Welcome to the final lesson in the series on 10 Choices Successful Couples Make. We’re going to talk about transforming your marriage for a lifetime now. Permanent choices that are going to really make things different for the remainder of your time together. And I want to focus on a familiar version of guidance from God—talking about 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter—that says, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” If you’ve listened carefully in the first few lessons in this series, everything there in 1 Corinthians you’ve heard us talk about right through the book. And that’s part of why this book is focused on choices that couples make that can honor God in the process in their relationship and help them get to the point where they truly feel like they’re connecting with each other and connecting with God in the relationship.
In order to have that happen, there’re a couple of steps that come out. These last two choices are hard to accomplish without the first eight. So the book is set up in a way that there’s a developmental process; and when we get to something like trust and intimacy, now we’re into things that don’t just happen because you wake up in the morning and say, “Hey, I think I’ll be intimate today.” We’re not talking about sex. We’re not talking about some specific action or integration. We’re talking about the relationship depth. We’re talking about what many couples call or refer to as intimacy. And we throw that word around all over the place in today’s world. What God’s talking about when He’s talking about intimacy is this idea of knowing and being known. It’s how you feel when you’re intimate with God.
Think about that. You know God knows you. You know God knows all your faults. He sees all of you, and He still loves you. Isn’t that an amazing experience to have? What would that be like in a relationship with your partner if they could know you and you could know them and it would still be okay, if you could be connected? That’s what happens when trust develops. In building trust, which is a huge part of intimacy, there are some steps that are involved; and I’ll show you some words here that are all related to that: honesty, integrity, reliability, vulnerability. These concepts have to do with also a breaking in the trust when things don’t go well.
So if you’ve chosen to say, “Ah, I put something in the checkbook. I bought something I really don’t want her to know about, so I’m not going to tell her it’s in there, and maybe she won’t see.” And when she finds out, suddenly your integrity is questioned. You’ve lied, so your honesty is questioned. You’re not someone she can trust because she thought when you said you would be honest with the money that you would. And now you’re not reliable. And now she’s vulnerable, because she was trusting you to put what you do in the checkbook and be honest, and you didn’t do that. And then suddenly now we have major problems in terms of intimacy, okay?
In general, there are several steps that you can take that move you toward intimacy. And I talk about a lot of these in the book in much more depth. But for today, we’ll just talk about a few pieces of this. First of all, intimacy starts with kindness. It starts with the idea where you’re going to wake up in the morning and think about, What can I do today that’s going to make my partner feel loved, cared for, and connected to God? How can I help encourage that? It might be saying, “I’m going to stop what I’m doing in the middle of the workday; and I’m going to call my wife and say, ‘I love you. I want you to know that I’m thinking about you today.’” Now that may not seem to be a big deal, but when you often on most days don’t, then when you do that suddenly it’s an act of kindness.
Having a positive attitude and really trying to take care of the honey-do-list—even when you have other things that you need to do or would rather do, like, “Yeah, there’s a football game on, I’d rather watch that”—that sends a message, right? And the same is true for her when she has things she could do or she wants to hang out with her friends, and instead she chooses to take care of something you need done.
In addition, physical touch has a great deal to do with intimacy. Couples I work with that are in major conflict sit on opposite ends of the couch in my office. They don’t touch each other. They don’t connect. As the couple becomes stronger and the marital therapy works and God’s transformation in their lives happens, they move closer; and I can see them inching together, and they start holding hands. And that’s what happens in relationships. Touch matters. There’re also a lot of inside stories. So inside stories are very important to intimacy. The things that happened, like the great pancake incident of 2017. You know what I’m talking about, these inside stories that no one else knows, but you know because it’s special and it’s unique and it’s part of your story. Those are really important to have.
And then lastly, I’d say, if you and your partner aren’t talking about your sexual relationship—if sex happens, but it isn’t talked about, it’s not incorporated, it’s not part of your connection with each other, it’s not part of how you build connection and intimacy—then I would suggest you just start talking out loud about how that part of your relationship is working and whether or not there is sexual fulfillment and sexual connection in all those areas. If that’s true, then there are a couple of exercises I want to share with you, and these are the last two exercises I’m going to ask you to consider doing after this lesson.
And largely what I want you to do is to understand the second exercise—so you know you could do that if you choose to—and take you through in great detail the first exercise. This is the one I really would like you to try doing. Again, the exercise is laid out in much more detail in the book, but I’m going to go over a bit of the background here.
I am a very strong believer in what I call a marital coat of arms. And if you remember the old shields that used to be there back in the medieval days, where they would say, “Here’s our coat of arms. Here’s our shield. Here’s our statement of who we are. This is what our family stands for.” Well, I like to have couples develop a coat of arms for their marriage and for their family. And what you would do is you’d start developing a list of kind of the top eight to ten characteristics that are the words you care about that you want people to think about when they see your relationship. When they go home after having dinner with you, what are the things you want them to say about you? Do you want them to say that you were honest and open and authentic, or that you were actively connected to each other, or you were romantic? What are the words that you think you want to represent?
And I want you to go back to that model of marriage we talked about in an earlier lesson. If your model is based on selflessness versus selfishness, that might be one of the words that would be really important for you to be able to talk about. After you come up with the words, then I want you to break that down into images and match images up with the words you choose. You may only choose four or five words out of that list of eight or ten, but what I want you to do is to match that up with images.
So, I had a couple a while back that chose the image of freedom and the word freedom, and they chose the image of a soaring eagle. And they said that’s what they wanted to be. They wanted to be free of the binds that prevented them from loving God and knowing God in the ways they wanted to in their marriage. So they developed this coat of arms that had an eagle on it and the idea of freedom.
Another couple wanted to be very clear that the triangle between themselves and God was their primary understanding of how their relationship worked, so they had a big triangle on their coat of arms with God at the top and each partner at the corner because they wanted to work together. However these images work, I want you to pray about this, work with God to come up with the words and images that make sense—and trust me, He’ll give them to you. And when you put that all together, you end up coming up with a set of words and images.
What I want you to do—now this is the hard part. Some couples really struggle with this. I want you to put your creative juices to work and actually build it, okay? The first part was just an idea. This is where you put it together. If you want to make a huge wooden cutout or a metal shield, I’ve had people come up with the most amazing kind of creativity. If it’s really great, you get your whole family involved and get the kids involved and say, “What do you think would represent us and how would this look?” And come up with the most artistic image you can think of, and then figure it out. It could be a drawing or woodcraft, or craftwork, or all sorts of stuff that you could do in crafting wood or building things.
And then what you have now is you have words that you stand for, images that express them, and a document that’s been created by your family to say, “This is who we are, and this what we stand for.” And then think of how many decisions in the future flow out of this, of being who we are. And if you really want to be brave, put it on your front doorstep and let everyone else know who you are and what you stand for in your family for God.
If you have learned from this video series—and there’re some things that you’re understanding that really make a difference—there’re a couple of things you could think about doing, as you work through the book (if you decide to get the book and follow through some of those chapters), after you go through a process of change when God really does miracles and transforms your marriage.
I really believe that people often get a great deal of value from a renewal of vows ceremony. And that can be a small thing you do with friends or a big thing—public, private, whatever. But the idea is, when you wrote your vows when you decided to get married, you had no idea what was coming and you really didn’t know, even if you’d been dating for five years, you didn’t know the depth of the person you know now. You’re just not married to the same person, everybody’s grown and developed and changed. And in some cases, people get frustrated by that and get upset rather than being in awe and wonder of the person you’re now married to. And sometimes it’s really, really valuable to rewrite your vows and talk about how you feel now compared to how you felt before.
A couple of closing thoughts for this series that I think are really important to share with you as we finish this five-part series on choosing to change in your marriage and the ten choices you can make: First of all, I want you to think about what I just mentioned: Our partner is always changing because we always marry the person that they’re going to become. You don’t marry the person that you actually marry; you marry the person they’re going to be over the years. We’re changing and growing. And what I want you to think about is, Can you be loving and aware and understanding of your spouse and surprised and astounded by who they’re becoming rather than disappointed by things that are a little different than maybe you expected?
And then, secondly, I think that in Proverbs, the “iron sharpens iron” experience of 27:17 is very, very important. I think that partners grow each other, and there are ways that you interact with each other and things that you do that would never have been true had you been single. Many people choose to be single, that’s a wonderful way to live life. But in a relationship, God gives you the chance to refine each other and to grow together. And the experience of marriage then becomes this two-way street where you’re helping each other become what God would want you to be.
I want to finish by reminding you of the fact that when we started this series, we said, “You don’t have to stay the way you are. It doesn’t have to be the way it is.” The reason the book is called 10 Choices Successful Couples Make is because the idea is God has laid out the plan already. You know how He suggests you can behave, how you can treat each other, and He’s given us all the guidelines we need to have a marriage that is truly valuable and transformed for a lifetime. And I believe that if you work on learning these ten principles, you can find all sorts of amazing transformation change in your marriage and that God will bless those choices in many, many ways. Thank you for listening, and I hope you enjoyed this series.