A More Intimate Marriage

marriage-retreat-website-2What does “intimacy” mean to you? If your first thought is romantic or sexual, I’m not surprised. Most people in our culture would probably think of that. But intimacy is much more than just a physical relationship. True intimacy in a marriage encompasses friendship and compassion as well as romance and passion. It involves emotional, spiritual, intellectual and lifestyle elements. It is a closeness that is hard to describe, but wonderful to experience. We often see it in couples that have been married 40, 50 or 60 years.

“Best of lovers, best of friends” is a line from one of my favorite songs (“How Do You Keep The Music Playing” by James Ingram and Patti Austin). To me, it describes an ideal marriage relationship. But the song expresses the concerns many couples have – “How do you keep the music playing – how do you make it last? How do you keep the song from fading too fast?”

For answers to those questions, and to discover some of the keys to greater intimacy in your marriage, I invite you to join us at the Hammersley Center in Brookneal VA for our Spring marriage retreat, in cooperation with Patrick Henry Family Services. It’s a relatively short overnight event (6 p.m. Friday to 3 p.m. Saturday), but it could transform your marriage. Come away to a beautiful natural setting and discover the keys to building and preserving true intimacy in your marriage! Learn the secrets that will keep you in love for a lifetime. In less than 24 hours you can renew and refresh your relationship and experience a closeness with your spouse that you never thought possible. The cost is $95 per couple, including lodging and meals (Supper on Friday, breakfast and lunch on Saturday). The theme for this event is “Best of Lovers, Best of Friends.” We will focus on ways to deepen intimacy between a husband and wife, and how their unique differences contribute to a balanced and healthy relationship in the process of “two becoming one.” Married couples can register online at www.hatcreekcamps/events.  Click on “Learn More” and go to the “Fee” section to pay by PayPal or credit card.

 

Stressed for the Occasion

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Holidays and special occasions seem to bring out the best and worst in families. For most, it’s a wonderful time of reconnection and fun. But it can also raise or intensify conflicts. No wonder – such times tend to be emotional anyway, and then we add travel, crowded schedules and complicated logistics (children’s pageant at church, Christmas Eve at Grandma’s, home in time to put Billy’s new bike together…). Double that if yours is a “blended” family. Got stress?

When mentoring engaged couples, my wife Barbara and I encourage them to spend a lot of time talking about their families, because expectations regarding roles, traditions, and conflict resolution styles are largely determined by our childhood experience, and every family is different. If we don’t recognize and resolve those differences, it can hurt the marriage.

For example, how much “family togetherness” is expected? Suppose you grew up in a closeknit family where everyone’s expected to show up for Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Uncle Wally’s Labor Day picnic, but your husband comes from a family where folks do their own thing? Healthy families have a balance of closeness and separation. Marriage creates a new family (Gen. 2.24), but that doesn’t mean you have no more connection to your extended family (1 Tim. 5:8). And while it’s good to have a family that supports you in your marriage, they also have to realize that you need to develop your own coupleness apart from them as well.

Here are some other tips for handling extended family issues:

1. Be united as a couple. Decide important issues before you arrive at the family gathering. Talk it through, make a decision, and then stick to it.

2. “Blood talks to blood.” This expression means that if there is a conflict with the husband’s family, for example, the husband should be the one who talks to them about it, because he has a longer history with them. His wife should support him, but not take the initiative. Obviously the opposite is also true – the wife should be the spokesperson to her family. Before anyone talks to anyone, however, be sure you both agree on what to say!

3. Know your coping style. People deal with stress differently. Some folks may need to take a walk and get out of the house, while others may want to meditate, pray or watch a movie to help them with their “attitude adjustment.” Do your thing, and let others do theirs.

4. Build your own traditions. Be sure to incorporate elements from each of your families where you can, but don’t be afraid to try something new.

Every family has problems. But you can do a lot to ease the tensions if you work together as a team and make sure that your own marriage relationship is healthy.

My Surprising Secret Weapon for a Flourishing Career: My Marriage

By Hilary Sutton Lagares

This month we feature a guest blog by Hilary Sutton Lagares, who, with her husband Juan Carlos (“JC”) went through our Premarital Preparation Program before their wedding. 

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4 years ago today JuanCarlos and I got married. And while it may seem like marriage and work have nothing to do with one another, I have to tell you, they totally do.

It’s no coincidence that my career began to blossom after JuanCarlos and I tied the knot. And sure, part of it is because I got into a more focused phase of life after my gypsy years. But why was I more focused? In part, because of JC. Let me explain…

I have so much more mental space now that I’m not on the dating scene. Constantly trying to figure out dead-end relationships takes up a lot of mental energy. Now I have the space and energy to focus in on work, to take risks and to be creative because I’m not obsessing over relationship problems or a crush. I don’t have anxiety about “finding the one.” He’s here. I had no idea how much mental energy I spent on the opposite sex until I was married. Man, talk about simplification. I sincerely believe when the dial was turned down on that part of life, I had more brain waves to put toward my life’s work.

I have a built-in cheerleader. JC believes the best in me. That empowers me to do great things, to do hard things. Whether or not you’re married, I encourage you to surround yourself with people who believe not only in your potential but also in who you are deep down. You need people who get you and encourage you on your path toward becoming better.

I have peace that comes with someone knowing all of my quirks and flaws and loving me anyway. There is something to be said for someone choosing to love you even when you are being… challenging. JC is in it with me not because I constantly make him happy but because he chooses day in and day out to be in it. And I don’t ever doubt that he’s there. That sense of safety and belonging gives me more confidence to go big in my work and risk failure.

I have a home to retreat to at the end of good days and bad. At the end of every work day that’s hard, draining, or frustrating, I’ve got a “home” to go home to. I’m not duking it out in the cold world on my own. And the inverse—when things are really good at work, I have someone who celebrates with me, that proudly tells his co-workers about all my random projects. Having him as a teammate brings peace into my own life.

I have a built-in brain trust member. I’ve got someone in my corner who is wired nothing like me. I can pick his brain about any situation and he’s going to give me perspective. And he loves to play devil’s advocate. He’s constantly challenging my thinking. That makes me a better leader and a better team member.

I have someone in my life every day who is loving and service-oriented. Not only is JC committed to helping people (he’s beginning a career in professional counseling) but every day he goes out of his way for me. Whether it’s bringing me a cup of coffee, mowing the lawn or doing the dishes, every day JuanCarlos is happy to help out if I’m in a pinch. Now, not only is that nice to have, but it’s also a challenge to me every single day: do for others. Give. Go out of your way. Serve. This makes me a better freelancer, a better co-worker, a better boss, and a better human.

I’m wired to passionately pursue a meaningful life and a meaningful career. Being married to JuanCarlos has shown me the incredible benefits of having a dependable partner, a real “home,” consistent encouragement, and an example of service right here in my own home. All of these things have helped my career grow massively in four years.

I had no idea that marrying the right person would not only tremendously affect my personal life, but also my work life. It’s incredible how the people you’re closest to have such an impact on every area of your life.

This article was originally posted at HilarySutton.com. Hilary is a writer, social media strategist and actor. Connect with Hilary on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Monthly blog: July 2016

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July 2016: Summer Reading

Back when I was in school, one of the things I looked forward to during summer vacation was doing a lot of reading. I always loved to read, and still do (although I don’t get as much opportunity as I would like to indulge in reading “just for fun”). Many people still consider summer a prime time for catching up on their reading list. And while it’s great to enjoy a good novel or mystery, there is a benefit to increasing your knowledge or skills with an occasional non-fiction book. With that in mind, I’d like to share some favorites of mine for your consideration (all having to do with marriage and relationships, of course).

Men Are Like Waffles, Women Are Like Spaghetti by Bill & Pam Farrel is one of my all-time favorite marriage books, and if you’ve ever heard me speak, you know how “sold” I am on the basic concept. It is one of the most sensible and useful paradigms I have ever found for dealing with the differences between the sexes. Bill & Pam use lots of humor and stories to get their point across, making this book a truly fun read.

The Five Languages of Apology by Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas is styled after Dr. Chapman’s popular book on the languages of love. It takes the same approach to apologizing and granting forgiveness. Different people hear “I’m sorry” in different ways, and if you don’t understand your partner’s “apology language,” it can be difficult to overcome the inevitable hurts and conflicts of married life. This book will help you understand how to address those issues more effectively.

For men, Tender Warrior by Stu Weber is my number one recommendation for learning what true manhood is all about. Stu takes us back to God’s original design for a man, and clearly illustrates how that plan should be playing out in our modern world, and how far we have deviated from it. In the process, he outlines a strategy for taking back our God-given role and responsibilities in relation to our wives, our children, our friends, and Christ.

For women, The Proper Care & Feeding of Husbands by Dr. Laura Schlessinger is filled with the delightful wit and practical wisdom that has made Dr. Laura so popular on radio, TV and in print. Her lets-get-right-to-the-point style is a refreshing and effective response to many of the complaints and concerns that women have about their husbands and their marriage. Her suggestions are equally valid for those wives who think everything is going well.

If you feel like your marriage is teetering on the brink, or if either you or your spouse are considering separation, don’t do anything until you have read The Divorce Remedy by Michele Weiner-Davis. This successful marriage therapist, author and speaker has developed a set of marriage-saving techniques that are effectively focused on solutions, not problems, and can be used by one partner even if the other is not engaged in the process.

That should get you started on a summer of stimulating reading and (I hope) an improved relationship with your spouse. If you want additional suggestions, please contact us. Happy summer!

Contributed by: Larry Compter, Executive Director
Above image courtesy of everydayplus at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Monthly blog: June 2016

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June 2016: Back to Basics

If you have ever played a competitive sport, you’re probably familiar with this scenario: you’ve played well, you’ve had some success, you seem to be getting better and better, and then… suddenly you hit a plateau where you don’t see any progress. Or worse, you start slipping back – your game is off, your timing isn’t working anymore, you can’t even seem to do what was simple and easy just a little while ago. You’re wondering what to do to get back on track, and you swear you’ll do whatever it takes.

What does a good coach typically recommend in those moments? Chances are, he or she will tell you to “get back to the basics.” Get back to physical conditioning and the core skills. Stop trying to finesse and strategize and concentrate on the basic movements – run, hit, throw, or whatever. When you do that, you will often find that the abilities you thought you were losing start to come back. But it takes time. And you very often realize that you really had gotten away from those basics, and that you will have to remember in the future to keep working on them all the time.

Marriage sometimes works like that. In the first few years, it seems “breezy-easy” to love your spouse, to talk about anything, to enjoy life together. Then the kids start coming, or the job gets tougher, and you just don’t seem to have as much time together. Conversation starts to revert to an exchange of information and logistical planning – who’s taking Jamie to soccer, when is the PTA meeting and who is going to go, what are we going to do about the broken toilet, and how are we going to take care of Grammy when Grandpa goes into the hospital next month?

Soon, what started out as a happily-ever-after romantic comedy is devolving into a documentary about diapers, dog food and dentist appointments. “How did it ever come to this?” you ask yourself. Well, the short answer is, “life happens.” The stuff of daily life, with its sense of constant urgency, tends to hijack our time and attention, leaving our relationship with our spouse out in the cold. Maybe it’s time to get back to basics.

What are the basics of love and marriage? There are a lot of things we could mention, but here are three that stand out in my mind:

  • It may seem impossible in your hectic schedule, but you need to carve out some kind of regular time for you and your spouse to spend together, doing something you both enjoy. It could be a “date night” once a week, or just an hour each evening after the kids go to bed. But make sure it is “protected” time: in other words, don’t use that time to talk about things that need to be done, or to rehash old issues. Reminisce, dream, focus on each other and compliment each other. Rekindle the flame that once burned so brightly.
  • Remember the time when you couldn’t keep your hands off each other? One of the things I have noticed about couples who are having difficulty in their marriage is that they seem to have lost the affection they once had. Regular love-making is an important part of a healthy marriage, but a common complaint is that “he/she only touches me when he/she wants sex.” That’s unhealthy. Remember to give each other a hug, a kiss, and a sincere “I love you” (what we call a “Hugkissily©”) multiple times each day. When you pass in the hall, reach out and touch. Sit together on the couch, rather than on opposite sides of the room. Remember to smile and look into your spouse’s eyes. Show affection and appreciation.
  • A friend of mine used to say, “talk when it’s fun – really talk when it’s not fun.” There’s a lot of wisdom in that. It’s important to have light, fun conversations with your spouse (see “Time,” above). But it’s also important to be able to have serious discussions in a manner that allows you to safely and effectively handle the inevitable conflicts that arise between husband and wife. Two things will help: speak gently and listen intently. Get help if you need it to learn this essential skill. (Contact us at Compass Marriage & Relationship Services.)

Time, touch and talk. Three basics that need to be part of your daily routine if you want to continue to have a “winning season” in your marriage. Get back on track – and enjoy!

Contributed by: Larry Compter, Executive Director
Above image courtesy of nenetus at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Monthly blog: May 2016

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May 2016: Truth and Consequences

One of my favorite parts of this job is getting to speak to high school youth about dating, sex and marriage. Over the past few years I’ve talked to hundreds of kids in classrooms, youth groups and other venues. It gives me an opportunity to let them hear – perhaps for the first time – the truth about romantic relationships and the consequences of the choices they are making now and will be making in the near future.

Although there may be some kids who dismiss me as an old fuddy-duddy, seriously out of touch with the “modern” world, I think most of them respect the fact that everything I teach them is based on solid empirical research. And even though most of my content flies in the face of everything the culture is trying to feed them, I see in their faces a look of curiosity and wonder, as if they recognize the shadow of something they once knew, but have long since forgotten. It’s the shadow of innocence, and for some of them that glimpse seems to provide hope that all may not be lost in the fast-moving, high pressure, peer-dominated techno-world in which they live. For a few, it almost elicits a sigh of relief: Wow, so I’m not crazy, or weird, just because I haven’t had sex yet. Maybe it’s okay if I want to wait…

The time is always too limited. Forty-five minutes or an hour just isn’t enough to counteract the hundreds of hours of television, facebook, videos and texts that hammer home the message that sex is what life’s all about:  Get it now, while you’re young… you can’t wait… it can’t be bad if it feels good… Lies, dressed up with all the glitter and excitement that Hollywood and the internet can create, but lies under it all. And our children are losing their childhoods to this demonic plague of self-indulgent rubbish.

I love the looks of surprise – even astonishment – when I tell students that the best sex possible is in a lifelong, monogamous marriage. They shake their heads in disbelief when I share research that shows less than a 5% divorce rate for married couples that have never had sex with anyone but their spouse. They are incredulous when I tell them that sex doesn’t stop at age 30, but can continue to be enjoyed into one’s 60s, 70s or beyond. They pay close attention as I explain the negative consequences of having multiple sexual partners, and recoil in disgust when I “do the math” on STDs and show how each additional partner doubles their potential exposure to disease: By the time you have sex with 12 partners, you could actually be exposed to over 4,000 people! They are stunned when I explain that there is no clear scientific evidence that living together before marriage has any positive impact, and that in fact there are many studies that document the downside of cohabitation.

I know that in every group there are some who have already made poor choices. I always assure them that, although it may be too late to change the past, it is never too late to change the future. As I look around the room, I can’t help but wonder if something I’ve shared has sunk in, if maybe one young person will find the courage to say “no” to premarital sex or cohabitation. Regardless, I have to continue telling the truth, because the consequences are so grave. I’ll never forget the serious-looking football player who, when I asked for questions at the end of the class, said, “Yeah, I’ve got one. Why hasn’t anyone told us this stuff before?” Why, indeed.

If you would like Larry to come speak to your class, youth group, or club, call Compass at 434-455-2117 or send him an email: larry@betterlove.org.

 

 

Contributed by: Larry Compter, Executive Director
Above image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Monthly blog: April 2016

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April 2016: First Aid for Relationship Pain

It’s unfortunate, but I see a fair number of couples who are experiencing pain in their relationship. Whether it’s from a breakdown in trust, a crisis of some kind, or just a lack of vitality in the relationship, it’s real. When I see these couples, the first thing I want to say to them is: don’t give up hope! Marriages and relationships can be healed. But it takes intention, effort, and time.  It may also require outside help, whether from a relationship coach or a couple therapist (see #6 below).

But sometimes, you need to do something right now; some kind of “first aid” for hurting hearts. Following are some suggestions that you can implement immediately to “stop the bleeding” until you can get the help you need. Some of these may seem counter-intuitive at first, but remember these are just temporary stop-gap measures, so go ahead and try them:

  1. Talk Less.

The majority of couple problems involve poor communication. Eventually, of course, when you have learned how to communicate positively with each other, you will need to talk more. But for right now, it’s likely that the more you talk, the more trouble you will get into. So temporarily keep all conversation to a minimum. Concentrate on being civil and polite, treating your partner like a guest or a visiting dignitary (in other words, with respect). Live by your mother’s advice: “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

  1. Think more about yourself, and less about your partner.

When relationships get into trouble, we have a tendency to focus all our energy and attention on our partner and what they have done wrong. But for the moment, forget about your partner – stop thinking about what he or she did or said.  Instead, think about yourself. How are you reacting to the situation? How might your behavior be contributing to the conflict or tension? It’s easy to blame it all on the other person, but deep down we all know we have some faults. Start thinking about what you can do to become a better person. Start a “makeover” list for yourself (lose weight, stop smoking, dress better, start a hobby, go back to school, etc.) and begin making changes that will have a positive effect in your life no matter what happens in the relationship.

  1. Begin a “Relationship Journal.”

Get a notebook or journal and begin recording only positive things about your mate and your relationship.  It might include good memories, traits of your spouse that you fell in love with originally, or little things that he or she occasionally does right. DO NOT use this for any kind of sarcasm, criticism or complaining. Make a note of anything you observe that could possibly considered a positive thing, for example:

“He smiled at me over breakfast.  I love his smile.”

“She made my favorite dish again tonight.  She’s a great cook.”

“We didn’t argue much today.  And we kept our cool about the car thing.”

“Watched him play with the kids.  He’s really a pretty good dad.”

Get the idea?  Anything positive, nothing negative.  Try for at least 2-3 entries a day.

  1. Avoid making major life-changing decisions.

Unless you or your children are in physical danger, this is generally not a good time to pack up and move to Wisconsin, quit your job, start an affair, or get a tattoo. When we are anxious, angry or upset, we often do not use our best judgment. So put off, as much as possible, doing anything that will have a long-lasting impact on you, your mate, or your relationship. Note: if you or your children ARE in physical danger, call the Domestic Violence Hotline IMMEDIATELY: 1−800−799−SAFE(7233) or call 911.

  1. Pray for your mate – and yourself.

Even if you don’t believe in God, just do it anyway, as a mental exercise. (God hears you whether you believe in him or not, so go ahead – it couldn’t hurt!) God believes in you. He also loves you and your mate, and wants the best for both of you. Ask for healing, for patience, for tenderness and self-control. Be sure to thank him, while you’re at it, for all the good stuff (the things you’re writing in your Relationship Journal).

  1. Get help.

First aid is just that – it’s what you do first. It is damage control. But don’t stop there! Get the help you need. Make an appointment with a relationship coach or a counselor. Go to a marriage workshop or a weekend retreat. Talk to your pastor or spiritual advisor. Read a good marriage book – together. One thing is sure: you have to do something that involves change.  “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got.” Building a healthy marriage takes commitment, effort, and time. But it is well worth the investment.  Start now.

FOR MORE INFORMATION OR HELP, CONTACT US!

 

Contributed by: Larry Compter, Executive Director
Above image courtesy of marcolm at FreeDigitalPhotos.net