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Compatibility Part 1: A Recipe for Great Sex

I’m writing a series on compatibility. You might remember it was one of my five Cs of a healthy, happy relationship. Each installment will look at a specific issue involving compatibility. I believe compatibility is one of the most important principles couples need to consider in their relationship, so (deep breath) here goes. As always, please leave comments and share your thoughts!

 

There’s a common conception that in order for their relationship to have lasting success, a couple needs to be sexually compatible, and this should be tested before they decide to get married. After all, the reasoning goes, you wouldn’t want to marry someone who was sexually incompatible with you. This could lead to an unfulfilling sex life, potential affairs, and general relationship misery.

Is this conventional wisdom really true? Do we need to take a sexual “test drive” of our partners before we decide to commit to a lifetime of marriage with them? Consider the following:

Couples who cohabitate before marriage are more likely to consider divorce and to report lower levels of satisfaction in their marriage. Multiple studies, such as this one from the University of Denver, have found a “risk for divorce and poorer communication and problem-solving skills in couples who cohabited” before marriage. There are various theories why. One study hypothesized that couples who cohabitate tend to be “less committed to marriage and more approving of divorce.” The study indicated that “cohabiting experiences significantly increase young people’s acceptance of divorce.”

Also, a study in the Journal of Family Psychology has found “sexual restraint [i.e., waiting longer to have sex instead of testing sexual compatibility right away] was associated with better relationship outcomes, even when controlling for education, the number of sexual partners, religiosity, and relationship length.”

Finally, consider this: in the book The Case for Marriage: Why Married People are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially, authors Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher argue that marriage has a whole host of benefits, including a better sex life. That’s right—married people have more satisfying sexual experiences! Why? “Cohabitating couples do not have the same kind of commitment. Waite and Gallagher note that cohabitating couples are less likely to be sexually faithful. Faithful partners do not worry about sexually translated diseases, are more likely to work to improve their sexual relationship, and do not have to worry about sexual jealousy.” (From a book review of The Case for Marriage.)

All of this information contradicts the popular notion that test driving a relationship for sexual compatibility is a good route to take. It actually doesn’t accomplish what it sets out to do. Being in a committed or cohabiting relationship is simply not the same as marriage. Marriage is a mutual lifetime commitment made publicly. It creates a safe environment for a couple to express intimacy on every level, including physically. A married couple thus has the advantage in sexual compatibility because they can develop it with someone they fully trust. Sex isn’t just a physical act; it’s also an emotional, mental, and even spiritual act. It’s been said before that the largest sex organ in the human body is the brain. That’s very true, and that’s why there can be no substitute for the intimacy of a marriage relationship built on love and trust. Brett Salkeld writes: “The real problem about the search for ‘sexual compatibility’ is that it abstracts sex from the broader relationship. It makes good sex the result of a biological fluke rather than the natural outcome of a loving relationship.”

Sex is like dessert. With practice, and within the safe boundaries of a marriage relationship, a couple can make delicious chocolate raspberry cheesecake. The more you make a recipe, the better you get at it. In fact, the better you get at cooking, the more recipes you learn how to make. There’s no need to worry you’ll get bored of chocolate raspberry cheesecake. But when you’re first learning how to cook, your recipes are not going to turn out perfectly. You might burn the crust a little (and just in case you were wondering, dessert is only a metaphor, not a weird double entendre). That’s why test-drive sex fails. You don’t actually know what kind of delicious recipes the two of you could make together because you’re just starting out. And every time you hook up with a new person, you’re starting out all over again. You’ll never get to the level of chocolate raspberry cheesecake that way. The best recipe for great sex is two committed partners willing to share the entirety of their lives together in marriage, forever.

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The Importance of Compatibility

I’m starting a series on compatibility. Compatibility is extremely important in relationships, and it encompasses a wide variety of issues. We’ll deal with one issue at a time. If there’s something related to compatibility that you’d like to discuss, leave a comment

 

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The Five Cs of a Happy, Healthy Relationship

What makes a successful relationship? How can two people find true love and happiness together? Is there a formula we can follow to ensure eternal wedded bliss? I don’t believe there is. Every relationship, composed of two unique individuals, is unique. There is no magic formula; you can’t “follow this one rule for a happy marriage” because every relationship is different. There are, however, principles that can guide you as you and your partner pursue fulfillment in life together. Here are five principles that I believe have helped Emmalee and me build a happy, healthy marriage together. I call them the Five Cs.

Compatibility
If you want your relationship to last over the long run, you and your partner need to be compatible with each other. This might seem obvious; of course two people who plan on spending their lives together need to get along. But this goes deeper than having common interests and hobbies, or liking the same movies and music, or having a similar sense of humor. All of those things contribute to compatibility, but at its core compatibility is about a shared worldview. Do you and your partner have compatible life goals? Do you share the same moral and ethical principles? Do you share the same religious and spiritual beliefs?

Now, you don’t have to find your opposite sex clone in order to create the ultimate marriage. Being compatible doesn’t mean being identical. It doesn’t mean agreeing on everything; it means agreeing on the most important things. It means having a shared worldview that guides your thinking and shapes both your individual and mutual decision-making processes. Being highly compatible gives you a much better chance of making your relationship last for a lifetime.

Communication
This is another principle that seems obvious, but it’s so crucial that emphasizing it often is worthwhile. Good relationships are built on solid communication. The most important part of communication is listening. We all know how to talk, but good listeners are rare. Communication is especially vital in marriage because your spouse is the person closest to you. You are sharing your entire life together—not only in duration, but in scope. Every aspect of you is shared with your spouse, and vice versa. Can you open up and be yourself around your partner? When you speak, do you feel they are actually listening to what you are saying? Do you listen intently when they are speaking?

Communication can be improved if both partners are willing to work on it. On the flip side, communication only gets worse without proper attention. If a couple doesn’t discuss problems together, those problems just fester and ultimately poison the relationship. However, discussing those problems openly and working together to solve them actually strengthens a relationship.

Christ-centeredness
Though it is the most important, I put this principle in the center because that’s where God should be in every relationship. Before He’s in the center of a relationship, though, He must be in the center of each person’s life. Why is this so important? Because we’re all naturally selfish. We all seek after what is best for ourselves, sometimes even at the expense of others. This is devastating for a relationship. Relationships require us to look out for another’s interests before our own. That’s what love is, in fact. Love is a self-sacrificial act where I put someone else first.

But we don’t naturally put others first; we naturally put ourselves first. And this is why we need Jesus. Jesus promises to change our lives and turn our selfishness into selflessness. We can’t do it on our own. The “grit your teeth and try harder” method of self-improvement doesn’t work. The only thing that can truly change us is surrendering ourselves to God. As strange as it sounds, that’s the secret to success: giving up. With Jesus at the center of your life and at the center of your relationship, you will learn to love selflessly like He loves.

Chemistry
This might be a little controversial for some, but a couple needs to have genuine sexual attraction to each other if their relationship is going to last. Now, before the religious folks stone me, take a minute and think about what marriage really is. It’s a union of two people on every level: emotionally, socially, spiritually, and physically. And we should be attracted to our partners on all of those levels. Guys, you should think your woman is a beautiful, sexy babe. Ladies, your man should be a hot, handsome hunk to you.

Now, let me affirm that I believe sex is reserved only for the marriage relationship. So this is an area where we must tread carefully when we’re in a pre-marriage relationship. Nonetheless, I firmly believe that if you’re in a healthy relationship, even pre-marriage, you should feel sexually attracted to your partner. If you’re not, something is wrong. And by the way, if you don’t think God wants us to be sexually attracted to our partners, read Song of Solomon sometime.

Compromise
This principle is closely related to the issue of selflessness that we talked about earlier. Relationships are based on give and take. Compromise means setting aside your agenda, your wants, and putting your partner first. It means yielding to their wishes out of love for them. And as always, both people in the relationship must be willing to compromise. You and your partner are never going to agree on absolutely everything. You are two different individuals; the fact that marriage makes you “one flesh” does not mean you share only one brain. Thus both of you must be willing to compromise for the sake of the other, and for the sake of the relationship.

This certainly isn’t an exhaustive list of principles that Emmalee and I have built our relationship on, but it’s some of the most important for us. And others may have different principles they’ve highlighted. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what has made your relationship successful.

 
 

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Why I’m Blogging about Relationships

I posted a poll and asked you all what I should write about next. The winner was “more about me,” so the next few blogs will be more about my story.

I’m the kind of person that always wants to know why people do the things they do. I observe people—the decisions they make, the way they interact with each other, the words they say, the emotions they show—and the question that usually pops into me head is “why.” Perhaps some of you have wondered that about me and this blog. Why write a blog about relationships? What motivates me?

I suppose the first reason I’m motivated to write about relationships is that I’m married to my best friend; I’ve found fulfillment in marriage. There’s nothing better than knowing I get to spend the rest of my life with the love of my life. But there’s a lot of negativity in our culture regarding marriage. You know what I’m talking about. Marriage is a ball and chain. Your wedding day is the day you lose your freedom. It’s also the day you give up a happily spontaneous life and begin a miserably monotonous life. Marriage doesn’t have to be like that. In fact, it isn’t supposed to be. Marriage can be fun, exciting, fulfilling, comforting, passionate—and so much more. It’s kind of like that Smart car commercial: you know the one where everyone is saying “Big, big, big,” and then all of a sudden this one guy breaks the trend and says “Small.” Those of us who are in happy marriages kind of feel like that guy. While most of our culture seems to think marriage sucks, we’ve discovered that it doesn’t have to be that way. So that’s the first reason for this blog. I’m found happiness in my marriage, and I just feel like shouting to the world, “Hey guys, this is actually really great!”

The second reason I’m motivated to write about relationships is because I’ve observed the relationships of other people. Both my own experience and what I’ve observed reinforces my belief that we’ve fallen for a lie when it comes to love, sex, dating, and marriage. There is a persistent mythology that runs through our culture regarding love and relationships, and it colors almost everything that we think and feel about relationships. (In a previous blog I’ve written about some of these myths, and I’ll be writing more about them in the future.) I had a rather untraditional experience in dating (sometime I’ll also write more about that, too), but when I consider that I ended up successfully married, I have to wonder if maybe that’s just it. Maybe doing things differently than the culture says we should is the way to find true love and happiness.

Now, I’ve said this before, but I need to say it again: I don’t consider myself an expert when it comes to relationships. I’ve only been married for about two and a half years. So far, so good, and I intend to keep it that way. But I’m sure I will continue to learn things about maintaining a successful marriage in the years to come. This brings me to the third reason I’m motivated to write this blog. I’m hoping to learn from the people who comment on it. Whether you’ve been married for five days or five decades, you know something about marriage that might help someone else. The same goes for dating, too. What you learned from your experience might be useful to other folks who are going through similar experiences. So if you’re single, dating, married, divorced, or whatever, I hope you’ll contribute to the conversation. We need you! As one of my professors says, “It takes us all to know it all.”

So that’s a little more about me and why I’m writing this blog. Stay tuned for more!

 

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Sex, Marriage, & Fairytales (video)

That’s the word.

 
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Posted by on January 28, 2012 in Love and Relationships, Sex, Video

 

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John Steinbeck, Taylor Swift, and Relationships

 

I recently read a letter that John Steinbeck wrote to his son, Thom. He was giving Thom some advice about love and relationships. If you’re interested in reading the entire letter, you can follow this link. What really caught my eye were the last few sentences: “And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens — The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.”

That, my friends, is some very sage advice. Sadly, wisdom like this seems to be all but lost in today’s society. Having been happily married for over two years now, I feel like I know at least a few things about relationships (though I’m sure I’ll continue to learn a lot more in the years to come). Thus, I’m always amazed at our society’s views about love and relationships. Whether it’s in romantic comedies, sappy pop songs, or relationship blogs, there are a myriad of misconceptions about love in American culture. Now, we can debate whether life imitates art or art imitates life, but I think we would all agree that something has gone terribly awry when 40-50% of all marriages end in divorce (and that’s not counting all of the other failed romantic relationships).

So what are these misconceptions? We’d probably be here till doomsday if we recounted them all, but here are some of the most damaging misconceptions I’ve observed in American views on relationships, and they all relate to Steinbeck’s golden words of wisdom.

“I need to be in a relationship to be happy.”
Some people seem to think that they must have a significant other in their life for their life to be significant. They bounce from one relationship to another because they can’t stand being alone. If they’re not dating, they’re miserable. Chances are they’re not very happy when they are dating, though. If you define your life by someone else—be it a parent, a friend, or a lover—you will probably not find true satisfaction and fulfillment in life. You’ll constantly be striving to meet someone else’s expectations. A related misconception is when people seek a relationship as the solution to their unhappiness. If you’re waiting for Mr. or Ms. Right to solve all of your life’s problems, you’re going to be waiting awhile. No matter how good a person is, all humans are flawed. We all come with our own set of problems, our own baggage. Hoping that a relationship will solve your problems is like pouring bleach on a stained pair of jeans. You might get rid of one problem, but now you have another.

“Being in love makes me crazy stupid.”
The other day I read an interview with Taylor Swift where she commented on her numerous and oft-reported relationship woes (some of you may have seen my earlier post about this). She said, “I think I am smart unless I am really, really in love, and then I am ridiculously stupid.” There’s this notion that love makes you go absolutely nuts, that you completely lose your senses and do crazy things. There is a half-truth here. Love does make you do things you wouldn’t normally do (at least I hope so; it would be really awkward if you wrote love poems for everyone you ever met). But I challenge the notion that love makes you stupid. I can confidently say I am really, really in love. I haven’t lost my senses, however. I can still think critically, which is an important skill considering I’m one half of the most important human relationship I’ll ever have. It isn’t love which makes us stupid in relationships. That would be infatuation, lust, or obsession. When some people say they are “in love,” what they really mean is they are infatuated. They are completely head-over-heels for someone; they’ve let their emotions run rampant. When that happens, people do tend to lose their senses. We do stupid things when we make decisions on a purely emotional level. How many times have you heard this line in movies: “Follow your heart, not your head?” That means, “Feel, don’t think,” and it’s a recipe for disaster. Lust can also make you do foolish things. It puts your hormonal urges in the driver’s seat where your better judgment belongs. We’ve all heard jokes about men who think with what’s between their legs instead of what’s between their ears. Women suffer from this problem as well. It’s a bad idea for either gender to submit our power of reason to our libido. And obsession will likewise rob us of common sense. Some people don’t even have to be obsessed with a particular person; they can simply be obsessed with the idea of being in love, and it makes them do insane things. They compromise where they normally wouldn’t. They gamble their entire future on even the smallest chance that a relationship will last. They completely lose themselves in their obsessive quest for “love.” None of these things are really love, however. Infatuation, lust, and obsession are poor substitutes for true love. And true love does not make you stupid.

“If I don’t pursue this relationship, I’ll always wonder, ‘what if?’”
Some people will pursue what appears to be a dead-end relationship, justifying their self-destructive course by saying that if they don’t take this chance, they’ll always wonder: what if he/she was actually The One? First of all, I have a problem with that concept of The One, but I’ll leave that for another blog. The biggest concern here, though, is how some people will sacrifice so much for even the slightest chance that this relationship will be successful. I worry about these people. Do they have to satisfy some sort of morbid curiosity by staying with this sinking ship of a relationship? Or are they hopeless optimists who hold desperately onto the infinitesimal chance that they’ll find true love and happiness in this relationship? Or are they just so terrified of being alone that they can’t let go of a relationship no matter how terrible it is? Maybe it’s a combination of these. Maybe it’s none of them. What I do know is that it’s an unhealthy way to go about finding true love. There is a time to assess a relationship and choose to walk away from it. Sometimes that moment comes even before you’ve entered the relationship. Don’t pursue a relationship just because you wonder, “What if?” The sad reality is that there are plenty of people who did just that, and when it was all said and done, they looked back and asked themselves the same question: “What if? Where would I be if hadn’t pursued this relationship?”

“I know that he/she has problems, but I can change him/her.”
Some people go into a relationship realizing there are red flags. They ignore the warning signs, however, and tell themselves they can “change” the other person so that they’re more suitable. First of all, this is rather misguided. What happens if you can’t change your significant other? Are you willing to live with the problems they have, the ones you thought you could change but couldn’t? Second, this mindset is selfish. It basically says, “You should change who you are to meet my standards, and I will try my darndest to change you into what I think you ought to be.” Take a step back and think about this: what if the other person wants to change you as badly as you want to change them? Are you willing to change yourself to the same degree you want them to change? If the focus is on changing the other person so that you can be satisfied, that’s a selfish motivation, and it’s a relationship killer. In a future blog I’ll talk about selfishness in relationships.

So what does all of this have to do with Steinbeck and his advice about love? All of these relationship problems would benefit from his wisdom: Don’t hurry love. First, don’t rush into a relationship because you think it’s a requirement for happiness (or a cure for unhappiness). Instead, learn to live with yourself first. Find out who you really are and get comfortable with that person. If you’re not comfortable with you, why should anyone else be? Second, don’t fall for the myth that love makes you stupid. If you find yourself making bad decisions because of a relationship, consider that perhaps you’re getting in too deep too fast, or maybe the person you’re pursuing really isn’t very good for you. Granted, you can be in a truly loving relationship and still fall victim to infatuation, lust, or obsession, but you can resist those things by remembering that love does not rob you of your senses. You can find true love and still use your head. Slow down; in a healthy relationship, you have time to think. Third, don’t pursue a relationship only because you have to know if he or she is The One. That’s like gambling. There’s a small chance you might win, but there’s a much greater chance you will lose. Finding true love isn’t about gambling and getting lucky (more about that another time). Don’t rush in because you need to know the answer to “what if.” Wait. If that relationship is worth having, it will still be there after you’ve taken the time to think things through. Finally, don’t get into a relationship with someone thinking you’ll change them so they’re suitable. If that person already has problems that are deal breakers for you, perhaps you should stay away. Wait and see if that person can solve their problems before you begin a relationship with them. Being in a relationship is not a magic bullet for changing people and solving their problems.

I believe that God wants us to find happiness in a fulfilling relationship. We can trust Him to help us find true love. In future blogs I’ll get into some of these issues in more detail. For now, I’ll close with this: John Steinbeck said, “Nothing good gets away.” The Bible says, “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; The Lord gives grace and glory; No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11).

 
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Posted by on January 23, 2012 in Relationship Myths

 

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