What do Sean Connery and Harrison Ford have in common? Whether playing James Bond or Indiana Jones, these actors were Hollywood’s idea of a manly man for decades. They’re rough and tough, and can fight, shoot, or punch their way through a crowded alley of bad guys … while barely cracking a sweat. They’re unstoppable. Unflappable.
And they usually get at least one girl in the end.
After all, jumping in the sack with any available warm body just goes with the action-hero territory. They reach for the thrill of sex without paying the price of intimacy. Take James Bond. Give him an adventure, and he’ll be in and out of more beds than a mattress salesman.
In the absence of role models who know how to love, cherish, and relate to one woman over a lifetime, is it any wonder that for the last few decades boys have grown up to be men who are equally clueless about how to give themselves to a lifelong love? Taking their cues from Hollywood, they enter into marriage with guns blazing, thinking that their tough guy routine will save the day. But the show has barely gotten started when they find out how woefully ill-equipped they are to give a woman what she craves most.
I’m convinced we have a generation of married men who are confused and lonely; they’re stuck in a lifeless marriage because they never learned how to cultivate a relationship with a woman that speaks to her romantic need for intimacy. Sandy, who attended one of our conferences, described her relationship with her husband this way:
Dennis, I’m afraid that I am losing respect for him as a man. He is not really contributing to our marriage or even to his own life, so it’s like having a dependent rather than a husband, a partner.
If Sandy’s husband is ever going to become the man of her dreams, the best place to start is by meeting her relational needs. Unfortunately, the media reinforce the notion of experiencing sex devoid of a relationship. Men have been led to believe that great sex, like fresh fruit, is hanging off every tree, ripe and waiting to be picked. All they have to do is reach out and grab some. They’ve been duped into thinking the same should be true in a marriage.
However, great romance is the by-product of a relationship.
Simple gardening tips
The secret is learning how and what to sow in the garden of a woman’s heart. When you sow the seeds of respect, kind words, acts of tenderness, and thoughtfulness, you reap a reward from your wife in abundance. As God said through Hosea, “Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love” (Hosea 10:12).
On the other hand, if you fail to cultivate this relationship, or if you sow seeds of criticism, neglect, or rage, sex becomes little more than a cold, physical act in which your wife feels used and unloved. That’s because God hard-wired a woman to desire relationship. Just as your wife has the power to affirm you sexually, you’ll have tremendous power to provide her with the relationship she longs for; namely, a connectedness to your heart and soul.
When you withhold a meaningful relationship (I’m speaking about her need for conversation with you, her desire to see you plugged into family life, her thirst to hear words of affirmation), she finds it difficult to give herself totally to you. Think with me for a moment: Do you sometimes feel your wife is not excited about your sexual advances? Step back and consider how much of an investment you’ve been making into her relational bank account. Her heart can be like a bank account where you make deposits and withdrawals. Far too often as men we can make withdrawals and disregard making deposits or investments. Every wife needs you to invest security, acceptance, and an emotional connection in her life.
Let me give you an example of what happens when a man squanders his power to validate and romance his bride with a relationship. Pam, a listener to FamilyLife Today® writes,
My husband Keith has called me almost every low-life name that he could think of. He’s called me “fat” and said that I’m “bad in bed.” Although it has been almost eight years ago that Keith said these things, I can’t forget them. We’ve been married 17 years and the TV is still more important to him than me. Recently, while staying in a hotel, I purchased a new nightie. When I changed clothes in front of him, his look was one of disgust. Keith didn’t have to say a word. The look on his face told me exactly how he felt about me.
I feel so rejected physically I can count on one hand in the last two years the times Keith has told me that I look nice. He’s never at home in the evenings to help me with the children. On weekends, Keith usually finds something other than his family to keep him busy. When I’ve tried to talk about this, I get yelled at or spoken down to. I hate living like this. I don’t know where to turn for help.
Now I don’t know Keith’s side of the story, but from what Pam has said, Keith has all but abandoned his role as the provider of a safe relationship—at great cost to his marriage. By calling Pam names, Keith failed to accept her. By ignoring her in favor of the television, he failed to make an emotional connection. And by refusing to involve himself with his family, he undermined her sense of security. His marriage is a divorce waiting to happen unless he recognizes that “love is patient, love is kind … It is not rude, it is not self-seeking … It always protects” (1 Corinthians 13:4, 5, 7).
A woman’s need for relationship carries into the bedroom too. While a man is usually able to engage in sex almost instantaneously (almost any time, anywhere), a woman needs the context of a relationship if she is to freely and playfully respond to physical intimacy. When a man pressures his wife to perform sexually without regard to the relational aspects of such intimacy, sex becomes shallow. Physical intimacy becomes a battle of the wills or a manipulative game that ultimately dies a slow death.
Have I told you lately that I love you?
Just as your wife might wonder why sex is so important to you, you might be wondering why relationship is so crucial to her. You might even be scratching your head about why God wired men and women so differently. Look at it this way. As you know, God created Adam first. But did you know that Adam never asked for a wife?
It was God who said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18, emphasis added). God, in His wisdom, created Eve to be the companion that Adam didn’t even recognize he needed. She was created to remove Adam’s aloneness. No wonder God placed in Eve an intense drive toward relationship.
God knew that man’s tendency was to be alone. He gave us a gravitational pull in marriage—our sex drive—so that we would pursue our wives who, in turn, would call us to know and be known in the context of a relationship.
For a man, achieving relational intimacy is both a mystery and a challenge. I believe God wants to knock the edges off me, as a man, so that I learn to love my wife in a way that communicates love to her. During more than 40 years of marriage, I have repeatedly learned (emphasis on repeatedly) that Barbara needs me to pursue a relationship with her—not just when I want romance, but as a way of life. When a man pursues a relationship and gives his wife compliments only when he’s interested in sex, his wife will feel used.
For example, Barbara and I raised a family of eight. As you can imagine, there were quite a few responsibilities that I had to tackle on a typical weekend. As a man, I tended to count up the “points” that I had racked up over the weekend. You know what I’m talking about: I thought that if I just knocked off about a half-dozen items on her “honey do” list—cooking breakfast, weeding the garden, and so on—then Barbara would feel romantic when we went to bed at night.
But points are irrelevant to Barbara if she feels disconnected from me. In my way of thinking, a little sexual intimacy will connect us. But that may not even be on her radar screen as a woman. Romance for her begins heart to heart and is consummated body to body. In her way of thinking, she wants me to be her friend first, then her lover. Giving her a relationship first is how I become the man of her dreams. In other words, to her, there’s a big difference between doing things for her and being involved with her. Sure, she appreciates what I do for her and for the family. But connecting on a friendship level with her is what she dreams of.
Adapted by permission of Thomas Nelson Inc., Nashville, TN., from the book entitled Rekindling the Romance, copyright 2004 by Dennis and Barbara Rainey. All rights reserved. Copying or using this material without written permission from the publisher is strictly prohibited.