How to Keep Your Marriage Special

Let’s face it, when you date someone, you make things special. You think up incredible dates, time a picnic to watch a sunset or drive to the beach to see the sunrise. You scout out museums, new places to eat or grab coffee.

When you get married, this continues before you have kids.

You make big gestures like new jewelry, a big purchase your spouse has been eyeing, dream vacations and honeymoons. Maybe even decorating a new house or your first condo.

Then kids come along.

All of a sudden what used to be special is pretty ordinary.

Your birthday budget is now spent on throwing the extravagant toddler party. As they get older, an arm and a leg must be spent to take your kids and all their friends to the trampoline place. Family vacations take the place of that romantic getaway. Those big gifts and fun purchases are replaced by backpacks, a new toaster, shoes for the kids, camp or car repairs.

All of a sudden you’re not only ordinary, but it is now not romantic and not fun.

Many couples hit a wall in this spot.

The place of romantic gestures moves from being big and extravagant, posting all over Instagram, to ordinary, smaller gestures of romance. This feels uncreative, less loving and not as amazing as it used to be.

It also takes more planning and thinking, and this is why many couples fail.

If you have $500 to spend on an anniversary gift, the ideas are endless. It is simply picking between three amazing ideas, and then you could even stretch it to $600 or $750. They’ll understand because who’s going to be mad about spending a little more when you’ve already spent that much? Compare that to $25 or $50 to spend. Now what? How do you make that special?

This is a struggle for men because we like big gestures. Men also believe their wives only like big gestures. Don’t get me wrong, your wife likes big gestures. But she likes small, everyday gestures of love, too. Maybe even more. If you were to ask your wife is she would like one big gesture of love each year or small gestures each day, I bet she’ll pick the daily one.

What does this look like?

Right now you probably think you know what your spouse would like, but in all probability you have no idea. So ask.

Here are some examples: snuggling, giving a kiss good bye and hello each day, holding hands, cleaning up after yourself or pitching in, spontaneously making out, something they weren’t expecting (lunch out, a pastry from their favorite shop, a coffee in the middle of the afternoon), a text that says I’m thinking of you.

Yes, five day trips to the beach are amazing. Sleeping in and staying up late with your spouse is incredible. If you have kids, those days have hit pause. They’ll return, but only if you learn how to make your marriage special in everyday, ordinary ways.

Why Dating is Easy & Marriage is Hard

If you’ve been married any length of time, you’ve wondered what happened. Why did dating seem so easy? Why did it seem like it was easy to have fun and connect with your boyfriend or girlfriend while you were dating and engaged, but now that you are married it is like pulling teeth?

Anytime you share your feelings, you have a fight. One of you wants sex, but the other does not. One of you feels satisfied, but the other does not. While dating, you could agree on what movie to watch, what activity to do or where to eat, but now you find yourselves having nothing in common but a last name and maybe a child.

Many couples struggle with this. While you may feel like you are the only one, you aren’t.

Yes, your life has changed now. You are older, have more bills and more history with your spouse than when you dated. You also have stress you didn’t have before. I know, it was hard planning your wedding and dealing with families, but now you are dealing with bosses, teachers, your children and you are still dealing with your families! Everything has simply magnified.

But the question remains for many couples and keeps them stuck.

Why can’t I connect to my spouse like we did when we dated?

One other thing changed that is subtle, and many couples miss it.

It isn’t that you have less in common (although your interests may have changed) or that you aren’t in love anymore, although you may need a refresher on what love is.

There is a word that defined your dating and engaged life. A word that you didn’t discuss. You never sat down as a couple to decide on this word. It just happened.

Ready?

Intentional. 

You were intentional.

You decided in advance. You decided to pursue the other. To work at your relationship.

You decided you would put effort into your relationship and yourself.

You made special plans. You thought through how to wake up early and drive to watch a sunrise. You found out things they liked and sought to make that happen. You surprised them.

You decided to wear things to attract them instead of mailing in your clothes choice.

Most dating couples are incredibly intentional about their relationships, and most married couples expect a great marriage to just happen.

But it doesn’t.

Here’s a great question to discuss as a couple: In what areas of our lives (marriage, kids, career, finances, sex, spirituality, etc.) are we being intentional, and in which areas do we need to be more intentional?

Do You Believe in Your Spouse?

Do you believe the best in your spouse? Or do you expect them to fail? Are you pushing them to become all that God created them to be?

I have learned that people will often reach the bar we set for them. If the bar is low, don’t expect a lot. Expect to be disappointed.

Do you believe that your spouse can become all the things that God has called them to, or do you expect them to fail? If they are a follower of Jesus, they have the Holy Spirit living in them, which means they have the power to become all that God has called them to become in Scripture. What if you started believing that? Praying for that? For God to work in their lives and make them into the man or woman that God has called them to become?

How we see people is how we treat them. If we see them as a failure, we treat them as such. Katie is my biggest cheerleader, and I hope and pray I am hers. She believes I can do great things. She believes it, encourages me to become, and pushes me to become that.

There is also great power in this. Most people do not understand the power they have in a relationship in terms of their presence, their voice, their silence, eye contact, encouragement or insults.

You have the power to bring the best out of your spouse or discourage them. Yes, each person is responsible for themselves and determines what they do, but in a marriage, the closest human relationship, there is great power to bring out the best or the worst in your spouse.

How Your Past Affects Your Marriage

Every couple, every person has a story. Something they have carried their entire life. I call this the tone of your life, the tone of your marriage.

Often we have no idea this exists. This story is one that plays through every interaction of your life. It is the identity you take with you, the identity you play off of, often without even knowing.

Here are some examples:

  • Money was tight in your family, so you saved and saved. Money was your security. The tone of life is hectic, stressful, always watching every penny. The tone of your relationships very easily becomes one of desperation.
  • One parent is an alcoholic. The tone is one of walking around quietly, silently, not wanting to do anything to set that parent off. Excuses are made by the other parent. You eventually make excuses to others for that parent.
  • Perfection is the name of the game. Everything must be perfect. If you aren’t perfect, at least appear perfect. Always look perfect, act perfect. If a relationship isn’t perfect, pretend it is. Eventually you have no idea what is real and what isn’t, but perfection matters.
  • Grades. Grades are the key to getting ahead. If you excel in school, you win, you get attention and a good job. This carries into your career. The way to win and get attention is to be good at what you do. Weakness is for the people who lose. A fear of failure overwhelms you. If you feel, it shows you are inadequate.
  • Never good enough. The tone of this family is that we can never win, we can never get ahead. The only people who make it are everyone else. This is almost like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh in human form. Nothing good happens to this person or in this family.

How do you figure out your story and how it affects your marriage?

Here are a few questions I got from a counselor on this that I think are incredibly helpful:

  • What was the emotional atmosphere of your home growing up?
  • Were your mom and dad emotionally close or distant?
  • Did either of your parents rely on you for emotional support?
  • Were either of your parents detached or uninvolved in your family?
  • Were you ever mistreated by verbal, physical, sexual or emotional abuse?
  • Were either of your parents alcoholics?
  • In your family, what were you allowed to do or not do? What were you allowed to be or not be?
  • Lastly, what is the deepest wound you suffered in your family of origin?

This story often goes unnoticed.

Why?

It is all we know.

We only know the family that scrapes things together. We only know the family where the picture of perfection matters. We only know the father sleeping it off on the couch in hopes he doesn’t explode and hit us. We only know the family that says, “Nothing ever goes our way.”

Then when we move into our marriage, we take this story, this tone. This becomes the lens we look through as we look at our spouse, at our kids and the world around us.

We expect our spouse to fail us, lie to us, leave us, hit us, ignore us. We expect our spouse to be perfect, meet our needs, do what we want, take advantage of us. Whatever we saw.

All of this pain can be traced back to Genesis 3:15 – 16, where God tells our first parents the consequence for their sin. Ray Ortlund, in his book Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel, says, “These sad words declare and predict our cycle of dysfunction whenever a wife steps in to fill the void created by her husband’s failure to care and provide, with the husband resenting his wife for the implied criticism of his own passivity and silently or aggressively punishing her for it. Each one aggravates the weakness of the other, as they spiral down into mutual incomprehension, bitterness, and alienation. Both defiant feminism and arrogant chauvinism fall short of the glory of God’s plan. We will never get there by pointing an accusing finger at the other. According to the Bible, all restoration begins with merciful redemption coming down from God above.”

How to Enjoy Your Marriage

What if I told you that one of the goals of marriage was to enjoy your spouse? Most of us would think, “Duh, Josh, that makes sense.” We want to be happy and enjoy our relationships.

I’ve read that statistically less than 20% of married couples actually say they are happy and enjoy their marriage. Sadly, of the people I’ve met and watched, that number doesn’t seem that crazy.

You and I know that stat is true. We’ve been married, we watched our parents marriage, we see our friends go in and out of relationships.

What if I told you the choices you make when dating, in engagement and through marriage will determine whether or not you enjoy your spouse? We know this. And yet most people, most couples, make decisions that lead them to a place of misery in marriage, or simply giving up on their marriage but staying together for the kids.

Anyone can stay together. Anyone can stay for the kids and be miserable, but it takes different choices to find enjoyment.

Proverbs 5 says this:

Drink water from your own cistern, flowing water from your own well.
Should your springs be scattered abroad, streams of water in the streets?
Let them be for yourself alone, and not for strangers with you.
Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe.
Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love. -Proverbs 5:15 – 19

So what do couples do to enjoy their marriage that you can do? Here are four things:

1. Decide you’ll enjoy your marriage. This might seem obvious, but couples who enjoy their marriage decide to enjoy their marriage. They decide to last. It isn’t just that they make a commitment to each other, but they really live with the reality that divorce is not an option.

When you decide to enjoy your marriage, you decide that no other relationship is an option. This leads into many other decisions. If divorce or not being happy is an option, that will also determine the actions you will take. If happiness in your marriage is a priority, that impacts your choices. If your needs and selfishness are your priority, that will impact your choices.

If you decide to enjoy your marriage, you will think of your spouse above yourself and look for ways to bless and encourage them. You won’t point out all their wrongs or imperfections. You know they aren’t perfect and neither are you.

This also means you will work hard at your marriage. You’ll read books on marriage, listen to podcasts and find a mentor who has a marriage you want to learn from. Katie and I are constantly talking to couples who are older and enjoy their marriages. What do they know? How do they make it to year 40, year 50, of marriage and still enjoy being together?

The reality is, your marriage will go through highs and lows. It will have incredible moments of joy and unbelievably dark lows. Every couple who enjoys their marriage has learned how to navigate these moments as a couple, and that’s crucial. You learn how to walk together no matter what life holds or throws at you.

This also means you find things to do together that you enjoy. You don’t have to enjoy everything your spouse does, but you enjoy being with them, and, as we’ll see in a minute, you enjoy making them happy.

Verse 15 tells us in order to enjoy your marriage, you must focus on it, take care of it and pour time and energy into it. A great marriage won’t just happen. If you meet a couple with a great marriage, you will see a couple that has worked on their marriage. They have protected their marriage and they have put effort into their marriage.

2. Fight for purity in your marriage (before and after you get married). This one is important. Purity is one of the things that protects your marriage from adultery, yet it also helps move you to enjoyment.

When you are looking at porn, fantasizing about someone you aren’t married to, reading romance novels, getting emotionally attached to a co-worker or a neighbor, you aren’t protecting your marriage. When this happens, you start to think, “This person gets me. This person listens. This person meets a need my spouse doesn’t meet.” In that moment you have not only moved into dangerous territory, but now you don’t enjoy your marriage.

Let’s be honest, porn, whether you are a man or a woman, is easier. It takes less effort, there’s no possibility of rejection or hurt, it takes no work, and it is enjoyable for that moment. But you miss connection and intimacy; it leaves you longing for more because it doesn’t live up to its promises.

Verse 17 says, “Let your bodies be for yourself alone (this is referring to your marriage), not for strangers with you.”

In years past at Revolution, we’ve challenged married couples in our church to do a 30 day sex challenge. To pray together each day, read your Bible together each day and do something sexual together each day. Every time someone will ask me what it means to do something sexual with your spouse each day. My answer? Look at your spouse and say, “What does it mean for us to do something sexual together, with no one else (digital or not) each day for the next 30 days?” Then do that. Here’s what you’ll find: your affection goes up and your pursuit of each other goes up. If you know you’re connecting sexually today, that changes what you do that day. You might not eat that spicy food, you brush your teeth again or get a shower. That expectation goes a long way in a relationship.

3. Rejoice in your spouse. Verse 18 says, “Let your fountain be blessed and rejoice in the wife of your youth.”

Rejoice carries the idea of fun and enjoyment.

It is to feel joy, enjoyment and happiness from your spouse but also to bring joy, enjoyment and happiness to your spouse.

First, do you strive to bring joy, enjoyment and happiness to your spouse? Do you know what brings them joy and happiness?

Second, are you a cheerleader for your spouse, or do you fight against them? Bringing them joy means cheering them on, being excited about what excites them. If something goes well for them, you are excited for them. You don’t get jealous of them or irritated when things go well for them. You rejoice when they rejoice and you weep when they weep.

On the flip side of rejoicing is walking through pain with them. Katie always tells me, “Josh, you hold a crying girl.” This is great advice for dads of daughters and for husbands.

4. Strive to be great servant lovers. Verse 19 says, “Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated by her love.” We’ll talk more about this in two weeks, but let me say this now.

Couples who enjoy their marriage are great servant lovers. They are drunk with love. Yes, old age and gravity affect us all, and you don’t look like you used to, but that doesn’t mean your sexual relationship can’t be great.

If you meet a couple who has been married for more than a decade and are happy, here’s what I bet you’ll find: a couple who are great servant lovers. They have worked hard on their sexual relationship with their spouse. They know what turns their spouse on and what they don’t like. They are affectionate, they gross their kids out with all the kissing and dancing they do in the kitchen.

Let me give you a few ideas on this:

  • Find out what your spouse finds attractive and try to do that. It might be to throw that shirt out. If you stay at home with kids, your husband might say, “Could you shower by the end of the day?” Whatever it is, talk it out instead of being frustrated by it.
  • Clean out your underwear drawer every year. That alone will go a long way.
  • Pursue each other and have a weekly date night (even if it is at home). I don’t care what you call it, but have a night each week that is set aside to build into your relationship. And empty nesters, unless you are intentional, don’t tell me every night is date night. Simply being in the same house doesn’t count.
  • In the bedroom, find out what they like and don’t like. I know guys, you are awesome in the bedroom, in your mind. My guess is, if you asked your wife what turns her on, she will surprise you because it isn’t what you think.

The reality is, to enjoy your marriage it will take work. It will take making decisions other couples don’t make. Why? Not every couple enjoys their marriage, so to enjoy yours, you must make different choices. You must walk a different path.

Love Is… (1 Corinthians 13)

I know that loving people is hard. It can be exhilarating and bring us so much joy, but it can also bring us heartache.

Last week Katie and I were with one of our mentors, and he said, “The people God has placed in our lives are there to activate what God wants to transform.” That is hard because everyone in my life isn’t always easy to live with. They can be messy, difficult, get in the way and get on my nerves. I can do the same to them as well. That is what relationships are like.

I want to encourage you to continue thinking through how you can bring love to your relationships, especially the most important and closest ones to you.

If you aren’t familiar with 1 Corinthians 13 on love (a very popular wedding passage), let’s remind ourselves:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

Love is patient. We are impatient people. We want food fast, internet fast and we get annoyed when Netflix buffers. We are also impatient relationally. This plays out by being demanding, bulldozing people and pushing too hard. It’s the worst with those closest to us, pushing them, expecting them to be what we want, to do what we want. Yet love says, “However long it takes for you to get your act together, I’ll be here.” Our culture says, “If they don’t change fast enough, if they hold you back, move on.”

Can you imagine Jesus saying, “You aren’t changing fast enough, so I’m done with you”, or, “You aren’t responding to me fast enough, so we’re done”? This is difficult, especially if you are a control freak in your life.

Love is kind. Kindness is actions, words, emotions and so much more.

In your relationships, do you use your presence and words to show kindness, or do you tear the other down? Kindness often is keeping your mouth shut when you’d love to open it. Not in a way to cover sin, but in a way to say, “That isn’t a big deal; I’ll let that go.”

Love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. Envy is a longing for something that isn’t currently ours. Boasting is puffing ourselves up, focusing on ourself and our needs over the needs of others. Arrogance is thinking we’re better than we are. Rude is controlling the agenda and everyone around us.

When we envy others, boast, are arrogant or rude, we push people away.

Often we do these things to be right, but also to protect ourselves from getting hurt. If I envy you, then I can blame you for my problems. If I boast, I can put you down to make me feel better. The same is true of being rude. If I’m arrogant, I protect myself from getting hurt. If I’m not proud, I’m willing to open up my heart to hurt, yes, but I also open up my heart to love.

All these emotions and actions do is isolate us. In this passage Paul is inviting us to let go of these desires.

Love does not insist on its own way. Many times love is self-seeking and about what we want.

Why do we insist on our way? For protection, fear, pride, anxiety, control, just to name a few. Love gives in relationships; it doesn’t take.

Love doesn’t insist on perfection. In our photoshopped, air brushed culture, we insist on perfection. We take and re-take selfies. We only post our highlights or our low lights in a way to get love. Think the next time you post something, are you posting it for affirmation? Most of us do.

But love says, “I’ll accept you. I’ll walk with you.” Love says, “I won’t have an independent spirit.” This doesn’t mean you are co-dependent, because that’s unhealthy, but do you bring an independent, “I’m going to do what I want when I want” spirit to your relationships?

At the end of the day, this is empathy and a willingness to see from the other person’s perspective in a relationship.

Love is not irritable or resentful. We all know people who are resentful and always irritated. They keep a list of wrongs in relationships, reminding people of past hurts. They also always expect the worst in relationships.

Do you know where this comes from? It comes from their family of origin, but often it comes from the picture they have of the relationship.

For me, I am often my biggest critic. Every situation I am in with anyone, I have a picture in my mind of what that interaction and time will be like. What this does is prevent me from enjoying the moment. I have to constantly battle this. Multiple times a day I have to remind myself, “This is good enough. The world won’t end.” When we let go and enjoy, we more easily let go of hurt, we more easily let go of things that didn’t go the way we wanted them to go.

Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. This goes with the last one.

Do you rejoice over the mistakes of those closest to you? Being able to say, “I told you it would go that way”, which puffs us up to show that we are right. We look at people who make mistakes in our lives and think, “How did you not know that would go that way?”

This also gets into the area of being historical in relationships. Do you find yourself saying, “Remember when…”, “You always…”, or “You never…”? Don’t miss this: No strong relationship is filled with the words always and never.

But what if the other person in my life is hard to love? What if my spouse is difficult? What if my child is hard to get along with? What if my parents or in-laws are always getting into our relationship?

Paul ends with what I think are the hardest parts of this passage, because they cost us the most.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things. This is the hardest part of love. This last verse shows us not only what God’s love towards us cost Him, but it shows us what love will cost us. It also shows us how strong love is.

Love can bear all things when we love the way God loves us. Love does not give up hope. Love is not naïve, but love is powerful. The love that Paul has been talking about in these verses is love that can bear all things, believe all things and hope all things.

But what if the other person doesn’t love like that?

Love endures all things. That’s why Paul ends with love endures all things.

You have the choice to endure all things, in love, even when things are the hardest and the darkest. Even when facing your hurt is painful, even when that person hurts you emotionally, you have the choice to love.

Will they return that love? Maybe not.

We love those around us the way we believe God loves us (1 John 4:19), whether we believe in God or not.

For example, if we believe God is indifferent towards us, this is how we approach most relationships. If we believe God is holding out on us, we will hold out on those closest to us in relationships. If we believe God has a short fuse, we will tend to have a short fuse. If we believe God doesn’t care what we do, this is how we will treat those closest to us.

How do I know this?

1 Corinthians 13 is a picture of God’s love toward us. All of these remind us of what God’s love is like.

God is not impatient or unkind with us. He is not pushy. God does not say to us, “Do you remember when you…”, or, “You always…” Instead, we are told that when we take the step of following Jesus and confessing our sins and need for Jesus, God remembers our sin no more. It is hard when we are hurt, carry around shame and regret and guilt from past relationships to see the truth. We are so used to seeing that relationship and all relationships through the lens of pain. Yet Jesus sets us free from our shame, regret and guilt. He is the power to overcome those experiences.

But why is love so hard?

Because, “The people God has placed in our lives are there to activate what God wants to transform.” So, as you read through the list in 1 Corinthians 13, you begin to see what God wants to transform in your life through what is difficult for you to live out.

Think of one thing, one relationship, and work on that. Change and growth take time, so don’t feel like you need to fix every relationship you have. That’s not possible. Give yourself permission to take your time. God isn’t in a rush.

Five Ways Men Lead Their Families That Are Destructive

The idea of roles, headship and submission in marriage is obviously filled with land mines. Many people have misused and misinterpreted these beautiful verses to make them say what they want to. We have visions of quiet wives who say nothing, men who dominate and abuse their families all based on Ephesians 5, completely missing the point of this passage.

Yet most couples tend to have arguments and frustrations around who does what in a family and marriage. If a couple doesn’t decide who will do what, they will often run into issues. A wife will do what she saw her mom do or what she thinks a woman should do. The husband will do what he saw his dad do or what he saw in a movie.

Before deciding, though, here are five things a man is not supposed to do when it comes to leading his home.

Spiritually apathetic headship. This husband completely abdicates his role as the spiritual leader of his family. He often will not go to church with his wife and kids, and if he does he is very passive. Not getting involved, not praying with his wife or kids, not praying at dinner, not guiding his kids spiritually, not asking questions, not reading the scripture to them. He leaves that up to the church or his wife.

Workaholic headship. This husband sees headship simply as providing for the needs of his family. While that is part of headship, there is more to it than making money so there is a roof over their heads, clothes on their backs and food on the table. This type of headship is disconnected from the family in some very important ways.

Dictatorial headship. This husband uses headship as a way to control and get his way, all the time. It doesn’t matter how he gets his way, and it doesn’t matter what happens because he has gotten his way. He just wants his way. Often he will use Bible verses to get it. This husband will treat his wife and kids as slaves and order them around. Often this will lead to physical abuse, which is nowhere near what Paul had in mind when he called men to be the head of their house.

Emotionally detached headship. This is the husband who is the head of the family in name only. He has nothing to do with his wife or kids. He does not lead them in any form. He simply sits by, dictating when he doesn’t like something, letting his wife take on his role and responsibility, basically doing everything he is supposed to do. Emotionally he does not know how to relate to his wife and kids. He does not know how to connect to his family; he is distant.

Irresponsible headship. This is the husband who buys things without consulting his wife, makes decisions on his own and generally puts his family in financial, relational, physical and emotional danger because “he is the head of the house.” This husband sees headship as a club to get to do what he wants.

Rivalry, Partnership & Your Marriage

Rivalry in marriage? Couples don’t fight against each other, do they? They are always on the same side.

We are naive if we think that is true.

We all know couples who fight against each other, work against each other, undermine the other.

Paul says in Philippians 2:3 that we should not do things out of rivalry or conceit but look to the interests of others. While this is written specifically to a church, it has implications for Christians who are married.

Yet, Katie and I talk to countless couples that fall into rivalry in their marriage. It is easy to fall into, because deep down we are all very selfish and we are good at it. I remember talking to a wife who said, “I stopped doing laundry because he didn’t take out the trash or do enough around the house. I just let it pile up.” I’ve heard guys tell me, “She won’t have sex with me, so I won’t talk to her when she says she wants to talk.” Women have told us, “I’m not having sex until he does _______.” I could literally list hundreds of things, but at the end of the day the goal is to get their way. At the end of the day, these couples want to get their way, and they are willing to fight for it. They are also being selfish.

While many in our culture would say, “That makes sense”, biblically, it doesn’t. Marriage is not a contract. A contract says, “I’ll do this, you do that, and as long as we keep our end of the bargain, we’ll stay married and be happy.” That’s not what God calls us to, nor is it even possible. There are times that I have more energy than Katie, and so I pick up the baton of bedtime, baths, etc. There are times when that burden falls to Katie. One of us gets sick and takes care of the other. A contract says, “I’m sorry you are sick, but it is your turn to clean the kitchen, so get out of bed and keep up your end of the bargain or else.”

Whenever someone says something like this to me, my response is, “Let me say that back to you so you can hear what I just heard.” I think until someone else says it to us, we don’t realize what we sound like. We sound like rivals instead of spouses. We sound like people who are looking out for ourselves instead of the interest of our spouse.

You don’t serve your spouse because they deserve it or because they do it for you; you do it because you are called to. You don’t meet your spouses needs because they meet yours; you do it because you are called to.

If you’re married, here’s a simple question for you: What if you and your spouse stopped working against each other and began working together towards something? What if rivalry was not what dominated your marriage, but selflessness and teamwork?

Do You Build Up or Tear Down Your Spouse?

Have you ever listened to a person talk about their spouse? Whether that spouse is there or not, it can be incredible to listen to or heart wrenching and awkward. You can learn a lot about a couple by listening to how they talk about their spouse.

One thing Katie and I committed to at the beginning of our marriage was to not make fun of each other. It is amazing to me how many couples will make fun of each other, especially in front of other people. Now I know what you are going to say, “They are just having fun.” And yes, people will laugh, but watch the person who is being made fun of and you will see a person who is dying inside. The reason is that it hurts. There is always truth in every joke.

One challenge we lay out to couples is to not make fun of each other for a week and see how it changes your relationship. You will be blown away by the difference.

The other thing that amazes me is how couples will vent about each other when the other isn’t present. I will hear guys say, “I can’t believe what my wife did”, and then lay in about her. She will do the same. It is now more prevalent on Facebook. I sit amazed staring at my computer screen as couples will put down their spouse for the whole world to see, listing things the other forgot to do, how they don’t care, they are late again, forgot to wash the dog, is still sleeping in, or just whatever is bothering them.

The other day someone asked Katie why she doesn’t vent about me. The person asked if she didn’t do it because I’m a pastor, and Katie said (and this is another reason I love my wife), “I don’t want to malign my husband. If he does something that bothers me, I tell him, not the whole world.” Now, this doesn’t mean that Katie and I don’t have friends that we vent to. We do, but it is a singular friend (not the same person for each of us). It is not plural and it is for the purpose of venting, and then that person can speak into our lives to show us the mirror of where we are dropping the ball and challenge us. Too many people vent about their spouses to lots of people, and the people they vent to simply ignite the fire more instead of challenging them.

As a man this is crucial because my identity is largely tied to what Katie thinks of me. If she is bashing me to friends about forgetting something, not making enough, working too hard, I will feel like she is nagging me, not proud of me, doesn’t respect me. And, this is the big one, I will feel like she is treating me like one of her kids. (That’s another post.)

One thing I have grown to appreciate about Katie from watching and listening to other couples is how she speaks about me. Many couples speak poorly about their spouses. I have listened to women berate their husbands in public or in front of their kids about what they make (usually not enough), how lazy they are, how they wished their husband was like someone else (usually the husband of a friend they’ve heard about), etc. I have watched women put their husbands down in front of their kids, talking to him and about him, treating him as if he is one of the kids. I’ve even heard women with three kids and a husband say, “I have four kids.”

What is ironic about this is those same women then wonder why their husbands act like one of the kids. What did you expect? You treat him like one of the kids.

Your kids will largely get their opinion of your husband, or wife for that matter, based on how you speak about them.

I love hearing Katie talk with our kids about how hard I work, how I provide for our family, how important it is for me to take them on daddy dates, why date nights are important with Katie. Through this I believe our kids will grow up with a good view of what a dad is and a good picture of who I am.

It is equally important for me to speak highly of Katie, how hard she works in our home, the little things she does to keep our house running, teaching our kids at home, how she looks.

The way I treat Katie and talk about her is how my sons will largely learn how to treat women. It is also how Ava will learn how to let a man treat her. My sons will learn from Katie how a woman is to treat them. Ava will learn from Katie how she is to treat men as she grows older.

A Vision for Your Marriage

Marriage is hard work. There are many times that you are excited to be married, you and your spouse are on the same page, romance is high and affection feels easy. Decisions flow without much work, and you wonder why it isn’t always like this.

Other times your marriage feels like if it is moving, it is moving backwards. You fight, never hold hands, you struggle to understand your spouse, and decisions always end in fights and hurt feelings.

If you’re single you think, “I’ll worry about my marriage, someday…when I’m married.”

Regardless of where you are, one thing is sure: you need a vision for your marriage. The one you are in or the one you will enter into one day.

It is easy to miss this. It is easy to get stuck in the day to day of marriage and miss this. So much happens in a day, it is hard enough to stay married, let alone think about your marriage.

Too many couples have no idea what they are doing in their marriage. If you don’t have a vision, a destination, you don’t know where you are going.

Here’s what happens: you do what your parents did. You talk to your spouse the way your mom talked to your dad. You treat each other the way your parents did. You do the same things your parents did. Your dad did the finances, so you expect your husband to do the finances. Doesn’t matter if he’s good at that. It’s what you expect.

Or you do the exact opposite of what you saw your parents do. They seemed miserable, they got divorced, so no matter what it is, let’s do the opposite.

We do this without ever asking, “Is that what I want?” Or, “Is that what God wants?”

In Ephesians 5:22 – 33 we are given a vision for marriage, a picture, a reflection of what marriage is supposed to look like. When someone looks at a marriage, they are seeing what that couple believes about God’s love and how they respond to that love.

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

In light of that, here are some things to consider. First men:

  • A husband makes his wife’s burden lighter. Here’s a question every husband should ask his wife on a regular basis: What is one thing I can do to help you and make your life easier?
  • He enjoys serving her.
  • He serves her by providing and being her defender. He takes her side no matter what. He stands with his wife, for his wife, even if that means he makes his mom mad.
  • And he does this all cheerfully without wondering what he will get in return.
  • He nourishes his wife. This means to develop, nurture and to lift up. Are you helping her develop into the person God called her to be? To develop her gifts, her dreams?
  • Does your wife have space for her dreams?
  • Nourish also brings to mind care and attention. Does your wife feel like she is cared for by you and she has your attention?
  • A wife who experiences this will get to the end of her life and think, “Being married opened up my life to so many possibilities. My husband cared about where my life was going. My husband thought of me.”
  • He loves his wife like he loves himself. This happens by cherishing her. This means she feels his warmth, by being valued by her husband. He does not make fun of her, ever. He does not put her down. He builds her up. He doesn’t compare her to other women, he doesn’t fantasize about other women. Instead he delights in her. He prizes her.

For women, whether your husband does that, you are called to respond to him. Not as a doormat, but with strength through the personality God has given you. It means:

  • You are not a doormat. You are not doing whatever your husband wants, but you are thinking for yourself. It is asking questions of your husband, expressing your reservations, helping your husband see something from another angle. It is adding value to your husband.
  • It is knowing that your husband bears the responsibility and accountability to God for your marriage and family.
  • Lastly, it is a heart attitude towards God. Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. It is a step towards God.
  • Submission is not really to your husband but to God.
  • In everything, Paul says in verse 24. Why? Because you are one flesh. There is not an area of your life that is cut off from your spouse.
  • One flesh means one dream, one bank account, sharing all things, not having social media profiles the other doesn’t know about. Katie could literally shut my life down because she has all my passwords to everything.

Why is this so hard?

Tim Keller says, “Self-centeredness is a havoc-wreaking problem in many marriages, and it is the ever-present enemy of every marriage. It is the cancer in the center of a marriage when it begins, and it has to be dealt with.” Living out this vision requires you to let go of what you want. To crucify your desires in many ways.