5 vital ways to connect with your spouse

couple hugging on beach

I sat with a couple in my office recently, and before either of them had spoken a word, I already knew they were having serious problems in their marriage I knew because of their posture, and the distance between them. They never touched each other.

As my wife Ashley and I have interacted with couples from all walks of life, we’ve discovered that one of the biggest problems in modern marriages is a lack of touch. Lack of touch in marriage is both a symptom of other problems and a large problem in an of itself.

I’m not just talking about a lack of physical tough (although that’s a big part of it), but a larger “disconnect” that happens on a physical, sexual, emotional and even spiritual level. I’m convinced there are at least five vital “touch points” in marriage and each of these areas needs frequent attention. These include…

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Ten parenting tips that can instantly impact your family

Dave Willis quotes no perfect parents children moments

When Ashley and I became parents a decade ago, we were pretty clueless about how to take care of this little human being who was now our responsibility. Along the way, we’ve been collecting good parenting advice for mentors, books and anywhere else we can find it. I need all the help I can get, because parenting is the hardest (and also the most important) responsibility I’ve ever been given.

Below is a list of the some of the advice that’s helped us the most. I’ve still got a lot to learn, but these tips have been a tremendous source of instruction and encouragement, and I hope they’re encouraging to you as well.

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An unexpected parenting lesson from a Mob Boss

One of the biggest news stories from this past week came from a very unlikely source. Former Boston Mob Boss, “Whitey” Bulger, spent over a decade as #2 on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list (right behind Osama Bin Laden). The ruthless criminal was linked to countless crimes, but he managed to evade capture until his arrest in 2011 at the age of eighty-one. Johnny Depp will actually be playing Bulger in a movie called “Black Mass” due for release later this year.

Burger was back in the news this week, but for a very unexpected reason. Some high school girls were working on a project in school where they had to do a profile on a leader. They decided to take a different approach and instead of looking at a former president or business leader, they would read out to the Mob Boss. Their intent wasn’t to glorify his crimes, but rather, to hear his perspective. To their surprise, “Whitey” wrote back from his prison cell and his words sent shock waves through the media.

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Why “meeting in the middle” can hurt your marriage

couple hands

When my wife Ashley and I got engaged fifteen years ago, people started giving us all sorts of marriage advice. We really appreciated all the insights, and much of it has helped us greatly in our own marriage and in our work helping other couples. One bit of marriage advice we heard over and over was the common saying, “In marriage, you have to meet in the middle.”

Compromise and communication are clearly hallmarks of a healthy marriage, but the longer I’m married, the more I’m convinced that “meeting in the middle” is actually really bad marriage advice. Let me explain why…

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How the same-sex marriage verdict can change YOUR marriage

rainbow white house

Today, the United States Supreme Court issued an historic ruling making same-sex marriage legal in all American states and jurisdictions. The White House was lit in rainbow colors following an official statement announcing a new chapter had begun in our nation.

There has been (and will continue to be) fierce debate around issues related to same-sex marriage. Whether you are thrilled with the verdict or you’re disappointed by it, one thing we can all agree on is that today marks a defining moment for how our culture views the institution of marriage.

As a pastor and as the Founder of The Facebook Marriage Page, I’m asked all the time what my views are on same-sex marriage. I’ve already written My beliefs about gay marriage (which you can read by clicking here), but instead of adding more of my commentary to the debate with this particular post, I’d like to do something more constructive. I’d like to talk about YOUR marriage (and mine).

When it comes to marriage, I should more concerned with what’s happening in MY house than what’s happening in the White House. I think we might be putting too much emphasis on court rulings about marriage and not enough emphasis on our own marriages.

When I stand before my Savior one day to give an account for my life, I don’t think His first question will be, “So, why didn’t you get more involved in the whole gay marriage debate?” But, I’m pretty sure He will want to know, “Did you love your wife the way that I love my church?” 

 

So, here’s my challenge for us (it’s pretty simple)…

What if we took all the energy we’re tempted to spend debating, condemning or celebrating the verdict, and used this moment instead to bring a time of renewal and rebirth in our own marriages.

God created the rainbow (it wasn’t created by the LGBT community or anyone else). It was created to be a symbol of renewal and rebirth, so let’s use this moment not to focus on all that is wrong with our society, but rather, let’s focus on what could be renewed and made stronger within our own marriages. That’s a cause worthy of our best efforts!

I’m not saying we shouldn’t have spirited discussions and debates around these and other social issues; I’m simply suggesting that the most practical approach you and I can take always starts in our own homes. If we truly believe in the holy sacredness of marriage, let’s live it our in our own marriages.

For some practical ways to help you begin a new era of renewal in your marriage, check out our free 7-Day Marriage Challenge (by clicking here).

If this post encouraged you, please share it using the links below so we can encourage others too.

7 keys to lifelong love

old couples hands

I officiated a funeral recently for a man in our church and when I was asking friends and family beforehand to share stories about him, his sister said something of him that remains one of the highest and most beautiful compliments I’ve ever heard. She said, “He loved his wife more than I ever saw any man love any woman.”

What a profound legacy of love. I remember thinking, “I hope the same is said of me and how I loved Ashley at my own funeral someday.” (Ashley is really lovable, which makes loving her a very enjoyable task. I’m looking forward to the next 50 years with her!)

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5 ways to keep your sanity when your kids are young

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My wife Ashley and I just got back from a family vacation with our four young sons. We love our kids more than anything, but braving planes, trains and automobiles (and theme parks) with young kids will bring anyone to the brink of insanity. Now that my mind is slowly recovering from the crazy (but also very fun) trip, I’ve been thinking about the necessities every married couple needs to keep their sanity in the beautiful-but-hectic years of raising young kids.

This list below isn’t comprehensive, but these five things listed below have been lifesavers in our marriage and they could be lifesavers in yours too. Make every item on this list priority and you’ll be safeguarding your sanity!

In no particular order, you will need…

1. Reliable babysitters.

Notice this is plural. You don’t need just one reliable babysitter, you need a plan B and plan C. It blows my mind how many couples don’t establish relationships with any babysitters (and then end up losing their sanity as a result). Stop making excuses why you can’t find a babysitter! Ashley and I have moved to new cities, and each time, one of our first priorities was to search out, interview and establish relationships with people who could provide consistent, reliable childcare. It has done wonders for our marriage (and our sanity).

2. Friends with kids the same ages as your kids.

Maybe you’ve got some great friends from way back, but they don’t have kids yet or their kids are different ages than yours. Definitely maintain those friendships, but you also need to be intentional about seeking out friends in your same season. Find families where your kids and their kids can play together and you and your spouse can also connect with the other parents. We have a small group from church of families who all have kids of similar ages, and those relationships have been such an incredible source of encouragement for our marriage and our kids.

3. A daily “quiet time.”

I try to wake up each morning at least thirty minutes before the kids wake up, and I like to spend that time on our back porch with my Bible and a cup of coffee. I listen to the birds chirping as the sun comes up. I enjoy a few moments of peaceful stillness before the chaotic pace of the day sets in. I say a prayer thanking God for the blessings in my life and asking Him to direct my steps and I read some passages from the Bible for instruction, inspiration and direction. Some days I sleep in and miss this ritual, but the extra sleep never helps me nearly as much as this half hour on the back porch*.

*Don’t feel guilty about taking time to pull away to recharge. The Bible teaches that even Jesus pulled away from the crowds and his disciples regularly just to pray and recharge. If Jesus needed time away, you do too! Be fully present and engaged with your kids as much as you possibly can, but also take time to recharge personally and spiritually and also reconnect relationally with your spouse.

4. A consistent date night with your husband/wife.

One of the single greatest investments we’ve made in our marriage is to have a consistent date night. It’s rarely glamorous or expensive. We often end up just going on a walk and talking, but that time together without kids helps us recharge and become better spouses and better parents. Don’t put your marriage on hold while you’re raising your kids or you’ll end up with an empty nest and an empty marriage!

Dave Willis davewillis.org marriage quote

5. A consistent, overnight getaway with your spouse (without kids).

Several times a year, Ashley and I plan short getaways without kids. You have to have #1 on this list in place (reliable childcare) for this to become a reality. Always having something on the calendar to look forward to is so important. Sometimes, it’s as simple as one night at a bed and breakfast right here in town, and other times, we save up our money and splurge on something like a cruise. These take planning and an investment of both time and money, but you can’t put a price tag on your marriage (or your sanity).

For daily tools to help your marriage, your family and your sanity, please connect with me on Facebook by clicking here and check out my bestselling book, iVow: Secrets to a Stronger Marriage which is now also available on iTunes as an ebook for iPhones, iPads and all Apple devices by clicking here.

If this post encouraged you, please share it using the links below so we can encourage others too!

4 lessons I learned about parenting at Disney World

Dave and Ashley Willis family Disney

My family just got home from a trip to Disney World. This picture from The Magic Kingdom is of my wife Ashley, our four young sons and my amazing parents who were brave enough to make the journey with us and help us keep track of the kids. As you can see from the picture, we wore bright, matching tee shirts which might seem tacky, but they actually helped us keep track of each other quite a bit in the crowded parks. Besides, we’re all a little bit redneck, so “tacky” is sort of a family tradition!

In the aftermath of the trip, I’m a little sunburned, financially strapped (considering the price of everything, I think Mickey Mouse might actually work for the Mafia) and physically exhausted, but we also made some great memories and learned some important lessons. The volume and frequency of our toddler screaming may have also given me a mild case of PTSD. Ironically, “The Happiest Place on Earth” had our kids screaming and crying quite a bit, but thankfully, there were some beautiful moments as well.

Here are four unexpected parenting lessons we learned on the trip. Considering the price of Disney World, these parenting lessons were VERY expensive, but I’m passing them onto you for free!

These principles don’t just apply at theme parks, but are usually true in all other parts of life:

1. The waiting often produces better memories than the main attraction.

I hate waiting in lines, but I had to do it a LOT this week. Lines at Disney are long and hot (and I found out the hard way that not everyone wears deodorant), but some of the best conversations I had all week came in those times of waiting. In parenting, we tend to focus so much on the “destination” that we’re prone to miss out on the beautiful moments that happen in the mundane times of waiting. Look for moments all along the way to bond and laugh and learn while you’re waiting. The “main attraction” you’re waiting for is really just the icing on the cake.

2. Instead of getting stressed, you sometimes need to “Let it Go” (sorry, I couldn’t resist)!

Yes, the iconic song from Frozen has some truth. I had a well-planned out itinerary mapping out each day of the trip, and almost none of my actual plans came to pass. I tend to get really frustrated when I make plans and then life happens and my plans get interrupted, but if we’re too rigid in our itineraries, we will miss out on the beautiful moments that “Plan B” can bring. There’s no fun without flexibility. Instead of getting all bent out of shape, sometimes we need to “let it go”.

Dave Willis quotes no perfect parents children moments

3. More stuff doesn’t make kids happier.

My kids asked for lots of stuff this week, and even though we said “no” with regularity, they still got an awful lot of overpriced ice cream and souvenirs. Those trinkets brought very temporary happiness, but almost immediately, they were looking to the next thing. Teaching our kids the joy of contentment isn’t the result of giving them more stuff, but rather, in modeling for power of thankfulness with what we already have. An attitude of gratitude goes a long way, and the greatest gifts we can give them don’t have a price tag.

4. “Magical” memories are made in unexpected ways.

Your kids are making memories, but they rarely happen how or when you would expect. Keep laughing together, loving them and creating memorable moments along the way, and don’t beat yourself up when things don’t go perfectly. Kids aren’t looking for perfection; they’re just looking for more of us. Our kids don’t need more of our “presents,” they need more of our “presence.”

For more ways to create lasting memories with your kids, check out my popular post on “The 5 things your kids will remember about you” by clicking here.

If this post encouraged you, please share it using the links below so we can encourage other families too.

4 Things Every Military Marriage Needs

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Many of you have written in asking for insights in the unique complexities of military marriages. Since I don’t have personal expertise into these dynamics, I’ve asked my friend Claire Wood to share some insights. She and her husband, Ryan, have a wonderful ministry to military couples (Ryan is currently Active Duty). She has also written a great new book called Mission Ready Marriage. Please share this post with any military couples in your life, and THANK YOU to all of you who are serving (or have served) in our military!  [Read more...]

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How (and when) to teach kids about S-E-X

Not long ago, my seven-year-old son picked up a Maxim Magazine at the barber shop and his eyes quickly bulged out of his head as he flipped through the pages filled with bikini-clad young ladies. My wife Ashley quickly noticed and put the magazine back telling him it’s not polite to stare at ladies’ bodies.

A few minutes went by and she noticed he was staring at a “Field and Stream” magazine with the same intensity he’d had with the Maxim, so she investigated and found that he had snuck the Maxim inside the Field and Stream.

He was busted, and his little face turned red. He shook his head and said, “I’m sorry, mommy, but I really like looking at those ladies!”

A few weeks later, during bath time, he said, “Dad, today on the playground, one of the kids was talking about S-E-X.”

My first thought was, I’m not ready for this! He’s SEVEN. I was planning on starting the sex talk when he was in his mid-thirties.”

I didn’t know if he knew it was a real word called “sex” or if he only knew of it by it’s 3 infamous letters (like the CIA or FBI). I smiled and calmly asked, “S-E-X, huh? What do you think that means?”

He thought for a moment and said, “My friend said it means when two people are boyfriend and girlfriend.”

In just a minute, I’ll tell you what I told my seven-year-old about S-E-X, plus an age-specific chart of what to say and when, but first, I’d like to address a few important points about how (and when) to start communicating with your children about these important issues.

I recently went through an incredibly insightful book and online course for parents called Touchy Subjects: Talking to your kids about sex, tech and social media in a touchscreen world by my friends, David Dean and Craig Gross. Craig is also the founder of XXXchurch.com and iParent.tv. Their course helped me start these conversations with my kids and it could help you too. Some of the insights below are straight from the course, and I’d encourage you to check it out for yourself it if you have young kids or adolescents. You can check out the “Touchy Subjects” online course by clicking here.

touchy subjects course craig gross and david dean davewillis.org

In no particular order, here are some things to keep in mind when communicating to your kids about sex and other “touchy” issues:

1. They’re hearing about it much earlier than you’d think.

The internet has opened up a new world to this generation of kids, and consequently, they’re hearing about sex younger than any previous generation. According to XXXchurch.com, the average age of first exposure to pornography is now around ten-years-old. That means the typical ten-year-old has seen explicit porn before she has ever had a conversation about sex with her parents.

2. They are getting mixed messages.

It should come as no surprise that the mix of messages about sex on the school playgrounds, internet, Netflix and other easily-accessible sources is going to leave kids confused. That means we as parents need to be starting these age-appropriate conversations early and keep the dialogue going consistently through every season of their development.

3. They want to be able to talk about anything with you.

It might seem super awkward, but believe it or not, your kids crave the kind of relationship with you where they can talk about anything. Don’t’ hide from touchy subjects. You don’t need to have the “perfect” thing to say. Kids aren’t looking for perfection; they’re looking for your availability and authenticity.

When you get started, remember that the strategy isn’t about having “The Talk” but, rather, “talks.” When my dad had “The Talk” with me, it lasted around 30 seconds and he summed it up with the wise maxim, “Just keep your weanie in your pants.” Not bad advice, but our kids today need a lot more information than that. Again, the The “Touchy Subjects” course can provide some very practical tools to help guide these conversations. Practically, here are some age breakdowns that seem to work:

Ages 7-9: Introduce the subject. Ask what they’ve heard. Start the conversation.

Ages 9-11: Begin to talk about the biological and moral aspects of sex in an age-appropriate way. Their own bodies are changing in this phase, so talk about how they’re feeling and prepare them for the physical and mental developments they’re already experiencing and will continue to experience in the years to come. Talk about the beauty of sex within a monogamous marriage and the dangers of sex when it’s used improperly.

Ages 11-13: Address the realities of sex with delicacy, but also with bluntness. By this age, they will undoubtedly have some friends who are already experimenting sexually. Most likely, your child will have been exposed to porn by this point (whether accidentally or on purpose). Share with them your hopes for their sex life and your family’s moral standards regarding sexuality. Encourage them to ask questions, even questions about your own past, and answer those questions with transparency.

Ages 13+: Keep you thumb on the pulse of what’s happening with their peer group, recognizing that with each passing year, more of their friends will become sexually active. Reaffirm your values often, but also bring up the subject without a judgmental tone to keep the dialogue open and transparent.

So, back to my seven-year-old’s question about S-E-X, here’s what I said…

“Buddy, I’m so glad you feel comfortable talking to me about this. I always want you to be able to talk with me about anything. You’re going to be hearing a lot about sex from your friends and maybe on TV, and most of what you’ll hear won’t be true. As you get older, I will explain more about this, but for right now, the main things you need to know are that sex is a beautiful gift God made for a Mommy and a Daddy who are married and it’s part of His perfect plan for making babies. It’s beautiful, but it’s also private, so just like you don’t talk about your private parts or other people’s private parts on the playground, you shouldn’t be talking about sex either. If you ever have any questions about sex, or about anything, else, I want you to always feel comfortable asking me, okay? Ask me anything, anytime. We’ll talk a lot more about this as you get older. I love you, buddy.”

I’m sure I could have said some things differently or better, but he seemed to respond well. I’m still trying to figure out this whole parenting thing! Thankfully, God gives a lot of grace for the journey.

For additional marriage and parenting tips and tools (from an “encourager” not an “expert”) you can connect with me on twitter and “like” my Facebook page by clicking here.

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