Empty Nest Tools: Marriage Matters #7


I have noticed an alarming trend in marriage. Couples that have been married for 18 – 20+ years deciding to go their separate ways. We all grew up hearing about the seven-year-itch, but it seems even stranger that a couple would end a marriage after investing that many years into raising their family.

Every couple has the hope and desire for a lasting marriage when they exchange vows. In that moment, no one thinks, “Well, this isn’t going to last.” Rather, the couple begins to dream, plan and build a family life together. When they hold their first child in their arms, rarely is there a thought that this family will not make it.They are ready to sacrifice and work hard to protect what they have.

Raising children is a lot of work…A LOT of work.

Being a parent is a life of sacrifice…(think about all those recitals, soccer games, homework, social events, late nights, doctor visits and financial costs)

Being a parent is a life of frustration…(attitudes, disrespect, lack of problem solving skills, inability to communicate, sibling rivalry, more to-dos than time to do them,)

Being a parent is a life of worry…(from the friends they hang out with to peer pressure, bullying and your stress when they begin driving a car!)

As a parent, it is not until your kids leave the house that you realize how much of the last 18-20+ years have actually been all about raising your kids.

And then…

The house is empty…

You and your spouse look at each other in the stillness of the moment…

No shoes to pick up…

No dishes to gather from every conceivable corner of the house…

No clutter that magically appears right after a room has been cleaned…

No urgent crisis phone call demanding you drop everything to fix their dilemma…

No…it’s just the two of you. The joint adventure of raising a family has left you tired, different, uncertain and curious.

Do you know the person you married anymore?

Has your life become so enmeshed with your kids that you lost the soul-connection with your spouse that started this whole adventure?

Do you even like each other anymore?

Unless you approach your parenting with a long-term plan for your marriage, you might enter the empty nest years thinking that raising kids was a death-sentence on your relationship. Unfortunately, this is what I see happening in so many marriages today. No plan to stay connected and in love during the years of raising kids, and as soon as the kids get to the age where they can take care of themselves, couples are looking for greener marital pastures.

As I have just entered into those empty-nest years with my wife Amy, I am actually excited about what the future holds (I hope Amy is too!) I love my kids and I am proud of who they have become and the journey that they are currently on…but I also love their mom. She has been my best friend for the past 33 years. We are both different now. We both know each other at a far deeper level. We both bear the scars of raising kids in a very challenging age. Yet we both still like hanging out with each other.

Here are a few of my thoughts that can help you transition into the “Empty Nest” years with your marriage intact:

1. Pray Daily For Your Spouse:

I am putting what I believe to be the most important practice to keep your marriage strong at the top. Find time every day to stop and pray for your spouse. If you are mad or angry, praying will begin to break the foothold that bitterness and unforgiveness establishes. Praying helps you move more quickly to a place of forgiveness and reconciliation. Prayer realigns your heart with God so that He is able to reveal things that need to be repented of, or made amends for. Your marriage has many enemies today. To purposefully and consistently pray for your mate is the way to fight for your marriage. I’d recommend three times during the day where you do this: In the morning before the day begins; Lunch time and then before you go to sleep. It doesn’t have to be extravagant. A simple word to God to protect, watch over and keep your hearts knit together is a great place to start. From their, your prayers will expand. If your kids are still young this practice will pave the way for a strong marriage in the empty nest years.

2. Words of Affirmation:

Never stop being the primary encourager and fan of your spouse. If you aren’t, someone else will, and that is where the enemy can gain traction. Every single person that breathes needs to hear things like:

  • I am so proud of you.
  • I love who you are.
  • You are so good at _____________
  • You look hot;awesome;gorgeous;stunning;sexy;handsome;beautiful;_____________
  • I love the way you ________________
  • I know you’ll do a great job at that!
  • I just like being around you.

This list can go on and on but I think you get the point. We are all affirmation-starved people in a world that affirms very little. Each day we are bombarded with 1000’s of messages that say:

  • You are not good enough.
  • You are not pretty enough.
  • You are too fat.
  • You are too thin.
  • You’ll never amount to anything.

Be your spouses best cheerleader and you will move into the empty nest years will anticipation and not dread.

3. Surprise Your Mate:

When you have been raising kids for many years you know that  establishing a routine is crucial to survival. That same routine that helped you survive can also eliminate the spontaneous “spark” that your love-life needs. When was the last time you surprised your spouse with something? When you surprise your mate, they are generally more impressed with the amount of time, energy and thought you invested in them than they are the gift! They feel cared for, loved, appreciated, valued. It doesn’t need to be much, it could be something like:

  • A book you know he/she wants to read.
  • Dinner out, baby-sitter booked, restaurant reserved.
  • A weekend away.
  • A Stay-cation in your house that you cleaned.
  • The dishes, laundry, lawn, project is completed.
  • Book a hotel for your spouse to have a “solitude” break for a night.

4. Never Stop Dating:

This is an important rhythm to establish when your kids are little. If you keep dating in the early years, you will have a great connection in the empty-nest transition. If you are approaching the empty-nest years and haven’t been dating, then it’s time to start! Select a consistent time that works with your schedules and make sure that NOTHING gets in the way of that time. If you have hit the empty-nest years and you haven’t been dating, this can be an awkward reintegration but a fun one!

Start dating as if you have never been out before. Don’t talk about the bills, ask questions about the hopes and dreams that your mate has. Re-meet your spouse. Be attentive. Be romantic.

We tend to take each other for granted when we have been married for 20+ years. While we think we know everything about each other, we really don’t, and the years of raising kids has changed us.

We are different now.

We are trying to figure out who we are, what has changed, and what we have lost as well as what we have gained. So, there is so much to learn about your mate, so go and learn it on a date!

5. Learn his/her Love Language:

If you have not read the best-selling book The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman, then now is the time to read it. This book, while very simple, has helped thousands upon thousands of couples figure out why they were not really meeting each others needs. When you discover your spouses love language, it becomes a blue print for relationship success (if you actually do what is revealed).  So grab a copy of the book, and use it on your next date night to discover how God wired you and your spouse to receive love. You won’t regret it.

6. Serve Together:

Our church has many opportunities for Amy  and me to serve a greater purpose together. We have helped build teams in Russia, served in Mexico, and more locally, served the poor and marginalized in Seattle through our Urban Mission Team.  When you do something together that serves a greater purpose, you are creating a divine connection with God and your spouse. Perhaps you could volunteer at your local food bank, or tutor at the elementary school your kids used to go to. On your next date, throw some ideas around about what you could do together.

7. Self Differentiate:

The empty nest is also a time for you to rediscover some of those passions that were benched while you helped your children discover theirs. As you get to know yourself better, and become increasingly aware of who you are (and who you are not) give yourself permission to be you…

As you are…

Not what others what or need of you or think you should be…

Who is it that God created you to be that was swallowed up over the past 20 years?

Rediscover that person and give yourself permission to explore.

As you rediscover who God made you to be, share that with your spouse, you will both grow closer  together as you become known.

May your next adventure in the empty-nest be your best!


7 Tips For A Happy Marriage in 2013: Marriage Matters #6


Ah, it’s a new year and time for refocusing, refreshing and renewing every area of your life. If you are ,married, this is a great time to pull your spouse aside and dream and pray together about what God might have in store for you as individuals and as a couple this year. The quality of your marriage will affect every area of your life, as well as your other relationships. For some, it becomes so easy to let the attention that your spouse needs slide as the years go by, and slowly a drift is created that is hard to mend.

As your marriage launches into the new year, here are 7 tips to help you stay on track and in love!

#1. Stop Trying To Control Each Other.

I know this is easier said than done, but spouses who try to change and control each other are never happy and many end up divorced. As a person grows emotionally it becomes clear that the only person you can control is yourself, yet we use pressure and manipulation to try to make each other do what we want them to do. Sometimes it works, but it always creates a level of resentment in the one under pressure. Instead of trying to control, have a conversation where you express your wants and needs in a non-manipulative way and then release the outcome and choose to love regardless.

#2. Eliminate the word “Divorce” from your marriage vocabulary.

Stresses mount, personalities clash, and circumstances get tough…this is life. But when mounting pressure lands on a marriage, the word “divorce” is thrown around (in a controlling/manipulative way) far too often. When you think of marriage as a covenant and not a contract, you choose to eliminate the use of the word divorce. In study after study, and conversation after conversation, when those who have ben married more than 40 years were asked for advice, the phrase “Don’t use the “D” word” comes up legion.By eliminating using the word ‘divorce’ you are saving your energy for where it is most needed, working through a solution, not throwing away a gift. So this year, if you feel that word forming on your lips, choose instead to write out all the positive attributes about your spouse and why you will stay engaged in a healthy way.

#3. Replace The Seven Deadly Habits of Marriage.

In their book Eight Lessons for a Happier Marriage, authors William and Coleen Glasser MD,MA, write note the seven deadly habits as:

  • criticizing
  • blaming
  • complaining
  • nagging
  • threatening
  • punishing
  • bribing

As you look at the list, those are all debilitating control tactics. I like what the Glasser’s give as trade-ins. Instead of seven deadly habits, they recommend practicing seven caring habits:

  • supporting
  • encouraging
  • listening
  • accepting
  • trusting
  • respecting
  • negotiating your differences

#4 Invest In Yourself.

Self care is critical to a healthy marriage. A marriage where one person is always sacrificing and never receiving is not healthy, it’s co-dependent. In taking care of yourself, you need to think in terms of:

  • emotional health
  • spiritual health
  • physical health

Are you in touch with how you are feeling? Do you know more than 10 feeling words? Did a traumatic experience in life stunt your emotional growth? Most people might come up with a physical health plan and even a spiritual growth plan, but never consider how they can invest in growing into an emotionally healthy adult who doesn’t need to control, manipulate or have the world focus on them. This does not comes easy, it takes investing in growth classes, books and an integration of physical and spiritual health. Caring for your physical body through exercise, rest, and play is also crucial to a healthy marriage. You are also a spiritual being and need to grow in the areas or prayer, meditation, study and service to others. If you are investing and growing in these three areas you will be self differentiated enough to have a dynamic marriage.

#5 Remember Your Spouse Is Royalty

Have you ever thought about your spouse as royalty? The truth is, all God’s children are royalty and should be treated as such. It is easy to take advantage of each other in marriage, but if you were married to a royal prince or princess, I am sure you would approach them with honor and respect. I think for most marriages, honor and respect are the two most important ingredients you can have. It is possible to respect someone without loving them, but it is impossible to love someone without respecting them. What are some ways to honor and respect your spouse this year?

  • speak positively of your spouse in front of others
  • never criticize you spouse in public
  • own up when you make a mistake
  • don’t throw your spouse under the bus
  • guard your heart and mind when online
  • don’t flirt with people of the opposite sex
  • help out before you are asked
  • listen when they are talking (eyes engaged, throw down the remote)
  • celebrate your spouses’ achievements together
  • tell them you are proud of them, love them, desire them
  • practice taking your eyes off of you and start serving your spouse in love

#6 Remember to Touch More

You are never too old to touch no matter what your teenagers say! Research shows that consistently touching is great for a marriage as it releases oxytocin and creates a stronger relational bond. So hold hands, rub her shoulders, give each other a massage, give a butt pat or even a high five. Hold each other and kiss for more than 5 seconds. Go on a walk together, snuggle on the couch and watch a romantic movie like ‘Braveheart’ 🙂 Take an inventory of how often and how you touch and make a commitment to increase it!

#7 Schedule Time Together

Time is our greatest commodity today and a lack of time is a marriage crusher. Even though you might have a little voice inside of you saying, “you shouldn’t have to schedule time to be with your spouse, it should just happen”, reality dictates other. Time is precious and life, work, and family responsibilities often take away all the available time before you even know it’s gone! The remedy is to create a date that you will establish as inviolable for you and your spouse to be together. The amount of time you can take will vary in different seasons of your life, but it is important that you both think about maximizing and scheduling time to be together. This is your opportunity to talk about the dreams and passions you have, the struggles you are going through, and to touch. If life has kept you both very busy, use your date time to ask questions that will reveal the heart of the other person. Doing service projects together, going on mission together, simply walking through the city together, do whatever you can this year to have consistent time with each other that is beyond the household duties.

Making Your Marriage L.A.S.T (Marriage Matters #2)

It seems that the longevity of marriage is becoming a blur on the relationship highway. My wife and I celebrated 25 years this past July and we have received many “way-to-go!” comments and questions about what does it take to last. I feel like 25 years has shown me that we need to continue to be proactive in investing in each other so that we finish well.

The prophets of our culture in Hollywood have not helped much in the area of longevity. The relationships of the celebrity world are notoriously short, take for example the 10 million dollar Kim Kardashian/Kris Humphries marriage that lasted a scant 72 days. What’s frustrating about this dilemma is that media has so saturated our existence  that celebrity relationships are the ones we see and hear about all the time. The message that flows to us and the next generation is that marriages are disposable, and you can always find a way out.

Here are four things for you to consider that will help your marriage L.A.S.T


Most people are horrible listeners. We tend to listen with about 25% of our available ability because we need the other 75% to formulate our own point or response. Here’s one we’ve all heard before, “Well I’m sorry for continuing to interrupt you but I’m afraid I’ll forget what I was going to say! But really I’m listening!” No only do we not listen, but we are actually interrupting the other person from communicating. Maybe forgetting what you were going to say may be the best thing that can happen. When we choose to listen, we are giving our spouse a great grace-gift.

So the next time your spouse is talking, instead of figuring out how to tell her she is wrong, or that you have a better idea, or that she doesn’t understand, or you have just unloaded all your advice… pause…put down the remote….release your agenda…and simply listen. One of the reasons listening is a bit harder for men (although women struggle with listening as well) is because it seems that we have been wired with a “fix-it” mentality. So in some ways men think they are helping because they want to get to the fix, but very often our spouse simply wants us to listen.

I like one of Anne Lamotts’ acronyms she employs when things are getting overly wound up, she says, “W.A.I.T.” Translated as “Why Am I Talking!” Sometimes the best way to love on the ones we love is to stop talking, and when we are talking we should ask ourselves why am I talking!

When you really listen you will finally begin to hear more than words. You will sense emotion, color, hope, sadness and so many more nuances. Listening well will change the way you respond, perhaps instead of words it will be touch, or a deeper sigh that communicates that you get it, you understand, and you empathize.


Most couples don’t begin their marriage thinking to themselves, “Hmm…how am I going to change that trait about my spouse!”  But somewhere along the line, our habits and behaviors begin to rub each other the wrong way.If you want to make your marriage last, you need to stop trying to change your spouse. First of all you need to know that you can’t change your spouse. You can make sure your wants and needs are known, but if you take on the role of change-agent you are heading for some pretty rough waters.

There are so many differences between men and women. Personally I believe our wiring differences are part of the divine design to keep us engaged in relational growth.  I love this anonymous quote:

“To dream the person you would like your partner to be is to waste the person your partner is.”

As time continues we often forget those incredible qualities and traits that drew us to our spouse in the first place. The little irritations build up as we are trying to create a spouse in our own image. A good homework assignment for you this week is to sit down, and write out a list of the traits, qualities, and expressions that you spouse has and does. After you have the list share it with your husband/wife and choose to release your need to change and control. Remember you can’t anyway and if you continue to try, you will be damaging the love you have.


Ah, that got your attention eh! Intimacy, physical touch, romantic and non-romantic. From simply holding hands to a knowing pat on the behind speaks a language of its own. Maybe you have lost some of the fire over the years…Maybe you have told yourself that you’re “just not the touch-type.” Regardless of the why, a relationship that doesn’t have a high level of touch will suffer. There are so many things you can begin doing to build a deeper level of intimacy:

  • Proactively schedule a regular date night. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it does need to be consistent. Make a deal that on your date you will listen to each other, not talk about the job, kids, bills or whatever subject keeps you both too cerebral and at arm’s length.
  • Plan your romance. If you have kids, the days of spontaneous romance or sex are probably on hold as your life has become overwhelmed with all of the other “to-do’s” that come with raising a family. That is why you need to think ahead and plan out times for intimacy. If you don’t plan for it, it probably won’t happen.
  • Hold hands. Talk a walk together and hold hands. Remember the electrical charge you used to get when you were dating simply by touch the skin of your partner’s hand. Recapture that as you interlock your fingers and stroll.
  • Kiss. Often and for more than a half a second 🙂
  • Rub your spouses neck, back, feet or shoulders without being asked. That will be a win!
  • Send a romantic text to your spouse throughout the day.
  • Leave a posti-note on your spouses dashboard letting them know that you’re thinking about them.
  • Hug and hold each other…just because.

The list could go on and on. In fact, why don’t you leave some ideas in the comments section.

Research consistently shows that touching more creates a stronger bond by releasing oxytocin, and that will also help you build a marriage that lasts.


I knew a principal whose motto at the Elementary school was “Catch em’ being good!” He knew that its positive reinforcement that makes a bigger impact on people than negative reinforcement. Developing an attitude of gratitude will improve your health and invigorate your life. Building the habit of thankfulness towards your spouse will rocket your relationship to the moon.

When your spouse does something good or helpful let them know how thankful you are, even if you think they should be doing it anyway! It’s hard enough working for an employer that doesn’t give you encouragement and thanks, so, if we don’t find it at home our souls take a hit, and often we try to find it in the wrong places.

When you take a moment to slow down and think about the things that you are thankful for concerning your spouse, you will have taken a big step in building a marriage that lasts. So stop nagging on each other and start bragging on each other and see what happens.

Let an attitude of thankfulness fill you and flow out of you and you will notice that all your relationships will improve.


Marriage Matters #1

Recently my wife Amy and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. When the big day was arriving we were working with a missionary team in St. Petersburg Russia, and then stopped off in Paris on the way home to mark the anniversary in grand style. (By the way,to the men out there, this is a sure-fire way to make up some well-needed points on the marriage score-sheet!)

Truly, I am so thankful for Amy. She has been an incredible wife, mother, partner and friend on this journey and I can’t imagine who I would be today without her in my life. In Paris we had many opportunities to look back over the years and remember all the events, milestones, hard times and mountaintops that we have experienced together. When we arrived back home, I was met with some news of some other couples that were not celebrating, but were separating, and what had started out as a hopeful future for them was turning into a really dark chapter that was ending in ash.

Marriage is crucial on so many fronts, especially if you are in leadership. Your marriage is a reflection about what you believe to be true about God. It is a reflection about the values you hold. When people look at our marriages they learn a lot about us don’t they?

* How we treat the people we love
* Whether or not we elevate the ones we love
* Can we be trusted to hold shattered emotions
* Whether you are a person worthy to follow or one to avoid
* Will you protect and fight for the ones you love

Yes, our relationships are a big revelation one way or the other about who we are in the core of our soul. If you long to have a marriage that does more than simply exist you must get the magic ingredient of effort and use it liberally because great marriages don’t just happen, they are co-created.Here are four more positive ingredients for you to consider in co-creating a marriage that lasts.

1. Time. In my book Sacred Space I make the following observation:

“Go online or browse any bookstore today and you will find that there are numerous books and articles encouraging couples to spend more time talking intimately with each other. I recently read one article that stated that a marriage could drastically improve if the couple agreed to soend te minutes a day in conversation. I thought, wow, only ten minutes! We are in worse shape than I imagined.”

Time together is crucial for a healthy marriage. There are so many demands upon our time today that it has become easier to give up on co-creating a great marriage, and instead acquiesce to the tyranny of the urget. We put the kids, work, reality TV and even Facebook ahead of marriage and then when things go south we wonder why. As a non-scientific experience this week take note of how much time you spend online and infront of the TVand then weigh that against how much direct one on one time you are investing in your spouse.

Making a priority of investing time into your marriage will pay huge dividends from your spouse feeling like they are the most important thing in your life to actually reigniting the connection that might be laying dormant.

If you have been good at regularly scheduling date nights, long walks, and time to enjoy each others presence, keep on doing it!

2. Study. In todays culture we hear the term “life-long-learner” a lot. A life-long-learner is someone who is committed to expanding their knowledge, understanding and experience through educational and experiential pursuits.

If you would like to co-create an incredible marriage you need to become a life-long-learner or a student of your spouse. Your wedding day did not end your need to understand who your spouse is, in fact your wedding day is actually entrance into the first semester of a sacred life-long-learning adventure.

Obviously this will take a commitment to the first ingredient of time, but here are some other ideas for you:

  • Keep asking questions. Ask questions about dreams, hopes, likes and dislikes. Ask questions about struggles and pleasures Ask question that go deeper than, “What’s for dinner?” Ask how he/she would rate your marriage on a scale from 1-10. If it’s not a 10 ask what it would take to get there, then do it! Become observant of habits, desires, disappointments and learn their love language, or what makes them feel most loved. This exercise alone will expand your connection and you will soon realize that you don’t know each other as well as you thought , and that’s a good thing! If you knew it all you’d have no more questions or curiosity.
  • Get a book. There are literally thousands of great books to help you grow in your marriage. Get one and read a chapter a week, and then discuss what you read on a date. Grab a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and share what you learned and ask each other the questions it raised for you. Here are just a few of my favorite books on marriage:

The Five Love Languages
The Four Seasons of Marriage
Sacred Marriage
I Don’t Want A Divorce
Love and Respect
His Needs Her Needs
Covenant Marriage
Boundaries in Marriage
The DNA of Relationships

  • Take A Marriage Seminar.
  • Join a marriage small group.

There are so many more ideas I’d love to put down, but I think you get my point…make it your gaol to have the best possible marriage and then study to get there..

3. Safeguards. What are you doing to fight for and protect your marriage? There are forces out there that are doing everything they can to drive a wedge in the sanctity of marriage and most people are oblivious it would seem. There are choices, decision and boundary issues that you need to determine in order to safeguard the most important human relationship you have.

  • Pray daily for your spouse and for your marriage intimacy.
  • Avoid compromising situations with someone of the other sex.
  • Choose not to flirt with co-workers or other people of the opposite sex.

Ask yourself how you would feel if your spouse exhibited the same behaviors towards others that you do. Some other revealing questions to ask yourself might be:

  • Do I find myself texting or emailing someone of the opposite sex more than I do my spouse, why?
  • Do I find myself thinking about someone other than my spouse a lot?
  • Do I send mixed messages in the way I interact with people of the opposite sex?

If you have fallen into some of the marriage killing traps there is still good news! You can choose to establish safeguards and change the way you interact. This will create a sense of security and safety in your marriage and eliminate many of the potential land mines out there.

4. Support. I believe that your primary responsibility as a married person is to make sure that your spouse becomes the man or woman that God created them to be. This will take Time, Study, and Safeguarding.  It also means that you have to become the champion of your spouse.

So instead of nagging your spouse or nagging about them you choose to brag on your spouse and about them. Wives, one of the most life-giving things you can do to build up and support your husband is to say good, nice and positive things about them in front of others! It’s like an adrenalin shot to a mans soul. And men, the same go for your wives. No more sarcastic jokes about cooking, driving or any of the other stereotypical putdowns that get a little laugh yet wound a soul.

Notice and comment on your spouses accomplishments, qualities, successes, and reaffirm over and over again your love and commitment. Not only will you be co-creating an incredible love story, you will be warding off the attacks that could lead to adultery and divorce.

While there is so much more to say, I’ll end here for now as this is only Marriage Matters #1, look for Marriage Matters #2 soon!

Grace and Peace,