I Really Blew It. How Can I Regain My Spouse's Trust?


Once trust is broken, it's very difficult to rebuild – not impossible, just difficult. Read a story we received when we had our radio program:

I was calling to see if you guys could help me figure out a way to get my wife to forgive me for some things that I have done. I had a problem with pornography over a two-year period, and a lot of people were hurt during my time of addiction. It was all brought to a head about six or seven months ago, and my wife just can't forgive me for it.

If you have really hurt your spouse and you've broken trust, you have to realize that you can't "get" your spouse to forgive you. What you must do first is pray. You need to admit your guilt and your need to be cleansed and confess your sin. And then you need to change. That's repentance. You need to turn away from whatever behavior caused the problem and go the opposite direction so that your spouse can begin to trust you again.

If you lied, now you tell the truth. Everything that comes out of your mouth should be truthful. Your spouse longs for you to be all that God made you to be. Your spouse needs you to be a person of integrity. But you can't just put that on. It begins to happen from the inside out. Your desires need to change. It's going to take some time; it's going to show itself in the minor decisions. Stick to your word and the smallest of things. Avoid places you know are going to tempt you. Get some people in your life – including your spouse – who will hold you accountable. You fight the lies by telling the truth. Let that beautiful refreshment of the Spirit of God wash through your spirit and clean out the old behaviors that pulled you down. If you have trouble with your mind, then confess that to God and start memorizing Bible verses so that whatever temptation comes, you can call upon the Word for help.

It's a process, and it's going to take time. If you have hurt your spouse deeply or repeatedly, he or she may be willing to forgive you, but that doesn't mean that the relationship is healed and that you can go on as if nothing happened. For true restoration to occur, you must be willing to work at rebuilding your spouse's trust over a period of time. You need to prove to your spouse over the long-haul that your confession, contrition, and repentance are genuine. Read another story we received:

I want to encourage everybody out there who's going through a break up, separation, or divorce. My wife and I went through a separation for eight months. I cheated on her. She forgave me, but she didn't trust me. It's taken a long time for her to finally get a little bit of trust back. We went to counseling.

I would like to encourage people in this situation to just hold steady and trust God during this time. It's very important. I knew that my wife and I were meant for each other, even though I had messed up. I knew that what I had done was grounds for divorce – and divorce was mentioned several times. But now we're back together. We're still going to counseling, and we are trying every day. It's not easy. But you know what? Christ can redeem a broken relationship and turn it around.

Trust isn't rebuilt overnight. If you have been unfaithful to your spouse, it may take long months of single-minded devotion before a foundation of trust is reestablished. Your relationship may be in ruins, but through the power of Christ's redeeming love your marriage can be rebuilt from the rubble. Begin that healing process today. Allow your desperation to lead you back to Jesus. Begin to rebuild trust today. Be faithful and patient, and you may experience the restoration you seek.

This post is an excerpt from our book, The Great Marriage Q&A Book.

The 5 Sex Needs Challenge, Continued!


Ok, husbands and wives – how did you do on the 10% challenge? We hope you were able to find some ways to affirm and communicate with one another, and that it put a spark back in your marriage and intimacy!

This month, let’s look at the number two sex need for both men and women, which happens to be the same: Connection.

For women…

In The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier and Better Off Financially, sociology professor Linda Waite and marriage expert Maggie Gallagher conclude that married people have better sex. They suggest that “the lifelong, permanent commitment embodied in marriage itself tends to make sex better.” They also believe that “there is no better strategy for achieving great sex than binding oneself to an equally committed mate.”

That’s exactly what women across the country told us. More than 59% of the women we surveyed ranked connection as a top sex need. One key to a wife’s sexual excitement, responsiveness, and ability to initiate sex is a strong connection to her heart. These women feel that their sex lives are satisfying when both partners receive first an emotional and/or spiritual connection and then a physical connection. In other words, when a husband emotionally connects to his wife, he prepares her for sexual intimacy.

Women need physical closeness, but for them it doesn’t start there. They first need emotional closeness. Here’s an example: Julia and Ben have a great sex life because Ben understands the importance of tending to his wife’s needs. He stops what he is doing to greet her with a kiss. He asks about her day. He listens to her. He is physically close to her while watching television. And even when she is tired and stressed, because he has taken the time to bond with her, which helps her unwind, she is more available to meet his—and her own—sexual needs.

Ben understands that connection happens 24/7. He knows that a compliment at 10:30 won’t translate into sex at 10:35. He realizes that to meet his wife’s needs, he needs to be in the moment, not emotionally and mentally “checked out.”

Women need to experience an emotional connection with their husbands every day. Here is what women told us about the ideal ways to connect with their husbands.

·         “I connect with my husband when he checks in with me, just to say, ‘I love you, and I’m thinking about you.’”

·         “I feel connected to my husband when he asks me how he can pray for me and when he shares with me what God is teaching him in his life.”

·         “We connect by touching and doing activities together, like hanging out doing chores, walking together in the grocery store, and watching TV. It’s mostly nonverbal, but it’s just as powerful for me.”

·         “My husband and I take long walks or work out together and talk. That connects me to him.”

God brings women and men into relationship in different ways. Through sex, men draw women into a physical relationship. Through connection, women draw men into an emotional relationship. We complete each other. We both end up with relationship, but we have different ways of inviting the other person in.

Christian sex therapists Clifford and Joyce Penner say it well: “For the woman, sex is a total-body and total-person experience. It’s good for her when her husband attends to all of who she is, not just her sexual parts.”

Husbands, take one of the examples above and try it with your wife this month. Text her during the day to see how she’s doing and tell her you love her. Share with her what is on your mind and ask what is on hers. Initiate simple activities that allow you to be alone for a while so you can hold hands and talk. Your wife may prefer to connect with you in different ways that aren’t mentioned here. Try to figure those out if you don’t already know them and make it a point to try it every day or at least once a week. When connection runs deep in your marriage, intimacy is that much better!

For men…

Nothing makes a man feel closer to his wife than being physically and emotionally connected. That is why 66% of men ranked connection as a top sex need. Connecting inside the bedroom is pretty clear-cut; it’s sexual intercourse. Sex builds connection for a husband in the same way that talking and helping around the house build connection for a wife. It’s that simple.

What are some simple things wives can do to say “You are important to me” or “You are a priority” or “I love you”? Touching his arm. Rubbing his back. Squeezing his shoulder when you walk by. Holding hands. Putting a hand on his knee while you’re in the car together. Meeting and holding his gaze. These are powerful ways a husband and wife connect. When a wife understands her husband’s physical needs—both inside and outside the bedroom—she tells him clearly that she wants to connect with him.

Like women, men desire to be understood, listened to, accepted, cared for, encouraged, and given attention. This kind of connection occurs when a wife seeks to learn what’s important to her husband: work, sports, his views, his often guarded emotions. When a wife connects to her husband in these ways, she shows not only the value she places on the relationship but also the value she sees in him.

The reason why connection improves a couple’s sexual relationship is that it increases a husband’s emotional dependency on his wife. His attraction toward her will increase. He will laugh with her. He will find her idiosyncrasies attractive instead of annoying. He will accept her completely.

Openness and emotional trust keep people intimately united. Marriage therapist David Kantor says, “The raw sexuality and libido that come naturally with our biological inheritance are small and over time play a decreasing part in sexual intimacy. If that young desire is not replaced with deep sharing and receiving, then you really won’t have an intimate life. But every time we connect on a deep level, we feel a need for sexual intimacy. There is something about being known and being received that is fundamental to the experience of desire.”

A study conducted by University of Washington psychologist and marriage researcher John Gottman found that emotional connection was the missing element in marriages that ended in divorce. Gottman and his team recorded couples talking and interacting. At first the results seemed trivial—until the researchers noticed something: Couples were making bids—advances—for an emotional connection. Their responses to those bids determined the quality of their relationships. These emotional advances could come in the form of a question, a look, an affectionate touch on the arm, or any single expression that said, “I want to feel connected to you.”

Gottman’s research showed that husbands who eventually divorced ignored their wives’ emotional advances 82% of the time, compared to only 19% for men in stable marriages. Women who later divorced ignored their husbands’ emotional advances 50% of the time, while those who remained married disregarded only 14% of their husbands’ bids.

Gottman and his researchers found that a typical happy couple may make up to 100 bids over the course of the dinner hour. Think about your own relationship. How often do you try to make a connection with your spouse? How often do you ignore or reject your spouse’s attempt to connect with you? According to Gottman, the satisfaction in your sex life is directly related to the frequency with which you initiate connection and respond to your spouse’s attempt to connect with you. Wives, your husbands will feel honored, valued, and drawn to you when you bid for their connection, or when you respond to their bids.

What can frustrate a wife is having her husband pursue sex with her when she feels disconnected, angry, or preoccupied. Several wives have asked us, “How can my husband want sex with me when we’re not connected?” The answer is this: A husband more easily connects with his wife through sex than by talking about emotions. He is more able to connect to her emotions and be sensitive once he feels safe and once his sexual needs are met. It’s important for a wife to understand that sex is her husband’s avenue to connection.

Wives, we want you to try an experiment. The next three times you have sex, set apart some time about 30 minutes after sex (if it isn’t in the middle of the night) to start a conversation with your husband and test the waters. Is he more responsive? Does he tend to connect more? Our hunch is that most of the time the answer will be yes. After sex, men go through a resolution time of wanting to rest and shut down. This is primarily rooted in the physiological release and the body’s desire to recuperate. But after 30 minutes or so, he is often very tender. Frustration diminishes, his mind will clear, and he may be more open to you.

The challenge is on again. Start connecting!

Setting Boundaries with Your Mother-in-Law


Q: My mother-in-law really has my husband under her thumb. How can I get her to back off without hurting either of their feelings?

A: We often hear this in a counseling session, and often it's a situation where the husband is caring for her mother who has been widowed or divorced. The husband is trying to be there for his mother. So every time his wife complains, he feels threatened and angry because he's just trying to do what he feels is right. The problem is, sometimes his mother can be a bit overbearing. She may call at all hours and expect her son to come right over to take care of the tasks. She may expect him to do all the yard work – not taking into account that he has his own yard work to do. There are plenty of ways that the controlling nature of a parent can play out. Sometimes it is a wife who is controlled by her mother.

We offer a few suggestions for stopping a parent from controlling your marriage. There may be other siblings who can help – and there may not be. In any case, you and your spouse need to be mature enough to set some boundaries with the controlling parent, but it doesn't need to happen overnight. For example, it would not be wise for a husband to suddenly stop spending lots of time connecting with his mother. It's a process. If there are siblings, encourage your husband to start with the one or two siblings with whom he's close and they may be inclined to help and share the burden in an honoring way. Even if they live far away, there are ways they can help. One sibling can make a call to the teenager down the street to mow the mother’s lawn and can send a check once a month to pay for the work. Another sibling or relative can be sure to check in with the aging mother by phone or email every few days. That takes some of the emotional burden off your husband. He needs his siblings to understand that he is trying to take care of his marriage and his children – and that helping his mother so much is making his home life difficult. Discuss how other siblings can pick up some of the responsibility.

If your husband has no siblings, consider, with your husband's blessing and cooperation, contacting other relatives or his mother's neighbors for assistance, or asking people at her church to help. By taking steps like this, your husband can feel his mother is being taken care of, and he can concentrate on his responsibilities at home and at work.

You don't want to dishonor your husband when he’s seeking to honor his mother, so you need to make sure he understands that. Instead, you want him to be able to set healthy boundaries.

This post is an excerpt from our book, The Great Marriage Q&A Book.

The 5 Sex Needs Challenge


Join us here on our blog as we talk about each of the top five sex needs for men and women over the next few months and challenge you to take some steps to a more fulfilling sex life in your marriage!

Let’s start our challenge by talking about the top sex need for both husbands and wives.

For women: Affirmation

During a recent conversation a friend told us, “Every once in a while I need to know that my husband recognizes and affirms what I do for him and our family. When I hear him say ‘Thank you’ or ‘You did a good job’ or ‘You are such a good mother,’ I feel closer to him and am much more open to his physical advances.”

Affirmation is essential to a successful sexual relationship. It is so important that 65% of the women we surveyed rated it as their number one sex need.

So what exactly is affirmation? Simply put, affirming your wife means building her self-esteem. It’s giving her genuine compliments, actively listening to what she says, giving her the opportunity to slow down from her busy pace of life, saying complimentary things about her in front of other people, and encouraging her when she’s discouraged. Affirmation is pointing out what she does right, overlooking her failures, and reminding her how much you appreciate what she does.

Affirmation is especially important during sex. Women need to hear how beautiful they are and how much they satisfy their husbands. The truth is, a majority of women struggle with body image. It doesn’t matter how old or how fit they are, they are always comparing themselves to other women or to themselves at their best form—which may have been when they were in high school.  

What are some ways you can affirm your wife?

1.  Be consistent. If you give affirmation only when your wife has done something right or performed well, you can actually cause more harm than good. Your wife will begin to feel as if your love is based on her performance. Instead, affirm her. Thank her for the things she does for you and the family. Welcome her advice and insight. Praise her attempts.

2.  Make her feel beautiful. Airbrushed images, movie stars, and models suggest that only certain body types are beautiful. Your wife needs to hear you tell her that she’s beautiful. When a wife feels confident about her body, she is more willing and eager to pursue and enjoy sex. Appearance (weight, body size, breast size) is a sensitive issue for women; it can make or break a great sex life. Never tease your wife about her body.

         Sheila told us, “I was shocked when my husband looked at me during a movie in the theater              and whispered, ‘You really are beautiful.’” If you think those kinds of thoughts about your                wife, say it!

One man called into our radio program and told us, “But I do think my wife is overweight and needs to lose some pounds. It’s not attractive to me at all. I struggle to become aroused.”

“That’s an issue you need to deal with too,” we challenged him. “Telling your wife that she needs to lose weight is the fastest way to make sure she doesn’t lose the weight, and it is sure to kill your sexual intimacy, which will then kill other parts of your relationship.”

If a wife knows or believes that her husband is not attracted to her—especially because of her insecurities about her body—she will disconnect from him. She will feel that his love for her is conditional. Part of a husband’s responsibility in loving his wife “as Christ loved the church” is to affirm and encourage her.

If becoming aroused is the issue, then make love to your wife with the lights off. Change body positions. If a husband wants to help her wife become more physically pleasing, then he can offer suggestions such as, “I’m in the mood to take a walk. Want to come with me? That way you can tell me about your day.” It’s connecting to her without criticizing her shape. Another option is to start affirming what is beautiful to you—her smile, her eyes, her breasts, her hands, her laugh, the way she wears her hair. Encourage your wife. Pray for her.

3.  Verbally affirm her during sex. When a man talks to his wife during sex, he communicates to her that he is mentally present. The strongest way to make that connection is to describe what she means to you and how much you appreciate her. To affirm her appearance, tell her that you’re enjoying her body. Then describe her body in beautiful ways. (Check out how Solomon described his beloved in the Old Testament book Song of Songs.) Tell her how you love looking into her eyes, love the feel of her skin, her shape, and her scent. Tell her what she’s doing right! Get excited over her attempts to please you sexually. Remember, women are responders, so if you tell her that you’re “into it” by affirming her, she’ll be more into it too.

For men: Mutual Satisfaction

Yes, men need a physical release. In fact, they not only want it, but they actually do need it. Testosterone builds in their systems, and they need to release it. Yes, they do think about sex a lot, but God also designed them with a strong desire to need their wives to enjoy the experience just as much as they do.

More than 67% of the men who responded to our survey listed mutual satisfaction as their top sex need. They indicated that they believe a good sexual relationship is one in which both husband and wife experience satisfaction during lovemaking.

Men often find it difficult to express their needs and fears. Even though a husband's behavior may suggest that he feels sex is all about him, on the inside he desperately desires to satisfy his wife just as much as he wants to feel satisfaction. That's why a man feels threatened when he thinks his wife is dissatisfied with their sex life.

Sexual satisfaction is more than simply a physical release for a man. The purpose of mutually satisfying sex is not just orgasm but satisfaction through an emotional and spiritual connection. In his book Learning to Live with the Love of Your Life, e-Harmony founder Neil Clark Warren writes, "A satisfying sex life is not totally dependent on having orgasms. While only 29% of women reported always having orgasms during sex, compared to 75% of men, the percentage of women and men that find their sex life 'extremely' physically and emotionally satisfying is about the same – 40%."

A man feels like a man when he can please his wife. Gary has found in his counseling that nearly half of a man's self-image is locked up in his sexuality; in some men it may be closer to 90%! A man often thinks, Am I a good lover? Am I capable? Can I do it well? Thus any man who hears his wife say "I just don’t need sex" will hear an internal resounding no to those questions and will feel robbed of his self-esteem.

Wives, your husbands really want to give you pleasure. A friend of ours put it well: "All men like to think they are low-level superheroes. That doesn't stop when they walk into the bedroom." When a wife receives pleasure from her husband, he feels wanted. Their intimate sexual interludes affirm his masculinity. They say to him, "I like the things that make you a man."

What are some ways you can meet your husband’s need of mutual satisfaction?

1.   Say yes as often as possible. The fastest connection charger is to say yes to sex. It may not be a great night or you may not feel like it, but there is no time like the present to work on meeting the need of mutual satisfaction, and if he’s asking you now—go for it. Of course there will be times it really is necessary to say no. But when it’s possible to say yes, do it!

2.  Decide to enjoy sex. Sex actually starts in the mind. You can choose to enjoy sex, or you can choose not to enjoy sex. Your decision becomes a trajectory for your relationship—inside and outside the bedroom. In a majority of couples we talk to, we find that women really do enjoy sex when they start out by choosing to enjoy it.

3.   Help your spouse know how to please you. If your husband does not know how to please you, teach him. Men are not mind-readers—especially in bed. The great myth is that men automatically know how to be great lovers. Where did this myth come from? Where do we think men learn these great secrets to passion? The junior high locker room? Not exactly the pinnacle of great knowledge. Your husband needs to know what gives you pleasure. When you are making love, place your hand over his and lead him. Whisper in his ear what you would really like him to do. There is nothing embarrassing or shameful about that kind of communication.

Take the 10% challenge.

How many times do you have sex with your spouse in a week? How about a month? Try increasing that amount by 10% this month. Remember that great sex often starts outside the bedroom by meeting one another’s needs in small ways. Husbands, affirm your wives, and wives, communicate with your husbands.

The challenge is on!   

Something Old, Something New

"As the Spirit of the Lord works within us, we become more and more like him and reflect his glory even more." 2 Corinthians 3:18

How many of your original wedding gifts are still around? If you were married only recently, you probably still have all of them – and perhaps a closet full of duplicates yet to be exchanged. Many of these gifts, the very things you wished and hoped for – and registered for at the local mall – haven't even been used. They are brand-new, bright and shiny, clean and fresh, still in the box. You're not sure where you're going to put them all.

If you have been married for 10 years or so, you are likely missing several things from your cache of wedding gifts. A few pieces of your good china probably bit the dust – broken by you or one of the kids – and several more pieces are chipped and cracked. Your first set of towels and linens is now threadbare and consigned to the rag bag. Your wedding toaster finally crackled, zapped, and gave up the ghost. A couple of things are broken or lost in your last move. And what's left, silver pieces have begun to tarnish, colored items are starting to fade, and almost everything else is nicked, dinged, torn, or worn in some way. Except perhaps for a few expensive items, your surviving wedding gifts are worth a mere fraction of their original value.

And for those of you who, like us, have more than 25 years of marriage under your belts, you may have to search a bit to locate some of those gifts. You can put your finger on a few important things – most of your original silverware, an heirloom piece of furniture or art, a few cherished knickknacks – but a lot of them are long gone. Worn out or broken, some gifts have been discarded. Your tastes changed over the years, so several items were dispatched via garage sales or trips to the thrift store. And when the kids moved out, you sent with them some stuff that you no longer use.

Bottom line: No matter how we try to prevent it, new things become old, stuff breaks down and deteriorates, and our physical bodies age. Decay is normal. This old world of ours is slowly winding down and falling apart. In fact scientists tell us that everything in the universe is perpetually moving to greater and greater disorder – a state of entropy. Your best china will eventually turn to worthless dust. Your expensive new car will need expensive new replacement parts in a few years just to stay running. Your physically fit body will someday require supplements, therapy, classes, or maybe even a pacemaker to keep you functioning efficiently. And even the modern marvels of medical science can only postpone the inevitable final breakdown of death.

Before you lapse into a blue funk, let us share with you the good news. Some things have the capacity to break the sentence of entropy hanging over the physical creation. No, we're not gearing up to sell you a bottle of snake oil and magic elixir guaranteed to reverse the aging process or eliminate gray hair or baldness. We're talking about things that transcend the physical world. We're talking about spiritual things.

As the apostle Paul suggests in 2 Corinthians 3:18, when you allow the Holy Spirit to do his work in your life, you are being renewed spiritually. So as you slowly grow older, weaker, and less agile physically, you can become more mature, stronger, and more agile spiritually. As your body ages and you look less and less like your old, youthful self, you can be more and more like the new you, who is being formed in the image of Christ. Think about it: On the day your physical strength runs out and you breathe your last, you should be just peaking spiritually, fit and ready for all the adventures of eternity with Jesus!

We happen to think this principle has a parallel in marriage. Why? Because, at the core, your marriage is a spiritual union ordained and blessed by God. Your special, God-blessed relationship with your spouse doesn't have to grow old and wear out – even though the two of you may look and feel a little older every year. And the magnetism that drew you together doesn't have to diminish; it can even grow stronger. The warmth of passion that bonded your hearts at the altar is not destined to cool; it can and should burn even hotter. Your bodies may grow more decrepit with time, but your hearts don't have to.

God's version of married love is like a potted plant. Unlike a bouquet of cut flowers, which after a few days dries up and crumbles, a potted plant is alive. It can bloom again and again. What we all need is a love that allows our relationship to grow continually and blossom repeatedly. We call this facet of love renewing love.

But beware: Unless a marriage is purposely kept fresh and nurtured, it will be as worthless as that old toaster that vaporized before your tenth anniversary. Marriage is a dynamic love relationship between a man and a woman, a relationship that is either growing deeper and richer, or stagnating and decaying. Your marriage doesn't have to wear out or break down, but it takes initiative and effort to reverse the process of entropy.

The real heart of renewing love is a commitment to never stop growing together. It's an ongoing promise to love to the utmost of your ability – and to never leave. It's a commitment sealed by the unbreakable bond God formed between you and your spouse when you made that one-of-a-kind promise. It's a living commitment powered by God.

Just as you grow deeper spiritually by welcoming and participating with the work of the Spirit in your heart, you grow deeper as a couple by welcoming and participating with the spirit in your relationship. Renewing love works – if you work at it together.

Reflect Together
If you could travel back in time to your wedding day and relive those early years, would you do it? Why or why not? In what ways has your relationship grown deeper over your years together? In what ways has it grown deeper over this last week? What aspects of your marriage are being renewed and refreshed as you go along? What aspect seems to be aging or wearing down? How have you invited God into the process of renewing your love?

Pray Together
I have no illusions, Father, about finding a fountain of youth some day. I realize the time will take a toll on me physically, but I will not always look or feel as young as I do today. But thank you that as I allow your Spirit to work in me, my love for my spouse can be perpetually renewed and grow ever stronger.  Help me to love, honor, and cherish my spouse this week in ever-increasing ways. And keep me from the complacency and stagnation that will cause our relationship to entropy. Amen.

Renew Your Love
Think of an area of your marriage that is not as fresh and vibrant as it once was, an area in need of renewing love. Perhaps it is some activity that brought you close, such as taking long walks together, enjoying a date night once a week, or working in the garden together. Perhaps you don't pray together as much as you would like. Maybe you take your spouse for granted instead of being super attentive and interested. What can you do this week to bring new vitality to that area? Come up with an idea to share with your spouse, or talk together about how to renew your love in that area.