Analysis Paralysis

“I’m tired of being inside my head. I want to live out here, with you.”  Colleen McCarty.

Early in the engagement, most of us sit down to think about what we want to accomplish in our marriage. It would be refreshing to talk, pray, trust God, and dream big together. It would be the stuff of Hollywood movies; a marriage that starts strong and yet deepens over the years. However, somewhere between the dream of what you want your marriage to be, you begin to wonder if you have all the right stuff to bring the dream to reality. Have you ever found yourself endlessly obsessing over an issue, unable to move beyond it? When dealing with a problem or potential opportunity, do you ever have dozens of seemingly unanswerable questions swirling around your brain? If so, you may be suffering from one of the most common afflictions known to modern man: paralysis by analysis. If you had a good friend they would have told you that you are overthinking the situation and that you need to trust God. 

It is easy for people to overthink the situation, at least when it comes to relationships. Too often we spend a significant amount of time and energy mulling over our situation. But sometimes, all the thinking and talking falls flat. When we spend so much time analyzing these aspects of our relationship, the paralysis can cause us to do nothing. If you want a deepening of your marriage doing nothing seldom works.

Sometimes we spend so much time focusing on our problems and analyzing our issues that we fail to integrate real, actionable change into our lives. Thinking deeply about your marriage is fine, but it takes action to bring about real and actual change. If we want to improve the situation, then we need to do something. 

Love is articulated though action. Thinking about a relationship is most useful when the other person inspires us to demonstrate new behavior. Ideally, godly servant-minded thinking should spur intelligent action. After all, it doesn’t make much sense to start a whole life together as a unified couple when both people have spent so much time trying to “find themselves”.  It is a deepening marriage where we learn more about the spouse after we are married and do something to make improvements as a result of the knowledge. 

Don’t fall prey to analysis paralysis. Take the steps necessary to change your marriage for the better. That’s a great place to start. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you think it is wrong to think through a subject? Why or why not?
  2. Does thinking about a relationship lead to action?
  3. In the area of relationships, do we tend to take too much or too little action? Why do you feel that way?
  4. What steps can we take to ensure we don’t suffer from paralysis by analysis?
  5. Pray and ask God to give you the wisdom on when to take action and when not to.

The Course Of True Love

“The romantic love we feel toward the opposite sex is probably one extra help from God to bring you together, but that’s it. All the rest of it, the true love, is the test.” – Joan Chen

It was William Shakespeare who said, “the course of true love never did run smooth.”

Shakespeare was right. True love will have some bumps. Especially when you consider the radical mind bending unconditional love exemplified by Jesus. If you don’t learn to show your spouse unconditional love, your marriage will not deepen. Without true love,  marriage will never deepen because it is dependent on a shallow and fragile root system.

That’s why it’s so important for us to learn to love our spouse unconditionally. It is not easy. Giving your spouse unconditional, unwavering love requires grace, patience, affirmation, encouragement, respect and time. Even when you don’t feel like showing love, or your spouse is trying to be unloveable at that time, you continue to love unconditionally. It is a sure way for your marriage to experience a deepening.   

Jesus Christ demonstrated how to show true love. He loved us not because we were lovable or worthy of that love, but because He is the personification of true love. Romans 5:8 describes godly love in action: “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” 

That love requires us to be concerned for the well-being of others over our own wants and desires. God even gives us His Spirit to enable us to exhibit true godly love toward others. As the apostle Paul explained:  ”…you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13:9-10).

Remember that God is the author of unconditional unselfish love. If you want true love, go to God for it, for He can give you the power and desire to put into practice the little things in marriage that constitute true love. He can help you develop more outgoing concern for the needs of your husband or wife rather than concentrating solely on your own feelings and desires.

True love comes to those who are willing to make their personal wants and desires secondary in giving of themselves to their marriage partner.

Don’t expect true love overnight. True love grows as a husband and wife learn how to better meet the needs and desires of the other. True love matures through living experiences and through feeding the fires on a  daily basis.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is true love more than acts of kindness? Why or why not?
  2. What is the expectation of love in marriage or in a relationship?
  3. What must you risk in loving your spouse sacrificially?
  4. In unconditionally loving our spouse, what is the worst pain we face? What will you have to give up?
  5. Pray and ask God to help you love your spouse unconditionally.

Deeper Connections

“There are three things that are too amazing for me, four that I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a snake on a rock,the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a young woman.“ – Proverbs 30:18-19.

The couple has gone on several dates. When reflecting on the experience so far, it is common to hear one of them say, “I definitely think we made a connection. It is not something tangible, but it is there.” Making a connection is important when dating but deepening that connection and understanding of your mate becomes all the more important once you get married.  Growing that connection infuses relationships with new spirit and life.

But as I have said several times in the Unforgettable Love series, dating is one thing, and marriage is something else. That is because once we are married life happens. Responsibilities and time commitments grow. As a result, the close connection God wants married couples to enjoy can become neglected and strained.

Don’t settle for a week connection. Talk about your schedules, and time commitments. Find time to spend together to just talk. Talk about your individual lifestyle preferences. Talk about your daily joy and disappointments. Talk about even the little hurts, so these small things don’t build up into big things that will come between you. Talk about possible solutions to any big areas of disagreement.

And finally talk about your spouse’s needs. They may need you to be reliable, to be honest, dependable, and on time. Let your spouse know that, no matter what, you will always care for and value him or her. Be genuinely interested in doing what’s best for your spouse and your marriage. They may need you to give more time and energy to your relationship. They may want you to respond differently: they may want you to simply listen without judging, criticizing, or problem-solving. They may have a need to know that you care about his or her thoughts and feelings. They may need you to understand why they reacted in a certain way by asking questions so you can better understand what’s bothering your spouse, and why. They may need you to understand your spouse’s perspective on the issue and to clearly communicate yours. They may need you to avoid defending yourself or blaming your spouse. They may need you to be willing to be open to doing things differently.

There are numerous other examples I could give, but my goal was to give you food for thought, not to be all inclusive.  Here’s the bottom line.  If you want a deeper connection with your spouse make sure you are communicating and in that communication you know his or her needs.    

  Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you think you have a good understanding of your spouse’s strengths, weaknesses, desires, and aspirations? If not, what can you do to find out more about these aspects of his or her character and personality? How can this knowledge deepen your connection with your spouse?
  2. How would you describe your “long view” of your relationship? Where do you see yourselves in five years? Ten years? Twenty?
  3. There is a famous saying: When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Does this maxim apply to marriage? If so, how?
  4. Do you ever feel that you’re simply too busy to deepen your connection with your spouse?

Where’s The Fire?

“To keep the fire burning brightly there’s one easy rule: Keep the two logs together, near enough to keep each other warm and far enough apart — about a finger’s breadth — for breathing room.” – Marnie Reed Crowell 

To Build a Fire” is the title of a short story by American author Jack London. It describes the plight of man in 75 degree below zero weather in a classic man verses wilderness race to build a fire before the cold overwhelms him. He ultimately fails. Building fires is sometimes easy and sometimes not so easy depending on the environment and the materials. I’ve started many a fire with good old Kingsford charcoal. You spray and get that wood or charcoal briquettes good and wet – I’m not much of a Boy Scout, but you just throw a match on it, and it lights right away. The fire starts quick and burns out quickly as well. Starting a fire is one thing, but keeping the fires going in a marriage over the years requires much more than lighter fluid. 

It requires you to be active, and to basically say, “you know what? We’re going to keep this thing burning.” We are going to proactively focus on this relationship, and along the way develop and use a few fire starters. Because fires, whether they be real fires in a grill or fires in the human heart, the passion and romance go out when they are not tended well and fed with fuel. If you are wondering why there isn’t much romance in your marriage, take a step back and ask how much fresh fuel have you brought to that fire?

There are many things that can extinguish the fire in a marriage. Neglect, indifference, and stress are just a few. But there is one that has the potential to be the most powerful fire extinguisher you have ever seen. It can squirt on a fire so quickly. It is the lack of or loss of respect for your spouse. There are others, but while these can extinguish a fire, they can also add logs to the fire when done right.  Let’s review a few of them briefly. 

Let’s start with acceptance. The second need of a woman is for acceptance. Our spouse needs to know that we love them for who they are and not what they do. They need to marry them all over again. Another is nurturing the special connection we have with your spouse. We need to set aside the quality time to reconnect emotionally with our spouse. When we connect we cultivate a fire that has warmth for hours. In addition, we need to become a student of your spouse and what their needs are.  Not what their needs were years ago. School is always in session. And don’t forget respect. We need to respect our spouse in a way that leaves no doubt as to our true feelings. And we need to work at it. We need to make romance a priority, an action item on our daily to do list.   

Our spouses have given us a lot of great gifts over their lifetime, but none greater than themselves. Recognition of that fact, coupled with working constantly on cultivating the fire of romance, is what deepens the marriage in the way God intended marriage to be.   

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does keeping the fires burning in your marriage mean to you?
  2. Is this something that you proactively do or something you react to when needed?
  3. What do you see as the biggest fire extinguisher in your marriage/relationship?
  4. What is the best lighter fluid or fire starter?
  5. How do you show respect to your spouse?

Pride And Conflict

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant ? – 1 Corinthians 13:4.

Pride and conflict go hand in hand. Pride is, “I’m more important than you. What I’m doing is more important than you. So, whatever you want, whatever you think you need, whatever you’re doing, stop, because me and my situation, activities, and needs, they’re more important than yours. Don’t inconvenience me with you. You and I should both agree on how important I am. I’m more important than you.” Now that may seem both harsh and unrealistic, but is it? If we look closely we all probably have some degree of selfishness and pride manifesting itself in the relationship.

It is hard to remove ourselves and our emotions, self-interests and personal judgments from a conflict. And the stark fact is we hate to lose.

If you can’t stand to lose, if you have to be the victor at the expense of your spouse, you probably should not get married. Because every married person is going to have to lose on occasion. Sometimes you will lose because you are wrong and sometimes you will lose because you care more about the relationship than the argument. And you may lose because you are trying to be more like Jesus.

Jesus practiced mind-blowing, unfathomable humility. Philippians 2:5-8 tells us: ”Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,[ being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Think about it for a second. God becomes a man. He goes from heaven to earth. He goes from a throne to a manger. He goes from riches to poverty. He goes from hearing, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,” to “Crucify him, crucify him, crucify him.”  Jesus repeatedly teaches on humility. He says in Matthew 30:26, “…But whoever would be great among you must be your servant.”  You want to have a great marriage? Then be a great servant.

When in conflict or at any other time for that matter ask yourself: Do you consider your spouse and his or her needs above your own? Does it show up practically with how the money is spent, and time is spent, and what the holidays look like, and what vacations look like, and what date night looks like, and where you live, and how life is put together?

“But Marty, I’m mad.” 

“He offended me.”   

“She’s wrong.”

“He owes me an apology.”

I understand. But Jesus was wronged. You got what He clearly didn’t deserve. He could have done things differently, but He humbled Himself. We can mirror our Savior if we put our pride and our need to win aside. Attack the problem, but never the person, communicating about difficult topics, with humility and reconciliation as the goals. Don’t let your pride blow things out of proportion. Serving your spouse with humility communicates that you still care about the marriage. It protects each other’s heart.

Every conflict presents us with a choice. We can either stick with pride, and miss out on all God has in store for you and your marriage: or we can stick with God and find out all the adventures that He has in store for you and your marriage. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you struggle with pride? In what areas of your life.
  2. Do you struggle more with pride against God or with others?
  3. How is pride destructive to marriage or relationships?
  4. What can we do this week to eliminate pride in our lives? Pray and ask God to show you the areas of your life where pride has taken hold?

Blessed Are The Peacemakers

“…I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose._ 1 Corinthians 1:10 (NLT)

Is being a peacemaker the same thing as being a peacekeeper? Many marriages today pursue a “peacekeeping strategy,” hoping to prevent conflicts and the crisis that sometimes result. But since conflict is often inevitable, the peacekeeping mission does not always succeed. What we need as married couples is a “peacemaking” strategy. Psalm 34:14 says: “Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.”

Many people believe that being a peacemaker means being submissive. Christian women can feel as if submission means that they may state their opinion, but then they back down and let the husband make the decision. That means the wife did not question and she did not agree. If our aim is to seek peace and not just elude conflict, then this does not solve anything.   

That’s because we tend to see conflict as something to be avoided: so if we disagree, one must submit, or else the conflict will keep going. But what if all conflict is not win-lose? What if handling conflict effectively means that you each find a win-win? What if conflict can actually be one of the routes to a more healthy marriage?

A peacekeeper simply avoids conflict. When there’s a disagreement, they retreat. A peace-maker is aiming for much more: they’re aiming for reconciliation.  And reconciliation is active, not passive. It means working through our disagreements in a healthy way. It means listening and understanding your spouse’s feelings. It means developing solutions together.

Can you see the difference? There is no name calling. They talk through the issue, and at the end of the day, the couple find out new things about each other. They found out they were on the same page, that they did value each other. It’s just that sometimes it went unrecognized. By talking it through it brought those feelings out into the open and the peacemaking process can go forward.

That’s what being a peacemaker is–it’s getting the husband and wife on the same page. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is the difference between a peacekeeper and a peace maker in your mind?
  2. Is it realistic to think you can keep the peace all the time?
  3. Do you believe that one person has to submit in order to solve a conflict? Does one spouse have to lose? Why?
  4. Pray and ask God to help you develop into a peacemaker in your marriage.

Glass is Half Full

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you..” – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.

Finding anything good to focus on is difficult when you’re in the midst of a conflict in your marriage. Waves of emotion create a gulf between you and your mate. And with the emotional connection disconnected, seeing the good in the conflict can be even more difficult. 

The first principle necessary to resolve conflict is to remember that the conflict does not necessarily have to be detrimental to a marriage relationship. Conflict, as with all trials, is meant to test our faith, develop character, and draw us closer to God. “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,” (Romans 5:3-4) Conflict is really just an opportunity to grow, but that depends on how we look at conflicts and whether we view the marriage glass as half full or half empty.

What I am about to say is hard, really hard in to do: we can have a joyful expectation, even in conflict if we remember that God has a purpose and often He is using our spouse as sand paper to smooth out areas in our life that don’t reflect Christ. This doesn’t mean it is not painful. It is both a recognition of pain and a future hope as stated in Romans. 

So it boils down to what is our attitude when we encounter conflict with your mate? I would suggest that you view the glass as half full. That does not mean I am looking through rose colored glasses. It is about remaining hopeful that God is still in charge. Remembering anything positive is challenging in the midst of heated emotions. Everything can appear bleak. That’s the nature of crises. Perceptions are skewed, emotions are frayed and edgy, and the outlook appears dismal.

In the midst of this conflict, however, opportunity awaits. There is a chance to remember what was good about your spouse before the conflict or crisis, and to add to the marital legacy. Consider the children, a beautiful house where you enjoyed so many memories, the vacations where you laughed till you cried together, your families and all the joy they add to your lives, a vibrant church family and small group that prays for you, all the shared interests and activities, and finally the strong attraction that brought the two of you together in the first place. If you do that, I believe the conflict will not seem as formidable as it once did.

Cultivate a positive and thankful mind-set. We’re told in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” No matter what the situation, there’s always something to be thankful for.

Be thankful to God for what He has done in your lives. Learn to appreciate your spouse’s good qualities—rather than dwell on his or her shortcomings. If you maintain a positive outlook, your spouse is likely to follow suit.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you tend to be positive or negative during conflcit?
  2. Is it easy for you to raise an issue or disagree with your spouse or someone you have a relationship with?
  3. When in conflict, can you share your feelings, without anger? If not why not?
  4. Do you deal with the “real” issue and find resolution and do you tend to deal with raw emotions?
  5. What would it take to create a safe or comfortable space for conflicts and differences for you? For your spouse?

How About Healthy Conflict?

“A hot-tempered man stirs up strife,  but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.“ – Proverbs 15:18

Is there such a thing as a healthy conflict? Is it possible to have a fight with your spouse and do it well? That sounds like a trick question, but it isn’t. Most married couples would think it is far better to eliminate conflict rather than do it well. Minimizing conflict is admirable, but it is also unrealistic. There really is such a thing as “healthy conflict” in marriage.

There are basically three belief categories for married couples about marital conflict. One is the couples who enter marriage expecting an unrealistic level of agreement and perfection in their relationship. If they’re truly happy and meant for one another, they believe, there shouldn’t be any conflict. That’s not a very realistic view of human relationship.

Another group of couples understand they’ll have conflict, but they believe the solution is to put the gloves on and go at it until they vent all of their anger at each other and somehow arrive at a solution. There’s a lot to be said for making your point and getting important issues on the table. But just going at one another is potentially very damaging.   

In fact, there’s a lot of research to show that poorly handled conflict impacts more than just the couple themselves. For example, children; here are the two most important people in a child’s life, and here they are yelling and being nasty to each other. Seeing their parents arguing and being uncivil to each other causes stress and confusion. Our children function best with emotional stability and safety in the home.

And that leads to the third group of couples. If you find yourself in either of the first two groups, our goal of Sunday’s message on conflict is to move you closer to this third one. The third group are couples that resolve conflict in a way that honors God and builds up their relationship rather than eroding it.

How do we go about doing conflict well? Here are a few things to consider. Try to listen better.  Many couples are so determined to get their point across they don’t really listen to each other’s thoughts and feelings. They want to win the argument instead of resolve the problem. Secondly, try to harness your emotions and stay calm. No matter how passionate they feel about their disagreement, healthy couples avoid getting nasty. Not only will overreacting not solve anything, it’ll drive a wedge between a husband and wife. That causes even further conflict down the road.

Finally, never threaten divorce: Emotions can run high in the midst of a conflict. If you find yourself in that situation try to walk away to calm down. Then come back and continue the conversation. But do not make threats to end the marriage. At best it may help you manipulate the situation to get your way. But at worst, could damage the relationship well-beyond the conflict the couple finds themselves in. 

Here is the bottom line: We can develop or improve our communication skills and learn how to disagree with our spouse without being disagreeable. It is possible. Remember that even couples with healthy, happy marriages disagree. But, also remember those marriages remain healthy and happy because they treat each other with respect even in the midst of conflict. It is not about the husband or wife winning the argument, it is about resolving the problem while protecting the relationship.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Healthy conflict resolution requires knowing, accepting, and adjusting to your differences.  Agree or disagree?
  2. Healthy conflict resolution requires defeating selfishness. Agree or disagree?
  3. Healthy conflict resolution often involves loving confrontation. What does this mean to you and what is the difference between loving and regular confrontation? Healthy conflict resolution requires forgiveness. How can we use forgiveness to resolve a conflict?
  4. Pray and ask God to help you develop a godly, loving way of dealing with conflict.

Conflict in Marriage

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.” – Victor Frankl

William James said that “Whenever you’re in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it. That factor is how we react.”  I agree with him. It is all about reaction. Our reaction should be based on a fundamental question: Is the issue causing the conflict important enough to fight about?

Here’s the thing: Circumstances themselves cannot cause problems. Our emotional reactions are what ultimately cause problems, because negative reactions often escalate the situation. 

So while it is impossible to eliminate all possible causes of conflict in marriage, it is possible to pause and consider our response to them. If a husband loses it and explodes on his wife unfairly, it will be the wife’s response that will define the outcome. She can escalate the situation or she can defuse the situation. This also works in the reverse situation – if it is the wife exploding at the husband.

Matthew 5:25 tells us, “Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison.” How much more should we agree with our spouse quickly?  Finding agreement is the key to preventing escalation of conflict.

Try waiting until all the heated emotions and verbal sparring settles down before seeking agreement. I’m not suggesting you ignore any issues that pop up between spouses. I’m simply suggesting you wait until things quiet down and you have some perspective. Romans 6:11 says  “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” We are to be dead to sin and we are to live the reality of our position in Christ. Restore your spouse in meekness and humility, knowing you also need that same grace of Christ on a daily basis.

Then push the conflict into the past. We have to ask ourselves how badly do we want to avoid fights? Badly enough to yield to the Spirit of God and to forgive and forget and maintain happiness in your marriage.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are the issues that result in conflict? What kind of faults in your spouse do you tend to not tolerate? What faults in yourself create conflicts with your spouse?
  2. What keeps you from compromise in your marriage conflicts?
  3. What is the difference between trying to change your spouse and trying to resolve a conflict?
  4. Who is responsible for fixing the conflicts that need resolving.

The Song Of Solomon Today

“My dove, my perfect one, is the only one, the only one of her mother,  pure to her who bore her. The young women saw her and called her blessed; the queens and concubines also, and they praised her. “Who is this who looks down like the dawn, beautiful as the moon, bright as the sun, awesome as an army with banners? –  Song of Solomon 6:9-10.

The Song of Solomon was written and inspired by God to bless the lives of every man and every woman regardless of their age or upbringing by teaching them how to find true love, enjoy a lifelong partner, and build a successful marriage. The Song of Solomon is talking about love, sex and marriage. The question is whether “love like the dawn and beautiful as the moon” is still relevant today.

Love, sex, and marriage is very relevant in today’s culture. It is hard to pick up a magazine, regardless of the target audience, that does not have one or more articles on one of these categories.  We are inundated with messages when it comes to themes like love, sex and marriage. All these were created by God. He is the creator, the designer, the architect, He owns the copyright. So it makes perfect sense that we would hear from Him on the subject.  In Song of Solomon you find the beauty and depth that God had in mind for love, sex and marriage.   

The Song of Solomon shows that God cares about the daily lives of his people. Ideally, if a couple today learns the Song of Solomon, then they can lay the proper foundation in dating for a joyful marriage. The story gives some of the best advice available for dating couples. It teaches a woman how to choose a husband and a man how to choose a wife so that they might live full, married, lives. The ones who learn what God expects of them before marriage start off with fewer problems. When problems do appear, they know how to handle them instead of just reacting to them. It will work as well today as it did thousands of years ago.

But there is another reason why the Song of Solomon is still relevant today and why we are talking about it in the Unforgettable Love Story series. It is never too too late for those of us who are already married. The Song of Solomon teaches how to lay the foundation for a happy marriage at every stage–courting, newlywed, and silver or golden anniversaries. At whatever stage a couple happens to be, they can examine their relationship, and more importantly they can build on it. To make it better. It’s not too late to enjoy the happiness displayed in the Song of Solomon or the marital love that God designed.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are some of the ways that the Song of Solomon expresses the nature of a right relationship between husband and wife?
  2. What can you learn from the Song of Solomon that will help you in your marriage?
  3. What can you learn from Solomon or his bride on how to be a better spouse?
  4. If you need to take a step or two of growth in dating, marriage or relationships, what might that look like?