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The Message of Marriage

Confession time. I’m a practicing Christian. Yep, I’m one of those card carrying Jesus Freaks that you may have heard of from time to time. Not the kind that pickets Gay Marriages (pretty sure they aren’t really in the club). Not the kind that thinks that you’ve got to be absolutely perfect to win the game of life (not that you ever could be.) But the kind that actually follows (as best I can) the teachings of Jesus as laid out in the Holy Bible.

As such I spend a lot of time looking at marriage in that “Gospel Light” and I take pretty seriously its depiction in the scriptures. Now there are a lot of differing interpretations about gender roles in marriage based on the lens that the reader uses. Personally I think that any reading of scripture that builds someone up at the expense of another misses the point entirely.

So what does the Bible really have to say about marriage, and, more importantly, what does that mean for you? (Believer or not.)

Pretty much every Christian based marriage book worth its salt lays out the same view of marriage, so I’ll follow suit (I like to think I’m salt worthy.)

Based on Ephesians 5:22-33 we see that human marriage is an analogy for the relationship between Christ and the Church (aka the Bride of Christ) Which is to say that it’s the job of one spouse (the bride) to follow the lead of, and support the other. While it is the job of the other spouse (the bridegroom) to lead and serve the first. Even to the point of death if need be!

To really unpack all the meaning in that passage usually takes professional authors from 5 pages to an entire book, so I’ll pass over that to make my point. Which is:

Ultimately marriage is a daily living out of our relationship to God as a “saved” human being.

Important Aside! That is from the perspective of both spouses, no one is “Lord” over another in a well functioning marriage. The reason why is found in that big unpacking I left out. For now just trust me on this.end aside

Which is to say that the ultimate message of marriage, how we are meant to act towards each other, is basically the same as how God expects us to act toward Him. And that really is good news. Because the message that God has for us, all the way through scripture is… Do the best you can, and when you mess up, acknowledge it and do better next time.

Really! That’s it. Out of love for your spouse do your best to love, respect, support, and serve them. When you make a mistake (and you will!) acknowledge it, ask for (and receive) forgiveness, and move on.

Does it really matter for your marriage if you are a Christian, or if you believe in a Higher Power at all? Not really. So long as you use this blueprint your marriage will be an inspiration to everyone around you.


You Don’t Bring Me Flowers

Valentine’s day is fast approaching. I know because this is the time of year that I start to feel the dread coming off in waves from my men friends.

“Should I get her chocolates? Nope, she’s watching her figure.”
“Dinner and a show? We both need to get up early for work the next day.”
“A dozen roses? May as well admit you forgot until the drive home.”

Husbands (the ones who remember Valentine’s day at all) face an annual quest to find the perfect gift. The one that will make her heart melt. The one that will let her know how much she is loved. The one that will get them laid.

It was so easy in the early years of dating and marriage. A group of hand picked wildflowers, a chocolate bar and dinner at (insert your favourite one-level-above-McDonald’s-sit-in-restaurant here) was a gesture so grand that she would be talking up your romantic skills to her girlfriends for weeks.

Now it seems like a chore. Where has the romance gone?

Once again Vanessa and I were listening to the oldies station on the way to church and the heart wrenching love song by Neil Diamond and Barbara Streisand, You Don’t Bring Me Flowers came on.

It’s a beautiful sounding song, unfortunately it is a real downer. It speaks of a couple whose romantic flame is all but extinguished. He doesn’t bring her flowers, She doesn’t write him love songs. Sex is perfunctory. And he is pretty sure that he wants out.

What went wrong?

In the beginning there was fire and passion, now they barely know each other. Longing for the past and afraid there is no future. Can they ever recover?

Well, of course!

As long as you are willing there’s always a way back to a healthy functioning marriage.

The couple in the song have failed to maintain their Love Maps (You may have noticed by now that I’m a really big believer in the power of Love Maps.) and, what’s worse, they have moved on to taking each other for granted. Each longing for what the other used to do to make them feel special, and neither willing to make the first move to give the attention their partner craves.

What does this have to do with Valentine’s day? Everything.

Valentine’s Day is a perfect opportunity for Husbands to decide to show their unbridled love for their wives. If only they knew how.

Well here’s the key…. Don’t guess. Ask!

Seriously, just ask. I promise they are dying to tell you EXACTLY what they want.

This is the most important thing… Ask them today, right now if you can. Ask them what would make this Valentine’s Day the most special, most romantic, most memorable one they’ve ever had.

Then Listen.

Without judgement, without butting in, without any negativity (If the words “Wow, that’ll cost a fortune.” or “You’ve got to be kidding.” come out of your mouth, just move yourself to the couch until July.) Ask for clarification, take notes. give her your undivided attention. After that there is only one thing you have to do to win at Valentine’s Day.

Do EXACTLY what she told you to do.

Nothing more, nothing less. Do it all. Start planning as soon as you finish the conversation (Do. Not. Wait.) Do it with a smile on your face and glee in your heart, and this will be the Valentine’s Day to end all Valentine’s Days.

Until next year.


A Matter of Perspective

I just finished painting my home office. It feels more inviting now. The questionable sailboat wallpaper border is gone, all the holes from previous wall hangings are filled and the colours are warmer, more “my style” than what was there before. I now enjoy being in here much more than I did last week.

Interestingly the painted walls are all that has changed. The furniture layout is exactly the same. I put the same artwork back in the same places. Heck, even the same paper clutter is back. Why then do I feel so differently about the space?

A few years a go in my Marriage Foundations seminar one of the participants complained to me about an issue he was having with his wife. It seems that she wanted to be in charge of the household finances. Unfortunately he wasn’t a big fan of how she was doing the job, and felt that he should just do it himself and be done with it. He was keen to get me to agree with him and give him permission to act on his desire. Instead I told him this story.

(Note, if you ever attend one of my workshops or seminars, you may hear this same story with totally different names. That’s not a mistake. As a coach I take my clients’ privacy very seriously. I purposely change various details like names, genders, geography, chronology etc. in my stories all the time to preserve anonymity. And I rarely remember exactly how I’ve told the story in the past. The important thing to pay attention to is the overall message.)

Once there was a woman named Susan. She was about 24 when she married her college beau Jeff. Susan was raised in a Christian home and was very comfortable with allowing Jeff total control of the family finances.

Over the years she started feeling some concern with many situations in the house. Utility bills with Urgent printed on them in bold red letters started arriving in the mail. Her debit and credit cards were sometimes getting declined at the store. She asked her mother what to do, and was told that Jeff was the man of the house and it was his responsibility to handle the money and not to nag him about it. She was certain that it would all work out.

Of course, it didn’t. It turned out that Jeff had a major gambling addiction. This led him to spend all of their savings, jack up all their credit cards to the limit and to default on the mortgage. Devastated, Susan ended the marriage, homeless and under a crushing burden of debt.

Eventually Susan sorted out her financial situation. Got a great job and put her life back on track. She vowed that she would always be in charge of her finances, no matter what, she would never be in that situation again.

Some time later Susan met Brian, a successful accountant. They fell in love and decided to marry. When the issue of handling the family finances came up, Susan was adamant that she would be in charge, despite Brian’s expertise in that area. Brian was well aware of Susan’s past hardship and asked only that Susan keep him up to date each month with the money situation.

After I finished I asked the fellow how he felt about his wife’s handling of the finances now.

He was stunned and it took him a few moments to regain his composure. He realized that he really didn’t care about how she handled the money (he trusted her and there was open communication) he just cared about getting certain numbers at a certain time so he could file his expense reports for work.

He later told me that once he explained that to his wife she made sure to have those numbers ready for him each month when he needed them.

What changed in that relationship? The roles stayed the same, but the resentment was gone. All that changed was their perspective on the situation. As soon as he understood that his wife might have a reason for insisting on handling the finances (It was a second marriage for both of them) and that he actually didn’t have a problem with her doing it, he was fine. Once she understood that he didn’t want to stop her from handling the money, he just needed certain info at a certain time, she was fine.

Just like how a simple coat of paint has enabled be to feel more at home in my office, a subtle change in perspective can free us from a host of judgements that hurt our marriages.