Smile and Build Your Marriage!

Couple smiling

Go ahead…smile! How often do you smile in a day? If you are an average adult, it’s about 20 times a day. If you are an exceptionally happy adult, your teeth may show 40-50 times a day. It sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

But when we compare it to the number of times the average child smiles in a day—400 times–the quotient for adults is shockingly low! Somewhere between childhood and adulthood we became more serious, tired, reserved, sad, discouraged, _______________ (you fill in the blank). And the loss of the smile has a significant effect on the health of your marriage.

In a 2011 TED talk, Ron Gutman  gave a fascinating message on the power of smiling. His research is peppered throughout this post and you can watch his talk below. Gutman describes a UC Berkley 30-year longitudinal study that examined the photos of students in an old yearbook. They then tried to measure the students’ success and well-being throughout their life. He said that “by measuring the students’ smiles researchers were able to predict how fulfilling and long-lasting a subject’s marriage will be….”  All from their smile! In other words, if you want to build a healthy marriage an important ingredient is learning to smile…a lot!

Here are some things to keep in mind when it comes to your smile:

Your smile might take practice

Many adults have forgotten how to smile. In fact, their muscles have been trained toward a frown or just an expressionless look. Train your muscles. Stand in front of a mirror and smile at yourself. Get used to how it feels. Show some teeth (or at least curl your lips and cheeks upward!). Connect your face to your emotions. In fact, if you’re happy and you know it…”tell your face!”

Your smile is contagious

Based on a Swedish study, if you smile at someone they will naturally smile back. If they don’t smile back then they are making a conscious effort to frown. So when you smile more, your spouse will smile more and then you will smile back and on it goes. You could ignite a smile-fest in your marriage over time!

You lift your spouse’s countenance

The Bible says that “A cheerful look brings joy to the heart” (Proverbs 15:30). Your face has the ability to inject hope and happiness into your mate’s life without saying a word. A gentle look or a quick playful grin are sometimes all your spouse needs from you.

You feel better

When you smile you release serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins—neurotransmitters that create feelings of happiness and feeling good. As one author writes, “Each time you smile you throw a little feel-good party in your brain.” In fact, British researches have found that one smile can generate the same level of brain stimulation as 2,000 bars of chocolate!

Mother Teresa said, “I will never understand all the good that a simple smile can accomplish.” The good your smile can do in your marriage will be more than you can grasp, and you can start smiling right now as you build your marriage!

A Husband’s Spiritual Role

couple praying 2

Go into any group of men and women and ask them, “Who was the spiritual leader in your home growing up?” The majority of people will answer, “My mom.” While there’s great appreciation for mom’s influence, there’s a corresponding sadness that dad wasn’t more involved in the spiritual nurturing of the home.

Men and women continue to feel that tension in marriage today. We’ve talked to many women who have said, “I want my husband to be the spiritual leader in our home, but for some reason he won’t do it! I’m so frustrated!”

And we’ve talked to men who feel spiritually inadequate. Their wives are more verbal, more consistent, and more knowledgable about their faith. Men don’t want to engage in anything when they are already set up to fall short. The idea of spiritual “leadership” simply seems unattainable to most men, because if they are growing spiritually so is their wife. As a result, men think they will NEVER catch up so they opt for being supportive of her efforts while keeping and the spiritual peace.

When we teach at our Build Your Marriage conferences, we encourage men to be spiritual initiators instead of spiritual leaders. Being an initiator is doable no matter where a man is on his spiritual journey. It’s measurable, achievable, and a win for his marriage, his family, and especially his relationship with Jesus.

Here are five ways a man can be the spiritual initiator in the marriage this week:

1) Initiate personal spiritual growth

When a man takes personal responsibility in a disciplined approach to his spiritual growth, it gives his wife greater confidence in him. It ushers peace into the marriage. Regular time reading the Bible, prayer, and finding other Christian men to connect with relationally and spiritually are important first steps.

2) Initiate prayer

For some reason a man will jump in front of a bullet to protect his wife, but he freezes up when he thinks about taking her hand and praying with her. Men—just do it! It doesn’t have to be long or eloquent. Just say, “Baby, I want us to start praying together out loud. Even if you aren’t comfortable praying out loud, I’d like you to at least join me as I pray.” Then simply pray thanking God for your wife, your marriage and anything else that comes to mind. Ask him to bless you both. Pray for whatever else is on your heart and say amen. You can do this—just initiate!

3) Initiate devotions

Devotions are simply reading the Bible and/or a daily Christian reading together. This is as simple as finding the time and reading this out loud to your wife, ask her to read it, or both of you read silently together and then discussing it. We personally like Our Daily Bread which you can find here or My Utmost for His Highest which is here. If you are reading the Bible, then just read a couple paragraphs at a time starting in the Gospel of John.

4) Initiate church attendance

Men, your wife needs you to take the initiative each week in making church attendance a priority. If you don’t like the one you’re at, then perhaps you need to look together for a place where you can both grow spiritually, connect relationally, and serve. Your loving initiative in attending church will yield more spiritual benefit in her life—and your marriage—than you can imagine!

5) Initiate thanksgiving

When either of you experiences something good in life, take the initiative to acknowledge verbally that the good you have is from God’s provision. In fact, James wrote: “EVERY good and perfect gift is from above.” (James 1:17)

What are some other ways you have seen men be spiritual initiators in the marriage? Take the steps now as you spiritually build your marriage!

Who’s to Blame?

Blame in Marriage

“It’s not MY fault—YOU…” and so the argument revs up as blame is passed. It’s nothing new in marriage. In fact, blame goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden. Remember the story? The serpent (Satan) tempted Eve with the only fruit she wasn’t allowed by God to eat. Eve took it, ate a bite, and handed it to Adam who was right there with her, and he ate it as well.

When God showed up and asked what had happened Adam launched into a double-blame: “The WOMAN whom YOU put here with me….” And Eve just passed it along, “THE SERPENT….”

Why did they pass the buck and try to stick the blame somewhere else? For the same reasons each of us still does it: to protect ourselves from responsibility by projecting onto OTHERS what we need to own.

Although the consequences may have been the same, the story would have sounded much differently if Adam had simply manned up and said to God, “I failed to protect her from doing what I knew was wrong. Even further, I joined in and did what you told me not to do.” And if Eve had said, “I knew it was wrong, but I gave in to temptation. I’m so sorry.”

A phrase you’ve read in other posts by us fits well here: Your response is your responsibility. And it’s true for your spouse as well: Their response is their responsibility.

Blamers will often use excuses like:

“I’m justified”

The thought here is that they have somehow been treated poorly or done wrong by their spouse. The underlying premise is that “Because you did ________, I can now do/say/respond ___________.” There’s a degree of victim mentality and retaliation buried in self-justification.

“You’re worse”

This is simply self-righteous deflection. “I may be a little bit bad, but YOU are A LOT bad because YOU….” The blamer who leverages this excuse is adept at shaming their spouse.

If you recognize this in yourself, remember: Satan is the one who brings shame. He doesn’t need your help.

“You provoked me”

Tragically, this has been used to explain away physical abuse, verbal abuse, control, manipulation and retaliation. It is an effort to absolve one’s self of their personal ownership of their own behavior. Relationships and conflict can be heated and complex, but that doesn’t excuse sinful and disrespectful behavior toward one’s spouse.

If you live with a blamer, here are three things counselors recommend:

1) Be tough but tender

Put up boundaries around disrespectful behavior. Remove yourself from the situation and lovingly tell your spouse you are willing to discuss the matter at hand when they can speak to you respectfully. Be careful not to engage in defensiveness or amping up the emotional tenor of the conversation. Stay loving, but strong in how you deserve to be addressed.

2) Be open to your part

You may fear that you’re giving the blamer ground by owning anything they present. But if there is something for which you should take responsibility (remember: your response is your…?) then do so. But don’t own more than you should with integrity.

3) Use “I” statements

In any conflict, “you” statements project blame and create defensiveness. But when you use statements like, “I feel frustrated when…” or “I feel angry when…” you are owning your feelings and your responsibility for them.

Be mindful of your personal responsibility, own it, and you and your spouse will come together with greater unity as you build your marriage.

Building a Never Failing Love

Commitment in marriage

In our work with couples, we see faltering and failing marriages because one mate has chosen to seek “greener grass” with someone else. They shipwreck their marriage, vows, and even their children with phrases like:

  • “I fell out of love.”
  • “I fell in love with someone else.”
  • “It just wasn’t working.”
  • “We will always be best friends, but….”
  • “We’re better at being friends than spouses.”

For several weeks we have been writing about the different attributes of love described by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13. At the end of Paul’s list he simply writes, “love never fails.”

If that’s so, then what about those marriages where love DID fail? And what does it look like to have a love that never fails in marriage?

When love fails in marriage it is because it wasn’t grounded in God’s love—a committed, self-sacrificing love patterned after Jesus’ love for us. Instead, it became a self-centered and feeling-based love.

Somewhere along the way spiritual drift settled in. Where Christ was once at the center of one’s life he is now at the periphery. That’s not the love that will sustain a marriage. While one spouse may remain committed to Christ, the other may be more committed to self. As we all know, it takes two to stay married.

Certainly we will fall and fail each other at times in a variety of ways. But what Paul is addressing here is a love that doesn’t fall and stay down for the count. A love that never fails is one that stays committed.

Men and women, for a love that never fails in your marriage, you must make the decision to remain committed first to Jesus Christ. You resolve that he will be at the center of your life individually and maritally. Your second commitment is to each other regardless of how your feelings may falter.

Love that never fails is the love of choice, commitment and purpose. It is the love that reflects the qualities Paul wrote about:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a, NIV)

So what does a love look like that will never fail? It’s a love that says:

1) We choose to pray together

Praying together is vital to having a spiritually healthy, committed, and love-lasting marriage. If you have never prayed out loud together, this can seem awkward at first. We suggest that the spouse who is least comfortable praying out loud actually pray first, keeping it short and simple. Then the other spouse match that prayer in length. As you pray together you will experience answers to prayer, a growing faith, and a deeper commitment to your marriage.

2) We choose to stand together

Make decisions for unity in purpose. Stand together against social injustice. Stand together to reach friends and family for Christ. Stand together in unity as you parent your children. Stand together in protecting your marriage from temptation. Stand together to guard against disunity.

3) We choose to endure together

This is similar to our last post on “Building a love that perseveres.” Life will throw curve-balls, demonic forces will seek to divide you, changes will happen financially, vocationally, physically, parentally. You make the choice to remain committed and endure life’s hardships and successes with equal commitment and resolve. The greatest joy is found in staying, not in wandering.

What have you found to be keys in a love that never fails? Let love abound through you as you pursue Jesus and your spouse to build your marriage!

We thought you might enjoy this three minute song by Brandon Heath called, “Love Never Fails”

Building A Love That Perseveres

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In 1957  the two couples pictured above said their vows before God and man committing to persevere in marriage and remain fully committed to their spouse. They wed in different parts of Indiana–one in Kendallville and the other in Indianapolis. They promised to love, cherish, and honor one another–for better or worse, in sickness and in health.

By God’s grace, John and Luann and Bill and Marilyn have stayed strong, kept their vows, and continue to persevere. They have been married 58 years. We are so thankful for them and their marriages because they are our parents. 🙂 They have set an incredible example for us of a persevering love. Collectively they have been through relocations, job transitions, raising children, health challenges, hospitalizations, loss of their parents, and just the dailyness of relational dynamics in marriage.

The Bible says that “Love…always perseveres” (1 Corinthians 13:7). The word “persevere” in the original language can also mean “endure,” “to abide,” “to wait patiently and not flee.” From our observation, if more couples learned to persevere in their marriages they would experience deeper levels of peace and joy in their relationship with God and in their marriage. Here are five things to keep in mind as you build a love that perseveres:

1) If you haven’t persevered

It is not uncommon for people today to be on their second or third marriage. Perhaps you are now seeking to build your marriage right with Christ at the center, but you feel guilt over your failed marriages. Remember that regret is normal and perhaps there are some things you need to confess to God that haven’t been made right with Him. But don’t live in shame and regret over the past! Fix your eyes on the future and what God can do in your marriage now!

2) If your spouse didn’t persevere

You cannot control your spouse. We know of those who are “standers” who wait and pray for their spouse’s return. They follow our ministry and continue to make choices to build their marriages as much as they are able. They are persevering where their spouse hasn’t. We have great respect for you. We stand with you as you persevere in God’s strength and hope.

If they strayed and returned, then do the hard work with a counselor to rebuild and strengthen your marriage—not in shame and guilt, but in the same love and grace that God has shown you through Jesus. You will learn forgiveness, mercy and healing in deeper ways than many who have not been through your valley of pain and healing.

3) Decide to persevere

Eliminate any thinking or talk of divorce. It does not belong in the vocabulary of one who chooses to persevere. Circumstances of life will hit. Running or shrinking back from your marital commitment may seem alluring. But your predetermined choice is to persevere. Hang in there and continue the race of life with your spouse. It marks your character and your commitment first to Christ and then to your marital covenant.

4) Ask for God’s strength

While there will be times that are difficult, God promises to give you the strength you need in the moment. The Bible promises that you “can do all things through Christ who strengthens” you. (Philippians 4:13) All you need to do is ask.

5) Be with others who are pro-marriage

In any endeavor there is greater strength when others are cheering you on. It’s the same in your marriage. Consider those to whom you go for wisdom and counsel: Do they urge you to trust God and persevere, or to cut and run from your marriage? Seek out those who will urge you to trust God and have the patient endurance of one who perseveres. And be one who cheers on others to do the same!

What have you found to be helpful in your efforts to persevere? We hope that you can experience years of marriage—and and you can as you persevere and build your marriage!