Tag Archives: Marriage

Quick Review: Shaping Your Family Story

Over the last few weeks, I read “Shaping Your Family Story” by David Welday III and Dr. James Coffield.  My wife and I wanted to read this book after getting acquainted with Dr. Coffield this summer at a training we attended.  He presented on some of the principles that are in this book and overall we really benefitted from our exposure to him. So we wanted to read the book.

Here is the main framework that makes this book unique compared to some other family leadership books out there. They offer 6 principles for shaping a good family story (chapter 2)  (18-23)

They offer 6 principles for shaping a good family story (pp. 18-23)

  1. Create High Emotional Warmth
  2. Have Low and Productive Conflict
  3. Have High Fun
  4. Have High Purpose or Theme
  5. Answer the Right Question  (i.e. “Am I loved?”)
  6. Parent Consistently

This summer Dr. Coffield primarily used the 1st four as an assessment of sorts for really any kind of relationship or community-based situation:  marriage, family, and even teams and larger communities. And that’s the biggest thing that has stuck with us – evaluating our relationships and community commitments through the lens of those 4 categories. From a parent standpoint, 5 & 6 are great and important as well and I think they also apply to leadership as well.

From a parent standpoint, 5 & 6 are great and important as well and I think they also apply to leadership as well. So I believe all 6 categories are a good diagnostic for any relationship or community, but the 1st four provide for a very easy assessment.

Is there high warmth?

Is there low/productive conflict?

Is there high fun?

Is there high purpose?

I think most of us have experienced environments that have been heavy on 1 or 2 of these or where 1 or 2 was completely lacking. I find that these have really helped me develop some simple and practical solutions and next steps whether it relates to marriage, family, or team leadership.

What do you think? Do you think these questions cover the essence of what contributes to a safe and healthy relational environment?

This is not the first go to marriage or family book I would recommend, but I enjoyed it and there was a lot of great insights and nuggets in there – particularly on discipline and the importance of consistency (#6 above).  It was a simple and practical book so it’s very accessible.


Quick Review: Strengths Based Marriage

My focus for a couple months, while we are in the U.S. and at a training for international staff, is family so I’m reading a bunch of books and resources related to family life right now because that’s a lot of what we are thinking about and reflecting upon right now. One of those books is Strengths Based Marriage: Build a Stronger Relationship by Understanding Each Other’s Gifts.

I was luke warm on this book, but was intrigued initially because I have some Strengths Finder training and often teach and do trainings related to the typical Strengths based themes.  There are some helpful things in this book for people familiar with StrengthsFinder, but in general I did not find it all that great.

First – I think the audio book experience for this one didn’t work for me. The book is divided up between a marriage counselor/expert and a strengths coach/expert. They rotate back and forth and I grew weary hearing them identify themselves as an expert in their field for each of their sections.  I read along in the book at points to take some notes and was not nearly as bothered in the written form.

There are just some things I wasn’t feeling – there was a lot of language that describes a lot of marriage things in stereotypical language. Like the comments that men need this and women need that, while men like this though women like that.  That kind of stuff.  There was helpful insight, but there was a bit too much labeling for me along the lines of the “Love and Respect” books.  There is some truth in there, but it gets lost for me in the generalizations.

I was surprised that there was a Biblical foundation or commitment by the authors so I appreciated some of the attempts to link it to Scripture, thought the use of Ephesians for the love and respect type of stuff above irked me a bit. But the stuff on servanthood was pretty solid.

Language wise – there was also a section in which complaining was encouraged as a necessary way of helping spouses having a voice with each other.  Some of it is semantics as their point was really about sharing your heart, but they used “complaining” as the actual word/concept and I think that’s a really poor choice of language and I don’t think that has ever helped anyone. I do support the idea of spouses listening to each other’s hurts, pain, frustration, and anger.  I guess I don’t see that as complaining.

The book is designed around the StrengthsFinder tool, but they recommend you take the version of the assessment online that gives you all 34 strength themes, not just the top 5.  I am not sure I am a fan of that, but they propose matching up your 34 side by side with your spouse to see where there are strength “tensions” or conflicts – say my top strength is strategic and my wife’s 34th strength is strategic (and that type of thing).  This could be helpful, but it draws a lot of attention to non-strengths and at times I didn’t like that Strengths was being presented as the secret ingredient to a healthy marriage.  I don’t know – 99.9% of human marriages in the history of time have not had access to the StrengthsFinder assessment. They provide

I don’t know – 99.9% of human marriages in the history of time have not had access to the StrengthsFinder assessment. They provide some helpful ideas as to how to encourage one another at the identity level and not just the performance level. But I’m not sure StrengthsFinder is the secret ingredient to most marriages – though it can help I suppose.

But hey – also, if you have ever wanted a conversation about how StrengthFinder impacts the marriage bed – this is the place for you.  That’s a whole next level of application there, but it was interesting.

If you are a SF junkie it’s not a bad book to read, but I’d encourage you to go elsewhere if you are really looking to go deeper in your marriage – maybe starting with Families Where Grace is in Place, which I reviewed a few days ago.

Quick Review: Families Where Grace is in Place

One of the most timely books I’ve read in a while is Families Where Grace Is In Place by Jeff VanVonderen.  I enjoy VanVonderen. Quite a while ago I was deeply ministered to by his book The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse in a season where I was observing a lot of spiritually abusive dynamics and tactics in some of my environments. This book on grace in the family was just as refreshing and significant.

I’ve read a few books in the last few years related to marriage and family and this has vaulted to the top for me I think so far. Some of it may be timeliness in that we are under a year from having teens in our household, but it’s more that VanVonderen grounds an approach to marriage and parenting…and really all developmental relationships in the foundational truths of the gospel and the need for grace for true change to take place.

Today there are so many ways Christians especially rationalize their legalism, shaming, and performance approach to parenting, leadership, and any exercise of authority roles. This book shines a spotlight on what does not pass the grace test and what truly reflects leadership under the Lordship of Christ. It’s convicting and even painful at points as the book fosters self-evaluation according to shame or grace-based approaches in relationships. But it offers hope and life that is grounded not in methods or control, but in love and the life of Christ as the source of all life and all authentic change.

The author uses a couple acronyms that are helpful – C.U.R.S.E. and T.I.R.E.D. to capture the reality of parenting and exercise of authority in relationships that reflect the core patterns of sin in Genesis 3. You can read the book to do a deeper dive on those – but it’s well worth it 🙂

As I’ve been researching more and more stuff related to shame, the more I’m convinced we need to ground everything we do in authentic, grace-based relationships in which the truth is allowed to do its work to heal and restore rather than harm, hurt, put down, or belittle. But sadly that is not the case for many marriages, families, and churches. This is what we are trying to prioritize in our development right now as parents and it’s been life and hope giving as well as healing in some regards as well.


Turning the Corner on Sex in Marriage (Final post)

Since 1 Corinthians 7 is the central passage by which all the teaching these posts have been written in response to, it’s a necessity to address this passage and represent what I believe it to be teaching and what I believe it is not teaching.

These teachings are not taught everywhere.  Even where and when this is taught,  it’s conveyed at different levels or degrees and with different measures of awareness.  In large contexts, like churches, it’s men usually teaching this, but 2/3rds of those I’ve heard or been exposed to who have advocated these teachings are actually women.

This will be a bit long for a blog post, but I’m pushing through since I’m ready to bring this series of posts to a close:

  • 1 Corinthians is an occasional letter – meaning that Paul is writing to a specific time to a specific group of people going through specific challenges.  This is highlighted by 7:1 where Paul acknowledges he is about to respond to some questions of this community saying, “Now about the matters you wrote about…”
  • So what’s one of these matters?  The NASB captures it well in verse 5 where Paul writes, “Stop depriving one another...” in reference to sex in marriage.  So clearly in this group of people was a movement of folks who were depriving their spouses of sex for certain reasons. Most of vs. 1-5 is written to that situational crisis in the congregation.
  • Obviously – we can interpret deprive in different ways.  Does that mean we shouldn’t say no to our spouse and submit to their desires and initiation in every instance?  Or is there something bigger?  In Corinth and other cities heavily influenced by Greek thought and Hellenistic influences, there was often a dichotomy of thinking as it relates to the realm of the body and spirit.  I’ll summarize it caveman style:  spirit good, body bad.  So while there was a crowd in Corinth that out of a spirit of license were doing the unthinkable and feeling quite proud about it, there definitely seems to be another group of an ascetic persuasion – those that for the sake of true spirituality were rejecting this material world – including the physical pleasures of sexual intercourse within marriage.  This church, from the themes and context in the letter and from historical context, had dysfunction to opposite extremes – like many churches.  The age old struggle between legalism and license.
  • The context of this passage is also suggested in verse 2.  “Now because of immoralities…”.  So much of 1 Corinthians 7 is about avoiding sexual sin and immorality as opposed to issues like authority and submission in marriage (despite a discussion on authority).  Paul covers what this looks like for marrieds and singles and a variety of ancient world relationship statuses.  Paul’s giving advice to people that depriving their spouses of sex because of commitment to an over-spiritualized philosophy of holiness (including rejection of physical world) or any other significant reason leaves both members of the marriage vulnerable to sexual temptation.  Paul is not giving prescriptive marriage advice about how to have a healthy sex life and happy marriage, but he’s speaking into significant rejections of the marriage union that lend themselves to temptation.  This is hugely relevant today because many affairs and divorces can trace themselves back in all likelihood to a significant withdrawal from sexual intimacy where a spouse increasingly begins to find their identity and connection somewhere else. Benign beginnings of a problem, malignant ends.
  • Paul writes in vs. 3 and 4 that men and women must fulfill their duties to one another and writes that each has authority over the other.   This two verses are key to the philosophy of “never say no” related to sex in marriage.  But I believe Paul here is reminding people of what the marriage union really is.  There is a oneness in marriage, it’s a covenant in soul and body.  I don’t believe this is a lesson in “submission” as we talk about it, but it’s a reminder of what marriage is so that those who are buying into lies that marriage is just “spiritual” are held accountable to true teaching of the marriage covenant.

    What does it mean that I have authority of my wife’s body?  Does that mean she can’t say no to me?  Some of you may say – Yes it does.  I believe it means that my wife can’t bail on me.  She can’t leave me without Biblical grounds.  She can’t withdraw from or reject the sexual component of our marriage covenant with one another and God.  And I can’t withdraw from her.  But that’s a different picture than some of what I’ve heard taught in a few places, with increasingly popularity it seems.  1 Cor 7:1-5 reminds us to not withdraw from the complete and utterly physical as well as spiritual union of marriage, lest we fall to sin.   I think that’s great advice from Paul and sorely needed today.  I don’t believe he’s making a statement about submission and authority in day to day activity, but in regards to overall postures towards the marriage union.  My takeaway – spouses can say no to their spouse’s initiation like adults should be able to do with healthy boundaries and trusting relationships – but we better not say no for very long or else we are betraying the covenant we’ve entered into and opening the door for sin to destroy the marriage and family.

  • The two “outs” Paul gives in the chapter are mutual consent and prayer.  The way I understand mutual consent is that there’s a mutual decision to be cool with not making it happen.  This supports a “sometimes it just ain’t your night” big boy pants approach as I’ve been arguing.  If someone clearly can’t make it happen or it would not serve them, a servant’s posture is to “consent” with them that you understand and let’s shoot for another time in the near future.  But to teach “never deny your spouse” without fleshing out what true marital partnership looks like in those “mutual consent” moments undermines the whole integrity of the message or teaching.  If the spouse isn’t down (and it’s not a long term thing), then you both should be mutually consenting to try another time. In that scenario if one spouse claims their “authority” over the other’s body then somehow the whole gospel order has been flipped on its head because that spouse is out to get his (or hers) – and that’s where several of these posts have been in opposition to.

So was 5 posts on this topic all this overkill?  Maybe. Probably.  Absolutely.  I just couldn’t help myself.  And some of those who teach total submission to sexual initiation within marriage may say – well of course all these things are true and we’re just saying as a general rule we need to make sure we’re keeping the sexual relationship active.  Well ok – fine.  But make sure you make it clear!  But I more often hear a clear theology of absolute submission read into this text and on one level it’s true that we need to stay submitted to one other and the covenant we’ve entered into.  But we need to be careful to not read our own theological systems or opinions into a text that really isn’t going to that place.  I’m tired of seeing and hearing about women who feel one down in marriage feeling like they have no choice or voice when it comes to sex because they’re being taught this passage in black and white or legalistic / performance tones.  I’m tired of dudes who use this passage to increase their sense of power and entitlement in marriage. Teachings that reinforce that power disparity aren’t connected to the gospel.

Why write 5 posts on this?

Because sex is a topic most people, and definitely most Christians don’t talk about freely and honestly.  There’s such fear, vulnerability, shame, and comfortability at times for folks entering into these discussions that there aren’t tons of open discussions or forums for people to work out an understanding of this area in marriage.  Furthermore, because of the general silence from a congregation or ministry in these areas, those with the loudest or most opinionated voices are heard the most and they aren’t always the right voices to listen to.  I’ve been loud and opinionated in the blog posts primarily because I’m passionate about freedom and empowerment and adulthood (themes of this blog) in the context of marriage.  And those things are cultivated or restrained more often than not in the bedroom dynamics.

So to teach a “never deny your spouse” approach to sex in marriage as a strong word from the Lord without providing context and without showing awareness to the bigger picture of what God is wanting within marriages is irresponsible at best, damaging at worst.  But I’ll say this – people do need to teach and preach on this subject because in the absence of sound understandings of what makes a healthy marriage they’ll either just do whatever feels right to them (the licentious Corinthians) or they’ll default to the most “spiritual” option available to them (the ascetic Corinthians).  There’s just as much need to teach what Paul is teaching today, but we need to make sure we’re not heavily reading our biases or baggage into it.

Bonus Reflections

Here are some opinions, maybe wisdom, though I’m not citing Scriptural authority on them:

  • If your marriage views sex in a transactional way, you need to re-examine how you see this area.  If you’re thinking as a women – if I do it this many times for him then I can ….  then you have a transactional mindset.  If as a man you’re thinking at it from the vantage point of how many times your wife is saying yes or no and whether, to quote Pedro, all your wildest dreams are coming true, then you’re in the transaction zone too.
  • Sex in marriage is not something that should be used in a power move.  To withhold sex to punish someone is not loving and you’re in sin.  To try to offer sex to get something is transactional and manipulative.  Sex is about the relationship.  It doesn’t have to be all spiritually and emotionally deep all the time, but there’s an honesty and integrity that needs to be in place or else there is a hypocrisy or falseness to the intimacy.
  • Sex in marriage reflects how you view the relationship, yourself, and the other. Sex can be a mirror to your soul and your own heart.  Pay attention to it and learn from what it shows you.

I’ll conclude with this – don’t take my series here as a buzzkill on sex in marriage.  I think it’s a very positive view towards what should be happening in this area actually.  But marriages should be having more sex.

Christian marriages should be having more sex than anyone.

Why?  Because God has given us the tools to explore intimacy in the most powerful and deepest of ways.  We have the foundation of grace and love and fruit of the Spirit to work through all of the barriers marriages encounter to sexual intimacy.  These things need to bear fruit so that the sexual relationship is satisfying.  It doesn’t go backwards.  Just having sex more, while it might be a catalyst for greater emotional engagement, is not the starting point for the heart change and maturity that leads to satisfying and connected sexual intimacy.

So if you read just this post or all of them – congratulations are in order since these all extended normative blog posts. Thanks for tracking my reflections on the topic even if it did not have much relevance to your station in life right now.  Thanks for tracking even if you disagree 🙂

I look forward to getting back to business as usual here on leadership and systems themes.


Dudes Aren’t Cavemen

As the fourth post in five posts related to the issue of sex and marriage, I want to give a reminder that I’m not really trying to take on any one group or situation.  These are things I have wanted to articulate for the sake of young couples especially who are struggling to sort out the advice they get, especially “Biblical” advice,  about what is involved in developing a healthy sexual relationship within marriage.  And I’m not playing Dr. Ruth or anything like that as my focus is on the specific dynamics surrounding interpretations and teaching of Scripture that lead to an “it’s unspiritual for a spouse to say no to sex” philosophy.

Dudes Aren’t Cavemen

I recognize that teachers or preachers aren’t in control of how people interpret some of what’s taught.  If enough people misconstrue the heart of the message than it may be on the communicator, but plenty of people can take fairly clear teaching and go a lot of crazy places with it.  But when you leave an environment in which the person teaching advocates that spouses should never deny one another sex, and you hear the dude next to you mumble on the way out, “That’s what I’m talking about!” while the wife looks incredible uncomfortable and borderline mortified, then it’s not an ideal outcome. I’ve seen that first hand – more than once.

It supports my feeling that while some of these teachings advocate the equality of spouses yielding to one another (1 cor 7) – men and women can interpret things very differently.  It goes both ways, but the dynamics can be very different depending on which direction in the relationship the initiation is going. And there’s often power dynamics involved within the relationship.

Not all that teach such a philosophy or Biblical approach in their minds are responsible for that or have anything to do with such a takeaway, or maybe instead of being at fault for wrong teaching they ought to be accountable for simply incomplete teaching. But some men are just meatheads….cavemen who have a hard time thinking outside the scope of their primal desires. But men need to rise above such primal forces.

I can see a great commercial based a contemporary series of commercials that represents the attitude of some of I’ve interacted with in these contexts.  “Getting your sexual needs in marriage met is so easy, even a caveman can do it!”

I find it to be an interesting dynamic, and maybe even hypocrisy depending how rigid of an approach is taken.  With singles, it’s universally taught that in the midst of having no sexual outlet that God will meet us in that place and that energy can be turned towards greater dependence upon the Lord.  Yet, in some teachings there seems to be little room for married folks needing to have the the same spiritual fortitude to handle not having their “needs met” in a timely fashion.

It’s odd that sexual desire would be given such power and status in marriage that we would say you can only say no to sex except for when you have babies, are significantly ill, or are mutually taking time for prayer (1 cor 7).  And in the next post I’ll take a stab at the relevant points of 1 Cor 7 in this discussion.

But sexual desire, while often strong and a dangerous ground for sin and temptation, is not so strong that it should automatically be fulfilled with the indictment on the spouse if they may need to say no for a variety of reasons.  Men don’t know perfectly what’s going on with how women are wired.  Women don’t know really what’s always going on with men.  My observation over time though has been that many women overestimate a lot of “what it means to be a man” in that they carry beliefs that men’s sexual desires are so great that they can feel guilty saying no.  That’s not across the board, but the view that “men have needs” is fairly rampant even if it’s not explicit. I think the impact of our culture’s view of manhood and masculinity is part of this picture and shapes assumptions about what men “need.”

At best, teaching spouses to never deny the other sex except for “really big reasons” creates a dynamic in which the focus is on meeting sexual needs (which I think is errant in the broader picture of marriage) and at worst it can serve to increase what already is often a significant power disparity in marriage – especially behind the bedroom door.

I’ll try to tackle some explicit arguments from 1 Corinthians 7 in the final post, but felt it was worth giving singular attention to the truth that dudes are not cavemen.  We can help ourselves (in contrast to the “they can’t help themselves” sentiment men AND women sometimes have).  We are definitely sexual beings as we all are, but our “needs” are hardly the types of things that require additional teachings that create extra pressure and guilt for women to have the burden to meet those needs above all else.

I believe in marriage, there should be a satisfying sexual relationship for both husband and wife, but meeting sexual needs is not the starting point of the sex in marriage conversation.  Not even close.

Embracing the NO’s to Sex: Putting On The Big Boy Pants

Putting On the Big Boy Pants

Encountering limits and experiencing boundaries are reality checks.  We need limits as they remind us that our reality is in fact bigger than just ourselves.

While it might be a rude awakening if a particular spouse is in the mood and starting to put the moves on and they are met with, “You know, I just really don’t want to right now because I’m…..” or “I’m really not feeling that great…” or “I’m not sure I can right because I feel like we need to finish that discussion we had earlier and I can’t be close until we resolve that.”

Initially it might be a buzzkill, but in the bigger picture it can be reality giving you a cold slap to the face, reminding you that your burning desires and the sexual feelings you have in the moment aren’t the only thing going on in the world.  We need to be slapped by reality sometimes.  Some of us are far too crafty in our efforts to avoid reality and we need it to find us and wake us up if we’re getting a little too insular in our perspective on life and marriage in this example.

But we’re talking on some level about rejection. More than building resolve and serving as a catalyst to a husband to be a student of his wife, being told no when you’re putting the moves on can be pretty developmental in other ways – identifying areas of insecurity or pride being some of them.

Those buying in that we ought not ever reject our spouse amidst sexual initiation (according to some teachings on 1 Cor 7 which I’ll address in a few days) create a dynamic in which the husband especially never has to deal with his own security as a person and a man.  When he wants sex, he gets it.  He can feel comfortable in his own world of his own desires without ever really having to be ok when he doesn’t get his way all the time.  There are men whose ego’s are riding pole position in their marriage and all the dynamics are designed to support that ego.  These are men who hear these types of marriage teachings and feel validated for their “rights” as a man.

You know what this reminds me of – raising my young kids.  What happens if my kids always get what they want and they never learn to be ok with disappointment and not getting what they want in the moment – their heads get big and they become more self-centered and demand more.  They need to hear “No” a lot because they have to learn how to balance their own desires with the desires of others and the limitations that often exist in getting what you want.

There’s a pattern to some of the leaders and ministers that flame out later in life for some kind of moral failure or character issues – usually they were coddled a lot and often they had wives who instead of helping their husbands become stronger and more accountable, they enabled their husbands through unconditional cheerleading and refusing to do anything that wounds the ego.  Some get wrapped up in the success of their spouse and things become about image and performing rather than strengthening the relationship and marriage in a mutually transforming way.

When my wife says no to sex or no to a host of other things I might want to do that she feels strongly about, I believe she’s helping me become a better leader when she sets limits with me.  She’s helping me live within my personal and family limits.

So you know what we as men (and sometimes women too) need to do when our sexual mojo doesn’t get the results we might want in the moment?

We need to go put our big boy pants on and figure out an alternative way to connect with our spouses or we need to go find something else to do besides brooding or pouting.  I believe there’s a connection between our capacity to stay secure in our relationships and handle “No’s” in both the personal and professional contexts.  If we can handle “No’s” without making it all about us in marriage – we’ll be able to demonstrate those same dynamics in our work relationships.

Related to this, my suspicions for a while have been that those I see not being able to work with strong female leaders are coming from marriages in which their marital “system” doesn’t allow for a lot of no’s to the male ego.  They aren’t used to hearing “No” from women and therefore such leaders aren’t secure enough to lead WITH leaders of BOTH genders – especially ones that will say “No.”  Just an observation that at this point seems to me to be a pattern, but I’ll leave that for another day.

Never say no to your spouse’s sexual initiation as a teaching in my mind reinforces a Napoleon complex for husbands.  Little dudes wearing big hats expecting everyone to fall in line with their will.  I think God’s design for marriage and sex in marriage aims a little higher than that.

So let’s exchange our Napoleon’s hats for our big boy pants and embrace adult and peer dynamics in marriage.  Because one of the fruits of our marriages should be that we become more mature and better leaders – in our families and in our vocations.


Why I Like It When My Wife Says No to Sex Part 2: Turning the Tables

This is the second post as continue this unusual series on “Why I Like It When My Wife Says No to Sex.”  You can check out the first post, which contains the context of this series, here.

Turning the Tables: Patriarchy and Sex Advice

If I can be honest here, I’m a night owl. So if you can handle my frankness, I’ll go on record saying that my “hot hours” when it comes to marital intimacy are likely to be after 10pm.  Guess what time my wife goes to bed and in general begins to cease to function at full capacity?


That’s some bad math there for me. And my wife’s a morning person – which are my cold hours, very cold hours.

But if my wife felt like she had to say yes because it’s her spiritual duty to me as a spouse or out of some internal angst over whether she’s being a good and loving spouse, then she’s probably up until 11 or later.  But you know what?  We have small kids that wake up at O dark 30.

So while my wife would be seeking to be a good, obedient, and spiritual spouse by saying yes to sex late at night when I’m most inclined to initiate, what about the impact of that on the next day of life and family? Given when our kids wake up sometimes, I might be by my initiation taking away a couple of precious hours of sleep from my wife when sleep is at a premium for her in our life stage.  She’s then fried the next day, with her energy level and emotional capacity much more limited to navigate life and reality with all it’s demands with three kids among other things.

Is that loving my wife well to initiate amidst a common understanding that we ought not ever deny our spouses?  No.  That’s not even debatable in my mind.

So maybe we’re sometimes focused on the wrong question?

Instead of focusing on what it means for a spouse to fulfill their marital obligations when their spouse initiates, how about we also ask about whether the initiator is fulfilling their marital obligations in some of these moments when they might expect their spouse to respond with a hearty “Yes!”

If we’re honest here, there’s a subtle dynamic that I never hear mentioned along with the teaching and exhortations to spouses to never deny one another.  There’s a patriarchal tone to it.  After all – while sexual initiation goes both ways in marriage, what are the percentages of men who are repeatedly denying their wives from sex when they are initiating?  Assuming their wives are initiating, which is not always the case and a separate issue.*  I’m guessing the percentage is significantly lower than the number of times women either say no or want to say no.  It’s not an equal playing field in general, although I’m not arguing it’s always this way across the board.

Arguing that spouses should not deny one another, even with an emphasis that “it goes both ways,” in practice plays out as an indirect affirmation that really “wives should not deny their husbands.”  While there may be more nuanced teaching in how things are laid out at times, this is the message I’ve seen couples on the receiving end of this teaching internalize the most.   The focus then is on what wives should be doing to be good spouses, yet miraculously what men should be doing as spouses kind of gets lost.

I like it when my wife says no to sex in those moments when she knows that giving in, sometimes even when she wants to, will hurt her and our family (and me) in some significant ways the next day or near future.  By her setting limits, she’s serving our family and ultimately me as well by keeping the big picture in mind.  By demanding that she ignore that larger picture or by pressuring her, I submit that I’m just being a bad and selfish husband.

How selfish is it to undermine what really is a leadership mentality that my wife is seeking to maintain as it relates to her responsibilities and our family.  She’s thinking about what needs to happen for her to be able to lead our children and some of her work responsibilities and other things.  I don’t want to undermine her ability to lead the way she wants to when life is so demanding.  So time to go back to the drawing board and figure out alternatives that serve both of us.  By adjusting to the situation and not being a slave to the moment, I can maintain a leadership posture towards my family as well.

My wife and I are partners in life and are working together to keep a lot of things going.  We’re a team.  The freedom to say no keeps our focus on the relationship as a whole.  Marriage to us is about serving one another holistically in the context of life – and not just sexually.  So any advice that indirectly plays out in the female serving the male in an unbalanced and disproportionate way is not helpful or constructive for long term marital health – it betrays its patriarchal foundations.

How do you avoid patriarchy and double standards to maintain a team mentality in marriage?

*Initiation is an issue for many people – men and women.  I think it may be a more constructive course to help spouses consider their role in initiating and whether they are initiating the degree needed to keep the marriage connected and healthy.  Shifting the focus from spouses “not saying no” to consider whether they need to grow in their initiation of sex seems more empowering both to men and women, avoiding all sorts of the kind of problems I’ve raised in these first two posts.  Way more developmental and gracious than heavy handed guilt trips offered in the context of complex relational issues.  The questions about initiation should raise some of the key underlying issues affecting intimacy in marriage that need to be engaged for more initiation to happen.

New Series! Top 5 Reasons I Love It When My Wife Says NO to Sex Pt. 1: Resilience Breeds Greatness

Say What?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not the kind of guy who gets into bed with my wife thinking, “Hey baby, say no to me all night long!”  Let me explain.  If you’re uncomfortable reading about topics like these, take a deep breath…and keep on reading 🙂

If you visit this blog from time to time this is a definite departure in some ways from what I like writing about.  I’ve not come anywhere near this topic really in the almost 800 posts I’ve done since starting to blog several years ago.  But – I think as I move along here there will be some connection points with some of my frequent themes here.  So why pursue this topic and this way?

In the last year I’ve been exposed to teaching about sex in marriage in multiple contexts, both personally and through what different people I’ve encountered through the course of ministry have been exposed to.  I’ve heard young couples trying to sort out this area in light of various schools of advice.  And I think some of the advice being given today in some circles is not very good and at times can be quite damaging when covered up with a veneer of spirituality.

The particular teaching that seems to popping up lately, and maybe it’s a conservative evangelical subculture thing, teaches that if you say no to your spouse when they are initiating sex then you are likely in sin because you are not doing your marital duty to the other.   It was almost a year ago where I heard this for the first time and it’s continued to pop up periodically.  Those who advocate this position always have “Biblical” arguments for it, but I couldn’t be in more opposition to such a philosophy of how sexual intimacy should be cultivated and sustained in marriage.  This school of teaching provides the inspiration for these posts. But I only hope to introduce some perspectives that might cause folks to second guess buying into a “don’t ever say no” philosophy of marital sex, especially since people don’t speak out in these areas very often. I’m not going to “teach” on sex by the way, I’m just going to highlight reasons in which I believe I and my marriage are strengthened by the “No’s.”

I love that my wife can and does say no to me sometimes when I’m pursuing a little marital action. Here’s the first of five reasons I’ll share as to why:

Reason #1:  Resilience Breeds Greatness

Do you remember those Michael Jordan Nike commercials where they listed the stats of how many missed game winning shots Jordan taken en route to being known as the greatest clutch shooter of all time?

The message was that greatness was born through failure.  More specifically – the subtle message was that greatness is cultivated by the determination and resolve forged in failure to succeed the next time.

Name your sport – there’s an equivalent metaphor.  Baseball jumps out to me too that you can strike out 3 times in a game and in your fourth at bat you can hit a home run and be the hero of the game.  The accomplishment becomes greater because of the effort and struggle put in.

So what’s the deal with sports metaphors?  Moments of victory are what they are because they are contrasted with moments of defeat.  In marriage, there shouldn’t be a winner and loser in these dynamics.  But from the personal standpoint of the initiator, there is always risk.  To take away the risk that there might be a “no” is to take away a lot of the joy of being met with acceptance and enthusiasm.  The freedom to say “No” is critical for a trusting and intimate relationship.  If for anything, it makes the Yes’s meaningful!

So I love it when my wife says no to me (never in the moment!), but I do love that those moments give me clues of what types of things might need to be in place for us to be in the right place at the right time for the magic to happen.  Returning to the sports metaphor – the “No’s” help me improve my game!  Without them, I’d never have to work for it.  And neither of us really wants that if we’re honest.

So – just remember, behind every great victory are frequent learning moments and missed opportunities that make the victory all the sweeter.  In leadership language we call it fierce resolve or dynamic determination.  Embrace the “No’s”, especially if you’re a man and come back with greater resolve to create a success the next time.  Don’t be afraid that a few of your shots clank off the rim or even airball 🙂   If you keep working on it in the context of a healthy relationship it’s only a matter of time before you have one of these moments….

There are more compelling reasons why my wife’s “No’s” minister to me as her husband and I think vice versa as well, but at the least we can acknowledge that there can be some advantages to not coming out a winner every time you initiate. But to be clear – I’m not advocating married couples have less sex.  As a general rule, married couples usually need to make the magic happen a little more often especially when they have small kids. But the problem there usually is not the “No”, but the lack of initiation by one or both spouse’s in the first place.  But the solution to getting married couples to have more sex is not to advise them that they shouldn’t say no to any initiation by their spouse. There’s a lot of other things going on too.

More coming in the next few days if you care to continue to follow my thoughts or engage in discussion…

* As I write about this topic, I’m well aware that sexual intimacy is a significant struggle in many marriages and the trust and communication issues may so significant that any advice above here would not be sufficient.  But I would also say that the “just say yes to your spouse” approach is also inadequate for such dynamics.  Couples who cannot cultivate sexual intimacy or where it is generating significant anxiety and conflict would be wise to go get some help to explore what’s going on.  The relationship is bigger than the sexual component, but sexual intimacy issues can threaten marriages if they aren’t dealt with.

**I have failed utterly in my attempt to not include reference to the Nike slogan “Just Do It” because I had to include it here somewhere 🙂   (I hear Beavis and Butthead snickering in the back of my mind).   It could definitely apply to a spouse who is trying to initiate and win over the other, but it does not apply as a philosophy of how each sexual initiation should be received.

Ten Years to the Day

Do you want to know when this picture was taken?

That would be 10 years ago to the day! My wife Christine and I celebrate TEN years of marriage together today.

That was then.

This is now.

Ten years feels like it’s a short time, but when we reflect on it there’s been a lot of life lived.  When you think back, I feel like you’re supposed to remember the “good times”, the happy times.  That’s not what comes to mind, though we’ve had great moments and plenty of fun celebrations and family moments.

When I think back I think of the major life transitions we’ve walked through and the challenges and the pain.  The joys and challenges of having three kids enter our lives and transform them.  But I also think of the impact of our first pregnancy –  a miscarriage.  I think of some really difficult ministry transitions – that were timely and the right thing to do, but came at a cost and were difficult.  Perhaps the most defining moment was my wife going into the hospital with her water broken/leaking at 27 weeks and us waiting it out until Morgan was born in the 30 week range.  Four weeks of bedrest in a hospital together praying, eating hospital food, and watching Carrie Underwood work her way to an American Idol win.

Then there were the two months of NICU life after that while our 3 lb little girl adjusted to life outside the womb.  That general period also involved Christine getting diagnosed with Cancer and Morgan getting diagnosed with cerebral palsy (mild form).  I don’t know if anything shaped us as a couple like those three months.  But these 10 years also have involved 8 years of part-time seminary, 10 years of ministry fund raising (which if you’ve done it you know it can be a marriage tester like no other), a good year of significant depression for me and many other successes and failures. I suppose these things can tempt people to grow apart or come together in greater intimacy.  For us, these experiences have shaped us and our marriage and brought us closer together.

Most of the last 10 years were pretty hard actually.  Some of it was circumstances and things out of our control and some of it was working through our own character journeys to meet the demands of our realities. But besides the Lord, there was one constant – each other.

It was a challenging decade as a whole, but marriage has never really been a challenge.  We’ve had fun.  It’s been meaningful and deep. We’ve enjoyed working together both as we lead our family and as we work together vocationally.  Marriage is hard work and it sharpens and refines us – that has been true for us as well.  But on a lot of levels it’s been easy – because at the end of the day there’s no one else I want to be with and spend my time with.  We just like being together – maybe that’s why we married 🙂

So Happy 10th Anniversary to my awesome wife Christine today!  Here’s to a few more decades together God-willing.  Love you!