Sunday, 10 September 2017

Healing The Wounds Part 1 - Where To Start

I hope that those of you reading this blog do not assume that my marriage is perfect.  Many of the ideas I talk about here are things my wife and I are trying to live up to (with varying degrees of success).  While my wife and I love each other dearly and do our best, we are imperfect people and there are times where we cause hurt to each other.

This is a normal part of marriage.  Getting close to somebody emotionally goes hand in hand with giving them the ability to cause far deeper wounds to the heart than any stranger could ever inflict.  It often happens with no intent to cause harm, and even no realization that their actions or words would cause pain.  Certainly sinful behaviour like adultery, pornography usage etc. causes serious hurt in marriages, but spouses can hurt each other without committing such sins as well. 

These hurts are damaging to the relationship, and they must be addressed and healed. Don't count on time to erase everything, that often will make things worse.  If not dealt with correctly, some wounds may fester and spread.  Even if that doesn't happen and it seems to have been swept under the rug, over time an accumulation of scars take their toll.

Situations like this, even though they may not involve sin, are still closely related to the gospel principles of forgiveness and repentance.  God loves us more than we really understand.  When we rebel against his will, betray our covenant to follow Christ and instead commit sins, we hurt him.  We damage our relationship with our Heavenly Father.  The process of repentance is not a legal process, it is an emotional process for repairing that relationship and seeking a reconciliation.  The same process applies when we need to repair a marriage relationship, friendship, or any other relationship. 

Forgiveness: Human and Divine
The starting point of that process is forgiveness.  There are two types of forgiveness, human and divine.  Christ said:
Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin.  I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men. - D&C 64:9-10
Divine forgiveness, the forgiveness a sinner seeks from Christ, comes only on condition of repentance.  When it is obtained, the stain of sin is washed away from the transgressor's soul by the power of the atonement.

Human forgiveness however does not cleanse the sins of the offender, and we are obligated to give it freely and unconditionally, even if they never repent.

Forgiving somebody doesn't mean you pretend it never happened.  It doesn't mean you extend to them the same level of trust as before.  It doesn't mean  you stop hurting.  It certainly doesn't mean you make excuses for what they did or give approval.  While this video is not from an LDS source, but I think it does a good job clarifying what human forgiveness is and is not.

What it means to forgive is that you let go of your anger, bitterness, vindictiveness and hostility.  You don't lash out and try to 'make them pay' for what they did.  It doesn't let them off the hook, but it does give them an environment that encourages and facilitates their repentance while preventing your soul from becoming poisoned with hate and contention.  Whatever your spouse did, not forgiving them for it is a bigger sin because you make yourself an obstacle to their repentance.

Repentance and Reconciliation
To repair the relationship the offender must address what they did and do what is needed.  For the sake of this blog, if the relationship being repaired is between a person and God I'll call it repentance, and if it is between a person and their spouse or other person I'll call it reconciliation.  The process is the same in either case but with repentance comes divine forgiveness and reconciliation is most easily achieved when human forgiveness has already been given.  Only after we have repaired our relationship with God is He justified in cleansing us of our sins.

The onus is on the offender to make this effort, and they do not get to decide at what point the other party should reconcile with them.  When reconciliation does happen however, the relationship is restored, even strengthened. Repentance is often described as a painful process, and with good reason.  Likewise reconciliation can be painful too.  There are times where repentance requires the guidance and counsel of a Bishop, and times where reconciliation requires the help of a professional marriage counselor.

In Part 2 I'll start to go over the steps of this process, and more importantly why those are the steps that need to be taken, and how to proceed with them.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Is your spouse's happiness your responsibility?

Prophets and apostles have counseled the members of the church a number of times that a married couple should each seek for the happiness of their spouse.

For example:
President Gordon B. Hinkley
True love is not so much a matter of romance as it is a matter of anxious concern for the well being of one’s companion. (link)

Elder Russel M Nelson
Harmony in marriage comes only when one esteems the welfare of his or her spouse among the highest of priorities. When that really happens, a celestial marriage becomes a reality, bringing great joy in this life and in the life to come. (link)

Elder Jeffery R. Holland
Find someone [to marry] ...who finds his or her happiness in your own. (link)

President Spencer W. Kimball
If one is forever seeking the interests, comforts, and happiness of the other, the love found in courtship and cemented in marriage will grow into mighty proportions.(link)

Does this mean that you are responsible for your spouse's happiness?  Are they responsible for yours?

In a way, yes you are...
The answer is 'Yes' in that we have a responsibility to do what we can to promote the happiness of our spouse, it is part of our stewardship as a spouse.  We should know (or find out) what our spouse needs to feel loved, happy and content with their life.  Not just with the marriage relationship, but in all areas of life.  If it is within our power to bring them greater happiness (without breaking commandments or laws of course), we should do it.

It may require us to make changes or sacrifices.  I may mean doing things you wouldn't normally do.  It may require gently helping your spouse overcome their challenges, or patiently waiting for the time they are ready to take that on.  It may just be giving them support and encouragement and expressing faith in them as they confront things you are not able to do anything about.  It can be giving them your best, honest counsel, forgiving them of their mistakes, and having compassion and charity toward them in their imperfections. It may mean seeking their forgiveness for things we've done.

Ideally it is supposed to be a two way street where your spouse does the same for you.  In practice that is not always the case, but even then it doesn't change our duty toward our spouse and their happiness.  When neither spouse seeks the happiness of the other there is a downward spiral that puts the marriage at serious risk.  If even only one spouse is seeking the happiness of the other, this is less likely to happen, and over time their example may rub off on their partner.

...and in another way, no you are not.
The answer is also 'No' in the sense that each person has the final responsibility for themselves.  Your obligation is to do you part to enable their happiness, after that it is up to them.  If there are mental health issues like depression, you may have to accept (at least for a time) that their unhappiness is not related to their circumstances in life and beyond your power to affect, other than to try and help them find an effective treatment plan.

As much as I wish I could remove every discomfort of any kind that my wife feels, it is not within my power to undo the Fall and make her world a Paradise.  I do what I can, and how she responds to the challenges she faces is her choice.  Likewise I am responsible for my happiness, and she is responsible for doing what she can to facilitate it.

If however the husband and wife are selfish, put seeking their interests first, treat their spouse with contempt, ridicule, verbal, emotional, or physical abuse, take them for granted, withhold help, comfort, support, encouragement, intimacy, or otherwise mistreat them or hedge up the way before them, then they make themselves responsible for the outcome of those actions and the damage they do to the marriage.

Nobody should be a hostage to their spouse's emotions, but they should be a help meet and partner.  And seeking the happiness of your spouse is very likely to result in a greater happiness for you than if you sought your own happiness above theirs.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Above and beyond

One thing I learned as an adult is that it doesn't take a lot to stand out from the crowd.  Just a little extra effort and magic starts to happen.  The same principle applies in our marriage too.  It is easy to stick with the daily routine of life, but when we break out of that and go the extra mile for our spouse amazing things can happen.

I'm not talking about doing something special for your spouse as a reward for something they have done, or to make up for something you did, or because it is a special occasion. I do encourage doing that, but here I'm talking about doing something extra for your spouse's happiness just because you love to make them happy. 

It doesn't have to some grand or expensive gesture. Just the fact that it breaks up the routine will make it stand out both at the time and later in memory. It has to be something that will put a smile of delight on their face, so it would probably be most effective if it was something related to their primary love language (not yours).  Here are some suggestions:

Words of Affirmation
- love letter
- greeting card
- affectionate (or sexy) candygram
- shirt, mug, certificate etc. proclaiming them 'World's Best _______'
- social media post praising your spouse

Acts of Service
- before they can stop you, do some chores for them that they normally do
- take care of something they haven't been able to get to
- give them a day off and wait on them
- give them a massage, draw a bath for them
- cook them a special meal
- do that thing they have wanted you to take care of for a while

Gifts
- give them something related to their hobbies and interests
- take them out to dinner
- them them shopping, tell them how much they can spend on something just for them
- flowers / candy/ jewelry
- make something for them

Quality Time
- go for a walk together
- run away together for a whole day, nothing planned
- play board games
- binge watch something they are interested in
- go dancing

Physical / Sexual contact
- get a room for the night
- spend the whole evening being physically intimate
- tell them they get to pick what happens and you'll go along with it
- fulfill a fantasy of theirs
- make yourself as attractive as you can for them (hair, makeup, lingerie etc.)
- try something new in the bedroom (bondage, oral sex, role playing etc.)

Going out of your way to please your spouse sends them some very important messages that strengthen the relationship.  It tells them:

I don't take you for granted.
When life has you both in a rut, even if it happens to be a good rut, over time a person can feel like they are taken for granted.  The usual ways of showing affection become common, habitual, expected and lose impact.  When a spouse tosses in something special now and then it tells their partner they are not taken for granted.  A bonus side effect to this is that they are far less likely to take the everyday affection you give for granted as well.

You are worth my time and effort, and our relationship is a priority to me.
Going the extra mile is a deliberate act.  The very idea of doing something extra and making the choice to do it happen because of your feelings for your spouse.  They know you could have spent your time and energy doing something for yourself, or on anything else, but you invested it in them instead. 

I know what you like, and I like giving it to you.
When your spouse sees that not only do you know in your head what it is that pleases them, but you also feel joy in your heart when you provide them with it, a huge emotional bond is created or strengthened.  Knowing your spouse 'gets' you is a very powerful thing.  It is an important element of all emotional intimacy. 

We are supposed to go the extra mile in our jobs, our callings and in serving others.  Certainly should make a point of going above and beyond the usual in our marriages as well.  And when you go the extra mile for your spouse a few times, don't be too surprised if they start going the extra mile for you in return.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Making time for intimacy

Time is a precious commodity.  You can not buy it, you can not earn it, you can not sell it, and you can not bank it.  Everybody has the same amount of time every day and all you can do is exchange that time for something else.  You can trade time for money, entertainment, education, exercise or sleep, and you can trade that time for sexual and/or non-sexual intimacy with your spouse.

It's easy reach the end of the day where your remaining time must be traded for sleep without trading any significant amount of it for those things that will make your marriage stronger and more joyful.  If this happens too often then the relationship will suffer from neglect.  If you are finding it a challenge to give your marriage the time it needs, consider the following ways to try and change that:

Obligations, Urgencies and Priorities
Our relationship with our spouse should be a very high priority.  Ideally we would spend our time according to our priorities, but that isn't always the case.  We have obligations that demand specific blocks of our time even though they might not be as high a priority as our marriage.  Urgencies also override our priorities.

Ask yourself if you should reduce the obligations you have.  Sometimes when a couple starts to drift apart they can start to fill that void with other interests and activities only to have those things take up so much of their time that it prevents any healing and reconnecting in the relationship.  Are there obligations that you should let go of for the sake of having more time together as a couple?  Are you trading time for what is good instead of what is best?

If you find too much of your time is spend responding to urgencies, is there something you can do to prevent them?  Are there others who can step up to help?


Planning
Having a specific night each week set aside as date night is as important to a marriage as Family Home Evening is to a family.  Dates do not have to cost money, it just has to give you time together with minimal outside distractions.

That is not the limit of planning however.  There are lots of little things a spouse can do to show their love, but often nobody thinks to do them.  Rather than rely on inspiration to hit at the right time, we can make plans for doing those things.  Smartphones have alarms and calendar apps that we can use to help.  A husband can set a reminder to pick up some flowers for his wife on his way home on Monday and to mail her a card next Thursday, a wife can set a reminder make his favorite meal on Wednesday and to really spice things up in the bedroom next Saturday evening.  Both can pepper their calendars with reminders for many different displays of love through the month.

Also make a point of planning ahead for special occasions.  Birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine's Day, and Christmas should not be last minute afterthoughts.  Be aware of them and plan well in advance how you are going to use the occasion to make your spouse feel loved and appreciated.

Planning specific nights for sexual intimacy was something that really helped my marriage.   Leaving it unplanned, then raising the question right at the end of the day when we were both at our lowest energy point was not a good strategy for us.  When there are specific days where it is understood that sex will happen there can be anticipation and preparation, spouses can hold energy in reserve for what they know is coming and arrive at the bedroom mentally and emotionally primed.  Nor does sex have to happen in the evening.  It can happen right before supper, as soon as you get home from church, in the morning before leaving for work, anytime that works for both of you. Make the world wait for you for a change.

Be creative and flexible with your plans.  And just because you have sex planned on some nights doesn't mean you can't have spontaneous sex at other times. 


Multi-tasking
There are many ways we can combine non-sexual intimacy with everyday life.  Send a flirty or romantic text when on a break at work.  Go grocery shopping together.  Fold laundry together while watching a romantic movie or just use the time to talk with each other.  I love to sit in Sacrament meeting with my arm around her shoulder, her snuggling into me.  She knows if she leans forward she'll get a back scratch.  Be aware of the opportunities you have to include affectionate touch and loving words into each day.  This is the start of foreplay.


When we trade our time wisely, it becomes an investment.  While the return on that investment won't come in terms of more time, it will come in terms of better times.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Sex and Exaltation

We Latter-Day Saints have a unique perspective on marriage.  That in turn give us a perspective on marital intimacy that is also unique, but I think in many cases we do not fully appreciate the importance sex when it comes to our own exaltation in the kingdom of God.

Now I can tell from the stats for this blog that there are more than a few visitors that come here from Christian marriage websites that are not LDS, and that is great.  I hope you feel welcome here.  Most of the things I've posted have been principles that are pretty universally accepted across all Christian faiths, even if I do quote from sources that a non-Mormon would not consider authoritative.

This post will be different.  I'm going to delve into some doctrines unique to Mormonism and how they relate to the intimate side of marriage.  Those of you who are not Mormons are welcome to read on, and I'll try and make it understandable for you as I can by explaining and linking to sites that will explain concepts you may not be familiar with.  There are some things however that you may find hard to accept or even offensive.  I hope you will use this as an opportunity to understand Mormons better.  If you have questions you can post them as comments and I'll be happy to address them, but disrespect, hostility, trolling etc. will not be tolerated.

Right From The Start
We believe that before mortal life our spirits lived with God, and he created the earth for us to have a place to obtain a physical body (among other reasons).  We do not know much about our premortal life, but one thing we do know is that even as premortal spirits we had a gender.  The Proclamation on the Family states:  "Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose."

Consider the implications of that.  Your gender is not solely a physical characteristic, your spirit itself is male or female, matching the gender of the body (barring genetic abnormalities), and it was like that even before your birth.  The Brother of Jared saw the premortal Christ and thought he was seeing a man of flesh and blood, yet Christ told him that the body of his spirit was as his physical body would appear after his birth (Ether 3:8-16)

In Paradise And Mortality
In the creation God made Adam and Eve, who were male and female beings.  He made them husband and wife to each.  They were sexual beings, married and able to lawfully enjoy sexual intimacy when the earth was still a paradise untouched by sin.  In fact they were commanded other to have children, become one flesh and to cleave to each other. (Gen 2:24-25)  This again underscores the eternal nature of our sexuality, and also indicates that the ideal eternal state desired by God is for a man and a woman to be together as husband and wife in a marriage that includes sexual intimacy.

From all this we can see that our sexual nature doesn't end with the death of the body, it is an eternal characteristic of who we are.

Salvation, Exaltation and Sexual Intimacy
Thanks to Christ`s atonement, at some point after death comes the Resurrection. Every person who has ever lived will be resurrected and have a perfected and immortal version of their physical body having the same gender they were born with. (Alma 11:44).

Right after the Resurrection comes the Final Judgement.  While Christ`s atonement saves all mankind from death unconditionally, salvation from sin comes on condition of repentance (Luke 13:3).  Those who have been washed clean in the blood of the lamb are judged and will be assigned to one of the Three Degrees of Glory (or Three Kingdoms of Glory) according to their works (Rev 20:12).  Anybody who makes it to any of those kingdoms is saved from sin and death, but only those who make it to the highest glory are exalted.

One thing that really sets Mormonism apart from other Christian faith is our belief that because of the atonement we have the potential to become like God.  This was actually something that several early Christian fathers like Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen and others taught in the early days of the church.  Only those who make it to the Celestial Kingdom will be able to obtain exaltation but they also need to be in an eternal marriage (D&C 131:1-2).  Often we think of that only in terms of having the temple ceremony done to seal a marriage for time and all eternity, but really there are 3 components that are needed for a marriage to be eternal.

1) The willingness of both the husband and the wife
2) The sealing ordinance performed by Priesthood authority
3) The sealing of the covenant by the Holy Spirit of promise

It is only after the Holy Spirit of promise seals the marriage that it truly is eternal, and that doesn't happen until the Final Judgement.  Being married in the temple by itself doesn't mean anything if spouses do not keep their covenants, or if their life together is so unpleasant that they no long wish to be together forever.  If either spouse is no longer willing on judgment day, the Holy Spirit of promise will not seal it and the marriage will come to an end there (D&C 132:18).

Couples who do qualify for the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom receive the greatest blessings possible:
Doctrine & Covenants 132:19-20
19 
And again, verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant, and it is sealed unto them by the Holy Spirit of promise, by him who is anointed, unto whom I have appointed this power and the keys of this priesthood; and it shall be said unto them—Ye shall come forth in the first resurrection;... and they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things, as hath been sealed upon their heads, which glory shall be a fullness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever.
 20 Then shall they be gods, because they have no end;... (D&C 132:19-20)
God's law is that sexual relationships must only take place between a husband and wife, and because of that sex has been called the defining characteristic of marriage.  From the above however we can see that in the eternities sexual intimacy is also a defining characteristic of godhood itself.  Only those who are exalted to that level will have a spouse, and through that intimacy they will have 'continuation of seeds forever and ever' and 'have no end'.  This point was also touched on recently by Sister Nelson speaking at a recent YSA Worldwide Fireside where she said "God-ordained marital intimacy is glorious and will continue eternally for covenant-keeping husbands and wives."

Putting Sexual Intimacy Into An Eternal Perspective
This is why sexual intimacy is such a sacred thing.  It is why abuses like homosexuality or fornication or adultery are serious moral wrongs, because they desecrate something sacred and godly. It is also why it is important for spouses to work out how to have a mutually satisfying intimate relationship with each other. 

It is so much more than finding a way to live together happily in mortality.  It is a stewardship we will have to account for, and like in the parable of the talents a spouse is expected to put they God given sexuality to good use, not bury it like the unprofitable servant.  The bottom line is that when spouses work to improve the intimate side of their marriage they are working towards their exaltation and preparing for eternity.  Perfection will not be achieved in this world in this or any other area, but working to improve in this area is something we should take as serious as working to improve our faith and obedience to God.