Issues to Watch Out for - and Resolve - While Dating

Q: If you’re dating and things are getting serious - how do you prepare yourselves for marriage?

A: The best way to prepare for marriage is to begin now, in your dating relationship, to be the best-future spouse you can be and to learn how to work together on the inevitable conflicts that will arise. How do you treat each other now? How do you deal with differences of opinion? How do you handle each other’s ups and downs?

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A wedding lasts for only a few hours; marriage is for the rest of your life. As you look past what you hope will be a beautiful wedding day, are you looking into spending the rest of your life with this person? If not, then you may need to spend some time doing serious thinking about this potential spouse. Do you have some doubts or reservations? If so, what are these? How important are they to you? Talk to someone who can give you an objective opinion. If your potential spouse has addiction or anger issues, obviously these are going to come into play across the years of your marriage. Are you thinking you’ll be able to change this person once you get married? Better think again—it’s not going to happen. Can you see this person becoming an irritant in years to come? Are you barreling toward a wedding without real thought about how the marriage is going to work out? If so, then you need to put on the brakes and slow down. 

There are 10 issues you should watch for - and resolve - before you walk down the aisle.

1. A critical spirit. Admit your frustrations. Affirm each other, listen, and encourage. Be teachable. Say you’re sorry.

2. Lack of skill in resolving conflict. Too often, people in conflict refuse to move toward each other in humility. Choose to forgive, accept responsibility for your mistakes, and ask for forgiveness.

3. Not dealing with fatigue and burnout. Learn to say no; learn how to encourage each other to say no. Decide what is really important, choose your priorities, and live for them. Remember your limits.

4. Lacking boundaries with in-laws. How are you getting along with your future spouse’s parents? How is he or she getting along with yours? How does your future spouse relate to his/her parents? How involved are those parents in your day-to-day lives? Sons and daughters seek counsel from parents and in-laws, not control.

5. Keeping secrets. To combat secrets, confess issues that you think might damage your marriage. Practice honesty and ask for honesty. 

6. Having a relationship of two, not three. Invite God into your dating relationship. When you build your marriage on the words and promises of God, your marriage will withstand the strongest storm. Begin the practice of praying together. Thank God for each other. Worship together. Serve together.

7. Not supporting each other in the face of daily living. After the wedding and the honeymoon comes—well—life. You’ll both go back to your jobs and feel financial pressures. Keep each other on your radar. Prioritize your married life—and put your relationship first. Stay in touch during the day with phone calls or e-mail. Give and receive support.

8. Allowing excesses to overwhelm. Recognize two kinds of excesses: first is the drive to have more; the second reveals itself in destructive behaviors or addictions. Deal with excessive behaviors now. Be willing to get help for addictions.

9. Being selfish—are you a giver or a taker? To combat selfishness, you’ll need to ask Jesus to teach you how to sacrifice and serve. You can learn to be a giver by learning to walk as Jesus did. Learning to serve now will carry you through many a dry time ahead.

10. Carrying unrealistic expectations. Ask yourself, what expectations do I have, and which ones are unrealistic? Which ones do I need to get rid of in order to learn to work with my future spouse and build our marriage together? 

Admittedly, it’s extremely tough to be objective—especially when you’re already in love; even worse when the wedding invitations are already printed. But far better to think about this now than to spend your life sorry for that vow you made at that beautiful wedding. Marriage is tough enough; plan to start it with as much going for you both as possible.

*For more practical marriage advice, check out The Great Marriage Q&A Book. It's available in our online bookstore!

Let Her Know She’s #1

(The Five Love Needs of Men and Women)

Every woman has times when she feels discouraged, misunderstood, or afraid. We all do. Who does she turn to when the proverbial rug has been pulled out from under her? Where does she go when she is feeling alone or out of control? Who does she turn to when she is overwhelmed by circumstances? For a married woman, it should be her husband.

Both men and women need encouragement. So much so that both men and women rated encouragement as their number four need on our marriage survey. But because men and women are different, that encouragement can take different forms.

Your Wife’s Need for Encouragement

 Photo by  Eric Ward  on  Unsplash

Photo by Eric Ward on Unsplash

A woman has a larger-than-life need for her husband to whisper, declare, and shout to the world that she is the most important person in his life! I’m not afraid to admit that Gary holds an incredible position of power in my life. Why? Because he knows me best. And because he cares enough to understand that I think differently from how he thinks, he also understands what I need when it comes to encouragement.

Each woman is unique, so you need to be a student of your own wife. Understanding her personality and character will allow you to tailor your encouragement specifically for her. So how can you come alongside your wife and meet her need for encouragement? Let’s look at four specific ways:

Understand Her Wiring

The next time you see two women talking, watch them. Notice how intense they are. Listen to them. Even if you can’t hear the words, listen to the tone of their voices. Notice how connected they sound. Notice how the conversation moves back and forth, sort of like a tennis ball. Sometimes the flow is serious and fluid; sometimes it is light and peppery. For a woman, this form of connected conversation acts as a stress reliever and even a kind of therapeutic release.

While your wife’s friends are certainly important to her, it is absolutely vital that your wife gets this kind of support from you...her husband, her best friend. At the end of a long day, she wants to be able to share her feelings with you, without fear of judgment. She’s not looking for solutions. She wants to share her intimate thoughts so that her burdens can be lifted and her emotional ties to you strengthened.

Give Her First Place

Every guy has a favorite hobby. It may be sports or music or cars… whatever it is, your wife wants you to enjoy it! But the tension begins to mount inside a woman when that hobby—or even your job—takes precedence over time with her. She will begin to feel neglected.

When your wife isn’t first place in your life, it really doesn’t matter if she’s second, third, or fourth. It’s all the same. A woman will feel completely overlooked and unimportant.

If your wife tells you that you are spending too much time at work or partaking in your favorite hobby, don’t feel threatened. She is telling you that no one can replace you in her life and that she needs your companionship and encouragement to complete her the way no one else can. The core message is “I love you and need you.”

Point Out Her Potential

Years ago I was taking a night class in painting and portraiture to continue my growth and education as an artist. The instructor was well respected, but his manner of criticism left something to be desired. One night, after I had spent the entire evening working on a painting, the instructor stopped beside me, took my canvas from the easel, and verbally ripped it apart. I was devastated and went home in tears, determined never to paint again.

The next day, Gary came home from work and handed me two packages. Inside were an easel and a wooden box full of Rembrandt pastels. “Enough of your wallowing!” he said. “God gave you a talent, and you’re going to paint. Get moving—now!” None of this was said harshly. But it was said firmly, with love, as he affirmed the truth about my abilities.

It reminds me of the story of Jesus and his dealings with the paralytic man who was let down through the roof to be healed. The Savior was strong, direct, and clear. He told the man to stand up, take his mat, and go home (Luke 5:24). And he did. Gary told me to take my palette and paint. And I did.

All of us can remind each other of our God-given potential. Do this for your wife. Focus on her strengths, not her weaknesses. Try to see her the way Jesus would see her.

Appreciate Her Contribution

In both private and public ways, you need to let your wife know how much she is appreciated. Nothing will encourage your wife more than for you to recognize her sacrifices and affirm her love and devotion to your family.

Also, be aware that your silence sounds like rejection to your wife. Don’t assume she automatically knows how you feel about her. She needs to be continually reminded. Worry, stress, the kids, your mother—anything can knock the wind out of her, causing her to forget what you told her last week. She is on the front lines of battle and needs constant reinforcement.

Show your wife, in word and deed, some encouragement each and every day and I guarantee you it will revitalize and strengthen your marriage!

Help Your Husband De-Stress

Q: My husband’s stress level has been through the roof lately. His job is really taking its toll on him. Is there anything I can do to help?

A: Men derive an enormous amount of their self-esteem from their work. And when the job is no longer a challenge, when the routine or the pressures or the hassles get to be too much, a man may need a career change. He may be ready to start over, take a cut in pay, and risk failure just to follow his dream.

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Are you willing to come alongside your husband and listen to his goals and what he longs to accomplish in life? Do your words and attitudes toward his dreams empower him, or are you holding him back out of your own fear and insecurity?

How can you discover your husband’s dreams and strategize to help him achieve them? Here are a number of suggestions:

Be prayerful. Psalm 37:4 says, “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires.” Stay close to the Lord in prayer. Let God into your heart, and tell him how you long to help your husband discover new career opportunities that will fulfill his dreams. Tell your husband that you long for God’s best for him and that you are committed to seeking God with him about the future of his career.

Be alert to the activities that bring him joy. Does he like what he is doing? Do his training and skills line up with his life goals and dreams? Would other careers or positions bring him greater fulfillment? If you don’t know, ask him.

Help him gain the training, skills, or degree that will equip him for fulfilling work. This may mean volunteering to work longer hours or cutting back expenses so he can take some classes. Let him know that you will do whatever it takes to help him follow God’s leading in his career.

Believe in him. Your affirmation of belief in your husband’s calling and purpose can rekindle hope that has died and ignite the fire of purpose and his passion for life.

Respect him. The bottom line is this: Your husband may have the respect of others, but he needs to know that you respect him. With your confidence in his decisions, he can face any obstacle. Tell him, “What you are doing is important. I see how much you put into that project. I appreciate how hard you work to provide for our family.” When you verbalize your respect, your words will help build your husband’s confidence as a man.

Encourage him. Your husband has a logical, problem-solving mind. Whether he is entering the boardroom at work or the basement at home, he is looking for something to fix. His brain doesn’t take vacation. Sometimes the tasks, relationships, and problems of everyday life tear him down and discourage him because not every problem can be solved. You can be a refreshing presence that breathes encouragement. As you discuss your day together, look for opportunities to affirm him: “Honey, I’m so proud of the way you handled your boss’s criticism”; “Your work is really making a difference, even if others don’t notice”; “You are such a caring husband and father. The kids and I are so blessed.” Remind him that you are grateful for, and thank God for, his character qualities and the wisdom he shows in making tough decisions all day long.

Never underestimate your role in your husband’s life. In Genesis, God refers to the first woman as a “helper” to her husband. Here is something very amazing. The Hebrew word translated “helper” is more accurately translated “completer.” Elsewhere in the Old Testament this word is always used in reference to God himself. This means you occupy a position of dignity, honor, and incredible value in your husband’s life! You complete your husband as no one else can.

*For more practical marriage advice, check out The Great Marriage Q&A Book. It's available in our online bookstore!

Let Your Spouse Off the Hook

There is one thing that’s a guarantee in any relationship: We hurt each other sometimes, even if we don’t want to. The marriage relationship is certainly no exception—so forgiveness needs to be an ongoing element of a healthy marriage relationship.

We’ve spend a lot of time over the years talking about what we call “forgiving love.” Forgiving love is the love that brings you and your spouse back together when the inevitable offenses of a marriage relationship have pushed you apart. Forgiving love heals hurts, resolves conflicts, and helps you feel accepted and connected again. Forgiving freely is what Jesus has done for us and modeled for us to do in our own relationships—including marriage.

 Photo by  Tai Jyun Chang  on  Unsplash

Forgiving love is a good place to start in a relationship because that’s where God starts with each of us. When we come to him by faith, confessing our sin and accepting Christ as our Savior, he forgives us and welcomes us into his family. The sins that stood between us were sent “as far away from us as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12). God’s grace-driven forgiveness cleared the way for the loving relationship we enjoy with him on a daily basis.

When we extend forgiving love to each other as husband and wife, we enjoy the same kind of relationship-restoring experience. Biblical forgiveness means that you willingly and actively choose to give up your grudge despite the severity of the injustice done to you. Now, you may not be able to hurl the offense to the other side of the compass as God does, but you can choose to let go of it. Once you “drop the charges,” as it were, the path is clear for restoring the relationship.

It is also important to realize a couple of things that biblical forgiveness in marriage does not mean.

First, in forgiving your spouse, you are not denying that he or she hurt you in some way. Of course your spouse’s offense hurt you, perhaps deeply. There is nothing wrong with feeling the hurt and admitting it while deciding to let your spouse off the hook by forgiving him or her.

Second, in forgiving your spouse, you don’t have to minimize what happened. You may be tempted to say, “It’s alright, honey, it didn’t really matter.” But it did matter. You were offended in some way. The intimacy of your relationship was disrupted. There was a violation—no matter how slight—of the marriage vow to love, honor, and cherish. It’s okay to acknowledge that something wrong happened as you choose to forgive.

Wonderful things happen when you choose to forgive your spouse for offending you. They parallel the great benefits we realize when God forgives us. Here are just a few of them:

Forgiving love sets your spouse free. Remember the weight of sin and guilt you felt before you received God’s forgiveness? Well, your spouse probably feels something of that pain and discomfort from hurting you. Remember how liberated you felt when God took your burden of sin away? When you say, “I forgive you,” you provide your spouse with a similar sense of freedom.

Forgiving love ends the skirmish. Once you experienced God’s forgiveness for sin, the war between you was over and God welcomed you into his family justified—as if there had been no sin in the first place. In the same way, when you forgive your spouse, the air is clear between you again. You can pick up your relationship where it left off before the offense, as if the hurtful behavior never happened. You are free to accept and connect with each other again.

Forgiving love gets you back on track. Once your sins were forgiven, all the wonders of God’s plan and purpose were suddenly available to you. Nothing stood between you and all God had for you. Similarly, when you forgive your spouse and your relationship is restored, you can resume pursuing your marriage dream. The offending issue is behind you. Let it go, and move on full speed in the ministry of growing deeper in your relationship.

“But I can’t forget how badly it hurt,” you may argue. “How can I move on with life after the pain my spouse inflicted?”

That’s right, you may not be able to completely forget an offense. Only God can say, “I will forgive their wickedness and will never again remember their sins” (Jeremiah 31:34). You don’t have the power to forget sin as God does. But God doesn’t intend for you to forget. Remembering the pain your spouse caused you may help prevent you from hurting him or her in the same way. In the meantime, you decide to let your spouse off the hook. After a while the memory will fade, and the pain will be healed.

Forgiveness is how we bring our relationship into the light. It’s how we set free the offended and the offender, reconcile with each other after a conflict, stand before our spouse without blemish, cut loose the guilt and grudges, and are cleansed from every wrong. And God says we must forgive—because he has forgiven us.

*For more helpful insights to connect with your spouse, check out Renewing Your Love: Devotions for Couples in our online bookstore.

Defend Your Heart - And Your Spouse’s!

Did you know every day you’re at risk for a heart attack? Not the medical variety - but the spiritual kind. That’s why it’s so important to heed Solomon’s warning in Proverbs 4:23— “Above all else, guard your heart, for it affects everything you do.” If we don’t guard our heart,  we leave it vulnerable to attack.

A heart under attack can result in serious damage to your relationship with God and with your spouse. It is vital that you guard not only your own heart but also the heart of your dear one. Guarding love is an important facet of a growing, fruitful marriage.

 Photo by  Will O  on  Unsplash

Photo by Will O on Unsplash

What’s so important about the heart? Solomon said it clearly: “It affects everything you do.” Jesus gives us even more insight: “A good person produces good deeds from a good heart, and an evil person produces evil deeds from an evil heart. Whatever is in your heart determines what you say” (Luke 6:45). The heart has everything to do with everything you do—including your marriage.

First, the heart is central to our faith and salvation. Paul wrote, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved” (Romans 10:9-10). We couldn’t know God apart from faith, and the heart is the seat of our faith.

Once we have exercised saving faith, we must guard our hearts against doubt and disbelief that would rob us of our first-love relationship with God. Don’t dilute what God has begun in your life and wants to do in your life by leaving your hearts and faith unguarded. The writer of Hebrews warns us, “Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12).

Second, the heart is central to the fruitfulness of the Bible in our lives. When Jesus explained the parable of the sower and the soils to his disciples, he said, “The good soil represents honest, good-hearted people who hear God’s message, cling to it, and steadily produce a huge harvest” (Luke 8:15). A guarded heart is like a well-tended garden where maximum growth can occur.

When we fail to guard our hearts, we may muddy the effectiveness of God’s Word in our lives. In this parable, Jesus explained, “The seed that fell on the hard path represents those who hear the Good News about the Kingdom and don’t understand it. Then the evil one comes and snatches the seed away from their hearts” (Matthew 13:19). Don’t limit what God can do in you and through you, especially in your marriage relationship, by leaving God’s Word unguarded in your heart.

Third, the heart is central to our high call to love God and people. When asked which of the commandments was greatest, Jesus replied, quoting the Old Testament, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37-39). An unguarded heart is vulnerable to anything and everything that flies in the face of biblical love. Jesus warned, “From the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all other sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander” (Matthew 15:19).

Loving God and loving others—including our spouses—is an issue of the heart. Paul wrote to Timothy, “The purpose of my instruction is that all the Christians there would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and sincere faith” (1Timothy 1:5). Peter instructed believers, “See to it that you really do love each other intensely with all your hearts” (1Peter 1:22). If you leave your hearts unguarded you are in danger of straying from your primary biblical assignment to love God and love each other.

How do you guard your heart? By being super-cautious about what you allow into your heart and mind. Learn to resist and dismiss any thoughts that lure you away from the centrality of faith in Christ, the Word of God, and love. You also guard your heart by monitoring your activities. Don’t put yourself in places or situations where you are too weak to resist temptation. And guard your spouse’s heart by helping him or her stay far from spiritual and moral compromise. Two healthy hearts make for one exciting and rewarding marriage.

*For more helpful insights to connect with your spouse, check out Renewing Your Love: Devotions for Couples in our online bookstore.