Working Through Red Lights in Your Marriage


Red Light #1: Pride.  Pride may be the most destructive ingredient to healing in a marriage.  It says, “I run my own life, and I don’t want any interference from others.”  A person stuck at this red light refuses to admit their faults, places blame for problems on others, and struggles to see issues from other people’s perspective.  He or she can succeed in every other area but the marriage, however, they won’t admit their failure.  For them, admitting there is a conflict, or admitting that they are at least partially responsible for it, is a weakness.

  • What to do?  Exercising humility allows people stuck at the red light of pride to stand back and take a long look inside.  We see where we lack forgiving love in our marriages and how to close the open loops of conflict.  Humility is a gift we rarely ask for because it usually comes in the form of some difficult lesson.  But it is indeed a gift. 

Red Light #2: Guilt.  People stuck at the red light of guilt are irritable, moody, and hard to get along with because guilt weighs on them.  When your spouse is burdened with guilt, you know something is wrong but don’t know what it is.  Guilt can come from a variety of sources: secrets, finances, sexual temptations, infidelity, past mistakes, a tragedy that you could have curbed, lack of forgiveness, rebellious or hurting children, or rebellion from God.  People with guilt are filled with self-condemnation and feelings of failure.  Although you will have to deal with the consequences of your actions for many years, the good news about guilt is that it can lead us to a loving relationship with God.

  • What to do?  The red light of unresolved guilt can inhibit the restoration of a broken relationship.  When you feel guilty, you need to ask yourself a pointed question: Have I violated a law of God or humanity that would lead me to feel what I’m feeling?  If you must answer yes, perhaps your guilt is constructive and can lead you to repentance and healing.  Confronting guilt and repenting is a difficult step, but the freedom you experience is so much more refreshing than the terrible burden you feel when you do not face up to it.

Red Light #3: Laziness.  Many people put a lot of effort into their dating relationship, but don’t put the grunt work into the marriage.  They escape from the heat with activities such as hobbies, television, shopping, or sports.  Hurt and anger go unhealed when laziness blocks a husband or wife from working through the conflicts they face.  Night after night they avoid dealing with conflicts in the family.  Their withdrawal from the marriage and/or family life hurts the spouse deeply.  Their love grows cold and they drift into the perilous waters of emotional divorce. 

  • What to do?  Laziness can kill a marriage.  It indicates apathy, and apathetic people are never willing to put the time and effort into making a marriage work.  At the end of their lives, they look back and realize they forfeited the intimacy and love they really wanted in marriage.  Laziness leads to regret, remorse, pain, and divorce.

Red Light #4: Shame.  While people feel guilty for what they did, people feel shame for who they are.  People stuck at the red light of shame are haunted by criticism, failure, or disappointment—or have been hurt since childhood.  They express their feelings of inferiority by either withdrawing or doing all they can to measure up to an impossible set of standards.  Their perfectionism, defensiveness, low self-worth, and insecurity poisons their heart.  Whenever they face a conflict with their mate, their negative, degrading messages come out like: “I will never do it right.  I know I come up short in your eyes;” “It’s no use.  I’ll never change.”  The spouse with shame shuts down or becomes overly defensive, and the discussion ends in frustration. 

  • What to do?  Shame blocks the process of resolving conflict.  The shame-controlled person needs to understand and internalize two key biblical concepts.  The first is grace.  It is in our very weakness that God will display his power in our lives—if we let him (2 Corinthians 12:9).  The second key concept is regeneration.  Shame-filled people must release the negative view of themselves and embrace their true identity as the people God made them to be.  Receiving God’s gift of new life allows us to release to him once and for all the sins of our past.  We may not completely forget them, but thanks to God’s grace and forgiveness we can move past them and find a healthy way of resolving marital conflicts.

Red Light #5: Fear.  People stuck at the red light of fear battle with fear of failure, fear of rejection, and fear of emotional intimacy.  Fear of failure thinks, If I work through this conflict with my spouse, I may have to change my behavior, and I don’t know how to handle that.  Or, If I clear up this conflict successfully, I’ll probably mess up the next one, so why try?  Fear of rejection is the small voice that says, “If your spouse really knew what you were thinking and feeling, he or she would laugh at you and turn away from you.”  Many husbands may not discuss their sexual or emotional needs because their wives may reject him.  As a result, they may be more vulnerable to temptation.  People who fear emotional intimacy put up walls of protection to keep their deep thoughts and feelings hidden so their spouse won’t get close. You may fear emotional intimacy because you weren’t close to your family, so you never learned how to allow other people to be close to you.

  • What to do?  How do you slay the dragon of fear?  By confronting it with the truth.  Demonstrate faith in the God who empowers us to slay all our dragons.  The best way to deal with fear in marriage is to talk pressures and problems out with your spouse.  Honest, open, accepting communication nurtures a healthy marriage.  Many people don’t talk honestly with their spouse about their feelings because they expect to hear, “You shouldn’t even be thinking that, honey.”  But they need to be heard.  They push their spouses away emotionally with angry blow-ups, or they avoid getting too close in the first place. 

Red Light #6: Control.  The issue of control centers on the struggle for dominance or power in the marriage relationship.  There are two kinds of controllers: active and passive.  Active controllers often block healthy conflict resolution by not regarding a spouse’s opinions, needs, or suggestions.  Passive controllers have a low need for control and a high need to please.  But they will often back off to keep the peace and make their spouse happy.  Or they will simply walk away and avoid the conflict. 

  • What to do?  Active controllers, you must learn to back off instead of running roughshod over conflict resolution by asserting dominance.  Extend your partner the courtesy of asking his or her opinions, learning their needs, and hearing suggestions.  Passive controllers, instead of always being the doormat, you need to find the courage to step up to the door.  The more you learn to express yourself respectfully, the more healing will occur.


Excerpted from Dr.Gary and Barb Rosberg, Healing the Hurt In Your Marriage (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 2002), 77-94.

Image by Robert Couse-Baker

How to Sideline Conflict Before it Starts

  • Say what you mean. Don’t say, “I hate football” if what you really mean is, “I wish we could spend some quality time together on Saturday afternoons, but the game always takes precedence.” Before you speak, think carefully about what really upsets you.
  • Use “I” messages. “I sometimes feel ignored and lonely” goes down a lot easier than, “You never pay any attention to me.”
  • Don’t use generalizations – or words such as always and never. Avoid statements such as “You never take out the garbage like you’re supposed to” and “You are always talking to your mother on the phone.” They are usually exaggerations, and they are certainly not helpful. Begin your statements with “I feel [left out] when I can’t spend time with you”; “There are times I feel…”; “Sometimes I feel…”; or “Occasionally I feel…”
  • Avoid statements that assign blame. “I” statements encourage discussion; “you” statements shut it down. Start your sentences with “I feel…” or “I think…” rather than “You are…” or “You should…” Avoid “you” statements that shame or blame your spouse.
  • Focus on your thoughts and feelings rather than on your spouse’s failures. Invariably generalizations will lead to a defensive response from your spouse because he or she will feel the need to set the record straight.
  • Be willing to say, “I’m sorry.” Admitting you were wrong is very important, but you also need to express your sorrow over the hurt your wrong behavior caused: “I was wrong, and I’m so sorry that I hurt you.” By expressing your sorrow, you demonstrate empathy for your hurting spouse.


Excerpted from Dr. Gary and Barbara Rosberg, The Great Marriage Q&A Book (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2006): 49.


Remarrying After Divorce

Q: We are divorced, but neither of us has remarried.  Is it possible to remarry each other and start over again?

A: Definitely! Sometimes a couple will go through the pain of betrayal, disconnect, choose to give up and decide to divorce. Then they get on the other side of the divorce and realize that there’s heartache there, too. They deal with single parenting issues and financial stresses. They watch their children suffer.

Broken and contrite hearts are the best places for God to begin his work in people’s lives. These divorced people begin to open up their hearts to God. Many times it’s a matter of being matured through the trials. Sometimes a very difficult and painful situation shakes people up and makes them look seriously at their lives, their baggage, their attitudes, their actions.

Part of a Psalm written by King David describes the hope we can have because of the Lord’s forgiveness:

“Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight! Yes, what joy for those whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt, whose lives are lived in complete honesty!” Psalm 32:1-2

If you’re in this place, we encourage you to keep growing and keep seeking God. Perhaps he wants to bring you back together if your former spouse is doing some of the same kinds of growing and maturing. We’ve seen couples do this—of course after much counseling to help them deal with the issues that caused the divorce in the first place. Yes, you can remarry, knowing that you both are much healthier than you were before. You can build on a new foundation. Some of these marriages are the strongest marriages with the greatest testimonies that you could ever see. You can have a great marriage.

David ends Psalm 32 with the promise of God’s guidance:

“The Lord says, ‘I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you. Do not be like a senseless horse or mule that needs a bit and bridle to keep it under control.’ Many sorrows come to the wicked, but unfailing love surrounds those who trust in the Lord. So rejoice in the Lord and be glad, all you who obey him! Shout for joy, all you whose hearts are pure!” Psalm 32:8-11


Want more coaching from Gary and Barb? Their e-book devotional, Renewing Your Love, is only $3.99! Download it here.

Image by Guian Bolisay

How to Protect Your Marriage from an Affair


Affairs happen when we’re not paying attention to our mate’s needs.  So if you’re not meeting his or her love needs, you are putting your mate at risk for an affair.  If your mate isn’t meeting your needs, gently describe what you need from him or her and ask “How can we compromise on this issue?”

What are the top 5 needs that a man has?

  1. Unconditional Love.  Your husband’s bottom-line desire is to be accepted and loved the way he is, warts and all.  He wants to hear you say—in words and action—“I will stay with you no matter what.  I will always love you and support you.”  Wives fail to meet this need when they are critical of their husbands, try to change him, show him love only after he shows her love, and don’t love him when he makes mistakes.  Meet this need by showing grace with his weaknesses, affirming him whenever you can, helping him feel safe, taking time to connect, and studying your husband.
  2. Sexual Intimacy.  God created males with a strong sex drive.  A husband gets discouraged and feels rejected when his wife does not express her passion for him.  Wives fail to meet this need when they don’t make time for sex, don’t initiate sex, and put everything on her to-do list before sex.  Meet this need by talking to God about the issue that is blocking your sex life, starting with your own heart (Is there hurt between you and your husband?), learning what satisfies your husband, and committing yourself to meeting his sexual needs.
  3. Friendship.  Your husband needs you to be his best friend—to give him your undivided attention when he needs it, to connect to his soul, to tell him your greatest fears and joys.  Wives fail to meet this need by not celebrating with him when he achieves a goal, not connecting to him in good and bad times, and not taking interest in his interests.  Meet this need by letting him know you want to be his best friend, making your relationship a safe place for him to face his pain, and being willing to love sacrificially.
  4. Encouragement.  Your husband needs to know that he is special, that you are rooting for him.  He needs to know you’re still his fan!  Wives fail to meet this need when they don’t celebrate his small and big victories, they make their husbands feel replaced by the kids, and they rarely tell him he’s important—and her hero!   Meet this need by encouraging him to hear the applause, reminding him of God’s work in his life, encouraging him to be accountable, encouraging him to connect with his children, and encouraging him to reach out and grow.
  5. Spiritual Intimacy.  Christian husbands need spiritual connection—with God, with you, and with other believers.  Many struggle with the biblical command to be spiritual leaders because that job is counter to everything the culture teaches him.  So he needs your help.  Meet this need by encouraging your husband to spend personal time in the Word, be in prayer, fellowship and worship, join a small group, and spend time with other Christian couples who model spiritual maturity for you.

What are the top 5 needs that a woman has?

  1. Unconditional Love.  Your wife needs you to love her and receive her no matter what—and she needs it the most when she deserves it the least (when she’s hurt you, made poor choices, or failed).  Husbands fail to meet this need when they expect her to be near perfect, show her love only after she shows you love, and don’t forgive her when she’s made a mistake.  Meet this need by encouraging her, standing with her, complimenting her, respecting her opinion, talking with her—and listening, being tender with her, spending time with her, and serving her.
  2. Emotional Intimacy and Communication.  Women spell intimacy T-A-L-K.  Just as men feel rejected when their wife resists sex, she feels rejected when he doesn’t connect to her emotionally.   Husbands fail to meet this need by not truly listening to his wife, not sharing his inner thoughts, and not checking in with her feelings daily.  Once she feels fulfilled by her husband through talking, she is likely to move into a sexual mode.  Meet this need by listening to her, showing her an understanding heart, giving her attention and affection, building rapport with her, resolving conflict, and safeguarding your relationships (don’t open up to other women!).
  3. Spiritual Intimacy.  Your wife needs you to place God at the center of your relationship, see you growing spiritually, and talk about spiritual matters.  She can trust you more after seeing your own walk with God.  Husbands fail to meet this need by not strengthening their relationship with God, not going to church, and not praying with her.  Meet this need by encouraging her spiritual growth, encouraging her fellowship with you and others, encouraging her to express her spiritual gifts, encouraging her with your prayers, and being a spiritual leader.
  4. Encouragement.  Your wife needs to feel that you genuinely care about her.  She needs you to offer her hope, support and understanding.  Husbands fail to meet this need when they don’t listen to her, give her courage to fight her daily battles, simply give her a hug, and give her compliments.  Meet this need by understanding her wiring, giving her first place in your life, pointing out her potential, and appreciating her contribution.
  5. Friendship.  When your wife thinks of friendship, she likely thinks of heart-to-heart communication, special time away with you, and growing old together.  She needs a companion by her side, someone to make her laugh when things look bleak.  Husbands fail to meet this need by not having fun with her, not sharing details of life or his day with her, and not being by her side when she needs a friend (but instead, criticizing or ignoring her).  Meet this need by doing things together, creating a secure place, stepping into her world, and creating benchmark times (or special memories of your friendship).  

Want more coaching from Gary and Barb? Their e-book devotional, Renewing Your Love, is only $3.99! Download it here.

Image by Andres Rodriguez


Submission in a Biblical Marriage

For the wife:

  • Submission doesn’t mean that a wife is to accept abuse or to be a doormat; it means that God has wired her as the helper, the influencer, the one placed in a strategic position to “cover her husband’s back.” The Bible tells wives to submit to their husbands as to the Lord (see Ephesians 5:22). The deeper a wife’s relationship is with the Lord, the more she will want to exemplify submission to her spouse.
  • When the Bible calls for submission, it is simply meant as a key element to make a marriage work smoothly. Someone has to be in charge, to be the final decision maker, and God has ordained that to be the husband. Submission does not imply inferiority, because God created all people in His image and values men and women equally. In 1 Peter 3:7, the apostle Paul describes the safe and secure environment husbands are to provide for their wives: “You husbands must give honor to your wives…She is your equal partner in God’s gift of new life.”
  • When a wife submits to her husband, she accepts her God-given role, she honors her husband, and she helps her marriage run more smoothly.

For the husband:

  • You are responsible to lead your home by serving your wife, just as Christ serves the church. Jesus doesn’t force the church into submission. He doesn’t threaten or bully or dominate. No, he continuously loves and serves to the point of giving up his life. He is your example of headship in your marriage.
  • Your wife has a role too: To respect and submit to you. But a man must set the pace. It is your attitude, behavior and belief about headship that determines how your wife relates to you. Be active in your God-given role of service to your family. When you see a need, meet it. When your wife is hurting, be quick to open your heart to her. Offer a word of comfort or encouragement, or just listen.
  • When you serve your wife, you free her to submit to you because she knows she can trust you. Be the type of man to whom she need not be afraid to submit, because she can trust that you are allowing God to work in you.


Want more coaching from Gary and Barb? Their e-book devotional, Renewing Your Love, is only $3.99! Download it here.