Good Sex Starts With Good Communication

How does a couple know if they’re on the right track with regard to intimacy, or if their habits and patterns could spell trouble? Well, most experts agree that every couple is unique. What’s enough for one couple might be unsatisfactory for another. The only way to take the temperature of your love life is to have good communication and honesty with your husband.

Few newlyweds would imagine how complicated the sexual part of marriage can become as the relationship—and life—grows and changes. Early on, most couples are physically drawn to one another like magnets. As children, job stress, finances and other real-world factors creep in, sex can easily become unfulfilling or be pushed to the side altogether.

It’s important to remember however, that physical intimacy is an important part of God’s design for marriage. It’s both a method of creating a deeper, more bonded relationship between husband and wife; and a celebration of that connection. To neglect or give up on a healthy sex life with your spouse is to remove one of the major pillars from the foundation of your marriage.

In his book Now You’re Speaking My Language, Gary Chapman discusses the role of communication in deepening all types of marital intimacy: emotional, intellectual, sexual and spiritual. With regard to all of these dimensions of marriage, consistent, honest communication is the indispensible foundation for success.

Why Communication is Key

Chapman points out that because the sexual relationship in many ways depends upon health in the other areas of the relationship, foreplay doesn’t begin “after we get in bed, but twelve to sixteen hours before we get in bed.” For women in particular, sexual intimacy after the lights go out is built upon a day in which the lines of communication have been open, and sharing has occurred emotionally, intellectually and socially. Both partners need to feel understood and valued—goals that are only accomplished through communication.

Of equal importance is talking about the sexual experience itself. He writes:

“Because we are different and have different desires and needs, we cannot expect to find mutual fulfillment if we do not openly discuss our needs. Thus, we must make time to share with each other what brings us pleasure in the sexual experience and what irritates us or discourages sexual excitement. These are to be shared not with a condemning attitude but with a view to sharing information that will be helpful in our efforts to bring pleasure to each other.”

Ask this Question…

Chapman encourages couples to ask each other every three months or so “What one thing would you like me to do or not do that would enhance our sexual relationship for you?” And then make a real effort to respond to those requests. It’s not so much about performance, or mastering some technique, but acknowledging that you care about the sexual needs of your partner and want to meet them.

Frequency

Another area that should be assessed in your regular “love life check-up” is frequency. This is one of the greatest areas of discrepancy among men and women, with husbands typically desiring more frequent sexual encounters than their wives. Talk about whether you’re making enough time to foster this element of your marriage, and if not, what adjustments you can make to improve. It may be as simple and getting the kids to bed earlier to create opportunity, or agreeing on a secret signal you can give one another when you’d like to be alone. One husband and wife used the code word “appointment.” When the husband wanted a chance for physical intimacy with his wife, he’d ask—with a wink—to make an appointment with her for later in the evening.

For more on frequency read Are We Normal?

Have Fun!

Which brings us to our final point: have fun! While maintaining a healthy sex life is very important, it doesn’t have to be so serious. Flirt and laugh with your spouse during the day. Touch each other in passing. It’s amazing the amount of energy that can be created between a man and a woman with a really great good-bye kiss in the morning or an equally intentional welcome at the end of the day. It’s like rubbing sticks together to make a campfire—with some consistent contact, you’ll eventually get a spark!

When Silence in Marriage is Deadly

 

I couldn’t explain to my husband that day why I was so angry, why I was sobbing, or why I was hurt. You see, nothing that major had happened between us. What had happened is that I had developed a habit of “stuffing” things that irritated or disappointed me for a few months. Over time, that collection of minor frustrations and hurt feelings had morphed into one big powder keg of resentment. Predictably, I finally blew sky high.

In many marriages, the great struggle is to keep yourself from saying too much. But if that pendulum swings too far in the opposite direction, a different set of problems creep in. iMOM director Susan Merrill has watched this principle play out in her own marriage at times. A healthy relationship requires frequent, honest communication that allows little conflicts to be dealt with before they have a chance to become bigger issues.

Silence in your marriage is a problem when:

You’re hoping a serious problem will disappear on its own.

Whether it’s an addiction one of you struggles with, or an issue with one of the children that concerns you, it’s naive to think that serious problems will correct themselves without being addressed. Yes, these things are hard to talk about and have the potential to create conflict. But if you approach them with a level head and a calm, generous spirit, you might be surprised by how much progress you can make just by airing the thing out a little. Just make sure you steer clear of these 4 Negative Styles of Fighting.

You’re afraid of the conversation.

We almost never make great decisions from a position of fear. If you have a genuine, practical reason why the discussion would be more productive at another time, that’s fine. But running from a talk because you’re afraid of the outcome isn’t healthy, and may even make the situation worse. Read Explaining Your Marriage Needs to Your Husband to think through how you want to approach the topic. 

You begin to feel emotionally distant from your spouse.

Keeping secrets—even about our own hurt feelings or disappointments—is never a relationship-builder. The more you “stuff” your irritation about little things, the more difficult it will become to feel open and at ease with your husband. Be smart by talking about the little conflicts so you can let them go. Even if you have to agree to disagree on some things, you’ll feel better knowing that your feelings are on the record. Your unresolved conflict can sometimes grow into an Under the Radar Marriage Killer. 

You’re doing all of your venting to someone else.

Loyalty is a huge component of a good marriage. Even when your spouse lets you down or makes you mad, give him a chance to realize it and respond, rather than raking him over the coals to someone else. Everyone needs advice from a wise friend from time to time, but if you’re routinely talking to others about your marriage problems more than you talk to your spouse about them, that’s a problem.

 

5 Easy Tips to Keep Your Kids Safe Online

Summer = more free time for kids. More free time for kids + screen time = potential for trouble. Of course, not all kids are going to wind up on dangerous sites, accidentally or on purpose, but the potential is there a little more in the summer. So what can you do? We’ve recommended getting filtering software before, and that’s a great option, but there are some other things you can do every day along with that.

1. Set Limits. If you limit your child’s online time, you decrease the chance they’ll stumble upon something they shouldn’t. Decide up front how much screen time you’ll allow each day and share that information with your child. This screen time tracker and these screen time tickets will help.

2. Check History. You should make a habit of checking your child’s online viewing history. Here’s how to do it. You can do this on all of their devices–computers, iPads, and cell phones. If the history has been erased, or is set to private, casually ask your child about it.

3. Know Passwords. Be up front with your children that you will need to have their passwords for all of their devices and for all of their social media sites. Once you have the passwords, check these sites regularly to see what your child is seeing and posting.

4. Prepare for the Worst. Hopefully your child will not accidentally come across something objectionable, but you’ll still want to prepare for the “just in case.” Author and physician, Meg Meeker, suggests saying something like this, “First, I want you to know it’s not your fault that this popped up on your computer. Unfortunately, there are some bad things on the Internet. But now that you’ve seen it, this gives us a chance to talk about what you should do if it happens again. When inappropriate things do show up on your computer, close the screen as quickly as you can. And, don’t seek out this type of thing. If you do, it can lead you down a dark path.”

5. Get Monitoring Software. This is something we’ve mentioned before, but it’s the first line of defense in keeping your children safe online. Here are some ideas for specifically monitoring activity on your child’s phone.

And a final note for us…the grown ups. Let’s try not to use phones, iPads, or other electronics as our go-to when we need to distract or calm down our kids. Limit, limit, limit. 

 

Should You Tell Your Kids About Your Past?

Karen knew this day would eventually come and she had dreaded it for years. After years of teaching her daughters the importance of sexual purity and that it’s best to wait until marriage, one of them looked at her across the kitchen table and asked, “Did you wait?”

Feeling that honesty and integrity were essential to the way she was parenting her kids, Karen told the truth: sadly, she did not wait. She went on to explain how much she regretted it and wished that she could have a do-over on that season of her life as a young adult. Her fourteen-year-old cried she was so disappointed. It was a hard moment for both of them.

As parents, we don’t want our children to fall victim to the same mistakes we made. But being transparent in a way that benefits your child—rather than simply compromising your moral authority—requires some thought and wisdom on your part. To decide what to share and how to share it, you should consider the topic, the age and maturity of your child, and other key factors.

Is it a help or a stumbling block?

Think about your child and how easily distracted he or she typically is by “sidebars” in life, at the expense of understanding the main point. Is finding out that you used recreational drugs as a teen going to be such an information bomb that he hears nothing else you say? If so, it’s information better kept to yourself.

Will it unintentionally give your child license to do the same?

Again, this determination requires knowing your child’s nature. Is she one to say, “You (or my older sibling, or whoever) did it, so no one has a right to say anything to me”? If your kid has a tendency to excuse her own bad behavior based on the behaviors of others—rather than a moral standard—don’t add fuel to that fire.

Is it clear in your mind how this will be helpful?

Before you blurt out any controversial details about your past, make sure you’ve thought through the whole conversation and where you want to go with that information. Is it, “I had sex before marriage and I’ve suffered xyz consequence as a result, and I want you to be spared the same problems”? Map it out in your head. If the conclusions aren’t crystal clear to you, they likely won’t be to your child. Proceed with caution.

Are you helping your child or cleansing your own conscience?

Many of us carry regret or even guilt about the choices of our past. Sometimes those feelings drive us to want to confess to anyone who will listen, just to unload a bit of the burden. Make sure your honesty with your child isn’t driven by feelings like these. Work out your own emotional burdens with your spouse, your pastor, or a trusted friend. When you’ve made peace with your past, you’ll be better able to decide what, if any, of that information can benefit your children as they make their own decisions.

© 2014 iMOM. All Rights Reserved. Family First, All Pro Dad, iMOM, and Family Minute with Mark Merrill are registered trademarks.

How to Apologize: When “Sorry” Doesn’t Cut It

What’s the appropriate age for teaching your children how to apologize with sincerity? One? Two? I may be behind schedule…

My children, ages 14 and 11, were walking the family dogs on a local nature trail while my husband and I jogged a short distance ahead. When we all met back at the park, my son was limping a little and steaming mad. He said his sister had stepped on his flip-flop clad foot and just run away.

I looked at her. “Well? Did you step on his foot?”

“Yes,” she said. “But I didn’t mean to.”

“Well then, did you apologize?”

“But I didn’t mean to do it!”

“Whether you meant to hurt him or not is irrelevant,” I replied, squinting as if to protect my eyes from the blinding absurdity of her statement. “You should apologize either way!”

She rolled her eyes and dripped out a sarcastic “Sorry.”

This heart-warming moment made it clear to me that I’ve got some work to do in the area of teaching my children what an authentic apology looks like. (And by “some work” I mean to say that I have failed on a scale so colossal I’m dumbfounded. Can they revoke your Mom License? Asking for a friend…) Sorry is just a word, but a true apology contains a couple of more important elements, like accepting responsibility for the offense and doing what you can to make it right.

Help them understand that a lack of intent doesn’t make an apology unnecessary.

Just like my child, many children will assume (or hide behind) the idea that you only need to make amends when you intentionally harm someone. But hurt is hurt—intentional or accidental—and when we realize it has happened, we need to make it right.

A good apology accepts responsibility.

Many times, what offended people want most is our acknowledgement that we did something that hurt them. Train your child to restate what they did wrong in their opening apology statement. “I’m sorry I said you couldn’t play with us. That wasn’t nice…”

A real apology is sincerely expressed.

The authenticity of an apology is more in the delivery than the words. Teach your child to look the other person in the eye, to refrain from any hint of sarcasm or residual anger, and to communicate with honesty and humility. Truly, this is the hardest part.

With apologies, sooner is better.

Teach your child to take care of business in their relationships by apologizing promptly when necessary. The longer an offense hangs in the air between two people, the bigger it gets. That being said, they also need to understand that late apologies are better than none at all.

A sincere apology will offer to try and make it right.

With your preschooler, this might look like, “I’m sorry I knocked over your Lego tower. Can I help you re-build it?” Between siblings it might be, “I’m sorry I borrowed your jeans without asking. I’m going to wash and iron them and return them today.” Sometimes the offer of restitution will be declined, but we should teach our children to offer to do whatever they can to restore the situation when they’ve messed up.

© 2014 iMOM. All Rights Reserved. Family First, All Pro Dad, iMOM, and Family Minute with Mark Merrill are registered trademarks.

Do You Want a Better Family Life?

Last weekend I made up my mind and put a mental foot down—I wanted a better family life!  For me, I knew that began with us doing more together. I decided to start small, “Come on, guys, we’re going to play four hands of Apples to Apples,” I said one weekend evening.

“Oh, Mom,” said my almost-teen, “do we have to?” I lightheartedly told her yes and we started the game. We had a blast. It wasn’t a big time commitment, but it accomplished a step toward my goal of doing more together.

What would you like to change for a better family life? Don’t let the enormity of your goal overwhelm you. Here are 5 small ways to get a better family life.

Identify the change.

So what do you want to change about your family? Do you want to spend more time together? Do you want to focus more on fun? Do you want your kids to watch less TV?  Decide and move on to step two from there.

Start small.

In my case, I wanted my family to spend more time together having fun. Instead of planning an all day activity, I went after a little chunk of time on a Friday night. From there, I started grabbing pockets of time wherever I could find them.

Take charge.

Nothing will change if you don’t make it happen. Don’t let other family members talk you out of it: “That’s boring!”  “I don’t want to go to church!” You get the idea. If you want to develop your family in certain areas, take the reins.

Team build.

Be careful. Just because you’re taking charge doesn’t mean you want to force everyone to go along. Try to build consensus. Listen to their views if they want to express them.

Be consistent.

If you want a better family life for the long term, incorporate your little changes into your family’s routine.

© 2014 iMOM. All Rights Reserved. Family First, All Pro Dad, iMOM, and Family Minute with Mark Merrill are registered trademarks.

Why You Should Keep Score in Marriage

You’ve probably heard it said that you shouldn’t keep score in marriage. But author Shaunti Feldhahn found otherwise in researching for her latest book, The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages: The Little Things That Make a Big Difference. She found that keeping score in marriage is a good thing…if you’re keeping track of the right things. She explains how that’s possible.

Don’t Keep Score?
When Jeff and I got married, we frequently heard “Do not keep score!” And you have probably heard the admonition many times too. What people mean is that keeping a record of wrongs doesn’t work in love and marriage. And that is absolutely true. The research was stark that counting your grudges makes you unhappy and cripples any relationship.

But I discovered that Yes! couples absolutely do keep score—they just do it differently. Consciously or subconsciously, partners in highly happy marriages keep score of what they “owe” their spouses.

The Right Way to Keep Score.

These spouses are very aware of what their mates are doing and giving, of how hard their spouses are working to support the family, or how much they try to be good partners. They are highly aware of times when their mates are working longer-than-normal hours or have had a harder-than-usual time with the kids. And as a result of this hyperawareness of how much their spouses are giving, they make small but powerful adjustments.

They compensate by giving more—and they never think of it as generosity. They are so aware of what their partner has given that they feel, as many told me, “It’s the least I can do.” So here’s our secret:

Happy spouses keep track of what their mates are giving and what they need as a result, and they deliberately try to give back.

The Canoe Theory.
One friend calls it the Canoe Theory of Marriage. In their relationship, he says it’s as though he and his wife are out in a canoe trying to get across the lake. When one paddler is tipping left, the other automatically tips right so they don’t tip over.

And the impact of keeping score of the good is hard to overstate. Yes! couples trade a sense of entitlement (My spouse owes me!) for a sense of indebtedness that makes them not just willing, but eager to do whatever they can to give back and serve the other.

Here’s one everyday example I heard: For Mary, an emergency-room medical technician, work demands run in cycles. For several months, she finds herself at the hospital most waking hours. Then demands change and her hours on duty return to something more reasonable. Mary told me that during her busy weeks, her husband tries to do many of her chores around the house. So once her schedule eases, she deliberately tries to compensate by giving back in some way. When I asked her what that looked like, she shrugged. “Oh, I don’t know, exactly,” she said. “I just try to do the stuff that is meaningful to him. Like, I’ll encourage him to go hunting with his buddies. Or I’ll make him his lunch so he doesn’t have to make it. Or lots of thank-you sex—that always seems to work well!”

I had to laugh—but I heard similar reports over and over. One reason the happy couples are so happy is that instead of keeping score of how much they are doing—and feeling resentful because of it (“I can’t believe I’m doing all the laundry”)—they instinctively put more energy into keeping track of what the other person is giving.

One reason the happy couples are so happy is that instead of keeping score of how much they are doing—and feeling resentful because of it—they instinctively track what the other person is giving.

Taken with permission from The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages: The Little Things That Make a Big Difference.

20 Ideas for a Family Fun Night

Do you ever find yourself running out of ideas for fun family activities? Here is a list of 20 ideas for a very fun family night:

1. American Idol Night. Have two people in your family be the judges and the rest can be contestants. If you have a smaller family (and you don’t mind embarrassing yourself) invite some neighbors over to join in the fun. A karaoke machine is a fun way to spice this night up as well.

2. Guest of Honor Night. Have this night be focused on one person in your family or outside your family. Create a unique list of questions to ask this person during dinner that highlights things about their personality unbeknownst to the rest of the family. Another option is to invite a willing guest to share in their area of expertise. Leave time for your kids to ask them questions.

3. Home Video Night. All kids love to see themselves when they were younger. Pop in a tape of their younger days or create a slideshow using pictures of them growing up. Kids are also fascinated by their parents wedding tapes. Just make sure to fast-forward if your video is 6 hours long. The point is not to bore them to death.

4. Volunteer Night. Sign up to volunteer at a local place that needs help. Specifying your volunteer work to something your child is interested in is a great way to start. If your child loves animals, volunteer at the humane society.

5. Individual Dinner Night. Having a family with multiple children can often make it hard to spend one on one time together. Have a night where you and your spouse take your children out individually and let them be the center of attention for the night.

6. Backyard Campout Night. Camping doesn’t have to take place in the forest. Popping up the tent in the backyard is a great way to have a convenient vacation. Remember to include all the things that you normally would at a campsite: s’mores, flashlights, sleeping bags, etc.

7. Family Website/Blog Night. We’ve all heard of family newsletters but join the age of technology and create a family website. Have your kids help you pick out the layout, colors and design. Gather together around the computer and decided what information to include on the site. If you decide to do a blog gather around the computer on a specific night of the week and have the kids tell you what they think should be included.

8. Museum Night. You may be laughing right now when you think of your kids in a museum but hear us out! Making a scavenger hunt within the museum is a great way for kids to interact with the exhibits. Another activity in an art museum could include talking about each person’s favorite piece. With some modern art your family could try to guess what the artist was thinking when they created their work.

9. Zoo Night. This night is pretty self explanatory however make sure to check out your zoo’s events calendar. Often times zoo’s put on special exhibits or have new updates that your kids will love. You could also take pictures of your kids doing their best imitation of certain animals.

10. Concert Night. Taking your kids to a concert exposes them to music/culture that they might not hear otherwise. Outdoor concerts in the summer are great because they are more relaxed. In the winter take your kids to a symphony. Sometimes orchestras customize their concerts to put a twist on some songs that your kids might know!

11. Dessert Out Night. Surprise your kids by eating dinner at home and announcing that you’re taking them out for dessert! If it’s warm, head to an outdoor ice cream parlor and if it’s colder, go out for warm apple pie.

12. $5 Dollar Shopping Night. Take your kids to a store like Target, Wal-Mart, or The Dollar Store and give them each $5. Make it a contest to see who can buy the best item for the family just using that amount. Let them know that they can buy numerous items and combing them to make their final purchase. (Ex. buying letter stickers and spelling out your family’s name on a small scrapbook).

13. Costume Night. Consignment shops or Goodwill and have them – pick out a funny outfit. Then go for a picnic in the park as a group of random personalities. Make sure to take pictures of this night!

14. History Night. This night has a lot of possibilities: Invite a grandparent over to tell stories of their life when they were young, tell your kid’s stories about you and your siblings when you were growing up, or invite a friend who is a war veteran over to share their experiences with your kids.

15. Formal Etiquette Night. Have your kids dressed in their best and get out the china! Take this opportunity to teach your kids some lessons at the table. This will also be a great time of laughing while your kids try to play grown up. Talking in British accents and pretending you’re having afternoon tea is fun as well.

16. Twisted Bowling/Miniature Golf Night. Sometimes these activities can get old after a while so add a little twist. Have specific instructions for each hole or frame. For instance, “At this hole you have to swing the putter behind your back,” or, “during this frame try to only knock down the two pins on the end.”

17. Picture Night. Have a fun photo shoot with your kids by inviting a friend over who does photography for a hobby. Don’t just stick to classic poses and matching outfits. Make sure you allow your kids goofy personalities to shine through. Take them to the store and let them pick their favorites to print off.

18. Scavenger Hunt Night. Split your family up or compete against another family who wants to have a family night. Give each team a digital camera to document their findings. Examples of fun things to add to the scavenger hunt search list include: a wacky hairstyle (can you say mullet?), or a member of the group climbing a tree.

19. Interactive Movie Night. Watch a movie together as a family. Some ways to keep this family friendly and interactive include: watching a film with a controversial message and discussing it afterwards or hanging a sheet on a wall outside of your house and having your own drive-in type show.

20. A How-To Night. Learn something together! Some ideas could be: how to cook a certain kind of food, change a tire/the oil in a car, plant a garden (the kids can pick out the seeds), start a campfire, create a budget (save money), or play a sport (golf).

Related Resource:5 Tips for a Meaningful Family Weekend

 

© 2014 iMOM. All Rights Reserved. Family First, All Pro Dad, iMOM, and Family Minute with Mark Merrill are registered trademarks.

25 Things Teens Can Do on Their Own

The 25 things teens can do on their own is just a starting point.  Just remember that the  teenage years are the prime time for teaching our children to become more independent.  But for them to be that way, we have to let them.  (If your children are younger, here are 25 Things Kids Can Do on Their Own.)

1. Make hair appointments.

2. Make doctor appointments.

3. Make breakfast.

4. Make dinner.

5. Drive a stick shift car.

6. Drive on a road trip.

7. Put gas in the car.

8. Pay for gas.

9. Get a car serviced.

10. Pack for a trip.

11. Use public transportation.

12. Shop for school project supplies.

13. Talk to teachers about grades.

14. Keep up with school work.

15. Do laundry.

16. Return or exchange clothes.

17. File for a rebate.

18. Assemble furniture.

19. Sew on a button.

20. Spot clean a stain.

21. Look for a job.

22. Hold down a job.

23. Set up a bank account.

24. Make bank deposits.

25. Tip at restaurants.

© 2014 iMOM. All Rights Reserved. Family First, All Pro Dad, iMOM, and Family Minute with Mark Merrill are registered trademarks.

Why You Need to Take off Your Mask in Marriage

As mothers and wives, we try so hard to put our best foot and our best face forward.  That’s admirable, but it’s not really possible.  There will be times when we are tired, grouchy, or sad.  At those moments, we need to give ourselves permission to let our feelings show.  When we do this in our marriage, we’re saying to our husband that we trust him to deal lovingly with us and our emotions.

Author Jill Savage talks about taking off the mask in her life.  It made her stronger as a person, and it helped her to get through a very rough time in her own marriage.  Here’s how and why she took off her mask.

Wearing masks prevents us from being known and from knowing others. Not being real isn’t healthy for anybody, including yourself and your kids. Vulnerability is scary, but it is the backbone of strength in healthy relationships. When you know yourself and allow yourself to be known, it’s easier to know your spouse and your children.

I speak from experience. In my early parenting years, I was not very in tune with myself emotionally. If I cried, I did so in private. If I was sad, I pushed the feeling away. I was afraid to be honest with my kids about my struggles because I didn’t want them to be burdened with them. Of course, when they are younger, this is appropriate. However, as they grew older, I missed the opportunity to be known to myself, my husband, and my children.

It wasn’t until my husband experienced a midlife crisis and left for three months that I allowed myself to be known. At the time, my children ranged from ages fifteen to twenty-seven, and I couldn’t fix this hurt in their lives. I could only cry with them. In this dark season, I learned the value of vulnerability. Taking off my mask allowed myself to be known and therefore enabled me to actually know my children better as well. If your children are small, begin practicing “being known” in your marriage and friendships. As your children grow older, give your kids the gift of yourself—real, imperfect, and exactly what they need.

 

Taken with permission from No More Perfect Kids by Jill Savage.