11 Ways to Know You’ve Settled for a Mediocre Marriage

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It is so sad when I meet a couple that is unhappy. Whether it is stress, finances, kids, in-laws or sin, too many couples simply settle for a mediocre marriage. They carry around this look that says, “I’m not happy, but this is as good as it will get.”

I’m sorry, but if I’m going to be in a relationship for the rest of my life, I want it to be better than a sigh followed by, “this is as good as it will get.”

So, how do you know if you are in a mediocre marriage?

Here are 11 ways to know if you have a mediocre marriage or are on your way to one:

  1. Your marriage and life revolve around your kids. I’ve written before about how to know if your kids are more important than your marriage, but if you can answer any of these, you are in trouble.
  2. It’s been over a year since you read a book on marriage. The best way to grow in your marriage is to get around a couple who has a better marriage or read a book on it. You should read at least one book on marriage a year. It’s a great way to create conversation and push issues to the surface in your marriage.
  3. Roles in marriage feel like a trap instead of freedom. Headship and submission are tricky things and controversial. They are meant to bring us freedom, not to be a trap. When they feel like a trap, there is sin under it. Whether in how it is playing out or how our heart feels about it.
  4. You can’t remember the last date night you had. I can’t tell you how important date night is. It doesn’t have to be grand or expensive, but as a couple, you need to have at least one time a week where it is just the two of you (no phone, no tv, no computer, no kids) to talk about build into your relationship.
  5. You have sex less than 2 times a week. I realize this isn’t a hard and fast rule. Pregnancy, health, age, travel, deployment, etc. all can get in the way of this. That being said, sex is a great barometer of your marriage. In every situation when I talk to a couple struggling in their marriage, sex is the first thing to go. It reveals past hurts, addictions, abuses, etc. Every study also says the same thing, a healthy marriage has a healthy sex life.
  6. You nit pick at your spouse. I talked in more detail about this here, but disrespecting your spouse, making fun of them, being sarcastic is one of the fastest ways to move from a good marriage to mediocre to miserable or divorced.
  7. You consistently talk about how much you love your spouse on Facebook. I’m sure you’ll disagree, but every time I read something incredibly awesome on Facebook, my first thought is, “That’s probably the exact opposite of the truth.” I can’t tell you how many times I have counseled a couple who seemed on the verge of divorce and the next day posted on Facebook, “I love my wife.” Or, “My husband is incredible.” The charade of Facebook reveals a lot.
  8. When you are alone with your spouse, you have nothing to talk about. Whenever Katie and I go out to eat and see a couple just sitting there, our hearts break. That’s so sad. It means a couple has stopped growing. Yes silence is great sometimes and needed, but when it is a consistent pattern, that’s a mediocre marriage. You know if this is you.
  9. There are things in your past your spouse does not know. Your spouse should know everything about you. That doesn’t mean you need to tell your spouse how many sexual partners you’ve had or how much porn you saw as a teenager. That isn’t helpful. They should know about addictions, hurts, abuse against you. No one on the planet should know more about you than your spouse.
  10. You fantasize about being married to someone else. Our imaginations are powerful, our memories are powerful. Often, we will think back to high school or college and wonder where someone is or what life would have been like if we married someone else. When that happens, we disengage from our marriage.
  11. A friend knows more about your marriage than your spouse does. Are you honest with your spouse? Do you talk about what bothers you or do you sweep it under the rug? Do you know how to fight well in your marriage? Do you talk more to a friend more than you do to your spouse about your marriage or kids? If so, well you get it by now.

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7 Reasons You Aren’t Communicating with your Spouse

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Katie and I are speaking at Pantano MOPS this morning on the topic of how to communicate and fight well. I thought I share some reasons why couples struggle to communicate with each other. Notice, they are about you (read #1 and that will make sense).

  1. You think it’s them. Most times when a person seeks out counseling or advice concerning their marriage it is to fix their spouse. If only they did this or that. The reality is, the first reason you aren’t communicating well with your spouse has nothing to do with them, but you. Stop trying to fix them. Stop trying to change them. You can’t be the Holy Spirit to your spouse, so stop trying.
  2. You have to be right. Stop trying to be right and try to see from their perspective. Things change in a relationship when you try to see what the other person is seeing. Often though, we want to be right. Because, well, we’re right.
  3. You don’t listen. Many times in a discussion, instead of listening, you simply start thinking of your response to what the other person is saying. You aren’t able to engage them. The thinking is, if you don’t have a response ready the moment they stop talking, you won’t be heard. While it makes sense in our heads, it is ludicrous in a relationship. This goes back to wanting to be right instead of to understand.
  4. You fail to see it from their perspective. If you don’t listen well, you will never be able to see anything from a different perspective. I am amazed at how often Katie and I see the same situation totally differently. And how often Katie is correct in her perception of something or someone. If you fail to see your spouses perspective, you might end up making a mistake.
  5. You don’t know how they listen best. Couples who fight often, don’t know how their spouse likes to discuss things. This was a game changer for us. Katie likes to discuss things immediately, she is a verbal processor. I on the other hand like to process things in my head. By the time I share any idea with someone (at home or at work), I have been thinking about it for months. If Katie gives me space, we often have a better discussion. Now, sometimes I need to bite the bullet on my preference and discuss it with her. Understand how your spouse processes information and work from there.
  6. You don’t know what the real issue is. This is something we’ve talked about it part 1 and part 2 of our Beautiful series. Often, when a couple has a fight, the topic they think they are fighting about is not what they are fighting about. They are fighting about what the situation reminds them of. Their spouse said something that reminds them of what their parent used to say, so they react to that. We end up punishing our spouse for what someone else did.
  7. You belittle them. Want to end a conversation with your spouse, belittle them, insult them or disrespect them. Act like they don’t do enough.

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How Much of Your Past Should You Tell Your Spouse?

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On Sunday, Katie and I talked about how to let go of your past. One of the ways to do that as a married person is to share with your spouse your story, your hurt, possible abuse and pain you’ve walked through. Sometimes, this is something you’ve never told anyone.

But what does that look like and how much should you share?

You may have told your spouse parts of it, but held back some out of fear of how they would react or not wanting to hurt them. I want to encourage you to move forward and have the conversation you have been putting off.

Scripture says that a when a man and woman are married, they become one. We often think of that strictly in a physical sense, but it is so much bigger than that. It involves sharing your hopes and dreams, your hurts and frustrations and even your past.

Do they need to know all of the details of your sin? It depends. Every situation is different.

What they do need to know is everything it will take for you to be one. Until Katie and I shared with each other our past, we weren’t able to support each other, to help each other forgive those who hurt us and we had no idea why the other person reacted the way they did, so we took it personally.

By having the courage to share your past with your spouse, you are able be total honest and get a glimpse of Genesis 2:25 where it says a married couple is naked with no shame.

What if you are the spouse listening to the past history?

Be gracious, compassionate and slow to anger. Listen well.

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Book Notes | Living into Focus: Choosing What Matters in an Age of Distractions

bookI read Living into Focus: Choosing What Matters in an Age of Distractions by Arthur Boers as I prepped my sermon on balancing life, work, school and family.

To say I was challenged by this book would be an understatement. While I found some of his suggestions for decompressing and living (birding and gardening) not realistic for me, I loved his writing style. He did have other ideas of connecting in life, which I found helpful.

What I appreciated most about this book was the hard look he took at what electronics do to our brains and relationships. Many act as if electronics either do nothing to us or are neutral, but as Boers points out, nothing is neutral. Everything does something, positive or negative.

Here are a few things that stood out to me:

  • We live in a society that has achieved a standard of living that surpasses the wildest dreams of most of the people in the history of the world; the most conspicuous result is that far too many of us live poor, thin, trivializing lives.
  • Our culture has a prevailing sense of being too busy, having too much to do, without enough time for things that matter and priorities that really count.
  • Study after study shows that numerous daily realities contribute to declining happiness and growing depression: commuting watching television spending time online being cut off from nature not having enough friendships living out of sync with natural and biological rhythms insufficient sleep feeling distracted.
  • When we allow devices and machines to reside at the center of our lives, we displace values and practices that once enriched the quality of how we live. We end up serving our gadgets instead of using them as tools to support our priorities. Technology itself becomes the center and purpose of how we live.
  • Too often our interactions with technology follow a predictable trajectory: because it is available we use it, then we think it is normal, and finally we expect or even demand that others employ it as well.
  • Many of us overlook that simple day-to-day choices—about cars, microwaves, cell phones, email, internet, television, dishwashers, communication options—have great and detrimental impact on our quality of life. If we do not pay attention to these effects, then chances are that devices will shape us in ways that we would not consciously choose.
  • One of the most significant challenges of contemporary technology is how it shapes our awareness, where it attracts our attention, and the ways that it sometimes—perhaps even often—draws us away from the things we value most.
  • Our lives are shaped by our focus. The direction of our attention not only shows values, but it also forms character.
  • We now live in “a never-ending cocktail party where you’re always looking over your virtual shoulder for a better conversation partner.”
  • The more distracted we become, the less able we are to experience the subtlest, most distinctively human forms of empathy, compassion, and other emotions.
  • Technology often defines choices, sets priorities, and determines values.
  • Connectivity becomes a craving; when we receive a text or an e-mail, our nervous system responds by giving us a shot of dopamine. We are stimulated by the connectivity itself. We learn to require it, even as it depletes us.
  • We once thought that email meant easier communication and a lightened workload. Instead it increases expectations.
  • Busy lives, long work hours, and the desire to accomplish so much leave little time for deepening relationships or meeting new people. No wonder many are interested in online romance and “speed dating.” In touch with growing numbers, our contacts grow shallower even as they multiply. Time gets divided into smaller and smaller increments as we share it with more and more people.
  • Evidence shows that we are growing more isolated. Yes, there are certainly ways that people connect via technologies, but such connections tend to be tenuous, issue- or hobby-specific, and limited. Less and less are our relationships complex, ongoing, face-to-face, year-after-year.
  • The connection between consumerism and busyness is not accidental or coincidental.

If you find yourself struggling to have focus, limit electronics or connect with others relationally, this is a great book to read.

To see other book notes, click here.

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6 Ways to Stay Motivated to be Healthy

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I get asked a lot about how to stay motivated to workout, stick to an eating plan or just to be healthy overall.

It is a challenge.

Here are 6 ways that I’ve learned to stay motivated:

  1. Make it the next thing on your schedule. This is crucial. Put working out on your calendar. Currently, I workout 4-5 times a week. I put my workouts into my calendar each week. They are a scheduled appointment like the dentist or a meeting. When the time rolls around (whether that is 6am or 5pm), it is simply the next thing I’m doing. Over time this has helped me to get up and go to the gym. Believe me, I can fill that time with something else, but its a commitment I’ve made. The reality for many people is they aren’t willing to give the time it will take to be healthy.
  2. Pick a plan you like and will stick to. I don’t care if you ride a bike, run, do crossfit, zumba or something else. Pick something you will do and stick with. Too often I’ll see people switch plans or programs because they don’t see changes quickly enough. When I started working out, I saw a ton of changes fast. Then I went almost 2 years where I felt like I looked the same, but I stuck with it. Just recently have I started to see more changes.
  3. Set a realistic, attainable goal. Set a goal. Specific. With a deadline. Now, is it realistic? If you do nothing right now, working out 4 days a week at 5am probably isn’t the best first step. Maybe 2 times a week at that time and then build up. Get small wins as quickly as possible. If you lift, set
  4. Eating well is more important than exercising. This is something most people miss. Eating counts more than working out. Don’t kill yourself at the gym and then go home and eat like a guy living in a frat house. Eat well. Food is fuel. If you exercise regularly, you should drink at least 100 oz. of water a day. Limit dessert and other foods that aren’t great for you. You don’t have to cut out gluten like I do, but eat well. Here are some ideas on what I eat.
  5. Weight gain isn’t always a bad thing. If you lift weights, this will be something you need to learn. I stopped weighing myself 3 months ago. Our scale’s battery died and I never replaced it so it wasn’t a conscious choice, but it has been a good thing. Weight gain is not always a litmus for being healthy. If you lift, muscle does weigh a lot. Have a pair of pants that give you a test to see if your waist is growing.
  6. Health is a lifestyle switch. Don’t quit. I know this is the topic of this post, but don’t. Being healthy is a long-term choice. Sure working out feels good, but I do it to stay healthy for Katie and my kids, to have energy to lead well. I want to stay in the game well into my 80’s.

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Piecing Life Together when it Falls Apart

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Maybe you’ve gotten to the end of 2013 and wonder, what did I do this year?

You look back with a sadness of relationships that are broken, people who no longer speak to each other. You think back to those who you were close you last December who are no longer there.

It might be a career that has fallen off the tracks. A dream you had in school last year that doesn’t seem possible anymore.

Maybe you were given horrible health news this year. We as a church have been walking with families who were told this year, “you have cancer and it seems hopeless.”

Sometimes, life feels like a puzzle that you are putting together and you get to the end and discover that there are pieces missing. 

Yet, in one my favorite chapters in the Bible, John 21, we find that Jesus puts the pieces of our life back together.

In this scene, Jesus is on the bank of the Sea of Galilee, where Peter and his friends are doing what they love, fishing. This is what Peter does to relax, unwind. It is what he does for a living.

Peter is still reeling from the pain of denying Jesus 3 times. Watching him die and wondering what lay ahead because of the resurrection. So he fishes. It seems like the natural thing to do. When we are depressed, lost, sad or down in the dumps, we do what we know. So Peter goes fishing.

When they see Jesus, John tells us that Peter jumps in the water and swims to him. The details of John 21 are fascinating to me. He tells us how far Peter swims, how many fish they catch.

He even tells us the kind of fire that Jesus builds: a charcoal fire.

This seems like an odd detail until you remember that in John 18:18, the night Peter denies Jesus three times we are told that Peter is warming himself beside a charcoal fire.

Jesus does this to remind him. Not to rub his nose in it, but to remind him.

When we think of piecing life together, we often want to forget what is broken to move forward. That isn’t possible though. If a marriage falls apart, it is still apart. You can’t forget that. You can’t make that not true. The pieces are there, the brokenness remains, you will feel the affects of that for years, possibly the rest of your life. And so will others.

This fire is an important picture for us.

We have to know that following Jesus does not remove what is true in our lives or what has happened. But Jesus doesn’t leave us there. He transforms us. He changes us.

Then, Jesus asks Peter three times, “do you love me?”

Not because he is hard of hearing or because he wants to annoy Peter, but because Peter denied Jesus three times. He is giving Peter the chance to make things right. Not because Jesus didn’t believe him or because Jesus needed to hear it three times.

Instead, I think Peter needed to say it three times. He needed to know in his own heart that he loves Jesus more than anything.

Grace is often about how we accept it. For many, believing that God forgives them, loves them and gives them grace is a hard thing to believe.

For Peter and maybe you, it might be difficult to believe that Jesus isn’t finished with you. 

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Links I Like

Links I Like is a collection of blogs, articles and books I’ve come across recently and thought they were worth sharing. Click here for past Links I Like.

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Thabiti Anyabwile on A round-up of the holy hip hop squabble.

It’s entirely possible you live in a twitter circle completely independent of my own. If that’s the case, you might have missed something of a internet-age equivalent of strong rebuke of several men participating in a National Center for Family Integrated Churches panel discussion. The segment making the rounds includes a question about holy hip hop and whether it’s appropriate. The panelists shared what can only be described as statements of escalating idiocy and implicit (at least) cultural superiority. Following the NCFIC panel segment on Christian/Reformed hip hop, a number of thoughtful brothers responded. If you missed any of it, here’s a round-up.

Cheryl Connor on The practices mentally strong people avoid.

For all the time executives spend concerned about physical strength and health, when it comes down to it, mental strength can mean even more. Particularly for entrepreneurs, numerous articles talk about critical characteristics of mental strength—tenacity, “grit,” optimism, and an unfailing ability as Forbes contributor David Williams says, to “fail up.”

Ohio State Study finds Casual sex contributes to depression and declines in mental health.

Those who had casual sex in their late teens and early 20s were significantly more likely to have serious thoughts of suicide as young adults, results showed. In fact, each additional casual sex relationship increased the odds of suicidal thoughts by 18 percent.

Timothy Paul Jones on Why celebrate advent.

Once upon a time, there was a season in the church year known as “Advent.” The word comes to us from the Latin for “coming.” The purpose of the season was to look toward the coming of Christ to earth; it was a season that focused on waiting.

When Eating Becomes a Sin

Little boy choosing between a cupcake and apple

I get asked a lot about losing the weight I have and keeping it off. Losing 130 pounds was really hard, but keeping it off and is incredibly difficult. I’ll often get asked about eating habits as that is where most people get hung up.

One of the things that rarely gets talked about is that eating can be a sin, an idol. The reality is, we are told our bodies are the temple of the holy spirit and we are to take care of them (1 Corinthians 6:19). Most Christians use this verse to say drinking and smoking are wrong while eating their next 2,000 calorie church potluck meal.

The reality is that eating is a sin when:

  • We do it mindlessly.
  • We do it when life feels out of control.
  • We do it to feel better or find comfort (ever hear someone talk about comfort food?).
  • Or, when we eat too little to be prettier or skinnier.

So what do you do?

The first thing you must do is understand why you eat. What drives you to food. It is not that you are hungry, we often eat when we aren’t hungry or continuing eating when we are full, so there is more to it than that. If you never uncover why you eat, you will continue to eat in a sinful way by finding your god in food.

Because overeating or not eating enough is a sin and can be an addiction, you have to approach the way you would someone who is addicted to porn, shopping, drugs or working too much.

When you approach those sins, you make a plan, create some accountability around them to keep you from falling into those patterns. It is the same with food.

Here are some ideas:

  • Get an accountability partner for exercising or eating.
  • Don’t buy the snacks that are bad for you. If it isn’t there, you can’t eat it.
  • Make a meal plan so you eat well. If you make a last minute meal it is rarely good for you. If you go out to eat, always know what you will eat before you arrive. Looking at the menu causes you to eat more than you should or food you shouldn’t.
  • Drink at least 100 ounces of water a day. Water fills you up and helps to clean out your system which helps to move things through better. Also, if you drink that much you eat less. If you drink this much water, you are less likely to drink soda. I’ve read cutting soda out of your diet can drop 10 pounds in less than 2 weeks.
  • Eat higher protein meals which will lead to less hunger in between meals. I eat 5 eggs every morning and am rarely hungry before lunch. Not snacking makes a huge difference.
  • Start slow. The big mistake most people make is to jump from what they are doing to eating like Bob Harper tells you to eat on the biggest loser. While that’s great if you can do that, it is often unrealistic. Take small steps and then add to it. It took me 18 months to lose 130 pounds but I went slow and have kept it off for almost 4 years now.

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