Eye Contact

eye contact coupleWhen our children were little and we wanted their attention, we would put our hands on both sides of their faces so that they would have to give us undistracted eye contact. Why? We wanted to be sure that they heard what we were saying so that there would be no misunderstanding in the future. We wanted their complete attention.

Have you ever wanted to do that with your spouse? You are trying to pour out your heart, but they are focused on the TV screen, computer screen, chores around the house, text messages, and any other distraction (“A squirrel!”) that pops up.

Or maybe your spouse has wanted YOUR attention, but their timing isn’t convenient. You want to give your full attention, but there are lots of other priorities begging for your attention and giving eye contact keeps you from multi-tasking. It can feel like a waste of precious time to give eye contact.

We get it. We are two Type A’s who always believe there’s too much to do and too little time to do it. But the investment of eye contact in conversation with your spouse is never a waste of time. The benefits far outweigh the delayed project or task.

Here are some solid reasons to look your spouse in the eyes as they talk:

  • You show love with your eyes.
  • You are telling your spouse that what is on their heart is now on your heart through your eye contact.
  • You communicate that your spouse matters more than anything else in your world.
  • You cultivate the respect you desire to receive—the law of sowing what you want to reap!
  • You decrease the likelihood of being misunderstood in the conversation because your spouse can read your eyes and expressions.
  • You cue in on non-verbal signals your spouse is sending as they talk.
  • You communicate sincerity and that you can be trusted.
  • Your eye contact communicates a willingness to be vulnerable by engaging in what is being said.
  • You are providing instantaneous communication with your eyes.
  • You create connection and intimacy.

Keep in mind that timing matters. If you are pouring out your heart while they are preparing dinner, focusing on a repair on the home or car, or catching the tail-end of a television show or game it probably won’t result in good eye contact. In fact, you may create distance instead.

When you are looking for a good time to talk, just ask! Here’s a suggestion, ask your spouse, “When would be a good time to get _____ minutes of your undivided attention?” (Be sure to stick close to what you asked for—it will create greater trust and more communication opportunities in the days to come).

And if you are the listener, you may have to practice and discipline yourself to give good eye contact.

  • Put the phone on silent and face down a couple of feet away from you.
  • Turn off the TV.
  • Close the lid on the computer.
  • Tell the children (if they are old enough) that the two of you are going to talk for _____ minutes. It may take some training, but in time they will respect and appreciate that you are connecting.

And then gaze into your spouse’s eyes as you Build Your Marriage.


Temptation and Marriage

In our work with couples we see a fairly equal number of men and women who yield to temptation and throw their marriage and all that they once held dear in jeopardy. We are no strangers to the perils of yielding to temptation or its consequences. That’s why we work so diligently to urge you not to take your marriage for granted, but to proactively BUILD your marriage!

One of the key motivators that makes temptation of any kind so appealing is a sense of entitlement. Satan used this tactic in the Garden of Eden with Eve when he appealed to her “right” to eat the fruit that God denied. “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5) He implied that she was entitled to know good and evil and God was holding out on her.

Satan used the same appeal with Jesus. “IF you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” (Luke 4:3) In other words, Jesus was entitled to have bread and enjoy it after forty days of not eating anything.

The devil isn’t creative in his approach. He does the same with us today.

  • “Your spouse has been holding out on you. You’re entitled to some porn—you need the sexual release. At least you aren’t with someone else.”
  • “Your spouse hasn’t been loving or kind, have they? They’re always angry. You deserve to be in a casual relationship where you can be affirmed and hugged.”
  • “Your loneliness is going to suffocate you. Having a close friend of the opposite sex will help you endure your marriage.”
  • “Your spouse doesn’t even know you or understand you. You need someone who is really a soul-mate.”

Men and women, these are all lies from the enemy. He wants to divert you from God’s plan by holding out an appealing deception. His desire is to destroy your marriage and neutralize your effectiveness for Christ—as well as your legacy you are building for your children.

Think of it this way: if Satan is working to draw you away from your spouse, then you need to fight all the harder to draw NEAR to your spouse and to Jesus.

If you have been yielding to temptation, don’t rationalize or try to figure out a “good timing” to stop—there isn’t one. Stop now. End the porn/relationship/flirting immediately and leave the other person in God’s hands. You belong to Jesus and your spouse only.

When the temptation comes roaring back into your mind, maybe all you can do is say the name of Jesus out loud over and over until there is release and victory. God’s promise is true: “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

As you do, you will experience God’s peace and blessing in your life and you will be taking proactive steps to build your marriage!


Refreshing Affirmation

Water into glass

You already know the answer to this one: If you hear nine positive comments of affirmation and one negative comment about you, which are you more likely to think about? That’s right…the negative.

In an article entitled, “Bad is Stronger Than Good,” Roy F. Baumeister writes, “Bad emotions…have more impact than good ones. Bad impressions and bad stereotypes are quicker to form and more resistant to dis-confirmation than good ones.” In other words, the bad stuff sticks more easily to our brains and hearts.

Think of your spouse’s life beginning like a clear glass of fresh water. Throughout their life they have had all kinds of negative opinions deposited into their life, like mud into that clear fresh water. These opinions have been part of shaping your spouse’s self-perception and now it has lost clarity and perspective.

Growing up they may have heard negative impressions from teachers, classmates, siblings, colleagues, even parents. Things like:

  • You’re an idiot.
  • Can’t you do anything right?
  • You don’t know what you’re doing!
  • You look stupid.
  • I don’t want them on my team/squad
  • Just shut up. No one wants to hear from YOU.
  • Ignore him/her—they don’t matter anyway.

Hopefully your spouse has heard positive things as well, but even so, the negative has added sludge to their life. Now, imagine that you have an unlimited supply of fresh water to pour into that muddy, sludgy glass of liquid. Your pour and pour and over time the muddy water is replaced with clean, clear water.

Actually, you already have the fresh water at your disposal. It’s in the ability to pour into your spouse descriptions of all of the wonderful things that attract you to them. What are the beautiful, admirable, lovely, strong, delightful qualities you see and experience? What can you zero in on about their character—their core—that is positive?

If Jesus was writing a letter to your spouse—what do you think He would write and affirm? Why not be the conduit of that message?

The Bible says, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up….” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). Make it your regular and ongoing habit to pour fresh water into your spouse.

And you know what will happen? Your heart of love and appreciation for them will grow exponentially as well as you build your marriage!


Serving With A Smile

Serving Towel

Several years ago we went on a cruise with some other family members. It was idyllic with the sea breezes, fun excursions at various ports-of-call, and time to focus on relationships. Interestingly, the person who impacted each person in our group the most wasn’t another family member, but our waiter, who served us every evening at dinner.

Within the first day he knew our names, our preferences, and went out of his way to anticipate our needs and desires. He made meals interesting with a flair for attention to minute details and conversation. We left each meal feeling appreciated, valued, and honored. In our family we were talking about him for months after the cruise. His serving impacted us more than anything else we had experienced!

Is it possible…perhaps…that you can bring that kind of lasting influence into your marriage? Simply put—YES!

The challenge is that serving cuts against the grain of our natural desires. From the earliest days of expressing our will, we want our way and we want it now. Food. Comfort. Recreation. Alone time. Assistance. We carry those desires through childhood, adolescence, and into our marriages.

Brooks and Dunn’s song “Husbands and Wives” has it right when they sang, “It’s my belief that pride is the chief cause in the decline of the number of husbands and wives.” It’s pride which drives self-centeredness and self-centeredness drives a wedge between us and our spouse. Over time the connection we had or longed for disintegrates and we are two lonely angry people living under the same roof.

Perhaps you are already at that place of loneliness and despair. Hearts have gotten hard, conversation is at a minimum, and you feel helpless as the two of you drift further apart.  Or, maybe your marriage is strong and you want to implement practices now to protect and build your marriage. We have a critical practice that will take effort and sacrifice, but the impact on your heart—and your spouse—will be immeasurable.

In the daily rhythm of how you interact with your spouse, frame your thinking so that you are putting the waiter’s towel over your arm, and you are in your marriage to serve your spouse. Not in a servile way—but in a way that reflects how Jesus served you.

Jesus said, “The greatest among you will be your servant.” (Matthew 23:11) So if you really want to be great in the eyes of your spouse and add fire to your love, begin by daily looking after their desires first and serving them.

Ask yourself:

  • What burden does my spouse carry that I can lift or help carry?
  • What task to they dread that I can take on?
  • What need does my spouse have that I can meet out of love for Jesus?

Ask your spouse: “What can I do to better serve you in our marriage?”

For the next 30 days, put this into practice and see how God uses it to Build Your Marriage!


Asking Forgiveness

Forgive me

When our children were young, they would invariably show their dark side and cause some infraction toward one another. When confronted, the perpetrator would usually just want to rattle off an “I’m sorry!” and be done with it–never actually seeking forgiveness. But we didn’t make it so easy. We wanted to be sure they understood—and verbalized—specifically what they had done. This wasn’t just for their sake, it was for the victim’s (sibling) sake as well, to aid in their ability to forgive and trust once again.

As hard as you try, there are going to be things in your marriage that you will do, fail to do, refuse to do, or have-have-it-assumed-that-you-should-have-known-what-to-do! Naturally there will be things you ought to say or should have left unsaid. Your tone of voice may misrepresent your heart. Your eagerness may be mistaken for selfishness. Your focus may be perceived as self-centeredness.

There isn’t a married person alive who can’t dredge up a remembrance of hurt brought to their spouse in one of those scenarios. And those are just the daily issues. Some hurts are much, much deeper. The criticizing in front of friends and family. Disrespect and dishonor displayed in front of the children. Or pain at its worst: betrayal. Your spouse needs to hear you apologize—specifically. This isn’t an exercise in beating yourself up before they have the opportunity to do so—it’s humbly presenting yourself to them as one who recognizes the wrong you’ve done and the hurt that was caused. Intentionally or unintentionally, real or perceived, you need to make it right.

Have Perspective

So first, try to put yourself in your spouses’ skin and think about what they felt, how the situation may have looked to them. What behavior, attitude, words, tone of voice, etc. did you do (again, specifically) that created pain? If you are a Christ-follower, ask God to reveal to you any way you may have sinned against your spouse. You can be assured that the Spirit of truth will reveal your transgressions gently and thoroughly.

Have Humility

Now go to your spouse when they are ready to listen, look in their eyes and ask forgiveness for each thing that you did. Don’t offer excuses. Don’t pass the blame. Just own it.

Have Patience

Just because you are ready to apologize doesn’t mean that they are ready to hear from you. Be sensitive to your spouse’s readiness. Asking forgiveness is not so that you can be “off the hook” for what you did, it is so the relationship can be healed and reconciled. If they won’t listen, then perhaps write it down in a note and give it to them to read when they are ready. Even so, be prepared to verbalize what you have written. Some deep pain will probably need ongoing conversation and perhaps even counseling. Your humility in your apology must also include ongoing humility in rebuilding trust, willing conversation, and doing whatever it takes to Build Your Marriage.

Kissing to Build Your Marriage

Older couple kissing

When we were dating we had a kissing contest with another couple who is now on the board of Build Your Marriage. To the best of our recollection (it was over 30 years ago) the contest lasted nearly an hour and the rule was that your lips had to constantly touch. It was funny for us to try and talk with lips locked, peek at each other to see who would hold out longest, and try to get the other couple to crack up so we could win!

In a recent survey by the British Heart Foundation, almost one in five married couples don’t kiss for an entire week! Two in five married couples kiss for just FIVE seconds when they DO kiss!

We hope you are in the healthier 3/5 that kiss more than five seconds at a time! Here’s a question you and your spouse can talk about: In the context of being at home—Is it possible to kiss too many times during a day? Or to kiss too long? Or to be too passionate? (Hint: the desired answer is…NO!)

In marriage, it’s the couples who keep kissing much and often who have the greater joy, connection, and romance. Your lips are one of the most sensitive areas of your body. So when you are in close proximity (and you have to be!) to plant a kiss on your spouse, there is tenderness and connection when your lips touch.

Your kiss expresses attention, care and intimacy all at once. It doesn’t have to be passionate every time—sometimes it may be a five second smooch.

When you kiss your spouse, you are affirming their worth and letting them know that they matter to you. Your kiss says, “I love you.”

On the practical side:

  • Kissing for one minute burns 2 − 6 calories (Which means we burned 120 − 360 calories in that contest!).
  • Men who kiss their wives good-bye live an average of five years longer.
  • Kissing stimulates saliva which washes harmful bacteria off your teeth (studies don’t say if the saliva passes to your spouse).
  • Kissing boosts immunity—you’re helping your spouse stay healthy! And kissing reduces stress.

So…what’s your kissing quotient been to this point? How can you intentionally increase your daily kisses? When you do, you will be well on your way to Build Your Marriage!

Oh, and the kissing contest? We lost.


Listen Very Carefully…

Couple chatting on bench

Have you ever said something and had your spouse totally misunderstand what you were trying to say? And then they responded based on what they THINK they heard, but it was all wrong? And then you tried to clarify it, but they were stuck on what they think they heard but you didn’t mean?

Yeah…it’s never happened to us either. 🙂 There’s Cuban proverb that “Listening looks easy, but it’s not simple. Every head is a world.” And that sums up the challenge we all face. We know what we think, we try to communicate it in words. The other person “hears” what we say and filters it through their emotions, experience, and perceptions and thoughts. Then they respond through that grid and the cycle of mis-communication starts swirling.

Here’s how to break into that cycle and actually hear what each other is saying. It’s called Reflective Listening, or Mirroring. It’s a powerful way to actually understand each other. It will help you connect more deeply and show honor and respect in the process.

Here’s how it works. When your spouse is describing something to you, listen carefully to what they say. When they are done, repeat back in your own words what you heard. This gives them an opportunity to clarify until you “get” it. Once they are convinced they have been actually heard, you can respond.

Some common reflective phrases you might use would be:

“So what you are thinking is….”

“You’re saying that you feel….”

“Can you tell me more about that?”

“It sounds like you….”

“Help me understand….”

Try it today. It may take some practice, but these tools can help your spouse feel heard and give you the confidence that you are responding with greater accuracy and less misunderstanding.

You may be thinking, “This would take too long! I already know what they are saying…I don’t need to keep asking for my spouse to tell me more or explain more.” Perhaps…but the gift of your full listening is a gift of love which your spouse needs. AND…it takes a lot longer—and more energy—to repair miscommunication.

A little effort and time up front can go a long way as you Build Your Marriage!


Intentional Love

Black Couple in Love

In order to build your marriage, you must be committed to being intentional. A good marriage doesn’t just happen over time, it is cultivated.

When planting a garden or a field, it’s important that the soil be broken up and prepared for planting. Cultivation helps control weeds and helps ensure a healthy crop.

To have a healthy marriage, you have to cultivate the soil of your relationship to keep it from getting hardened, weed-ridden, and unhealthy. Here are four tips on how to cultivate love in your marriage so the two of you can THRIVE in the fruitfulness of your marriage!

1. Think the Best

Cultivating the soil of your marriage begins in your mind (surprised?). All too often we allow seeds of doubt to infect our thinking. We doubt our spouse’s intentions. We doubt their motive. We doubt their honesty.

And once those weed-seeds are planted they start sprouting up in our thoughts and we don’t see them as they are, but as we THINK they are. Here’s the antidote: make the choice to think the BEST about your spouse. When you see the seed of a weed coming into your thoughts, reject it immediately. As the Apostle Paul wrote: “…take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)

2. Choose to Serve

Cultivating the soil of your marriage requires an act of the will to serve your spouse. Marriage is an act of selfless care for each other. This creates an atmosphere of trust, safety, and intimacy. It’s easy to do things when we feel like it, but the hard soil of OUR heart—and our mate’s—is tilled when we serve willingly when we least feel like it.

3. Forgive Quickly

Choose to forgive the wounds you have received from your spouse. In an intimate relationship there is vulnerability and that exposure brings pain—unintentionally and sometimes intentionally. Make the decision not to hold the offense against your spouse. Follow the example of Jesus who was wrongly accused, condemned, and killed. Peter describes it this way: “When they hurled their insults at him he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2:23)

4. Speak Positively

Sow words of encouragement into your spouse. Tell them regularly the positive qualities you see in them. The character traits you admire. The places where you see effort, growth, care. Find one thing each day which you can communicate to your spouse—verbally or written—that you affirm in who they are.

We are sure that these four tips have stimulated more ideas of your own—follow through! Then watch in amazement as the depth of your mutual love grows as you Build Your Marriage!