How to Work On Your Marriage

From time to time, I’m asked about how to work on marriage, that is, to make a marriage stronger–more stable and healthy. When ever I think about working on anything, I think of my father.

My Dad was a hard worker and a good man. He was often the first one up in the morning and the last one in bed. In the 70’s, he sold petroleum products plus nuts and bolts straight commission. Still, he earned around $40,000 a year doing it. For a guy selling to farmers with no college degree, etc.; that was and is pretty impressive.

Dad always saw himself in terms of his work and his ability to provide. Thus, full retirement with nothing to do was never a good thing. When, at age 77, he came to the place where he couldn’t work or drive any longer, it was over. He retired and had a party on a Tuesday, had a stroke on Thursday, and was dead by Sunday.

Work was important to Dad. In many ways, it defined him. He enjoyed it. It wasn’t drudgery or something he resented–it was what enriched his life.

Work Your Marriage

I think the key to working on marriage and making a marriage healthier is to see it in much the same way. It’s not exhausting labor or agonizing, stressful effort. Rather, the effort to serve and express love to one another is what defines us. It’s enriching–even fun. I’m not suggesting it’s easy, just as it wasn’t easy for my Dad. What I AM suggesting is that it’s worth it and, we can learn to enjoy the journey as we do it.

If you’d like help as you strive to improve your relationship, please use the “Contact Us” tab to get in touch. We’d love to serve wherever possible. We also offer a wide array of tools and resources under the “Resources” tab on this site.

Blessings,

Pastor Joel

Wedding Snafus!

One of the things I do to “comfort” couples preparing for marriage is to tell them all the horror stories of weddings I’ve done over the last quarter century.

In a weird way, it seems to help calm their nerves…

Engaged couples worry about a lot of things. Invitations, gifts for wedding party members, etc. I have written reviews of companies that do some of this work just BECAUSE it’s often such a big source of stress. (Click HERE for a review on DaySpring, a wonderful Christian supplier of such things). Of course they worry about logistics, personality conflicts among family members, etc.

So, again..telling my disaster stories seems therapeutic…

Like the time we were doing an outdoor, sunset wedding at a beautiful country club and one of the bridesmaids split her dress all the way down her back as she was putting it on. The other ladies jumped in to sew it for her, but by the time they fixed it and arrived at the club, the sun had already set. We lined up cars along the edge of the parking lot and did the wedding by headlight.

It all worked out well and the couple laughs about it to this day.

Then there was the time a bee crawled up under the brides’ veil from the back. People in the front row were signaling to me but I couldn’t understand them. Fortunately, the maid of honor saw the little creature and flicked him out of there with her finger. The bride never knew how close she came to an extra wedding-day surprise.

Monsoon Wedding?

Once, we arrived on the scene of an outdoor wedding that had turned into a flood zone. A monsoon had struck the city and the outdoor tent we were using was lying flat in the field with a pond forming in the middle of it. The father of the bride was hectically calling halls to find a back-up site. Most of the groom’s party wasn’t able to be there due to flight cancellations. In fact, he grabbed a guy from the audience to make him best man. After all, “the show must go on!”

It did–and the couple had a blast.

Another time, the bride was supposed to arrive in a horse-drawn carriage. Unfortunately, the road she was using to arrive “just in time” after the start of the procession became blocked by a truck stuck in the mud. I’ve never heard the wedding processional repeated so many times in one sitting…eventually, the carriage driver found a way around the tuck and the bride arrived unscathed, albeit a bit flustered.

But there’s good news!

You name it, from dropped rings to fainting groomsmen, I’ve seen it all.

But here’s the good news. Everyone survived. More than that, they thrived! Lessons were learned and all of the couples involved laughed about the glitches–storing them as humorous memories instead of painful disasters to forget.

Hmmm…perhaps there’s a lesson here for life in general…:)

Still, to learn more about options for wedding materials, gifts, clothes, invitations, and other items to help weddings flow smoothly; see our Resources page.

To that end,

Pastor Joel

But My Spouse is Weird!

Right out of college, I worked for a “real character!” His name was Mike and, while we loved him, he was unique—to say the least. He was a consummate professional and executive with some eccentric twists.

For instance, he had a giant bib with “Let’s get Mikey, he’ll eat anything” printed on it. That was based on an old Life Cereal commercial. We’d be out with a client for lunch, like J&J or Kodak execs and, right before the meal was served, Mike would pop the bib out of his pocket and place it over his tie. It was always good for a laugh, but he wasn’t being funny…

Then there were the power naps. We’d be headed to the Newark airport to catch a plane and he’d just pull off on the shoulder and say, “I need a nap.” He’d put his head back and immediately crash. Ten minutes to the second, he’d pop up, stretch, and say—“Yeah—that’s better!” Then, we’d pull out and continue our journey. I would just stare out the window for 10 minutes till he “came back.”

One other quirk I remember was the “Silver Boot Award.” When one of us would screw-up, he’d present this honor to us in a loud crashing ceremony. It was a silver painted boot on a plaque and it represented Mike’s desire to kick us in the butt for making a big mistake. We always knew when it was coming because he’d slam open his door and scream, “Where’s the Boot!!!???”

Never a dull moment….

But here’s the thing. I learned things from that man that have shaped my life and career for decades. I appreciate and value our friendship which continues to this day. I’ve learned that, when it comes to personality and behavioral “quirks,” you can either love them or hate them. They can either endear you to the person or drive you apart.

The choice is yours.

A lesson for marriage

The same is true for couples. Your partner’s style and habits can either drive you apart or draw you together. I’ve noted as a counselor that the very things which draw couples together–“opposites attract”–can unfortunately become the basis for separation later.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

I love to pass on the advice of Pastor Gary Smalley, author of the book, “Love is a Decision.” Gary says we simply need to “value the differences.” See the synergy and even the humor in the things that are unique about our partner. That’s something we can choose and thus learn to do.

If you’d like help in “valuing the differences,” please contact us. We’d be honored to help. You can reach us by calling or texting 860-938-2725 or emailing office@rissingerrg.com.

 

Blessings,
Pastor Joel

Having a Sense of Humor in Relationships

I worked for a small consulting firm in NJ right after I graduated from college. One of my coworkers, T. David Cole, was the ultimate prankster. He was brilliant—and very creative.

His repertoire included things like cellophane wrap on the toilet, Vaseline on the toilet seat, Vaseline on the ear piece of the phone, rubber band attacks, and more. One of his favorites was to leave a phone line off the hook until the annoying, “blaaat-blaaat-blaaat-blaaat” signal came on.

He would then put the phone on hold and buzz one of the other consultants. When the consultant picked up, he’d say, “Hey there’s a Jewish guy on line 3 for you. I think his name was Meyer Hertz.”

You got it—you pick up line 3 and yes—“Ow—My Ear Hurts!”

Funny guy….

Humor in Relationships

But as a newly married man, I think T. David really helped me. I took his fun-loving, prankster attitude and applied it to our marriage. I played tricks on my wife and she on me. We laughed and loved all the more.

Once, when she worked at Chemlawn, in customer service, I called her and with a fake voice said,  “Hello…is this Chemlawn?”

“Yes,” she said in her professionally-trained CSR voice, “how can I help you today?”

“You poisoned Foo-fie,” I said.

“Oh sir,” she assured me, “Chemlawn uses only environmentally-safe and tested materials. I’m sure we didn’t hurt Foofie.”

“You’re right,” I said, “You didn’t hurt him…you KILLED him. Foofie’s dead!” (I started crying).

“Oh, I’m so sorry Sir,” Karen consoled me, “but I’m sure it must have been another cause.”

I continued crying and blubbering, “He’s dead…he’s dead…”

“So was Foofie a poodle?” Karen asked.

“No,” I replied.

“Was he a Kitty?” she asked.

“No” I replied.

“Well what kind of animal was Foofie?”

“My pet Rhino” I sobbed.

“You had a pet Rhinocerous?” She blurted out…”Joel Rissinger—is that you?  You are so dead? I hope you can get a room at the Zoo with Foofie because you’re not sleeping at hom e tonight baby!”

25 years of therapy and she’s almost over it….

Seriously though, we’ve laughed over these things for years and our humor and playful teasing has brought us closer together. We recently did a radio program together and people loved the rapport. You can listen to it by clicking HERE.

Leisure Time…Play Time

So, my advice for all couples is simple–play more, laugh more, joke more, playfully tease more–just have fun!

When I do Prepare-Enrich counseling, I make a big deal about finding interesting leisure activities. I encourage couples to make a list of things they’ve always wanted to do, but haven’t tried and then commit to trying some of those together. The goal is to build fun memories and perhaps even find a hobby you can enjoy as a couple.

So laugh–enjoy–and watch your love grow!

To that end,

Pastor Joel

Buffalo Wings, Impulsiveness, & Your Relationship

Occasionally we do things in the spur of the moment only to regret them afterward…

That was the case the day I decided to break a three-day fast by eating hot Buffalo wings and fries. Now when I fast, I don’t eat and occasionally, I go without liquids too. I think this fast was a combination, but needless to say, I was empty when I devoured that first spicy bite.

Words do not exist to describe the after effects of this decision. It hurt going in and well, you know….

Working with couples, I’ve seen this many times–not the wings, but the impulsive statements or stupid actions that hurt for a long time afterwards. Whether you’re guilty of doing/saying something rash or you’re the recipient of these things–I’d like to offer you hope.

If you just ride it though, the pain will subside.

I know that sounds trite, but what I’ve noticed over the years is that the biggest problem for couples when one of them does something dumb is that they start to believe that they’ve now, “fallen out of love” and nothing will ever be the same.

That’s just not true.

If you continue to do the things God instructs you do to in passages like Ephesians 5:21-33, time WILL heal–the pain will pass–and your feelings will return. It’s true…I promise.

Even acid-producing, burning hot wings eventually leave and their after effects cease…

So hang in there, pray…and believe!

 

To that end,

Pastor Joel

 

 

Can You Say Prayers for My Marriage?

As a pastor and marriage coach/mentor, I often get asked, “Can you say

prayers for my marriage?” The answer is of course yes, but what I’ve noted is that the toughest marriage challenges, require fasting—sometimes even long-term fasting.

 

I’ve done three 40 Day fasts during my life in ministry. I always get a kick out of people’s reaction when they find out I’m not eating for 40 days. “FOURTY DAYS???!!!” they often say, “NO FOOD FOR 40 DAYS??”

 

It’s really not as bad as they think.

 

After about 4 days, the body shuts down and you don’t really feel hungry. Oh, you’ll feel a pang here and there and you do get weak, but it’s amazing what a glass of juice will do at one of those moments—“WHAAAAAAAHOOOOO!”

 

So why do it?

 

I think there are a lot of reasons. The biggest is that when we’re weak, God is strong in us (see 2 Cor. 12:9). When fasting, I have more time with the Lord and I’m more sensitive in the spirit. I find that I’m less tempted by sinful desires, more patient, ready to pray, etc.

 

But perhaps the most powerful benefits of a long term fast are the intangible, spiritual things we don’t always see. I’ve noted, and scripture supports the idea, that spiritual strongholds are often broken only through fasting. I’ve seen that somehow, in the supernatural realm, God does things while we’re fasting that just don’t happen when we’re less dependent on Him.

 

Couples often find that fasting can help with forgiveness and reconciliation since both husband and wife will be humbled in the process. The power of fasting separately and then coming back together can be intense (I Cor. 7:5). If nothing else, it can improve a conflict resolution dialogue immensely.

 

So while I wouldn’t recommend a 40 Day fast to everyone due to work requirements, health concerns, etc.; I WOULD recommend fasting from all food for a period of time. It produces amazing results—even health and cleansing benefits—for most people.

 

For more information and great tips on fasting, I recommend Bill Bright’s thoughts at–

https://stumofiles.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/7_basic_steps_to_successful_fasting_and_prayer-1.pdf

 

Blessings,

Pastor Joel

“My Constant Fighting Marriage!”

People sometimes describe their relationship as, “My Constant Fighting Marriage” or they’ll refer to their spouse as the “constantly fighting husband/wife.” What I’ve noticed over the years though, is that sometimes, we all like to “stir the pot.”

One of my earliest memories is of a nest of bees in the corner of our garage in Castile, NY. I remember taking one of my friends to see the bees swarming around the nest and getting the bright idea to spray them with a garden hose. The theory was that we could knock the nest down with a high pressure spray and then race the bees to the back door of our house. Of course, we didn’t let my mother know what we were up to or she surely would have objected.

So we cranked-up the hose and blasted away. Immediately, as if they’d been tipped-off re. our sinister plan, the bees swarmed and attacked. We dropped the hose and raced to the door, screaming all the way. We slipped inside and slammed the screen door shut, just in time to see hundreds of bees plaster themselves against the door. Angered, and buzzing like a chain saw, the bees tried desperately to get to us. Still, we were safe and unscathed. Dumb…but lucky….

Why did we do it?

I’d say the real reason was boredom or perhaps curiosity. We loved the thrill of danger and knew we’d face it if we harassed these critters enough. My question is, are you doing that to your spouse?

Seriously–some couple fight on purpose. They may joke that they just like “making-up.” Still, the “thrill” of the battle drives them to do and say some pretty dumb things just to get their mate to react. While normal arguments or disagreements can be healthy if proper conflict resolution techniques are used, fighting just for the “fun” or “thrill,” is dangerous and often, destructive.

Rather than stirring the anger in your spouse and then blaming him or her OR, rather than just putting up with a spouse who seems to do the same to you; my suggestion is to find some challenging–maybe even extreme sports leisure activities that give you that same adrenaline rush without doing harm to your marriage. If you’d like to discuss this or hear some suggestions on activities that might help, just leave a comment below.

Blessings,
Pastor Joel

Need Help Appreciating Your Husband or Wife?

Sometimes in counseling, a spouse will ask for help to rekindle a flame–recapturing a sense of value and desire for a husband or wife. If you’re someone needing support in appreciating your husband or appreciating your wife, perhaps this story will add value…

I remember a mission trip I took to Port Au Prince, Haiti and the poverty we experienced while we were there. Often at night, we’d hear children crying outside our gate, “I’m hungry…I’m hungry!” The problem was so severe that if we took food to those who were crying, they might be trampled or beaten-up by others once we’d handed them something to eat.

Once, I had a small boy working beside me the whole day while we were helping build a school. He couldn’t have been more than 10-12, but worked hard—like an adult. At lunch, our hosts tried to sweep us away behind closed doors to feed us, but I couldn’t bear to leave my little Haitian buddy behind with nothing to eat. So, I said in my broken Creole, “follow me,” and I led him down several back alleys to a quiet spot where I could hand him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and stand guard over him while he ate.

I’ll never forget the look on his face when I gave him that sandwich. I try to remember it whenever I’m tempted to complain about my life!

Now I realize that most of us need more than a comparison to someone less fortunate in order to feel better about our circumstances. If your spouse isn’t what you dreamed he/she would be, just knowing someone with a worse mate isn’t enough. Still, the idea of appreciating what IS good about those we love is a biblical concept that works.

The Apostle Paul put it this way:

Christian Marital Happiness

“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”

So, my suggestion is this. Make a list. What is it about your spouse that is positive and worthy of praise. Pray over that list. Speak to your mate about those things–positively reinforcing those traits and behaviors. Sometimes, this not only helps your mindset, but inspires even greater positive change in the one you love.

 

To that end,

Pastor Joel

 

 

Is There No Sex in Marriage?

The modern paradigm in our culture is that sex ends when marriage begins. But is there no sex in marriage? And, can Christian marriages experience great sex? The answer is, “absolutely yes!” Still, it works best in a Christian marriage when we follow certain principles.

In my book, “The Crucified Couple,” I cover many of these principles in detail. I’ll reprint the most pertinent chapter here:

“Chapter Six: Sacrificial Sex?

Second only to money, sex is a leading cause of marital stress, separation, and divorce. Whether it’s a difference in sexual desire or an affair, sexual issues can tear apart a relationship. On the other hand, as God intended it, sex can be the glue that helps keep couples together. The key to having sex be a positive force in marriage is, you guessed it…sacrifice.

Before we explore this further, we should consider what I call, “The façade of sex as a basic need.” In the U.S. and throughout most of Western Europe, we’ve been conditioned to believe that all people need to have sex and that without it we are psychologically and perhaps even spiritually deficient or ill. Movies like “The 40 Year Old Virgin” teach young people that anyone who doesn’t have sex is odd, or sick.

This idea affects marriage in that we come to believe thatif we’re not having sex as often as we like—or at least as often as one partner likes—we MUST be divorced or at least be allowed to cheat or use pornography since, sex is a primary need. If a partner gets sick or just loses interest due to age, menopause, or a mid-life crisis, we panic—or worse.

As an aside, this is also why the idea of sexual compatibility is also a farce. Couples who live together are more likely to become divorced than couples who don’t live together before marriage. The idea that you must “try before you buy” sexually is ridiculous based on the studies that have been done on premarital sexual experience and its impact on marital success. But even if it was true that sexual experience before marriage helped ensure sexual compatibility, the reality of change due to health, age, stress, and other factors negates that benefit.

In other words, if you’re 100% sexually compatible and enjoy the same
interests in frequency and positions for intercourse, etc., today; it’s entirely probable that this will change over time. My question to you is—then what? Will you quit? If your marriage and frankly your sex life is only built on your own pleasure, the answer to that question is, sadly, “Yes”.

So, when God tells us to save sex for a monogamous marriage between one man and one woman, He really does know what he’s talking about! It actually works—when we understand that sex is the icing on the marital cake, not the cake itself. It isn’t a basic need without which we die or become mentally warped. On the other hand it’s a beautiful uniting factor for couples who use it correctly and sacrificially.

Psychologically, and physiologically, sex is more satisfying when the focus is giving to the other person. This is ironic when we consider that the focus of sex in our culture is personal satisfaction or pleasure. This is not to say that we can be 100% happy simply by satisfying our partner. The key is focus—the priority is giving to our spouse with a desire to also achieve sexual satisfaction.

The key to making this work is communication. I’ve noticed over the years that, apart from medical issues such as Erectile Dysfunction, (which is more than treatable in most cases), the majority of sexual problems in marriage can be resolved by improving communication.

When couples learn how to share their sexual likes and dislikes then it’s possible to give and improve intimacy. This communication is both verbal and non-verbal. And, like all communication, it involves both sending and receiving information. Reflecting what you’ve “heard” or “understood” from your spouse by repeating what was said or by acting on it in bed is the key to completing this sexual communication loop.

It’s also important to consider creativity and the role it plays in romance. Sometimes romance and routine are contradictory. Not only do most couples find that changing things up a bit sexually helps, it’s also part of communication in that without trying new things, it’s hard to know what each partner likes or doesn’t like.

The point is, don’t get stuck in a rut, use variety to find out what your loved one enjoys and then provide that. You will likely be surprised at how much that pleases your spouse. You’ll be even MORE surprised at how much this pleases you!

The Apostle Paul wrote, “The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control (I Cor. 7:3-5).”

What we have here is a beautiful sacrificial balance. When our attention is on the needs of our partner, both in terms of frequency of sexual intimacy as well as the type/approach to giving them pleasure, a bond is created and a protection exists against the temptations of a fallen world. In this context, romantic times and positive sexual experiences also create positive memories. All of this contributes to martial health.”

 

How to Take Back What You Said

A friend of mine served as an elder in a large church in Waterbury, CT many years ago. He tells a story about how their pastor literally got carried off the stage—but not the way we might like to carry a winning quarterback off the field…

They were signing the praise song, “Shine Jesus Shine.” The pastor, feeling exceptionally inspired, decided to dramatically preach the lyrics while the music continued in the background. “SHINE—Jesus, Shine,” he began, “Fill this land with the Father’s glory! Blaze, Spirit Blaze…”

And that’s where the service “went off the rails.”

He was SUPPOSED to say, “Set our hearts on fire.” Unfortunately, in the heat and passion of the moment, what came out was, “Blaze, Spirit Blaze—set our farts on fire!”

Revelation speaks of a moment where “there was silence in heaven for the space of half an hour.” The silence didn’t last that long, but there was a moment where everyone was thinking, “Did he REALLY say, what I think I just heard him say?”

That’s when chaos was released. Someone snorted and then everyone exploded with laughter. At first, the pastor didn’t realize what had happened, but when someone whispered to him between giggles, he came completely unglued. He shook with laughter and eventually slid out of his chair onto the floor in mass hysteria. The worship leader attempted to regain control, but to no avail. The deacons and elders literally carried the pastor off the stage and someone closed with prayer…

Speaking the Unspeakable

Sometimes, we just say things we wish we had never said. I’ve had days when I put both feet in my mouth–as if one wasn’t enough. It’s almost like we can see the words leaving our lips and we want to scream, “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOoooooooooooooo!!” but it’s too late.

Then what?

Married couples tend to be more guilty of verbal offenses because of familiarity. When you’re that close and intimate with someone, you tend to let your guard down. You tend to say whatever comes to mind because you are, in fact, “one” with that person (Mark 10:8).

And, while its impossible to “put the Jeannie back in the bottle,” what CAN we do when we say what shouldn’t have been said?

Steps to Heal

  1. Admit the mistake. Too often, we try to explain, justify, or “spin” what we said and that just makes it worse. Better to just admit that it was a dumb thing to say and that we’d like to retract, reject, and renounce it.
  2. Ask for forgiveness. Don’t assume that it will be overlooked. Rather, ask the hearer(s) to grant you grace.
  3. Accentuate the positive regarding the offended party and contradict the statement as much as is possible/reasonable.
  4. Accept the need for time to pass and healing to occur. Sometimes, we want the other person to just “move on,” but the hurt is deep and thus time must pass. We need to be patient with this and grant them the time they need.

If these steps fail, third party counseling or help may be in order. Feel free to contact us here if you need help finding someone in that case.