I write occasionally about the interesting things you can see if you just pay attention. Well, with Christmas coming up, here is what you need to do: watch the other wives.

Christmas gatherings involve family and friends and couples of all ages, so it is a good time to observe how people behave. Do not start this observation with any plans or preconceived notions, and do not make snap judgments. Just watch. 

In particular, watch how the wives behave in regard to their husbands. You will have some wives who pay very little attention to their husbands. You will have some who are very attentive. You will have quite a spread of behavior, but watch.

I watched this weekend at a gathering I attended. There was an older couple there (older meaning 20 years past retirement). They have long ago reached the age where many couples seem almost oblivious to each other, or so we would expect. 

Yet, throughout the event, they were clearly a married couple. Their love for one another was obvious. They did not hang all over each other (as young couples do when first married), but dealt with one another as adults and as lovers. I was impressed but not surprised, because I have known them all of my life. It is a comfort to have a couple whom you know will always be together, because you cannot even imagine them apart. 

Watch the couples among your groups. Watch how they interact, where they sit, whether they ever acknowledge one another. 

Too often, you see what I also saw this weekend, a couple who interacted almost entirely in a negative way. They dealt with "problems" and wifely complaints about multiple things, none of which were important in the situation. 

You would expect (from a shallow point of view at least) that a young couple would be more loving, not less, and that there would be more warmth and passion in their relationship, but it is not alway so. 

Watch. You may be surprised.

Then, ask yourself what someone would think who was watching you.

You may be even more surprised.
We keep moving along toward Christmas and everyone is "getting ready." My house is even getting ready for Christmas. It is like a spring cleaning ritual in many houses, as we finally move piles that have sat idly in the way in order to put up some more Christmas stuff. 

Amazing how things pile up in our lives, isn't it? We set something down and just leave it there. We have a box from a printer we bought last year and it is still sitting right out in the open, because we just have never put it away. (By which I mean that I haven't put it away.) We pile things everywhere. 

When we do start cleaning up, we often quit because we are overwhelmed by how much has piled up. It seems like getting it all straightened out would be too much work. It is easier just to move.

I hear the same thing from pastors, some times. They are trying to get a church moving and trying to change some old things that are no longer helpful, but eventually decide it is easier just to leave for a new church or even start a new church, than to change the old one.

The same thing happens in marriages, doesn't it? Sometimes, we have gotten ourselves into a state where there seems to be no way to clean it up at all. We have lied so often. We have been selfish so often. We have put our needs ahead of others, and the needs of others ahead of our spouse, and we have reached a stage where even talking about cleaning it up is too frightening for us. It feels like all we can do is leave and start over.

But it is not too big. Any pile can be moved, if you are willing to move it. Any church can be changed, if you are willing to take your time and the people are willing. Any marriage can be saved. 

As you clean up and spruce up for visitors or just for the look of it, take some time to think of your  relationship with your husband. Clean up some of the piles of bitterness or anger that you have been leaving in place. Straighten up some of the crooked aspects of your relationship with you husband. 

As you see the Christmas lights go on, make up your mind that this will be a time for a new start, a time where loving your husband will become a focus of your life. 

Once, Christmas with him was all you wanted. Let's get back to that stage again.

Here is an odd piece of marriage advice -- "Quit listening to marriage advice."

Seriously, the more marriage advice I read and hear, the less I am impressed, because most of it seems to have been written in the "diet book" style we all know.

You are all probably familiar with how diet books work. Someone, somewhere, is either (1) a researcher with an idea or (2) an overweight person who needs to lose weight. In each case, they come up with some crazy idea, supported by some quasi-scientific idea, and they test it. The researcher gets some people or the overweight person eats nothing but grapefruits and prune juice for a year. Wow, the thing works! A book is written and sales are wonderful! Lives are being changed! A year later, people are still overweight and the book is in the cheap bin at Books-A-Million.

In the meantime, a new book by some researcher or formerly overweight person is rocketing up the charts, getting ready for next year's cheap bin. 

And people remain overweight. Why? Because the trick worked for only one person, or only a few people, and not for everyone. 

Marriage advice is similar. Someone (like Marabel Morgan) has an idea that works for her, she writes it up ("Total Woman"), it sells millions, a few people do better, but nothing in the world changes. Because, like diet books, it was based on one person's experience, which does not work for everyone. 

Marriages are not like bicycles. They are not "fixable" with a few common tools and a little common sense. Each married couple is unique. Each is a unique person and their union is a unique union. The "paradigm" that works for one couple may not work for you. The more specific the advice, the less general will be its usefulness. The more general the advice, the more people it can help, but the less help it provides. 

Ultimately, your "marriage" is just you and your husband. And you cannot change him. Seriously, you can only work on you. The only real secret for you is to be a better wife. Sometimes this may mean being like "Total Woman" says you should be, but sometimes it means the opposite. Any advice that is "what he ought to do" is useless to you, because you cannot be him, and worse than useless because all it does is create disappointment in him. 

The Bible gives us great information about being an Excellent Wife. It is not about baby-doll pajamas or scheduling "quality time," but about loving your husband. It is not about sitting down to discuss division of duties, although that may be a part of it, but about loving your husband. It is never about "standing up for yourself," but always about standing firmly with Christ and lovingly with your husband.  

The Bible is a much better guide for Christians than the books either in or headed for the cheap book bin. "Total Woman" was published in 1990 and you cannot find it today, except in used book stores. The Bible is still being published. 

One of the fun things about being married is doing lots of things together. We have dinner together and travel together and sit together and visit folks together, and we really enjoy being together. Then, there's shopping. 

It is Christmas season and the shopping question arises again. There is a desire, on the part of most people, to shop together. We all have the idea that sharing in getting things for others is part of being married. Trouble is, we have to shop.

Now, if you have gone totally into online shopping, this is not a problem. But physically shopping often is a problem, because men and women tend to be very different in shopping styles.

Men tend to be "buyers." They go to a store to buy Christmas gifts, they buy them, then they leave. I (speaking of one man) can shop for my whole family in an hour in any good Target store. It just isn't that hard to do. You see what you want, you take it to the counter, you buy it. End of story. A lot of men are like me, some more and some less.

Women tend to be "shoppers." They go looking for presents. They will buy something, eventually, but what they really enjoy is looking at stuff. Lots of stuff. They look at stuff that has nothing to do with Christmas. They look at things they never thought of looking at. They become immersed in the experience of shopping. Not all women are shoppers, some are buyers, but the general rule still applies.

When you go shopping together, one or the other is going to be unhappy. My wife and I almost never shop together, except for groceries, where she wanders anywhere she wants to wander and I buy groceries. We arrive together and leave together. That works out pretty well. 

But going to a mall or a large department store together is very difficult. Someone has to do what they do not want to do, and that is often the husband. He has to find something to do while she shops. He has to find a chair or a bench, or just stand there looking lost. It is very frustrating and kills the "Christmas Spirit" in a man to have to do this. 

So, before you go shopping this season, think about it. Do you really want to shop together? If so, then be considerate of the other partner. Do not spend hours in a store looking at things you are not really interested in buying anyway. Do not expect him to stand around while you plow through a pile of coats or dresses. Take some time off while you shop. Let him buy some things. Seriously.

Most of the couples I know do very little shopping together and it seems to work out pretty well. And this is okay. Nothing in the wedding vows is about shopping together and there has never been a divorce case based on a failure to jointly shop. 

Young couples often have the idea that shopping together is somehow required. They tend not to really know each other very well yet and their passion tends to overcome much of their boredom and frustration, so this tends to be okay. Older couples know that their relationship is not about Target or Macy's or Wal-Mart and that splitting the duties can be a good thing. 

Besides, this way you might be surprised on Christmas morning, even by what other people receive.
I think most of us kind of enjoy the holidays, but it can certainly be a time of great busyness. We are two weeks out from Christmas and things are starting to "heat up" a little bit.

In the midst of all the gifting and cooking and baking (and eating), we are also repeatedly told that we are "too busy" doing all the gifting and cooking and baking (and eating). We are told to "be hospitable" but not to "go overboard." We are told that we "celebrate Christmas to remember Christ" but also told "not to forget Christ." We are told that our gifts to others are like the gifts given to Christ, but that we are not supposed to give too many gifts (which seems really odd). 

We are, in short, guilty no matter what we do. We are guilty if we spend to much money or too little money. We are guilty if we invite lots of people over or invite too few. We are guilty if we enjoy Christmas too much and guilty if we do not celebrate it enough. This is crazy.

We sit in churches filled with Christmas decorations to hear sermons about how wrong it is that we decorate too much at Christmas. 

First of all, please remember at all times that Christmas, like all our so-called "Christian holidays," is not something God ordered us to do at all. It has come and gone through history. It is sometimes very popular and sometimes it has been outlawed (by serious Christian rulers, by the way). Today, people think that Christians are the ones who insist on the holiday, but, in fact, it is the most serious Christians who have had the most objection to the holiday over the centuries. 

In short, you cannot "keep Christ in Christmas" because He was never there, except when someone wanted to think of Him in it. The celebration is a purely secular celebration of a day. If you spend any time being upset that lost people do not remember Christ at Christmas, then think about the fact that they don't remember Him any other time either. 

Second, do try to keep your head about you. Christmas is like every other day of your life. Your duty is to love God and love your neighbor. So, how are you doing? It may not be as simple as you think.

For many of us, Christmas is a time of rather undisciplined love. We give more than we should to the people around us, in part because we have lost touch with how to really love them. I can give my children gifts, which is far easier than giving them myself. 

As wives, try to take some of the "busy busy" out of the season, for yourself and your family. Relax a little. Enjoy the time with your family and friends. 

Whether or not to celebrate Christmas is, to be honest, not much of a spiritual question, because it is not really a spiritual holiday (we are past the Old Testament days of feasts and such). But, each day remains a spiritual day on which the spiritual duties are the same. 

Love your husband this Christmas. Love your children. Love your neighbors. Love your God. 

And don't worry too much about the food.
Among the things many wives seem not to know is about the importance of a husband and father having some time away from his wife and children. This, again, seems to be a fairly modern problem. Our grandmothers and those of a prior generation seemed to understand that a man needs some time away from his family duties, but my generation and those younger than me seem to miss this entirely. 

It is not uncommon to see a young couple in which the wife engages in all kinds of activities outside the home (church things, social things, political things), but in which the husband is not expected to have any such activities at all. When wives need to attend seminars or conferences, they assume the husband should keep the children. When husbands want to attend anything, the wives have a fit about "being left at home with the children." Or, worse yet, the wife acts as if the husband ought to take his wife and children with him everywhere he goes. 

The illogic and unfairness of this is so obvious that it is hard to really grasp, until you think about the lies that wives have been told. Chief among those lies is the idea that a man who "goes to work" is somehow taking that time away from his family. Wives were told (starting in the 1950's and 60's feminist movement) that "work" was actually "fun"  and were told to be jealous of the fact that their husband was able to "get away" every day. 

The result is that wives who stay home have the rather odd idea that time spent "at work" is actually kind of a vacation from family duties. They resent their husband going to work and are jealous of him going to work. They think that since he takes so much time "for himself" by going to work, the rest of his time should be with the family. 

No one can believe this who has any knowledge of what it means to work. Going to work does not mean taking a vacation. Believe me, taking care of some young children (especially your own children) is nowhere near the exhausting experience of waiting on customers all day in a retail setting, or dealing with patients all day in a medical setting, or handling multi-million dollar disputes all day in a legal setting. Taking care of small people who obey you is nothing like having to obey other people all day, being told where to go and what to do. 

Do you ever think about the realities of work? If your husband has a job, he must got to work everyday at a time chosen by his boss. He must wear what his boss wants him to wear. He has to park where his boss tells him to park. He has to do what he is told to do. He works with people chosen by his boss, who may be jerks and may hate his guts. He has to get along, to go along, and to be quiet when it is his turn to be quiet. 

He is not watching television and munching bonbons all day, any more than you are are. He is working. He is not indulging his private wishes or enjoying recreation, he is working. 

Yes, the wife who stays home needs to have some "time away from the children," but your husband needs the same thing, and time spent at work does not count as time to relax. 

Wives need to understand that their husbands' time at work is just like their time at home, except that the husband is not in control of his time, is not in control of where he is, is not in control of what he does, cannot schedule things as he wishes, and is not the boss. You may spend your whole day with three children, but you are the boss (or you should be). They can take naps (customers do not take naps). They can play quietly (bosses don't play quietly). 

Your husband needs as much time away from home and family as you do. When he goes to play golf or tennis, or goes hunting or fishing, he is trying to do exactly what you do when you get out of the house, he is trying to keep his balance in a world in which he is not in control. 

It has become popular to refer to moms as "workers at home." Great. Your husband is a "worker at work." Just as you need a break from your duties, he needs a break from his duties. He does not need to just come home from one job in order to be given another one. 

Ultimately, it all comes back to loving him, doesn't it? The wife who resents her husband taking "time from the family" is not loving him, but herself. She is not concerned about his wellbeing, but about her comfort and her children. 

But loving him means loving him. It means making his life better. It means letting him have freedom, just as you need freedom, so that he can continue to be the man you married.
So, you are getting ready for bed after an evening with your husband and some friends. You had a nice time sitting and talking together. While you are getting ready for bed, stop and think about it a moment. 

One of the oddities of American married life is that men are always being told to think about things, but people kind of assume that women are already doing lots of thinking. This, of course, is nonsense. Most people never really think about anything very much, our attention spans are too short and there is too much going on. But, think about tonight. 

From the moment you arrived at the party (or when they arrived at your place), did you do anything that manifested your love for your husband or your special relationship to him? Think carefully before you answer. 

Walk back over the whole evening. When you arrived together, did you immediately separate without any acknowledgement of doing so? Like friends would do? Or, when people came to your house, did you each simply go your way? Like roommates would do? 

During the evening, how many times did you talk to your husband? What was your tone of voice? Did you sound petulant, peeved, unhappy, bossy? Remember that how you treat him in public is the most important factor in how the public will see him. 

During the evening, how many times did you touch him? That's right, physically touch him? We all know that physical touch can be one of the most intimate and indicative actions one lover takes with another. Did you ever touch him? Take his arm? Acknowledge him leaving the room by a kiss or a hug? No? Or did you interact as friends do? 

One of the problems we often face is that we have downgraded our marriages into friendships. We often hear a wife say of her husband that "he is my best friend" or a husband say his wife is "his best friend." They mean well. But the words are really dreadful in their import. 

You see, the words presume that being a friend is somehow more than being a husband or a wife. If I am married to someone, then that person is my wife. She is the only person in the world who can be my wife. But I have lots of friends. Why would I want to define her as my friend? Why take from her the unique, special role of wife and replace it with friendship?

Why would I want my wife to see me as a friend rather than a husband or a lover? 

But that is how we are, these days. We set friendship as the measurement of our relationships and expect husbands to be "best friends," which is actually much less than being a husband. A husband who is thought of as a best friend is not a good husband or (at least) is not being appreciated for being a husband. We have lost the sense that our relationship to our husband or wife is not like any other relationship. The degree to which this is true is shown in our social lives, where we treat our husband like a friend or roommate, not like a husband at all. Sometimes, we treat them barely as a friend at all. 

Think about your evening. Was there anything in your dealings with your husband which told the whole world that he is your husband, the man you love, the man you married, the man with whom you share the "oneness" of life? Did you remind him by your care for him and pleasure in his presence?

One reason divorce is more common is that we have lost the understanding that marriage is special. We think and act as friends and, when friendship is tested by reality, we leave. 

My wife is not my "best friend," she is my wife. She is more important to me than any other person on the earth. She is special to me. 

Is the same true of you and your husband? Think carefully.

In the world of marriage counseling, there is probably nothing heard more frequently than "he is not romantic." It is astonishing how often and how fervently wives complain about their husbands "not being romantic." There are two really simple thoughts that come to mind. 

First, there is the basic unfairness of this complaint. Why? Because it has no meaning. Seriously. What does "romantic" mean to you? Believe it or not, it does not actually have a set meaning. When you pin them down, each wife has a very different idea of what it means to "be romantic." 

For some women, romantic means flowers and dinners and gifts and such. For others, it means opening doors. For others, it means taking the children somewhere so she can relax. For some, it means all of these things, plus lots of other things. In short, it has no meaning beyond "doing what I want him to do." A man can hear a woman compliment her husband for "being romantic," do the exact same thing that night, and get an earful of complaining from his own wife about how unromantic he is. 

If you want your husband to "be" something, then tell him that. Seriously. Tell him what you want. Ask him to do what you want him to do. Men like to know what they are supposed to do. Men do not like having to guess. Just tell him. 

Wives often respond by saying that they "want him to just be that way, not to try to be that way." What? Do you get that? They are saying they prefer him to "be" something naturally rather than to make an effort to please them. They want him to "be romantic" by his nature (this will almost never happen), even though no one deserves any credit for what comes naturally. On the other hand, they will not credit him for doing something in order to try to be romantic, because then he is "being a fake." They will say that he only did it because "he was told to" not because "he wanted to" so it is "not really romantic." This is nonsense. 

Ladies, give him a break. You cannot be angry at him for not being what you think you want him to be. Your duty is not to trick him into doing something you want, but to love him as he is. Your job (as a wife) is to recognize who he is and love that person, not some other person you wish you had married. Stop watching "romantic" movies and judging your husband poorly because he does not read the same lines the actors read. Love the man you married. 

Second, when were you last "romantic" to him? If "romance" to you means him doing what you want or value, then you being "romantic" to him means doing what he wants or values. To him, romance may be going fishing or working in the garage. To him, romantic may be joining him for a football game. How often have you "been romantic" to him?

The reality is that "being romantic" is just noise generated by movies and television and the appropriately named "romance" novels, which are just filled with such nonsense. I understand there are even so-called "Christian romance novels," which is one of those phrases I wish I had never heard. Romance is not reading a book about someone who never existed. 

Romance is loving the man you married. Romance is sitting together of an evening with the children in bed. Romance is sharing a movie or a dinner or a Dairy Queen blizzard together. Romance is being in love with each other. Romance is not chocolates or flowers or poems or any of the other nonsensical things we think it ought to be. 

     What greater thing is there for two human souls than to feel that they are joined together
     to strengthen each other in all labour, to minister to each other in all sorrow, to share with 
     each other in all gladness, to be one with each other in the silent unspoken memories?

            -- George Eliot

One of the realities of our life is that we have made a bond between insults and friendships. This is most commonly true among men, I believe, but is also common in situations where men and women are together. (I do not know what happens when only women are around, because I am not there.)

You know what I mean. As we sit and talk, we tend to insult one another jovially. We are not serious, but we "cut down" one another in clever ways. Families do this when they get together for holidays or events, with brothers and sisters outdoing one another in clever remarks. 

There is, however, a very definite rule in such settings. Men do not insult their wives, even jovially, in most situations. Men have learned not to do so. Any comment that is insulting to a wife is off-limits in most situations. Do not go there, we are told, and well we are told, because the result is not what one would like.

Nonetheless, we see wives insult their husbands in such settings. In fact, in any such setting, one need only wait a few minutes for a wife to make some comment about her husband. It might be about his weight, or his eating habits, or his job, or his hobbies, or anything, but she will make the statement and everyone will laugh. 

Stop it, ladies. Seriously. Just stop it. 

There is no good coming from insulting your husband or even from agreeing with someone's else insult of your husband. Husbands are judged by the behavior of their wives. Every man, in a social setting, knows that people's opinions of him depend (in large degree) on his wife. A man who is honored by his wife is admired. A man who is insulted by his wife is humiliated. 

You do not need to defend him from others, but you must not attack him. You do not have to argue with someone who insults him, but you are not to applaud their attack. 

Scripture speaks of honoring your husband, and this is a place where honoring is found. To insult him, to treat him badly, is to make a mockery of him as your husband and as a man. Do not lecture him in front of others. Do not direct him hither and yon to be your servant. Do not join with others in insulting him. It will hurt him. 

Two thoughts come to mind. First, yes, it really will hurt him. Women will argue with me on this, being sure that "nothing I say will hurt him." They are wrong. He may not say anything (why would he?), but he will be hurt by it. Many people can insult me, but my wife is not "many people," she is my wife, flesh of my flesh, my lover forever. Because she holds a special place in my life, she must behave in accordance with that special place. Even if others may insult me (friends), she may not. She is not my friend, she is my wife. She is unique in the world. She can hurt me more than anyone else and more easily than anyone else.

Second, people will complain that, if they follow this rule, they will have nothing to say. Really? Is that how barren your life has become? 

I play tennis with a group of men and, I must admit, the conversation is often pretty sad. Often (too often) the conversation is almost all insults. It is a burdensome thing to have such conversations endlessly, but that is what men often do. 

Is that all you have in your heart and mind? You cannot discuss anything without insulting your husband? Odd admission to make about your own heart. 

Here is a plan. Next time you are with family or friends, make a decision. You will not insult your husband. Just make up your mind. Don't tell anyone. Don't make a show of it. Don't "defend" him endlessly, just don't insult him. You might be very surprised. 

Years ago, a group of men used to sit together commuting on a ferry boat. Often, as men do, we would joke about the common issues we had with our wives. Except for one man. There was one man in our group who would occasionally shake his head and laugh and say "I have no idea what you men are talking about, my wife is nothing like that." 

One day, I met his wife and, you know what, he was right. She was nothing like that. She appeared, by all measures, to be an Excellent Wife, as he testified, and has remained such until this day, as far as I know. He honored her rightly. 

Maybe it is time to be an Excellent Wife, one who is different from all the other wives. Start in your conversation. You may be surprised how much it changes about you and about your marriage.
I saw something really great this morning, that most wives would not have noticed. It is a sad truth that wives seem to be entirely unaware of very important things. 

In a restaurant parking lot, I saw a couple get out of one of those large trucks. The husband was driving and the wife got out of the other side. As she came around the back of the parked truck, he was waiting on her. She came up to him and took his arm. He smiled.

She took his arm. 

I have spoken to women over the years and they seem entirely unaware of this very simple truth. Men love it when you take their arm. How long has it been? 

The look on the young man's face should have been photographed and put on the front page of every book on marriage. He was happy. He was in love. He was with a woman who loved being with him. Why? She took his arm. 

Now, of course, there was a lot more than taking his arm. There always is more, which is why taking his arm means something. But taking his arm matters. 

Wives complain about husbands "not being romantic," by which they usually have some general ideas about flowers or presents or how they feel. But wives are very seldom romantic in a way that men value. Men do not want flowers (which are nothing). Men do not want chocolates. Men want you to take their arm. Men want you to show that you love them by how you treat them, not by spending money.

Taking his arm tells everyone in sight that he is your man. Taking his arm tells him and everyone else that you like being with him. Taking his arm is intimate (no one else takes his arm). Taking his arm is personal, private, precious, pleasant. 

Yet I see couples all the time and almost no wives taking a man's arm this way. Speaking as a man, let me tell you something. I would rather my wife take my arm than celebrate my birthday. I would rather have her take my arm than have her walk with me like a partner. I want her to be a wife, and wives are not partners. Wives are lovers. Lovers take a man's arm.

You may think that it would "seem strange" to do something so impulsive, so intimate, so unusual. Yes, it would seem strange to you. Why? Because you do not really love him that much, do you? You no longer look forward to seeing him when you come around the back of the parked truck. You are no longer thrilled to walk with him through the mall. You are no longer proud to be with him. You do not love him, after all. 

Is that the message? Have you stopped being a lover? 

The place where you see women take a man's arm is in youth. Young couples do this naturally, warmly, passionately, comfortably. Because their love is more important than their "personal space" and they do not mind letting everyone know this is Their Man and they are proud to be with him.  

Do you love your husband? Take his arm. Today. You may be amazed at his response.