Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Marriage Prep Part II: The Real Deal

So, the woman who commented on our last post about marriage preparation has gotten me thinking. She commented that the things I suggested were good to hear but general. And the general part has me bugged.

Mostly, because I agree with her. I was being general on purpose because I think there's really no way two people can be totally prepared for marriage. We Christians put marriage up on this lofty pedestal, try so hard to live up to it's ideals and then woefully fail at it. But I kinda think that's the point. It's like church. Church is Godly and we've been given biblical instructions about how to go about church and love others and so forth. We try really hard to make church the way God intends, but we're a bunch of sinners and no matter how hard we try, we'll always screw it up. But do we quit church? No, we should stay and plant ourselves firmly in the middle of the messiness of relationships and conflicts of church and work through it together.

Marriage is the same. We have Godly guidelines and wisdom but we'll always fall short. Marriage will never be the way you expect it to be.  It will be way more wonderful than you expect and way more horrifying than you expect!

You can be the most Godly, sane, devotions-doing, people-helping, praying-together, and not having sex dating couple ever and still have a hard time with marriage. You can always get out of a dating relationship. Nothing can prepare you for the fact that at some point, you'll desperately want to get out of your marriage. All God's wisdom and love won't seem to be helping and yet you'll be expected to stay and honor your promise to your spouse. It's a whole different ballgame.

So as a dating couple you can ask yourselves: "Am I prepared to deal with _____?"

Am I prepared to deal with farting? The real kind where the other person actually enjoys it and calls your attention to the smell? Am I prepared for one of us to lose our job? Am I prepared to move to another state? Am I prepared to miss my spouse on business trips? Am I prepared to get pregnant unexpectedly? Am I prepared to have fertility problems? Am I prepared to have the most amazing mind-blowing sex? Am I prepared to not have sex for weeks at a time and wonder why? Am I prepared to make a budget? Am I prepared to take on my spouse's surprise credit card debt that they've hidden from me? Am I prepared to like my spouse's best friend who has the personality of a shoe? Am I prepared to have the feeling of being in love disappear? Am I prepared to have that same feeling come rushing back at unexpected sweet and peaceful moments? Am I prepared to have completely nonsensical screaming matches about things like the proper way to slice an onion or clean a sink? Am I prepared to be called out on my most shameful habits? Am I prepared to find out my spouse is not the person I thought I married in a bad way? Am I prepared to find out they're not the same person in a wonderful way?

Am I prepared to clean my spouse's toilet? Even if it looks like World War III happened in there? Am I prepared to face tragedy with my spouse? Am I prepared to laugh so hard I almost pee my pants? Am I prepared to find that my spouse is my polar opposite? Am I prepared to change and grow as an individual? Am I prepared to wonder if my spouse is cheating? Am I prepared to feel like I want to cheat on my spouse? Am I prepared to work long hours and only see my spouse on the weekends? Am I prepared to create new traditions together? Am I prepared to give up those idealistic new traditions to placate my spouse's family and do things their way? Am I prepared for snoring? Am I prepared for buying my spouse's tampons or foot odor powder? Am I prepared for how slow my spouse eats? Am I prepared for nights where there is literally nothing to say to each other? Am I prepared for nights where we can't stop talking? Am I prepared to go into debt together? Am I prepared for poopy odd colored diapers and sleepless nights? Am I prepared to feel a warm rush of love when I see my spouse play with our children? Am I prepared to feel ashamed of a decision my spouse makes? Am I prepared to feel proud about decisions my spouse makes? Am I prepared to have all my expectations shattered but also to find that marriage is way more powerful and strong than those expectations?

If you can answer, "NO! No, I'm not prepared for any of that and there is no way I could ever be. But I love my potential spouse and I know that I can commit to life together. Whatever life throws at us, good or bad or completely nonsensical, we'll grow together and stick it out together. Well then...that's as prepared as you'll ever be!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Funniest Chicken Blog Ever

Ok...I just have to share this. It keeps popping up and it's not only the funniest thing I have read in forever, it's such completely truthful portrayal of what we married folks have to deal with :)

Be forewarned...does contain some foul language. But I happen to think even the language is hilarious.


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Marriage Preparation

This is a reader question posted a bit ago. Thanks so much for your patience in waiting for a reply!

"I am currently dating a fantastic guy. We know we both want to marry each other in the relatively near future. We have talked about how we need to be more intentional in growing our relationship as we move toward marriage. Between now and marriage, we want to keep taking steps to build the foundation of a strong, Godly relationship. What would you suggest we do NOW to prepare for the FUTURE?"

That's a tall order! I think the key is to establish healthy patterns of communication, conflict resolution, honesty, love, and respect now while dating. It's then much easier to transition into marriage, and often the deeper issues marriage brings, with good habits already in place. Marriage books, married friends, parents, counselors, pastors, and mentors are all good resources to help with establishing a healthy dating relationship.

You also need to have some blunt conversations about things like....

Money - Money is huge. Christians often tend to marginalize the importance of money and thus are unprepared for merging not only finances, but debt, spending habits, saving habits, insurance, 401K's, and the like. If the two of you can work on sorting through how you each deal with finances and then work on figuring out how you intend to handle money in your marriage, it will be super good! Trust me!

Kids - Do you want them? Does he want them? How soon? How many? If you're headed toward a future life together you kinda need to be on similar pages with expectations in regards to a family.

Mutual Submission - This is also huge. That book, "Love and Respect" is actually true. Dating would be a great time to start sorting through what it means to respect your future husband unconditionally. And what it means for him to love his wife unconditionally. The unconditionally is the hard part and it feels really counter-intuitive. If future hubby does something awful (and oh it will happen!) you naturally remove your respect. But God calls wives to respect no matter what. It's not about saying bad behavior is ok, it's about still treating our husbands respectfully even when they are wrong. And vice versa. Husbands need to act loving towards their wives even when their wives are being awful. Men really do need respect to feel loved...and women need to always be treated with love to feel loved. This is a kind of mutual submission to each other that is true commitment....and extremely hard to do. Talk about it now. Work on it now, it will help in the future.

Life Expectations - What do you and your boyfriend expect your first year of marriage to be like? What jobs to you envision? Where would you want to live? How will your lives change? It'd be good to talk through some of these things before you're engaged so you can reasonably plan for the future (be prepared for plans to change though, God loves doing that!!)

All these things are Godly and they will help you have a realistic and strong foundation for marriage. But the truth is...you can't ever totally prepare! That's a big part of why our blog is called the "HolyMess". We wanted to call it "Holy Crap" or in my case an expletive that starts with "s". Because marriage is holy and crap at the same time. And at some point I think everyone thinks to themselves, "Oh holy crap! What did I get myself into!?" The good thing is that we can all grow and learn and we have a loving Father alongside to help us all navigate the many tricky parts!


Sunday, July 17, 2011

Winning First Date Tips

It's a hot Sunday afternoon in Connecticut, so Jake and I went to Barnes & Noble because there they have air conditioning for FREE! As Jake worked a bit and I devoured the latest People magazine, we were privy...well everyone in the place was actually privy to a rather heinously awkward first date. It seemed like an internet match made in heaven. In light of this most wonderfully entertaining example of first date etiquette, we thought we'd share some Winning First Date Tips* that Jake and I learned.

1) Begin the conversation by talking loudly. Even if you're in a public place which is normally quiet, say Barnes and Noble for instance. Your date will appreciate having an audience for this normally awkward encounter. Ignore their hushed tones and loudly prod him or her to tell you about their "dream house."

2) Only allow your date monosyllabic answers to your lengthy four-part questions. In doing so, you show true selflessness. After all, it takes a lot of energy to talk...and you have so much more energy than they do! If your date starts to develop a full sentence, cut them off at once and launch into another story about your father.

3) Describe to your date, in minute detail, the 12 signs of the Zodiac. It's best to guess which sign your date is rather than ask. If their eyes seem to glaze over, quickly explain that you're a Cancer and as such are subject to "frequent mood changes." That will keep your date on their toes!

4) Talk about your dogs. A lot. Keep in mind your date is actually interested in the proper hair length for hypo-allergenic dogs and wants desperately to know details. When they clarify that, "A short hair length would be like a wiener dog right?" The proper response is, "You can insult me all you want, but you can't insult my dogs."  They'll know what you mean :)

5) Mention offhandedly that you grew up in a wealthy area with a large family home. Also include fascinating tidbits about your home such as, "We had a pool in the back with a waterfall, like Hugh Hefner." Your date will want to know that if the two of you end up married, he or she can expect to pimp it Hefner style.

6) As mentioned before, talk about your father ad nauseum. Tell your date what you and your dad did this weekend, last night for dinner, games you played together as a child, and how many Ferraris he now owes you for winning those games. If it's a lot of Ferraris, this will be points in your favor. I mean, who doesn't want to date someone who could potentially own "A LOT" of Ferraris?

7) Dissect body language for your date. Loudly proclaim, "I shouldn't be telling you this but...." and then describe how your own body language communicates your feelings for your date. Then offer the same courtesy to them. Even if it hurts, it's better for your date to know that their crossed arms sends a signal of "distaste and distance."

8) Lastly, use the word "totally" just as much a possible. You literally can't go overboard with it.

Happy dating!!

*This is intended as satire and should not be taken as serious relationship tips.  But you knew that....right?


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Look But Don't Lust: Follow Up Thoughts

A couple of weeks ago, Melissa and I had a blog on Relevant's Web Magazine called, "Look But Don't Lust." The article tackled dealing with attraction to others while in a relationship. It sparked some very interesting comments on the Relevant site and a reader of the "HolyMess" blog sent us a question in response.

Our reader asked, "So if lust when you're dating someone is when you fantasize about someone else, what's the difference between lust and attraction when you are single? Are first date butterflies feelings of lust? Is the pursuit of someone that you're attracted to lust?"

This is a really great question.  Here are a couple of thoughts:

We'll go out on a limb and say that 99% of first date butterflies and pursuing someone you're attracted to are both not lusting. Butterflies are just nervousness....and kinda fun! Enjoy them. And if pursuing someone you liked was lustful, the human race would surely be in danger of extinction. No, both these things are good and you shouldn't worry about either.

Lust can be defined as "intense sexual desire or appetite." Matthews 5:28 says, "But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." The Greek word for lust here means "to desire for," "long for" and "to covet." We think that whether you are single, dating or married lust is the same: an intense sexual desire for someone who is not yours (even if that person is single), or for someone who belongs to another. When we dated, there were definite times where our sexual attraction to each other, which is natural and good, crossed over into "intense sexual desire" that led to doing things physically we shouldn't have. Dwelling on sexual desire in one's mind usually leads to lust and trying to physically satiate that lust. There is a difference between desiring the person you're dating and letting that desire turn to lust in the mind which can often lead to inappropriate actions.

We are designed by God to be sexual beings. Many times in Christian circles, sexuality can have a negative connotation. Yet our hormones, sexual development and brain chemicals that all drive sexual desire have been specifically designed by God. Our bodies are designed for marriage, intimacy and reproduction. 

However, there is a HUGE difference between desire and acting on desire. Our culture says, "If it feels good and/or if you like it, then do it!" This is contrary to the Bible as God communicates that sex is good, but created for a specific purpose and context. Having sexual desire does not provide an excuse to act on those feelings before the appropriate time. In Song of Solomon it says three times to "not awaken love until the right time." That right time would be a life-long, exclusive marriage commitment.

Yet....married people can also struggle with lust vs. attraction. Attraction does happen and when it does we committed folk are just as responsible for our minds and actions. It's normal to find someone else attractive....but it's lustful to dwell on that attraction, fantasize in your mind about that person, and/or act on those feelings.  Wisdom and maturity are important here. It takes a wise and mature person to simply say, "That man/woman has attractive qualities."  And let it go at that. Don't compare them to your spouse, don't think about ways to interact with them, don't fantasize about being with them sexually.

Lusting and attraction are different. We all (married, dating, single) need to be individually aware of what's going on in our minds and guard our actions and interactions against lust.

*On the Relevant Blog, there was a comment by "RH" who talks about attraction in light of a person who struggles with masturbation and sexual addiction. He says,

"From my own unique perspective on it, as a man who went from slightly struggling with lust to going "all in", to even hold the belief of the beauty women other than my spouse is quite counterproductive. This quote, 'In fact, it actually affirms the creativity and beauty that God displays when he created humanity.' - While it may be true, don't use it as an excuse. Through the lens of sexual addict, if I would have read this article before, as the 'old' me, I would have printed it out, taped it to the fridge, emailed it to my wife and used it as an excuse. An excuse that it was ok to look at another woman because 'that's how God made me.' These comments are not intended for everyone who reads this article, but if you happen to be someone who struggles with lust in the slightest, don't use some of the conclusions presented as an excuse for any behavior you already know to be wrong. If your definition of looking upon someone else's beauty includes looking at sexual organs, don't use some of the ideas presented here as an excuse to still do so. If you have ever masturbated while 'appreciating' the beauty of another, move along. Nothing to see here."

We want to second these thoughts. Sexual addiction is not something to be casual about. If noticing members of the opposite gender consistently leads to sexual thoughts, and even more so to sexual acts (i.e. masturbating, looking at pornography, fantasizing, etc.) help should be sought from a counselor, pastor, or an accountability/sex addict group. Constantly sexualizing, in a demeaning and un-connected way, members of the opposite gender distorts attraction and the beauty/worth that God has placed in us all. 

Jake and Melissa
Our goal of this blog is to share stories (both good and bad), thoughts and insights about our marriage and we would love for you to jump into the conversation.

The goal is to provide three things:
1) HOPE for struggling couples that they are not alone.
2) GROWTH in our marriages and our understanding of marriage.
3) ENCOURAGEMENT to keep loving your spouse unconditionally.