Ideas to Start Today

I don’t know about you, but when I read some of the marriage and family books in bookstores today, I tend to feel overwhelmed with all I need to do to improve. Some of it looks like just too much work. Working on friendship and fun in your relationship can be done with just a bit of intentional focus, and the good news is that everyone can do it. Who doesn’t want more fun and friendship in life? Most conflict is rooted in unmet needs, and these are needs that often go unmet in marriage. Here are some practical ideas to address that.

Creative Dates


If you don’t date much with your spouse, this is the week to plan a creative date. You don’t necessarily need a lot of money, just the energy to plan something fun and enjoyable. I love to go to dinner and a movie with Cathy, but it isn’t something out of the ordinary. Too many couples get in a habit of only doing the dinner and a movie date. Consider skipping rocks at the lake, feeding the ducks, flying a kite, and having a picnic … now that’s a more creative date! It doesn’t take much longer to prepare that date than going out for dinner and a movie. Your willingness to put some thought into more creative dates will speak volumes to your spouse. Just in case you need help, I will start you off with a list from my personal collection. Sometimes people will tell us that we are so creative with our dates. Actually, Cathy and I started with a list just like this one below and went right down the list and checked off the date as we experienced it.

  1. Take a hike.
  2. Hit golf balls or play miniature golf.
  3. Build a snowman or a sand castle.
  4. Learn to play backgammon.
  5. Take a photography or dance class together.
  6. Go bowling (only if it is a novelty).
  7. Visit a zoo.
  8. Visit a museum.
  9. Attend a concert (preferably outdoors, when the weather permits).
  10. Put a jigsaw puzzle together.
  11. Go out for dessert first, and then have dinner.
  12. Take an exercise class together.
  13. Surprise your spouse with an overnight. Make all the arrangements for the baby-sitting, reservations, and whatever else is needed, and then tell your spouse.
  14. Have an overnight camp-out in your backyard.
  15. Go on a date in the morning. It’s okay — be late for work just this one day!

Okay, I think you get the idea. These are some of our favorite dates over the years. Most didn’t cost a bunch of money, but some of them did take some time to plan. For example, date #13 required Cathy working out a time to come and pick me up from work without my knowing about it. She had arranged for a special night away from our regular routine. Just five minutes from our home was a great bed-and-breakfast where we would send friends from out of town. But we had never gone there because it was so close to our house.

Working together with Cathy, my assistant created a fake appointment at 5:00 p.m. as well as a completely phony schedule for the next day. Cathy showed up at 5:00 p.m. to whisk me away. She had even packed for me. I was shocked, and I must admit it took me several minutes to move from work-responsibility mode to night-away mode. But I caught on pretty quickly. We had a wonderful twenty hours together, and I went back to work that next afternoon refreshed, grateful to Cathy, and more in love with her than ever before.

Give the Gift of Encouragement and Affirmation

I’m told it takes nine affirming comments to make up for even one critical comment. If you are like most people, you owe your spouse a boatload of encouragement! Many people get in a very bad habit of neglecting to encourage their spouse. Sometimes we get so busy with life that we miss the major (and minor) opportunities to give our spouse the gift that keeps on giving: a genuine word of encouragement.

Affirming words have the power to bring healing to a worn-out marriage. A daily dose of encouragement from you to your spouse is better than any monetary present you could give. Today, take the time to write a note, or better yet, look your spouse right in the eye and give him/her a compliment. You will immediately see in his/her eyes what a big deal it is to receive affirmation and encouragement. Here is your homework: Look for ways to give at least one genuine, heartfelt word of praise to your spouse every day for the next week. If you need to write down what you will say, do it. Even in the midst of tension, take the time to give a word of encouragement. You will likely see immediate appreciation and a softening that both of you will experience.

Cathy and I have had to realize that our need for encouragement from each other is huge, but our love language is very different. If Cathy writes me a card with praise in it or she tells me she appreciates me, she has given me all I need to go on for weeks because I appreciate so much her words of affirmation.

I expected that to be true for Cathy as well. So I would write her notes and whisper words of encouragement. I could see that she always appreciated affirmation, but she responded most positively when I “encouraged” her by folding the laundry or doing the vacuuming. Basically, Cathy would rather have me help with the dishes than send her a love note while she is washing the dishes alone! Maybe it’s time to find out your spouse’s love language — the ways your spouse likes to be encouraged. The best way to do that is to ask. But then, you probably already know the answer.
When a young couple begins their life together as husband and wife, they usually don’t spend too much time talking about their sexual knowledge or experience. Quite frankly, they typically take this aspect of their relationship for granted — and why not? They’re young, they’re in love and they’re married. Isn’t that the perfect recipe for passionate and fulfilling physical intimacy?

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Well, the reality is that many of the more common reasons for a lack of satisfaction in this area really have nothing to do with age, marital status or physical fitness. Just like any other aspect of the marriage union, physical intimacy can either be a functional part of the relationship or it can be a deeply meaningful form of expression. The difference lies in how much work a couple is willing to do.

Dr. Cliff Penner and his wife, Joyce, get my vote for being two of the most knowledgeable “sexual therapists” and educators. Cliff is a clinical psychologist with a M.A. in Theology and a Ph.D. from Fuller Seminary’s Graduate School of Psychology. Joyce is a registered nurse and holds a Master’s Degree in Psychosomatic Nursing and Nursing Education from UCLA. They’ve written and lectured extensively on this topic of sex education and sexual enhancement for married couples.

They’ve also developed a list of what I like to call 10 Good Ways to Work at Sex. Remember that our sexuality is a gift from God. This is more than just a physical response we’re talking about here. Sexuality is part of God’s plan of creation. Our sexuality as husbands and wives has been wired-in by God. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, so embrace this gift!

Sexual pleasure within marriage is encouraged and expected. If your times of physical intimacy with your spouse aren’t all you’d hoped they’d be, take the steps necessary to find out what’s not working for the two of you. No one is expecting you to have the “ultimate” sexual experience every time, but this is too important of a measure of your connectedness to ignore if there is a problem. Sex is for unity, procreation and pleasure, so keep your priorities straight.

Keep “mutuality” as the central force of your “sexuality.” We are expected to give ourselves to each other in marriage; this is a mutual command (it’s not for wives only!). Each passage in the New Testament that teaches about the husband-wife sexual relationship either begins or ends with a command for mutuality. Not only are husband and wife equal in God’s sight, but they have mutual rights and responsibilities.


Copyright © 2006 Jim Burns, Used with permission.
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In response to the overwhelming needs of parents and families, Jim Burns founded HomeWord (formerly YouthBuilders) in 1985. HomeWord is a Christian organization designed to provide assistance to adults worldwide as they help young people make wise decisions and lead positive, vibrant, Christian lifestyles.