Open Your Heart and Close the Loop!

The moment you do or say something that hurts your marriage partner, you stand at a fork in the road. Whether you are aware of it or not, at that very moment you can choose to go in one of two directions. You may be standing at that junction right now. Perhaps a thoughtless word or deed in the last few hours or minutes has erected a barrier of distance in your relationship. It may not be a “big deal”; you wonder if your husband or wife even noticed it. But you know what happened. How will you respond to it? Which direction will you choose?  

One choice is to go on with life as usual as if nothing happened. You can pretend that everything is fine between you, even though you know it’s not fine. You can be your cheery, communicative self, expecting the incident to blow over. But these kinds of things, even the smallest of them, never really blow over. They tend to simmer below the surface and erupt at the most inconvenient times. So you can do nothing if you want to, but we don’t recommend it.

Your other choice, the second fork in the road, is to set to work to resolve the conflict as soon as possible. It means taking the initiative to set things straight, to clear the air, and to restore the relationship. It requires courage to restore and rebuild a relationship—regardless of which side of the offense you’re on. It also takes time, patience, trust, and maybe even some tears. But the benefits of a restored relationship far outweigh the effort involved.

We call this second step “closing the loop” on relational offenses. Your hurtful words or actions open the loop by introducing pain. It is important to close that loop as soon as possible to deal with the pain and return the relationship to harmony. Closing the loop is forgiving love in action. It’s the biblical pathway to confronting offenses, resolving conflicts, and healing hurts. This is God’s way to restoring mutual acceptance and intimacy in the wake of misunderstanding and pain.

The most important step in taking the path of forgiveness is heart preparation. Your heart must be right, or your efforts at closing the loop will be shallow and ineffective. King David was a man after God’s own heart because he consistently—though not perfectly—invited God to work in his heart. Notice how much David talked to God about the condition of his heart:

“You have tested my thoughts and examined my heart in the night. You have scrutinized me and found nothing amiss, for I am determined not to sin in what I say.” (Psalm 17:3)

“The commandments of the Lord are right, bringing joy to the heart.” (Psalm 19:8)

“May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)

“I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:11)

How do you prepare your heart for closing the loop through forgiveness? Here are several important steps:

Humble yourself and pray. Before you say a word to your spouse, get on your knees and confess your sin to God. As you pray, God will soften your heart and help you see his priorities for your relationship.

Look for the underlying cause of the conflict. As God searches your heart, keep alert for the real source of the hurt between you and your spouse. You may not know where to look for it, but God does. Listen to his voice—especially as he speaks to you through your spouse.

Make your relationship your top priority. Don’t trivialize the need to clear the air between you and your spouse. You may even want to take a day or weekend away in order to avoid anything that would distract you from closing the loop.

Consider asking a trusted friend to hold you accountable. Sometimes it is very helpful to involve a third person who will hold you accountable for closing the loop. It should be someone you both trust and respect, someone who will treat your relationship and conflict with the utmost confidentiality. God can direct you to such a person if you ask him.

Reflect Together. How would you assess the condition of your heart today in regard to resolving conflicts and healing hurts in your relationship? Are you eager for God to search your heart and point out your part of the problem? Are you ready to humble yourself before God and your spouse to confess your wrong and seek forgiveness? Are you courageous enough to ferret out the real problem behind the conflict, even if it requires further confession of wrong on your part? Will you make your relationship with your spouse top priority through this process?

Jot down a plan of action, noting what you need to say to your spouse or do to close the loop. Prioritize this process by giving yourself a time frame for completion. Get started today.

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

Healthy Boundaries = Healthy In-Law Relationship

It’s important to establish healthy boundaries with your in-laws. Otherwise, you can add a lot of stress to your marriage relationship. But how do you go about it?

Here’s what Joan shared with us:

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“My husband and I are constantly arguing about our in-laws, and it has stressed our marriage so much that we are unable to deal with other issues. I think the problem is a lack of boundaries. His mom more or less views me as somebody that she needs to compete with. And she also imposes her views. My husband follows through with what she says and it causes conflict with us.” 

When the in-law problems cause you and your spouse to be unable to deal with other issues in your marriage, then something has to be done. Both of you need to talk about some of the consequences of this continual in-law problem.

Maybe you start that by saying, “How is this impacting our marriage? How is it impacting the grandchildren? How is it impacting the way you and I are connecting?” Don’t place blame; just look from the outside at the impact the friction is having on your marriage. Ask for clarification. See what your spouse is feeling or sensing. Be open. You don’t want to cast blame and get into another argument; instead, you want to get insight into it from each other’s perspectives.

Then you can say, “Can we perhaps set one boundary with your mom (or with my folks)?” Take it a step at a time. And simply through communicating, you’ll begin to understand each other more. You can watch each other’s backs when the in-laws are around. You can support each other in subtle ways. You need that. Remember, you must first and foremost protect your marriage and family.

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

Is "Second Virginity" Possible?

Q: I want to get married but I’ve already had sex. I feel guilty. What can I do?

A: Whether this was in the past or with your current boyfriend/girlfriend, you can change your ways and make a commitment to abstain from sex from now on. Many people like you (and couples who are planning to get married but have already had sex) are abstaining from sex until marriage in order to recapture the feeling of virginity on their wedding night. Read what one person wrote to us:

 “I am 23 and engaged to be married. My fiancé and I have been intimate in our relationship, but in the last few months I have set boundaries as to what we can and can‘t do (he has agreed and has the same conviction). During this time he has commented numerous times about how he feels unloved and detached from me. What can I do for the next six months to still make him feel loved without compromising our boundaries?”

Why does this matter? As you’ve already discovered, sex is extremely powerful. Once you had sex, you probably continued to have sex. Your relationship stopped growing in other ways. Less time to talk; less concern about working through differences—let’s just have sex! Suddenly you’ve lost much of the time and work needed to prepare for a healthy marriage.

By deciding to abstain from sex, you give future relationships a much better chance. You allow yourself the opportunity to truly get to know someone without the sexual aspect clouding your thinking. You must learn to have fun together in other ways. You have to find activities that you both enjoy doing. You create a friendship first, which is the basic foundation for any successful marriage. Most important, you save sex to be the sacred bond between you and your spouse—just as God intended it to be.

To make this commitment of abstinence, you’ll need to:

Confess. Admit your sin before God and to your boyfriend/girlfriend if applicable. Completely direct your focus to God before entering into a relationship with someone else.

Seek forgiveness from God. The Lord wants to restore relationships and hearts. Receive forgiveness in order to purge your memories and feelings of guilt.

Reclaim your virginity. Some call this “secondary virginity.” Obviously, if the other person refuses to do this, you have your answer about this person as a potential spouse.

Set boundaries with a battle plan. You will have to guard your heart. This is going to be an extremely difficult commitment to keep. When you get together, plan activities to do together. Flee from sexual TV programming and movies that you know are questionable. Put up the wall so you don’t entertain these sights and memories. Guard your eyes and minds from anything that makes you focus on sex. Every time you’re tempted, you’ll both have to agree that you will separate from each other for a time.

Pray over your marriage bed. As you pray over your future home, pray over your bed. You don’t want anything to defile your marriage bed and your sexual intimacy. When you do this, you will experience great reward. Your wedding night will have the sweetness you had hoped.

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

Help! Our Jobs are Causing Stress!

Q: In our house, the wife makes more than the husband. That’s causing some stress. What advice would you give us?

A: Listen to Nancy tell her story:

Photo by  rawpixel.com  from  Pexels

Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

“My husband and I are having a disconnect in our goals in terms of my work. Somehow along the way I have surpassed his income and my job is very stressful. I work a lot, including some time on the weekends. I feel like a bad mother. I’m never around. Grandma has always got our kids. They just don’t have the benefit of their mother watching them at sporting events or even dropping them off at school or picking them up. Since the beginning, I didn’t want to have children if we couldn’t provide well for them. Now that I can do that, I want to be there for them when they get off school. I want to participate in their school activities. I want to be more involved in their schooling. But my husband is afraid of losing my income—and frankly, so am I. We need me to work, but I’m hurting inside every day.”

For the wife to be a mom as well as the primary income causes her to carry a huge load. Many women are in the situation of working full time, and in some cases, their income is higher than their husbands’ income. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with that, many couples will find that there is a price to pay because moms, in particular, hurt inside when they have to put work before their kids. If a wife is working full time and even on weekends and missing out on activities and events with the children, she probably needs to slow down and think about a few things. First of all, she shouldn’t label herself a bad mother. If the Holy Spirit is speaking, then it would be wise to listen and consider what can be done to make some changes so that she will not have any regrets when the kids are suddenly grown and out of the house.

Women, think ahead. When you stand at your child’s graduation, you will want to be satisfied in your heart that you didn’t miss the important events along the way. Of course, you can’t be at all of them, but you need to make your kids a priority now. They aren’t going to be in this stage for long. Blink, and it will be over.

It may take some creative thinking. It will take lots of prayer. Let God know your heart. Understand your needs. Work on your budget. See if there’s a way you can work fewer hours so that there’s still an income but so that it’s not taking away from the family. Talk to your boss. Communicate with your husband. No matter what age your kids are right now, if they’re still at home, they need you and will benefit from your extra attention. Believe us, you’ll feel real satisfaction if you can work to tailor your job to make this possible.

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

How to Avoid Temptation

For men and women, adultery begins in the heart. And for men particularly, it begins when the heart is not guarded against what the eyes see and what the mind fantasizes. A woman is more likely to be tempted sexually on the emotional level. There is certainly a physical attraction, but it is usually the accompanying emotional attachment that leads a woman into an adulterous affair. She is lured away by a man’s tenderness, openness, warmth, personality, and attentiveness.

Photo by  NeONBRAND  on  Unsplash

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

When you sense that someone else is captivating your heart in some way, when this attraction results in increased disappointment or frustration toward your spouse or when you begin to dwell on or act out your fascination, it is time to confront the threat. It’s not too late, but it’s late enough.

Put a stop to any of these common lies and partial truths—or others like them—that you may be entertaining:

  • His/her attention makes me feel good, and it’s not hurting anyone.

  • There’s a connection. He/she really understands me.

  • I can talk to him/her about everything. He/she always makes time for me.

  • I can tell he/she is attracted to me. I can see myself ending up with him/her.

You must establish an attitude of respectful relational distance between yourself and the man or woman who captures your attention. We’re not talking about cutting off all contact with the opposite sex. We’re talking about being cautious and alert for temptation in these relationships and maintaining a margin of distance that will help you resist those temptations. Don’t allow any unwholesome thoughts to make a home in your mind. Don’t gaze too long into the windows of the soul; that is, eye contact in a conversation is good, but if you catch a look that is too intense, too engaging, or makes you uncomfortable, avert your eyes and resist that gaze. Don’t go out of your way to see or meet someone. Be careful with physical touch. Keep conversation general. When all else fails, run for your moral life.

Look at what this husband had to share:

“I wish I could talk to all men who are considering the terrible choice of an affair. I did that many, many years ago. I left my wife for somebody else. I allowed the affair to come into my life at a time when I should have and could have stopped it. But I did not. The pain I’ve faced was not worth the few moments of pleasure I had. I ended up with a failed relationship (the affair ended—the grass is not greener on the other side), and I ended up with a failed marriage. In my case, there was a son involved. After a short period of time, this devastating decision ruined at least three lives. And it goes on. Even long after this affair ended and I was on my own, I realized that my son and I could never have a good relationship because there was animosity there . . . and rightfully so. He saw firsthand the pain I caused my wife. I wish I could tell any man who’s toying with this thought—you’re playing with fire. Don’t do it. Stay the course. Hang on to your wife. Hang on to your husband. Stop what you’re doing. Go to the Lord in prayer and he’ll give you the strength to go on. And you will find goodness eventually. You will find a rebuilding. He’ll do that for you.”

You can sense the pain this man has experienced. He learned the hard way about the devastation of sexual sin.

The other side of temptation is to be satisfied at home. Solomon’s words in Proverbs 5:18-19 are slanted to a husband, but wives can make an appropriate translation: “Let your wife be a fountain of blessing for you. Rejoice in the wife of your youth. She is a loving deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts satisfy you always. May you always be captivated by her love.”

In other words, if you are emotionally or sexually thirsty, head for your own well, the well God has provided for you. Quench your thirst at your own fountain instead of roaming around looking for another. When you are full and satisfied sexually in your relationship with your spouse, neither of you will need to look elsewhere for satisfaction

Besides just your physical needs, bring your emotional and relational needs to no one else but your spouse. Talk about your struggles, your dreams, your needs, your frustrations, and your joys from all levels of your life. Pray with each other. Laugh with each other. Cry with each other. Grieve with each other. Enjoy each other. Challenge each other. This is what intimacy is all about—sharing your innermost thoughts, feelings, desires, and drives with one another. Intimacy with your spouse will help keep you in the center of the road, even when other guardrails are missing.

*Our book, Guard Your Heart, can help equip you and your spouse with the tools to protect your marriage. It's available in our online bookstore!