us. The problem was you and me. Separately. Once the you and the me started seeking healing and wholeness apart from each other, but still side by side, the us suddenly got a whole lot better. Crazy how that worked, huh?

Even now, there are days I forget that you are my companion, not my completion. Days when I look to you to fill me or push you away when you don’t. And for that, I am still sorry. I promise to keep working on my own stuff and showing up at the “show up place” and giving grace. And, Lord willing, carefully packing away more and more happy stories for those rocking chair years.

 

Held by Him,

Leslie

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The Game Changers

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I know very little about football. When I say very little, I mean I honestly have no idea what my husband is talking about when he uses terms like safety, blitz and line of scrimmage. But one thing I do know is the goal of the game. Get the ball into the end zone more than the opposing team and you are the winner… right? It’s a game with many confusing rules (at least to me), but one clear objective, to win. Kind of like marriage. More specifically, conflict in marriage. Figure out the rules, then do whatever it takes to get the win. We each receive our training in vastly different arenas, with a wide variety of instructional techniques. Some of us learn the subtle strategies of manipulation to get what we want. Some know nothing but full blown free-for-all brawls, where the last man standing wins. Still others have found that the only safe thing to do is avoid conflict at any cost and opt out of the game altogether. 

I’ve always been one to jump right in the game; I’m not much of an avoider. Partly personality (I kind of like to win) and partly just survival (my family dynamic was less than supportive). Of course, my husband comes from a completely different kind of family. Mostly avoiders, unless the conflict grew to mammoth proportions and one particular person finally exploded. Two entirely different backgrounds, two entirely different set of rules. So, yeah, that’s been fun. 

Surprisingly, we never fought during our 3 1/2 year dating relationship. But from day 1 of marriage, the gloves came off. And we spent 11 years getting pretty much nowhere, feeling like no matter who won the argument, we both just lost the game. How could two educated, semi-mature, mentally stable people who cared about each other be so horrible at conflict resolution? Why did we seem to go round and round and finally just give up in frustration, building up more and more resentment? We loved each other deeply, but we were positioned as opponents on this playing field. And neither side was winning. One day, we finally had enough. We decided it was time to recruit some professional coaching. This “coach” (i.e., highly qualified therapist) gave us three key rules for fighting fair. Over time, we realized these weren’t simply new rules, these were game changers. They revolutionized our fights and our marriage. They taught us how we could both win the game/argument every single time. 

RULE #1 USE THE INVALUABLE TOOL OF A CRITICAL PAUSE

A Critical Pause is basically just a grown-up Time Out. Time to calm down, allow for some space and gain some clarity. I’ll be honest, this one was really hard for me at first. I couldn’t stand unsolved problems. I needed resolution to be okay. And that was a big part of the problem. My co-dependence drove me time and time again to push closure on an issue before one or both of us were ready. My own insecurity brought feelings of panic when conflict arose. I was afraid of what it meant for our marriage when we had major disagreements. Was it over?  Would he leave me? Would we never resolve the issue? What we realized, however, is that when emotions are high and tempers volatile, conversations are usually less than productive. In fact, this is often when the most hurtful, careless words are spoken. And once they’re out there, they can’t be unspoken. Which creates a whole new set of problems. 

The Critical Pause is a tool that has helped us learn to process our thoughts and feelings so we can respond in maturity and not react in anger. We’ve learned to pay attention to where there’s “heat” in our communication. When our voices start to rise, when we start feeling defensive and angry, one of us can call a Critical Pause. We use this time to process our own feelings through prayer, journaling, or with a friend. Once we both feel ready, we come back and revisit the issue. In the beginning, we sometimes needed several Critical Pauses for the same argument!  But it has been amazing to see the difference in our ability to communicate and work through issues when we use this invaluable tool. 

RULE #2 ACKNOWLEDGE THAT AN ARGUMENT IS ALMOST NEVER WHAT IT SEEMS TO BE ABOUT

When used correctly, a Critical Pause usually reveals that the heated feelings are almost never about the issue at hand. Instead, we often realize the issue has triggered far deeper feelings beneath the surface. These heated arguments can be opportunities to process and work through unresolved pain, anger, fear, trauma, etc. Maybe there are serious trust issues that need to be worked on. Maybe we feel unappreciated in general and haven’t known how to communicate that to our spouse. Maybe we are depressed or in a spiritual crisis. 

Taking time apart often reveals that the issue at hand is really not that big of a deal to us after all… maybe we realize we are just completely exhausted or hungry or upset about something that has absolutely nothing at all to do with our spouse. It can be very scary and painful to dive beneath the surface and get down to what’s really going on. Sometimes we must acknowledge root feelings of rejection and unworthiness and allow God to heal the woundedness that occurred long before our spouse came along.

RULE #3 REMEMBER THAT THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IS HOW YOU TREAT EACH OTHER IN THE PROCESS

This rule flipped everything completely upside down. Our whole lives, we’d been trained to believe that the most important thing is the outcome. Getting our way. Being right. That was certainly the case in my family of origin. But maybe it’s not the most important thing after all. Maybe, in our most treasured human relationship with the person we have committed to love, honor and cherish ’til death do us part, the most important thing is not getting our way, but how we treat each other in the process. Talk about a game changer! The outcome might be important, but it’s not what’s most important. This one truth is the very definition of what it looks like to LOVE. And putting it into practice has transformed our relationship into something really beautiful.  

The power of these rules is that they create a win/win for both people. The drawback is, it takes a LOT of practice and a great deal of failure to get good at keeping them. Four years in, I’m still really not that great at it. I am, however, light years from where I was. I still have these out of body experiences as I see myself slipping back into old patterns and hear myself communicating in old, unhealthy ways. Let me be clear, however, that since the first time my husband and I put these three rules into practice, we have never, not once, come to a stand still on making a decision or working through conflict. When we use critical pauses to process through heated feelings, acknowledge and work through underlying resentments and unresolved issues, and treat each other with kindness through the process, we always come to a mutual agreement. Everything changed when we realized we could be on the same team, with the same goal. And then we both win. 

 

Held by Him,

Leslie

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