Cultivate Spiritual Intimacy in Your Marriage

Q: What roles do reading the Bible and praying together have in a marriage? Any suggestions on how to begin?

A: We will say often that spiritual intimacy improves so many areas of your life, not just that spiritual area. Believe it or not, it can also improve your sexual relationship, your romance, your conflict resolution, even your parenting. Don’t believe it? Listen to Martha:

“We have been married for thirty-five years and only in the past couple of years have we prayed together in a real strong and meaningful way. It has added such fullness to every area of our marriage. It had kind of been my heart’s desire for a long time, and I think what made the difference was my husband turning his life over completely and 100 percent to the Lord. We now spend Saturday mornings studying the Bible and we pray around the world almost. It’s my favorite time of the whole week. We just pray and study and talk about our week. It’s just been an absolutely delightful. This has made us feel like newlyweds again. I know that the reason is because of the intimacy that prayer brings into our married life.”
 Photo by  Matheus Ferrero  on  Unsplash

We want to encourage you to take that first step and just do it once. Read the Bible together once. Pray together once. Then do it another time. Then do it another time. Don’t set yourself up for failure by saying you’re going to read the Bible together every night between 7:15 and 7:30. Just start. Take the leap. Then let it go from there.

Here’s another story of spiritual intimacy to encourage you:

“My husband and I got married five years ago. We really appreciate how God brought us together. Every morning for the last five years, we put a pillow beside the bed and kneel down and pray and lift each other up. We read our Bibles for fifteen minutes every morning. We’re reading all the way through the Bible. It’s just been a blessing for us. It’s such a safe place to begin each day. One benefit from this is hearing my husband lift me up in prayer. He’ll pray for me about something tough coming up that day. And when I get to that spot in my day and have to face it, I remember that I’ve been prayed for. It makes me feel so loved.”

So jump in! Don’t wait! Take time today to sit down with your spouse, pray, read scripture. Whether it’s 10 minutes or 2 hours doesn’t matter as much as just taking the leap and letting God lead.

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

We’re on the Same Side

Do you sometimes find yourself competing with your spouse over who is right or whose way will prevail in a decision or conflict? This type of friction is present in many marriage relationships.

When conflict arises, many couples are quick to take opposite positions on the “battle line.” Husband and wife see each other as adversaries to be defeated. We’re out to score a victory for “our side,” to show the enemy who’s boss, to make sure our cause is vindicated—even if it’s only where we squeeze the toothpaste tube.

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We have borrowed a saying from our friend Dennis Rainey that we often share at our marriage conferences: “My spouse is not my enemy.” Isn’t that a freeing thought? Marriage is not a war. Personal preferences are not beachheads to be conquered at all costs. Differences of opinion are not battles to be won. Hey, you’re on the same team! Conflicts and difficulties are things to be worked out together in a spirit of teamwork and cooperation for the mutual good. Yet so often we chip away at each other, jostling to come out ahead. And we end up offending and hurting each other in the process.

Here is a starting point for any confrontation, a starting point that virtually guarantees your confrontation won’t turn into a battle. Begin with these four words: “Let’s pray together first.” These words will not only disarm any conflict but also set the stage for a constructive, decision-making discussion.

“Wait a minute,” you may be saying, “are you suggesting we should stop to pray over stuff as minor as which way to hang the toilet tissue and which end of the toothpaste to squeeze?”

To be sure, you need to be praying about the significant decisions you must make, such as a possible job change, where to attend church, whether or not to homeschool your children, major financial decisions. But you probably don’t need to pray specifically about minor details like toilet tissue and toothpaste. However, usually lurking behind even these small conflicts is an issue of control: Who will decide between two relatively equal but minor options? Whose preference will be honored? At this point, a moment of prayer can unify the two of you and clarify your goals.

Prayer makes a positive impact on the resolution of conflict. It welcomes into the debate a third party—Jesus—and determines that you are willing to play by his rules. When you both decide to meet on Jesus’ turf, you are naturally opening yourself up to the Word of God and the Holy Spirit as the grounds for making your decision and resolving your conflict. You will be challenged to ask, “What does the Bible say about our situation? Are there clear commands we need to obey? What other biblical principles apply to the issue?” When you look to God’s Word, you level the playing field by welcoming God’s solution.

When you find the courage to say, “Let’s pray together first,” be prepared to say a few more things in order to clear up the conflict and heal any hurt you may have caused.

“I was wrong.” When the Holy Spirit reveals your part in offending your spouse, it’s not enough to say, “If you think I did something wrong, let’s talk about it.” Nor is it appropriate to say, “I don’t think it was such a big deal, but if you think it was...” Tell it as it is with statements like these: “I was wrong”; “What I did/said was wrong”; “I offended you, and it was wrong”; “I need to talk to you about what I did to hurt you.”

“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.

“I don’t ever want to hurt you this badly again.” Saying you were wrong is a statement of confession. Saying you are sorry is a statement of contrition or sorrow. They must be followed by a statement of repentance, which expresses your desire to turn from your hurtful ways. “I don’t want to hurt you again” is a way of saying any hurt you cause is unintentional and distressing to you. Repentance opens the door to deep healing.

“Will you forgive me?” Here you place yourself at your spouse’s feet, taking the servant’s position. It is a demonstration of your humility. Anything less than acknowledging your wrong, your sorrow, your repentance, and your humility is cheap forgiveness. The full approach, which is bathed in prayer together, is forgiving love at its best.

If there’s a conflict brewing in your marriage, take the initiative today to bring the two of you together in prayer and find a resolution that will heal that hurt.

*For more practical advice on connecting with your spouse, we'd recommend the Renewing Your Love devotional. It's available in our online bookstore!

When Caring for a Parent Causes Marriage Strain

Q: We need to have one of our parents move in with us in order to care for them. What advice would you give to keep that situation from taking a toll on our marriage?

A: As much as you might hope it won’t, this situation will probably take a certain toll on your marriage. But this can also be an incredible blessing to your family. 

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For example, my maternal grandfather lived with me and my family for a period of time when I was young. It was a great experience for me. And it worked out for my parents because my grandfather was sensitive to my parents’ need for connecting time. When my dad would come home from work, my grandpa would scoot out of the room because he knew they needed time to talk.

Not all parents will be so accommodating, so you will need to set some boundaries to be sure that your marriage doesn’t suffer. You need to set realistic expectations because this new person in the home changes the dynamic. You and your spouse need to discuss the care-taking role, who will do what, how much is expected, how will this person be best cared for (for example, does someone need to be at home at all times for safety issues?). Will there come a time when physical care becomes too much? At that point, what needs to happen?

It will be tough and may even seem uncaring, but you need to talk about these things and be very realistic about what you each can and can’t handle. We usually coach people to talk about these situations using time frames: Say, “For the next three months, we’re going to do this. Then we’ll reevaluate.”

If you take a parent into your home, you are showing great honor, and that is important. However, if this situation begins to take a toll on your marriage and you can’t solve the problem in a way that works for everyone, you must realize that your marriage needs to come first.

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

Be Your Husband’s Best Friend

When the rubber meets the road, there is one person I know I can count on no matter what. Barb. And no matter how much I bond with my brothers in Christ, Barb really is my number one friend—my best friend.

My friendship with Barb is what defines much of our marriage. I not only love her with an agape (unconditional Christlike) love. I also am in love with her with an eros (romantic) love. But my deep phileo (friendship) love for my wife is as essential as my agape and eros love are. It is no coincidence that our survey research about spouses’ love needs (for our book The 5 Love Needs of Men & Women) indicates that a husband’s top three love needs mirror the biblical descriptions of love. Agape, eros, and phileo love topped husbands’ responses to needs in their marriages (and in that order).

What Does Your Husband Need in a Friendship with You?

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Friendship doesn’t happen overnight, even between marriage partners. True friendship, which involves trust and vulnerability, honesty and encouragement, shared interests and activities, takes time to develop and mature. And friendship between marriage partners requires the same.

With that in mind, then, let’s look at some of the ways your husband may need your friendship.

He Needs You To Have Realistic Expectations

Your husband is not your girlfriend. Think about that. Wives and husbands approach this need for friendship differently. Your husband is never going to be just like “one of the girls.” That’s not the kind of friendship and companionship he needs from you. He isn’t one of the girls. And you don’t want him to be.

What Barb says she needs from a female friend is a ton of words, a trusting relationship in which she can explore a whole range of emotions, and a whopper of a hug when the conversation ends on a deeper note. What I often need from Barb, as a friend, are fewer words, a short range of emotion so I don’t feel out of control, and a whopper of a hug after a heart-to-heart conversation.

That doesn’t mean I don’t need Barb. It means I need her to understand that fewer words do not mean less of a need for companionship. We as men don’t dip into that whole range of emotions as frequently, expressing them as readily and as freely as you do. When you do experience that with us, you want more of it—and that makes sense. Just realize that most men won’t go there as often or perhaps as deeply.

He Needs You to Speak the Truth in Love

Being honest means being vulnerable, and vulnerability can be murky water for men. First of all, it’s very tough for men to open up to other men, primarily because of this pride thing we have going. It’s often called “being macho,” but what it really is, is being afraid of looking like a jerk.

If we get too honest, we figure we’re admitting we need someone to help fix a problem. In essence we’re saying, “I don’t know how to do this. Will you tell me?” (It’s like having to stop and ask for directions!) Then we feel inadequate, and when we feel that way, we’re afraid we’ll end up looking like a jerk. And we hate looking like a jerk to another man. But there is one thing we hate even more: looking like a jerk to you. But if we husbands are truly going to be best friends with our wives, we have to develop a level of trust that will enable us to feel that we can be honest with them.

He Needs You to Be Forgiving

Many couples live with past (or current) hurts that have caused distance in their marriage relationship. The reasons may be different, but the result is the same. All kinds of things can cause problems in a marriage, and they need to be dealt with. But we must not allow past issues, or even current problems, to get in the way of building a great marriage. We need to work through the problems, and once we have done so, we must not carry the bitterness with us.

He Needs You to Be Honest

Honesty builds trust. Trust builds friendship. Dishonesty breaks down trust. Distrust impairs healthy relationships. When a husband knows his wife is honest with him, he begins to trust her and becomes increasingly vulnerable with her.

Honesty is crucial in building your marriage relationship and meeting each other’s needs. Without honesty, ordinary friendships are flimsy or superficial at best. But without honesty in marriage, true companionship between husband and wife is impossible.

He Needs You to Enter His World

Barb was having lunch with some of her female friends one afternoon, and one of the women began complaining that her husband was going golfing too often. “Why don’t you go with him?” Barb asked. “I can’t stand to golf!” her friend proclaimed. “But you love your husband, Anna. Go out and play with him. Join him. Crawl into his world.”

What Barb helped her friend get a handle on was that you don’t have to be “good” at everything your husband excels at and you don’t have to be as enthusiastic about things as he is. What matters to him is that you validate his interest and join him in some of his activities.

How can you meet your husband’s friendship needs?

The best place to start building your friendship with your husband is by informing him that, from your perspective, this is a real need in your relationship. Let him know you want to be his best friend. If your husband knows you want to spend time with him—other than just taking care of the household needs and parenting the kids—he may take the risk to ask you to join him. So where can you start?

  • Take inventory of some of your husband’s hobbies and interests, and ask him if you can join him in one of them.
  • Share some of your own experiences with him to draw him closer to you as well.
  • Remind him that your relationship is a secure and safe place to sort out whatever is going on in his heart. Anytime. Anyplace.

Intimate friendship. Marital oneness. That is what Barb and I have, and that is what we want for you. Why? Because this is God’s plan. For some of you, this means taking a baby step in the right direction. For others, you’re already there! We want you all to be able to celebrate a marriage friendship of three: the Lord, your husband, and you!

Financial Friction: Spender vs. Saver

Q: One of us is very frugal when it comes to spending money, but the other is a spendthrift. This is causing lots of friction.

A: It seems there is no end of the ways money can cause stress between spouses. Listen to one of our callers:

 Photo by Artem Bali from Pexels

Photo by Artem Bali from Pexels

“My husband is a dreamer and I’m a realist. We don’t have a lot of money. It’s really hard now because whenever he wants to do something fun, I’m the one holding back because of the money. It’s affecting our marriage because we don’t get out to go on dates and things like that. I’m the one who’s sitting here counting pennies and he wants to go splurge on a nice dinner or something.”

This is a very common problem. It’s great when you’re dating and the other person is spending money on you; it’s altogether different once you’re married and you’re trying to have a budget and set financial goals.

We’d suggest that if you’re one of these frugal people and your spouse says, “Okay, let’s go out and do something fun,” you should confess that it creates insecurity, that it’s scary for you. Confess that when you hear about spending money and you’re counting every penny, it triggers your fear button, because you sense that you’re going to spiral downward with your finances. At this point, your spouse needs to willingly be cautious with those decisions so that you gain security.

At the same time, however, you need to guard your marriage. Figure out a way that you can set aside a few dollars a week to do something fun. Maybe you can’t go out for an expensive dinner, but can the two of you head to a fast food place or just get dessert somewhere? How about going to the movie during matinee hours? Whatever it takes. Your spouse needs that fun time and wants to spend it with you.

Count yourself blessed! And then figure out creative ways to make it happen.

 

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