“God, if You truly wanted us to be together, why would our careers clash like this?”
We were two weeks away from our wedding.
I thought finding my soulmate was supposed to be easy. Our lives and career goals should fit seamlessly together like a puzzle, right?
Even as a young girl, I vowed to never give up career aspirations for a man.
But fast-forward a few years: My soon-to-be husband had been a full-time youth minister for two years. His missionary organization strongly encouraged married couples to join together.
After months of praying and seeking counsel, I was downright shocked when it seemed the Lord finally had a clear answer for me: “Follow your husband.”
As Christians, we’re called to a humility modeled after Christ’s self-emptying. Despite being God, Jesus humbled Himself to join humanity, even to the point of a humiliating death, for our sake.
For some reason, this seems easier to do with just about anyone other than our spouses. Personally, chick flicks and love songs conditioned me to believe that marriage was about finding someone who completes me effortlessly.
When I choose the action movie over the chick flick for date night, I am emptying myself. I empty myself when, as a mom of young kids, I press through exhaustion to initiate sex as a way to show my love for my husband. Or when I hold my tongue as I watch my husband eat the last scoop of ice cream.
Before marriage, I could never imagine giving up the Häagen-Dazs—much less my career—because I hadn’t understood the sacrifice a good relationship requires.
Does it take more effort to love sacrificially? Yes.
Is it more spiritually and emotionally satisfying? Most definitely.
Does having a career and family have to clash? Read more on how you can pursue both.
The Good Stuff: [Christ], being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. (Philippians 2:6-7)
Action Points: Look back at the last conflict you had with your spouse. Could the root cause be that one (or both) of you refused to “empty” yourself? What were you grasping too tightly? What are one or two ways you can “empty” yourself in order to love your spouse well?
I’ve got a long history of video gaming. In my teens, I traveled for Halo 2 tournaments and competed at the highest level in World of Warcraft.
I cherish those memories. To utterly dominate random noobs in a seriously fun contest of skill, knowledge, and reaction time? Nothing like it!
Operative word there: teens. I am married now. I have grown up.
Whoa, but hold up. I’m not saying—will never say—video games are just dumb. I believe they are viable sources of entertainment (even community-building) in the right context.
Once a month, seven guys gather with me for the highlight of my month: “Grilling and Gaming.” I come home reenergized, even though it’s 1 a.m.
This is the only gaming I do. My wife and I are at a healthy place now. But it hasn’t always been this way. Not even close. Gaming almost ended us when we were dating.
Let me shoot you straight, if you’ll let me. If you’re a gamer, there’s a good chance your wife isn’t happy with your relationship to gaming. Don’t believe me? Go ahead and ask her.
What’s that? You’re a bit frightened? Have a few excuses surfacing already?
Men, when we said “I do,” we obliterated selfish desire. Our me-first mentality is dead, with no respawns.
Self-forgetfulness reigns. This, above all, is what we learn from Jesus.
For our wives to ever believe we prioritize gaming over her is an utter shame. How dishonoring. How unintentional. How un-pursued she must feel.
Arriving home from work (even if we’re totally spent), let’s set aside gaming as the end goal. Let’s be all there while we care for the kids and nurture our wives’ holistic needs. Maybe then we ask permission (yes, I just said permission) to unwind by demolishing the scrubs with our squad.
But only then. Anything out of this order brings only disorder.
And your wife pays the price.
Wives of gamers, check out “Why does my husband choose video games over me?”
The Good Stuff: Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:15-16)
“We never argue.”
These friends were three years into their marriage. And we, as newlyweds, were shocked.
We’d already had a good deal of conflict—from little stuff, like one of us not being on time, to conflicts taking days to work out.
How does one never argue?
The thought of it made us wonder: Could one of them be frustrated from constantly compromising to avoid conflict?
And if one person is getting their way all the time, might the other spouse feel manipulated, or recognize a lack of healthy confrontation?
Ironically, as the two of us slowly learned to fight fair, we realized conflict actually moved us closer to healthiness. We’d had productive conversation. We understood a lot about ourselves, each other, our marriage, our expectations. And we learned to better serve each other for the long haul.
Conflict was a fantastic instructor about listening well and not interrupting. Or sticking to the topic when we want to bring everything up! Or never discussing divorce, so that working things out (and truly communicating) was our only option.
Arguing also helped tame those highly-charged words (“I’m furious!”) we can easily choose to prove a point. And allowing the other to talk first helped us communicate, “I’m listening. I want to understand.”
When we learn to maneuver through the little conflicts, it prepares us better for when the bigger ones pop up.
Conflict isn’t all bad. In fact, it could be one of your marriage’s best professors.
Ever wonder if you married the wrong person? Read more in “8 Lies That Destroy Marriage.”
The Good Stuff: Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (Colossians 3:13-14)
Action Points: Consider some of the conflict-causing buttons pushed in your marriage. Find a time to discuss one of them and some ways you can lessen the conflict by working through it. Listen well. Speak kindly. Learn something new
Hoping it’s not obvious—but I’m a firstborn. In some of the classic respects (people-pleasing, obedient, achieving), but not others (bossiness, of course. Now listen up).
The phrase “be a good example” ricochets through childhood memories. Maybe my wandering, wayward siblings needed my knowledgeable guidance. Or maybe my firstbornness sucked it up like a straw.
Fine with me. I was good at looking like the ideal.
It does, however, have its drawbacks.
It took an eternity to realize I was primed for a heart strikingly like a Pharisee’s: Doing all the right things, confident God was happy to have me on his team.
Rather than inward reality blossoming outward, I tended to have that flip-flopped. Example first, heart-work later. Probably.
I was busy smartening up the outside in lieu of cleaning up the inside—a trait Jesus loathed (Matthew 23:25).
Or I was loving myself more than loving those for whom I was “modeling” (just as runway-ish as it sounds).
You could feel this way in marriage: that yours should be on a catwalk. The flat-abs marriage with the adoring wife, the strong husband, the peaceful home with 2.5 children.
Yet “No one told me that when I wear a mask, only my mask receives love.”*
The problems with “modeling” marriages are pretty similar to us wayward firstborns: Look good now. Worry about the reality later. Much later.
God sets a “naked and unashamed” ideal of marriage (Genesis 2:25). If community is in concentric circles, with marriage one of those most intimate circles in the center–isn’t there an element of relationships that longs to be makeup-free, naked-hearted, just-as-I-am … and finally unashamed?
Whether within your marriage or as you portray it to outsiders: Lay down the mask, the need to perform to be worthy.
Jesus has already been 100% worthy on your behalf.
Could shame be killing your marriage? Ron and Nan Deal discuss how shame can block vulnerability in marriage.
The Good Stuff: For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:14)
In what ways do you find yourself performing for your spouse—or your marriage performing for your community?
How does this undermine an honest, soul-baring, humble relationship with your spouse, and with Jesus?
What’s one way you will intentionally seek vulnerability in these contexts this week?
*Lynch, John; Bruce McNicol; and Bill Thrall. The Cure: What if God isn’t who you think He is and neither are you? Trueface (2016).
My husband recently had to take me home following a panic attack during church.
I went right to bed. My safe place. See, I struggle with depression.
That day he was dad and mom. He made our boys lunch and dinner, took them to a friend’s house to play, checked on me.
This time was different than before. My depression hadn’t changed. His reaction did.
It’s taken us years and stepped-on toes to learn this clumsy dance.
He’s a self-motivated go-getter: Bed is for sleep, not safety. So he used to get irritated, pleading, furious. He begged me to get out of bed, help with our kids, and get over it.
He loves me deeply; He just didn’t understand.
This time, he gave me the space I needed so I could heal. Rest. Sleep.
He came up, laid beside me, and listened. He asked how I was doing and what triggered this episode.
When I didn’t know, he trusted me to figure it out and tell him later. He didn’t try to “fix,” but was just there with me, in my pit. It was exactly what I needed.
My brain doesn’t have needed chemical ingredients, leaving me overly sad and unable to get out of bed. Even for things and people I love. It can be so overwhelming, nothing else seems to exist except darkness.
He invites me to join him and our kids, but doesn’t push when I’m not ready. He’s learned when to encourage me to get out of bed a little more than the day before. How to balance empathy and motivation.
How do you deal with anxiety and depression? Listen to this episode of Real Life Loading…
The Good Stuff: And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9)
Yesterday, I wrote about the darkness eclipsing me so often—and what that means for my husband.
Depression is an illness. If your spouse had cancer, you’d see them with different eyes. And in our vows, we commit to love our spouses through sickness and health.
Everyone’s depression looks different. We can usually work together to overcome. Neither of us wants this to consume us, choking life from everyone around us.
What can you do?
My brain needed help creating serotonin. Medication allowed me capacity to work out what lay behind my depression. It’s helped so much I’m an open book talking about it!
Some spouses aren’t ready for help. They think they can handle it. They don’t realize how their illness hurts you.
You may not see light at the end of this darkness. Jesus does. Trust His arms to carry both of you through.
Someday, your spouse will be thankful you didn’t give up on them when they felt like giving up on themselves.
For more on this topic, read the original article, “How to Help a Spouse Struggling with Depression.”
The Good Stuff: Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. (Romans 12:12)
By Jim Mitchell
I finally discovered my wife’s biggest turn-on.
We were in the kitchen. She was staring right at it … that little green light on the dishwasher.
Now, to explain, before this, I must confess I’d never been a fan of Gary Chapman’s book The 5 Love Languages.
The book’s premise, as you may know, is that every person is wired by God to experience love primarily in one of five ways: affirming words, acts of service, tangible gifts, quality time, or physical touch.
Initially, the whole concept felt contrived, some therapeutic categories more than biblical wisdom. I wasn’t buying it.
That is, until that moment in the kitchen, a green twinkle in my wife’s eyes, and the soothing “swoosh” of a rinse cycle.
Which I’d never recognized as all that delightful. Then again, I haven’t really made a habit of doing the dishes very often.
But to the clean kitchen surprise and to the heart behind it, her reaction was magical. Foreplay, her way. A green light to love.\
It was exactly what The 5 Love Languages tried to tell me. Sometimes love is more verb than vibe.
Thank you, Gary Chapman. And you’re welcome, marriage.
But how do love languages look different in a blended family? Listen to Ron Deal’s convo with Gary Chapman.
The Good Stuff: : Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:18)
Action Points: Affirming words, acts of service, tangible gifts, quality time, and physical touch. Which does your spouse crave the most?
By Lisa Lakey
He threw away my favorite outdoor blanket. I backed my car into his truck.
He washed and dried my cashmere sweater. I washed his work clothes with a permanent marker.
He tracked mud all over the freshly mopped floor. I threw a diet soda can at his head (it was empty).
During our 16-plus years of marriage, my husband and I have driven each other crazy, wrecked each other’s stuff, and had our fair share of squabbles.
But most of these arguments were fairly minor (and completely unintentional). Minor enough to laugh about later.
And knowing the difference between what we’ll laugh about (and what we won’t) has made a load of difference in how I approach arguments.
Because there have been fights we’ll never laugh about. Pain that still sticks a little (although considerably less than at first). Marital doozies.
These arguments? These need deeper attention. They need time and space for conversation and healing.
But the other stuff? Other than throwing things at my husband’s head, those things I listed just don’t need to sap our relational energy.
Your marriage, no matter how much of a fairy tale it may seem now, will have moments that need that energy. You’ll need to muster up loads of forgiveness, grace, and patience. You’ll need a little elbow grease to get through it.
And when that day comes, you’ll laugh about those minor things you once thought were worth the energy. And you’ll wish you’d have saved some up.
So, whenever you can, laugh about it.
Laughter and good marriages go well together. Read more in “Love and Laughter.”
The Good Stuff: For everything there is a season … a time to weep, and a time to laugh. (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4)
Action Points: The next time you approach an argument with your spouse, ask yourself “Is this something we might laugh about in the future?” If so, take a moment to cool off and see if you can let it go.
I wish I didn’t know these so well.
Insecurity, see, has a barber-pole like relationship with pride: They’re the same sin, swirling around—just different colors.
Both pride and insecurity, I’ve found, fail to seek my worth in what Jesus has done for me. That lack results in holes so deep, they’re vacuums. They suck in my achievements, my appearance, my spouse—anything promising to plug the hole.
But there’s only One designed to prove my worth, and be my worship.
Don’t let insecurity cannibalize your marriage.
If you’re in a second marriage, insecurity can often take the form of comparison. How do you fight it? Listen to this episode of FamilyLife Today.
The Good Stuff: For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water. (Jeremiah 2:13)
Action Points: Consider one of the above symptoms you resonate with. Take time to pray and consider: What fuels this insecurity in you? Remember what Jesus’ work on the Cross ultimately proved: your worth, apart from what others think, or what we do or have.
I met my best friend in fifth grade. We took the same classes in high school, went to the same college, worked for the same companies—even married sisters.
After my wife and I got married, my “Pablo time” was significantly reduced. Distance, responsibilities, and a genuine desire to spend every waking moment with my new bride meant I rarely saw my old friend.
One morning years later, when I attempted to leave for work, the car wouldn’t start. My automotive resume, at this point, contained only two lines:
I had no clue what to do next. I needed Pablo, but he was 70 miles away and on his way to work.
When my wife came in, she found me leaning under the open hood. I stood there for a moment, considering my options.
Then I asked her, “Could you be my Pablo?”
She turned around and left the garage. When she returned a few minutes later, her clothes told me she was ready to get her hands dirty.
My wife understood what I was asking. I needed her to be more than my wife—more than someone I did fun things with. I was asking her to work beside me to fix this problem.
But more than that, I was asking her to be my new best friend.
Over the years, we’ve not only diagnosed and repaired the car multiple times, but we’ve gutted and remodeled our kitchen, run cables, paved a walkway, built a deck, and tackled hundreds of little projects together.
I still enjoy working with Pablo, and marriage will never replace my outside friendships. But nothing compares to working with my wife.
Read on for a few secrets to matrimonial friendship.
The Good Stuff: This is my beloved and this is my friend. (Song of Solomon 5:16)
Action Points: What is one way you can encourage the friendship side of your marriage? Maybe there’s an interest you share with your friends that you can include your spouse in. Or consider something your spouse enjoys and plan some time to do it together.
By Ben McGuire
I’d probably been standing in the store aisle for 20 minutes, staring at a TV I’d seen at three other stores, comparing the product description on display to the one on my phone.
“What do you think? This is the newer model, but the other one is $20 cheaper.”
“Honestly…I don’t see a difference. Just make a decision,” my wife said patiently. Pointedly.
Jill enjoys making fun of my decision-making process, but it also frustrates her to no end. We couldn’t be more opposite in our approach.
She’s quick, impulsive (though not unwise), decisive, verbal.
I calculate, analyze, and internalize.
It’s the trivial decisions she finds the most comical—where nothing’s really at stake.
But there are times—when more is at stake than a television—that my indecisiveness can be paralyzing and overthinking overwhelms me. All to make the “perfect” choice: one with no regrets.
I want the best for my wife and family, but I just can’t move.
In those moments, she just needs me to lead by doing something (anything) that moves us in a positive direction. She doesn’t need me to be perfect.
Just like she gently nudges me in the store aisle toward a decision. My wife’s gentle nudges encourage me toward leading our family well.
Facing a big decision? Here are some questions to ask yourself to give clarity.
The Good Stuff: In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:6)
Action Points: Men, in what areas could your wife need you to take a stronger lead? Ladies, in what ways could you respectfully encourage your husband in his leading of the family?
By Leigh Harper
I love the idea of a date night. Spending intentional, one-on-one time with my husband fills me to the tip-top. It makes me feel cherished.
But in some seasons, our budget for dating has been skimpy.
You can probably relate. Rather than pushing dating to the wayside or considering it an “extra” luxury you can’t afford, challenge yourself to keep dates a priority, even if it means getting creative. Here are some ideas for dating on the cheap.
Swap childcare. If you have kids and need a sitter, find another couple to swap date nights with instead of hiring someone.
Coffee, with bucket list creation. Over coffee at home or a local coffee shop, dream together. Make a list of things you’d like to do with your spouse one day.
These can be extravagant, like trips, or more simple, like reading a book together each year.
During your date, pick which item you’ll tackle together first, and put it on your calendar.
Get moving. Exercise together! Movement is good for our bodies and our minds, so go for a hike, bike ride, or a more casual stroll through your neighborhood.
Explore another culture. Pick a country, and then find a recipe and movie from it. Make the recipe at home and stream the movie. As a bonus, learn a few sexy phrases in the country’s native language!
Need more inspiration? Read tips for planning a “Great Date Night.”
The Good Stuff: Let all that you do be done in love. (1 Corinthians 16:14)
Action Points: By the end of today, schedule your next date with your spouse!
Between the two of you, are you usually the embarrass-er or the embarrassed?
You know you’ve got that secret signal. It’s that look between the two of you communicating something like For the love of Mike, cease and desist.
There’s a wonderfully broad spectrum here: From, Oh, he did not just say that to my mother. To, Wow, in front of my boss, my spouse’s enthusiasm reminds me of an animated woodland creature.
How can you deal? A few questions to ask.
Am I more concerned about my spouse or myself?
When you’re able to step away from losing face, is this more about your comfort zone, or more about a spouse being unwise or unloving?
How can you shift your focus from your own kingdom/your will being done—what you want, your agenda (Revenge! Saving face! Protection of my ego!) to God’s kingdom, and what He wants for your spouse?
What’s beneath my embarrassment?
Is this something you can overlook and truly be able to forgive—not just be in denial?
Does this touch on a moral issue, challenge your identity (should it?), or ping on a past experience associated with shame?
When/how is my spouse most likely to respond with openness?
First, take it out of the public sphere, which will likely have the ambushed, fight-or-flight reaction operating from shame rather than an open mind.
Then try the classic When you __, I feel __.
How can I appreciate what this trait brings to the table?
Start internally: When we met, I loved how bold she was. He was so funny.
Consider articulating this: “You are so unguarded, and I know it helps people be themselves. But this seemed to lack some tact.”
One-off or a pattern?
This could mean the difference between “I wondered about something you said earlier…” and “I’m starting to feel like when we’re with your friends, you lose sight of me.”
Like any other conflict, embarrassment is an opportunity: to love each other better, act and grow to be like Jesus, and honor Him even when you haven’t been.
Is your marriage really as bad as it seems? Five reasons it probably isn’t.
The Good Stuff: Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. (Romans 12:9-10)
Action Points: Jesus emptied himself of the honor He deserved, taking on the form of a servant (Philippians 2:5-7). And yet it’s a good thing for you and your spouse to help each other “count others more significant than yourselves” (2:3), learning to love each other with increasing honor and regard. Personally, what are your own guidelines of when to say something? How do those compare with Scripture?
She let out a growl so ferocious, the humans were shaken to their core! She bared her teeth, her inner beast unleashed. What were they thinking, getting between a mother bear and her cub?
Oh, you thought I was describing the animal? Ha! I’m describing myself when our children were young.
I fought fiercely to protect my babies. Uh, until I realized I couldn’t protect them from everything. Especially the consequences of their own choices.
I also learned to be careful with my protective nature when it came to their dad.
One of our biggest disagreements was over a disciplinary moment with one of our daughters. I was ready to pounce. But taking up for her meant siding against my husband in her presence.
Hebrews 13:4 tells us to “Let marriage be held in honor among all”.
That means “Team Us” before anything or anyone else … including our children.
To honor my marriage as top priority, I had to tame my inner beast and keep Mama Bear in check.
Honestly, those cubs were not angels. Sometimes true protection looked like discipline.
But in your own den, maybe he (or she) didn’t have to speak so harshly. Or take away their privileges for, like, ever! Have you been there, and felt your Mama/Papa Bear’s inner beast rising?
I get it.
I’m not suggesting you don’t confront your spouse for the purpose of protecting your child’s well-being. But agreeing to discuss it privately, rather than in your children’s presence, guards your marriage. It helps them see you as a united team.
And when you conclude the discipline was unfair, apologize sincerely to that child and make it right.
This practice will make both Mama and Papa Bear very happy.
Improve your marriage by being worse parents.
The Good Stuff: Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24)
Action Points: Instead of allowing your children to get in the way of your oneness, what are some ways in which you can ensure that your oneness gets in the way of your children? If you don’t have children, answer the same question but replace “your children” with “others.”
By Jim Mitchell
I’m gonna say a phrase and you say what comes to mind. Ready?
Road trip with your family.
[pause and think]
Be honest. You instantly thought, “Everyone laughing with joyful hearts,” “nobody fighting,” and “time flying by so fast we all want to do it again soon.” Right?
Crazy. That’s exactly what comes to my mind.
Seriously. Let me share a simple hack to give your road trips (and marriage) a more harmonious tune.
It’s called the shared playlist, and you gotta try it stat!
Ask each person to pick six to eight favorite songs. Have a teenager build you a playlist (it’ll take her four nanoseconds). Then shuffle and play it randomly as you drive.
My family tried it and the mashup was an immediate hit:
Somehow this shared playlist created a unifying mix of our distinct personalities and tastes. No one loved every song. Everyone felt heard.
And along the way, I saw a metaphor for my marriage.
Yielding a little air time to one another, receiving a little togetherness in return. Knowing, and being known.
It’s no wonder Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)
Some extended one-on-one time might be just what your marriage needs. Read “Why You Need to Get Away.”
The Good Stuff: A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. (Proverbs 17:22)
Action Points: How can you start singing off a shared playlist in your important relationships?
By Lisa Lakey
“Of course you did.”
The words slid between my slippery lips before I could stop them. And I saw the subtle change in my husband’s look as I wished I could retract those four small words.
But I couldn’t. And let’s be real. It wasn’t the first time (maybe that week even).
That whole “sticks and stones” rhyme from childhood doesn’t work in the adult world. Words, indeed, can hurt us.
That day, my husband had made a small confession to an action he had done without much thought. But it added more work on my swelling to-do list.
But what I did was worse. Because mine wasn’t an accident. It was intentional.
He made a confession; I placed a judgment. Yet it wasn’t on what he did as much as on his character.
Because there’s always the implied we don’t say. Of course you did. That’s who you are.
I’m reminded of the story of the woman caught in adultery. In John 8, the Pharisees were ready to stone her for her sins. But Jesus steps in and says, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone,” (verse 7). Crickets.
As one by one they walk away, He tells her, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more,” (verse 11).
Sticks and stones cause serious damage. So do words. I don’t want to cast verbal stones at my spouse.
One of the greatest challenges of marriage is how you speak to your spouse. Read “The Power of Words.”
The Good Stuff: A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit. (Proverbs 15:4)
Action Points: Do you have a not-so-gentle way with words? Pray and ask God for help in how you speak to your spouse. If you need an extra reminder, write “Speak kindly” on sticky notes and place around the house, in the car, etc.
“What can I do to help?” he asked that morning.
“Just help me make it past 4:30,” I told him.
The reasons I was worn out were really good ones. Really! Heroic, even. Loving people well, especially those in hard times, is worth it.
If only I could get my body to keep up. (Stupid body.) I needed a day off—a Sabbath—like oxygen.
I army-crawled to 4:30. He helped. But in the argument after, he might have been less impressed with my exhausted anger toward a well-meant comment of his. My over-sensitive, overworn self had zero capacity to deal with anything whiffing of criticism.
Wisely, he suggested I rest before we hashed out the rest of the argument. I sniffed, pulled out a book and a blanket.
See, my lack of “no” often stems from greater desires in me. Some good, like loving. Others less good: my sense of worth. Others’ adoration. Fear.
I love to ignore my own capacity. Sometimes it’s the natural outcome of a large view of me and a small view of God.
But too often, people in my innermost circle must ante up for my lack of discernment and courage to draw the line, to think too highly of myself rather than with sober judgment (Romans 12:3).
My husband’s words from years ago still ricochet in my brain: “Sometimes your overcommitment affects how the gospel”—Jesus’ love—“is played out in our home.” I love less well, and with less joy.
Sometimes I’m asking, What if I don’t do this? Instead of, What might God desire if I said no?
Rarely do we hold other believers accountable for the fourth commandment: To rest; to Sabbath.
What could our marriages be with a little more headspace? Enjoyment of God? Capacity for emotional engagement?
Are you and your spouse arguing about these three things?
The Good Stuff: Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)
How could you act as a shield for your spouse and an advocate for their rest, their “no”?
In what ways have our culture’s values of achievement and hustle inappropriately influenced your Christianity?
How could adequate rest potentially alter your marriage?
If you tend to overcommit, what areas of sin tend to influence your decision making?
“I think I’m in love with someone else,” I told Moses, my then-boyfriend, over the phone.
“I can’t talk to you right now,” he said with a trembling voice. He hung up.
It was one week before our first anniversary.
We had always prided ourselves in not being one of those “clingy” couples. That year, I was a full-time college student in Manhattan working 30-plus hours per week. Moses was a first-year teacher in Queens, his schedule eaten up by never-ending lesson planning.
Months of “doing our own thing” allowed a distance to creep into our relationship. Hungry for companionship, I found myself confiding in another man.
Moses and I got a wake-up call that day: A relationship is never stagnant. It is either moving toward unity, or drifting toward isolation.
Moses and I eventually moved past this emotional affair. But these days—as a married couple of eight years and parents of five young kids—distractions come at us in different forms.
We can’t get 30 seconds into dinner-table conversation without being interrupted. We are tempted to veg out on our phones or Netflix. Sometimes our schedules are so out of sync we feel like two ships passing in the night.
To counteract this, we’ve added several things into our weekly routine.
Several nights a week, we put our electronic devices away, so we can give each other undivided attention to pray or catch up. We take a Sabbath once a week, forgoing email or even calls from friends so we can prioritize time with God and each other.
It’s the little, yet consistent, things we’ve chosen to do that help us keep our togetherness front and center.
Couples who have celebrated 50-plus years of marriage offer their advice in “10 Ideas to Protect Your Marriage.”
The Good Stuff: Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24)
Action Points: Take inventory: what are one or two little (or big) distractions in your life right now that may be hindering your oneness with your spouse? What is one change you can make in your schedule that will counteract these hindrances?
When my son was younger, he loved to follow me around and mimic my every move.
He was especially interested in the way I romanced his mom. He listened to me tell stories about how we met. He watched as we interacted. And whenever I hugged her, he was right there trying to wiggle in between.
I didn’t realize how closely he had been paying attention until one spring afternoon when my then 5-year-old boy walked into the kitchen with his hands hiding behind his back. He marched up to his mother, dropped to one knee, presented a big red tulip he had just cut from our garden, and asked her to marry him.
It was adorable. I knew right then he’d make some girl very happy one day.
When Paul told the Ephesian church to be imitators of God as beloved children (check out Ephesians 5:1), this is the picture that comes to my mind: a son, eyes fixed on his dad, learning and watching his every move.
To be imitators of God, we need to do the same: Study His Word. Stay close to Him through prayer.
When we do, we learn how He operates. Then we can step out courageously and try to follow His example.
Thankfully, we can rely on even more than imitation. Listening and staying in step with the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:25), we’re made new within, given hearts with the capacity to obey, love, and long for God at soul-level.
What does it mean to have a Christian home? Read more.
The Good Stuff: Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:1–2)
Action Points: Pray about one way God loves your spouse that you could imitate in a way that is tangible, touchable, and visual. Conversely, what’s one distinct way your love for your spouse isn’t imitating God’s (Out-of-control anger? Selfishness? Not speaking truth? etc.)?
The summer before my freshman year of high school, I was bopping along, attempting to control acne and naturally curly/frizzy hair and pubescent weight gain. But a perfect storm of events was brewing that would shape my life.
Wish I could’ve heard the haunting soundtrack.
First, at Christian camp, I learned about Christ as servant. But my counselor wore a concerned expression across her lunch tray when I told her Jesus would be okay with being a doormat. I cited multiple misinterpreted Scripture references.
Next on the agenda that summer was cheer camp—where I was to be profoundly rejected.
And finally, when summer ended, I found myself on the wrong social side of high school.
As I labored to set the social balance (and my shame) aright, I would have told you I was making Jesus more appealing to my classmates through serving them. And part of that was true.
But I also learned people liked me better when I did what they wanted.
People-pleasing and servanthood can get inextricably tangled. Fear of people can take on an element of righteousness, self-sacrifice, even martyrdom. I like to categorize this as my sin “getting religion.”
I wish I could tell you I didn’t carry this into my marriage. For me, this might look like withholding opinions I’m afraid won’t be well received, or that might be dumb or just plain wrong.
Maybe we’re afraid a spouse won’t like us, will withhold affection—or even get angry (especially if any kind of opposition qualifies as attack in our super-sensitive minds).
We might feel bitter from the load others ask of us, or offended when our opinions aren’t sought.
But God doesn’t ask us to smother ourselves for the sake of others.
We make much of Him by playing our fullest role in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:16-17), by realizing His image fully in us—a true self rather than a false one (Ephesians 2:10, Romans 12:6-7).
What could be lurking behind the “servanthood” in your marriage?
FamilyLife Today host Bob Lepine talks servanthood in “3 Practical Steps to Biblical Leadership in Your Home.”
The Good Stuff: The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe. (Proverbs 29:25)
Action Points: Take a closer look at some of your go-to marital coping mechanisms. Could any of them be based more on fear than on trusting God? Speak honestly with each other about some of the deeper motivations behind actions that appear loving.
By Jim Mitchell
I was helping a friend with a project recently—a two-day, 14-foot, back-gate project to be exact.
He ended up with a nifty new gate; I went home with a nifty new outlook. Though not without a little friendly confrontation midway through.
Things were challenging from the start.
We discovered the existing brick support pillars were not parallel—and they stood at differing heights due to the sloped surface underneath.
This would require some DIY magic to make the double doors meet flush in the middle and keep from sagging over time.
Day one taxed every bit of my modest carpentry skills. As the final moments of light (and energy) were fading, I was triple-measuring a board that looked about ¼ inch off. It had to be perfect!
My buddy, with the subtle sarcasm only a true friend gets away with, says to me, “Hey, thanks for doing that … but it is the back gate, ya know?”
With that, I sank the final screw and put down the drill so we could call it a day.
Then we grabbed a cold drink and shared a good laugh.
Mainly, about how I was treating his back gate like a high-end front door, when it was really just a way to keep the dog in.
And about how a good friend loves you even when you’re a little off-kilter.
Perfectionism always makes sense in the moment. We’d like a perfect spouse, a perfect home where everyone answers, “Yes! Right away!” But if you make a habit of sweating the small stuff, in your spouse or in yourself, you’ll miss the bigger picture.
Put down the drill and get on with life. (And when one of you is high-strung, help both of you laugh about it.)
It really is just the back gate.
Conflict with your spouse is inevitable. Learn how to handle “That Same Stupid Fight.”
The Good Stuff: Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy. (Proverbs 27:6)
Action Points: See something wrong today and overlook it. Then wake up tomorrow and laugh at how silly it was.
By Lisa Lakey
Sometimes I feel like a total fraud.
I often feel that way walking into church with a smile plastered on my face. Kids dressed nice? Check. Holding husband’s hand? Check. Singing with the band with my head held high? Check.
Mentally and emotionally falling apart? Double check.
I feel kind of like a certain snow queen, “Don’t let them in. Don’t let them see.”
We especially feel this way with our marital struggles, right? It’s more personal. We think if we let others see what’s really going on at home, they’ll look at us differently. Judge us even.
If they only knew … nope. That’s too vulnerable.
Ever feel that way? Let me offer some comforting advice: Let it go.
No one has a perfect marriage. Not me, not you. Not even the couple in the pew across from yours holding hands during worship.
I repeat: no one.
So you’re not a fraud if you are working on your marriage. You’re not a fraud if you desperately want things to get better, but just don’t know how. And you’re not a fraud if your marriage is going through some icy patches.
Let go of the guilt of not already being in a healthy place. Trust God to work in you and through you to get there.
Sometimes we need the input of others to get to that healthy place. Read “Where Can I Get Help For My Marriage?”
The Good Stuff: Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins. (Ecclesiastes 7:20)
Action Points: What is one area of your marriage you could work on right now? Pray and ask God for guidance, and then faithfully take those steps. For example, if you’re feeling disconnected, plan a coffee date with your spouse this week to catch up. Even if that means coffee at the kitchen table before heading to work or waking the kids. Remember, perfection isn’t the goal.
By Jim Mitchell
If you’re a fan of the TV show The Office, you probably remember the scene.
Office manager Michael finds himself in another pickle, this time financial. And after some questionable advice from a coworker named Creed, decides there’s no path to a fresh start except one.
So, he walks out into a room full of staff and resolutely screams, “I. Declare. Bankruptcy!”
To which in-house accountant Oscar calmly responds, “You can’t just say the word bankruptcy and expect anything to happen.”
Bad news for a guy desperately seeking a quick fix to his long-term problems.
But let me ask you: For a struggling marriage, who gave the better advice—Oscar or Creed?
According to Dave Harvey, author of When Sinners Say “I Do,” the answer from God’s Word couldn’t be clearer:
Once I know that I am indeed the worst of sinners, then my spouse is no longer my biggest problem: I am. And when I find myself walking in the shoes of the worst of sinners, I will make every effort to grant my spouse the same lavish grace that God has granted me.
In other words, the rock-solid starting point for a struggling marriage is, in fact, an unflinching and unambiguous declaration of personal (ahem, not financial) bankruptcy.
This means looking at myself in the mirror and seeing the problem, not the solution—then turning to my spouse with a renewed sense of mercy and patient grace.
Listen as Dave Harvey explains why “Love Always Forgives.”
The Good Stuff: The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. (1 Timothy 1:15)
Action Points: When’s the last time you declared your own bankruptcy?
As a woman—with a decent degree of independence from my parents—the idea of an arranged marriage punctures me with fear.
Letting my family pick my husband? Singleness would look better and better.
(They didn’t pick my husband. Phew. But they like him a lot. )
Yet there’s actually no statistical difference in happiness between arranged and love-/choice-based marriages. And arranged-marriage partners are nearly twice as compassionate to each other 10 years in.*
“What makes arranged marriages work can be summed up in one word: Commitment. This often means that commitment to working through issues is often put before personal needs and feelings,” explains psychologist Dr. Joseph Cilona, weighing in on Lifetime TV show, Married at First Sight.**
On the show, singles entrust matrimony to experts, who use compatibility and coaching for a new generation of matchmaking.
Arranged marriages seem to view marriage as a family-supported event, rather than the mere responsibility of two individuals.
What I learn from arranged marriages (not that I’m endorsing arranged marriages or Lifetime)? It’s some version of plan to work—and with community—for your happy marriage.
And perhaps, have expectations compatible with planet Earth.
We venture into marriage stocked with happy love hormones … that scientifically last a maximum of 18 months.
We set ourselves up for failure. Especially when the modern standard of worthwhile marriage seems to fall along the lines of “Am I happy?”
Perhaps a lack of hyperfocus on our own happiness could also contribute to compassion for our partner long after the veil’s lost in the attic.
But if we see a fulfilling marriage as an uphill battle from the start, something precious and hard won, a commitment upheld by two families—there’s something sacred to glean.
Read “The Good News for an Unhappy Marriage.”
The Good Stuff: Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. (Colossians 3:23-24)
Action Points: How would your perspective change if your spouse wasn’t responsible for your happiness?
Our little family was going through a huge transition, saturated with a minefield of decisions. In one moment of planning, the wires of our words got crossed and we both felt frustrated and misunderstood. An agonizing silence took over our home.
I wanted to be a godly leader and pursue coming back to oneness with my wife. But pride knotted my heart strings, making it hard to reach Olivia. Being the one to break the silence after a disagreement often makes my chest feel like a twisted pretzel.
There are moments in our marriage when we frustrate each other to the point where making any kind gesture feels difficult. Just because showing kindness is the right thing to do, doesn’t mean it’s easy.
Olivia and I will both confess our marriage is A-MAZ-ZING, because it’s true. But we’d be lying if we said there wasn’t suffering.
There’s suffering in our hearts when overcoming pride to resolve heated conversations.
There’s suffering in our minds when prioritizing each other over a growing to-do list.
There’s suffering in giving up self-centered ambitions to strengthen each other’s purpose for God’s glory.
When married life challenges self-interest, there’s an internal tug of war between making godly marriage choices versus pridefully selfish choices.
But God calls me to love Olivia like Christ loves the church. The suffering I feel in pursuing that call is the suffocation and death of my sinful desires. I gotta deny what Ashford wants and receive what God wants.
The good news is that when we die to ourselves daily, a 911 call to Jesus is all we need to resurrect God’s will in our marriage. He replaces impatience with patience, arrogance with humility, and hate with true love.
Ridding our ways of handling marriage for God’s way isn’t easy. But it starts with giving up pride. And I’ll take God’s way any day over being the married twisted pretzel that snaps.
What small steps could you make daily to pursue a stronger marriage? Read, “7 Healthy Habits of Marriage.”
The Good Stuff: And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
Pray and ask God to give you the strength and desire to deny yourself and love your spouse the way He calls you to.
List three ways you can put your spouse’s interests above your own this week.
By Tracy Lane
“But I really did hate him the other night!” a friend admitted. “I wasn’t thinking it to be mean. Or even saying it out loud to hurt him. I really, truly felt like I actually hated him.”
We both laughed because we’ve both been there. It’s obviously a serious admission. Nothing to joke about. But it’s one of those things that when you hear someone else say it, you breathe a sigh of relief knowing you’re not alone. It reminds you your marriage isn’t as bad as it seems.
I would say my friend and her husband have a strong marriage. She’d say my husband and I have a strong marriage. Still, we both confessed that sometimes our thoughts about our marriages can be cavernous. And at times, those cavernous thoughts of despair have been pretty accurate to the state of our relationships too.
When is marriage as bad as it seems? Consider your marriage still worth the while if:
You wish it was better.
You’re in a really tough season. Maybe a set of tough years! But you haven’t given up hoping for and wanting things to get better.
You talk things out.
Maybe louder than you used to. Maybe less often than you used to. But you still see the value in bringing your concerns to each other, so your marriage probably isn’t as bad as it seems.
You still have sex.
Sure it might not be as hot as the honeymoon, but that was 15 years ago in an exotic location with no distractions. Engaging in somewhat regular sexual intimacy keeps you physically and emotionally bonded.
Sometimes the small things in marriage are relentless, which makes them crazy hard. Then our marriages encounter big, outside threats to our oneness … and even our future together. It can make you question or grieve the current state of your marriage.
It’s okay. Admit where you are. Confess the momentary (or prolonged) feelings to a friend. Then move forward in your fight for your marriage.
Does praying with your spouse really make a difference? Try these prayers for when you don’t know what to pray.
The Good Stuff: For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things. (Psalm 107:9)
Action Points: What’s the current state of your relationship feel like? What are three things in your marriage that are actually going well? Maybe she still makes you laugh. Maybe he always manages the kids’ bedtime routines. Or maybe you just still trust God that your marriage can get better.
By: Lisa Lakey
Sometimes I approach my marriage like the menu at my favorite Tex-Mex joint. I’ll take the beef fajitas, hold the rice and beans, with a side of guacamole, please. Oh, and a Diet Coke, extra ice.
Wouldn’t it be great if marriage worked that way? I wonder what I’d order …
I’ll take a handsome redhead for life, please. Hold the snark and snoring. But I’d like a double side of romance, laughter, and no financial worries. Oh, and a Diet Coke, extra ice.
Right or wrong, we all have some sort of expectations when it comes to marriage. Maybe you thought your spouse would be more romantic, less snarky, a whiz with finances, or a better cook.
But your spouse has their own “order” for marriage (which we can conveniently forget). Maybe they saw you two traveling more, praying together nightly, becoming missionaries abroad. Or maybe they thought you’d be the better cook (fajitas, anyone?).
Hopefully, you talked about these things before marriage, but even if you did—plans change. Sometimes what you thought you wanted doesn’t look so good once the table next to you receives their order.
So what’s a couple to do?
When we go out to eat, the hubby and I sometimes order two entrées to split. We get the steak and the chicken.
Marriage requires the same. We call it compromise.
He tries to be a little more romantic; I don’t expect Shakespearean sonnets. I pay the bills even though it’s not my favorite chore, because I see the stress it causes him. And along the way, we develop new desires and expectations for our marriage that suit who we are and who we are becoming … together.
Having similar goals is important. Read more in “Making Resolutions for a Thriving Marriage.”
The Good Stuff: Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. (1 Peter 3:8)
Action Points: Separately, have you and your spouse write out your top three desires for your marriage. Then come together and discuss how you can make each other’s goals, “our goals.”
It was my new husband’s birthday. I responded with new-wife exuberance by creating his favorite raspberry cake.
Still being a college student, I left for class. Normally, this is a good thing.
It is less good when you leave a cake in the oven during a two-and-a-half-hour class period.
Nothing says “Happy birthday! Aren’t you glad we get to spend our lives together?” like a raspberry-colored, oversized hockey puck, and a 500-square foot apartment smelling like near-missed disaster.
Of course, one can craft another birthday cake. But other rookie mistakes of marriage might take longer to rectify.
Here’s what not to do to your spouse if you like a happy one.
Imitating them: The high-pitched wife. The out-of-touch, I’m-a-stupid-dude voice. These are no-no’s.
Making your spouse feel dumb. He doesn’t do math in his head like you do. She pointed the wrong direction to a nearby gas station.
It’s low fruit on the tree when it comes to mocking. But by all means, resist.
Generalizing their gender. Gah! Men are so… Or, Women. Can’t live with ‘em…
Dredging up past mistakes. You’re paying extra insurance because she blew that red light. He told his mother about your sex life.
God mentions throwing our sins into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19) in His willingness to forget our offenses.
No, we don’t hand a gambling addict a new credit card. But in accountability, loving restoration is the goal.
Mentioning your spouse’s weakness in public or on social media. (Sarcasm counts.) You might think this gives the upper hand, but adding shame to his porn problem or the way she forgets to pick up the kids ultimately changes your spouse through fear, rather than kindness leading to repentance (Romans 2:4).
Bottom line: No matter how long you’ve been married—don’t let carelessness incinerate your spouse.
What advice would you give a newlywed? Read “For the New Bride: 4 Things to Remember After Saying, ‘I Do.’”
The Good Stuff: Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:1-2)
Action Points: If you asked your spouse, what would they say is your most belittling or annoying behavior problem? Are you allowing its weight to impact you as much as it impacts your spouse? Take time to truly understand why this stings—and ask God for the capacity to care and change.
By Bruce Goff
“Dad, green beans are vegetables!” My 4-year-old daughter asserted with the confidence of a well-trained botanist.
An argument had erupted. My wife and daughter were on Team Vegetable, while I contended that green beans are technically legumes.
We swirled in a good-natured argument, loaded to the brim with ignorance.
Eventually I asked our smart speaker, “Are green beans legumes?”
The speaker responded, “Green beans are vegetables.”
My 4-year-old looked at me in triumph.
So I pulled out my phone and did a quick search. Aha! None of us were right. They’re fruit.
“Are green beans fruit?” I asked our third-party mediator.
“Yes …” (I knew it! They’re not vegetables!)
“… green beans are vegetables.”
This is how I sometimes feel in a heated argument with my wife.
She’s told me sometimes she just needs a hug in those moments. Often I’m too mad (sinful) to oblige. But a few times I’ve tried and gotten a “Don’t touch me!” in response.
That might at first seem like a logical contradiction. But the Bible calls husbands to live with their wives in an understanding way (1 Peter 3:7). So let me try to understand her:
Yes, she wants a hug from me when we’re arguing.
But she doesn’t want it from an arrogant husband who makes her feel stupid and unappreciated.
Now that seems like a perfectly reasonable request: an act of love in an unlovable moment.
And as much as I’d love for a smart speaker to side with me, how about I just love my wife—without requiring she first meet some imagined threshold of logic (or anything else)?
How about I consider her more significant than myself (Philipians 2:3)?
That’s the way Jesus loves. The sinless One (who didn’t deserve to die) died a sinner’s death so a sinner like me (who deserves to die) could live.
That’s not a contradiction. That’s love.
One of the most important things your marriage craves? Listen to FamilyLife’s David and Meg Robbins discuss how to show up with grace.
The Good Stuff: For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
Next time an argument starts to build, instead of first trying to prove your point, first try proving your love.
Ask God to help you see your spouse not as a debate opponent, but as the good gift he or she is.
She came to us with hopes of stopping what she now recognized as her “habit.”
She was lonely, she confessed. She had become a master at tempting men at her workplace and meeting them in various locations, including their cars.
We could throw her in a category. But none of us are exempt from the temptation and lure of illicit sex.
Comedians and sitcoms joke about unfaithfulness. But that would fall flat to those limping back to marital health after an affair. The undertow sucks in kids. Friends. Extended family.
Affairs promise freedom from responsibility. The infatuation and the secrecy are exciting, like they were for the woman we met that day.
But they’re never lasting. Decisions to have an affair are generally one choice at a time toward it. Thinking through these decisions helps us stop it in the thought stage before it becomes an action.
Infidelity isn’t just about sex, passion, or attraction. It’s also deception, manipulation, and betrayal.
God will never send us someone else’s spouse or ask us to go find another one. We can’t run to sin and to God. God doesn’t bless sin. Sin blindfolds us, rendering us oblivious to the extent of its damage.
If you’ve found yourself sharing spouse-level-only conversations, or mentally wandering to another, or testing the waters of a physical relationship, may I offer you something a true friend would tell you?
Restoration in your marriage is possible. Own your sin. We’ve seen what seemed like impossible challenges resolved through transparent, open communication, and taking steps to rebuild trust through time and consistent proof. Never underestimate the power of surrendering your marriage to God.
It’s one step at a time back home.
The damage of an affair lasts far longer than the pleasure of the moment. Read “40 Consequences of Adultery.”
The Good Stuff: Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you.
Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil. (Proverbs 4:25-27)
Action Points: Put into place 3-4 strategies you will do as a couple to protect your marriage. (Example: We’ll not meet with someone of the opposite sex privately. We’ll keep our personal devices open to each other. We’ll keep our conversations private, and talk about big and small stuff with each other.)
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