Safe Within the Castle Walls

Guarding your heart can be compared to protecting the castles of the Middle Ages, which protected the lives and property of those who lived within their walls.

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These family strongholds were typically built on high ground, positioned to command a view of the approaches on all sides. Boiled down to the basics, medieval military science involved the attack and defense of castles. Castles were constructed to defend, and enemies were determined to attack. As the sophistication of the defenses grew, so did the schemes of the attackers. 

Castles could be attacked in one of two ways. The most overt was the frontal attack. That’s where the bad guys rolled right up to the walls and started hammering away with catapults, battering rams, flaming arrows, and hordes of invaders scrambling up long ladders.

If the frontal attack failed, a second approach might be employed: the sneak attack. These sorts of tactics were limited only by the craftiness of an enemy’s imagination. If they couldn’t knock down the walls, they might attempt to starve the inhabitants out by cutting off their provisions from the outside or, even worse, by damming up or poisoning the castle’s water supply. Another ploy was to take the castle dwellers by surprise with a ruse, something like the famous Trojan horse. 

When a castle was under siege by a powerful or clever invader, it was too late to shore up the defenses. The castle’s defenses had to be maintained at all times so that it would be ready for any attack that would come.

The Enemies of Your Heart 

Just like the castles of old, your heart and the hearts of your spouse and children are vulnerable to a variety of dangers from without and within. Solomon exhorts us to shore up the castle of our hearts against the enemies of our relationship with Christ, with our spouse, and with our children.

A vital prerequisite to shoring up the defense of your heart is to identify the enemies of your heart. The more you know about the nature of the assault, the better prepared you will be to defend against it. Here is a brief overview of the six critical enemies of your heart:

1. Job and home pressures.

Many couples allow the pressures of pursuing a career and maintaining a home to push marriage and family relationships to the back burner. When you focus too narrowly on your next promotion or the responsibilities of home management and children’s activities, you leave your heart unguarded. 

2. Material distractions.

Most people find the affluence of our culture difficult to resist. The dizzying lust for pleasure, power, money, and position can turn your heart away from the lasting values of nurturing loving relationships. 

3. Relationship pressures.

Everyone around you seems to need something from you—your attention, your support, your energy, your resources. Failing to prioritize your relationships can fragment your heart’s devotion. 

4. Sexual temptation.

Both men and women are vulnerable to the temptations of physical and/or emotional infidelity. Failing to establish and maintain relational guardrails can lead to heartbreak in a marriage. 

5. Misguided view of success.

The drive to succeed in this world often prompts healthy competition fueled by pride, envy, and greed. Buy into the world’s warped view of success, and you may leave your heart behind. 

6. Passivity and control.

Many marriages are pulled apart from one of two opposite poles: passivity and control. A passive partner abdicates the responsibility of nurturing marriage and family relationships. A controlling partner foists his or her agenda on other family members. Passivity and control in marriage can kill the heart. 

Can you feel the battering ram crashing against the gate of your castle? Can you hear the flaming arrows hissing over your head? Can you see the angry army advancing outside the walls? Yes, your heart is under siege—and your spouse’s heart is as well! Your marriage hangs in the balance. How can you be sure your defenses will hold up against the multifaceted attack? Is it possible to guard your hearts against the onslaught? 

Yes, it is possible—and it is imperative.

Here are three things you can count on. 

  1. You have a marriage relationship that is worth guarding with your life.

  2. Living in a world that is largely hostile to healthy marriages, your hearts will come under attack. 

  3. You cannot survive these attacks on your own. You and your spouse must stand together against your common foe. You must guard your heart and guard each other’s heart. And you need others to stand with you over the long haul—Christians who share your desire for a lasting marriage. 

We want to be counted among your group of supporters.  That’s why we offer coaching in so many different ways — via our blog, podcast, videos and books. We want to see your marriage thrive and stand strong!

*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! 

Healthy Habits of Loving Couples

Q: What can we do to develop a healthy marriage right from the start? 

A: To develop a healthy marriage, it is important that two vital elements come together.  

Photo by from Pexels

Photo by from Pexels

First, at some point you must draw a line in the sand. In so many words, proclaim to God and to each other, “We are committed to building a Christian marriage and family. Divorce is not an option. We will have nothing of the world’s approach to marriage. We are committed to keep our love fresh, new, and growing—for the sake of our marriage, for the sake of our children, and for the cause of Jesus Christ. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” In the way you talk to each other—today and every day, you affirm the fact that you would choose each other all over again. You say to each other, by words and actions, “You are my one and only.”

Second, God took you at your word when you said your wedding vows and is working through 

you to fulfill that commitment. Your marriage will grow deeper and stronger because God will 

empower you to strengthen your marriage. The two of you are not alone in this battle to ward off the world’s twisted view of marriage because yours is a marriage of three—you, your spouse, and Jesus. We urge you both to settle for nothing less than God’s best in your relationship.

How can you do that? One thing we suggest in our counseling is something we call “The Love List.” The Love List begins by enumerating things you can do once each day, once each week, and once each month. Finally, it also points you to important exercises to conduct on a yearly basis.

The Love List: Healthy Habits of Loving Couples 

Once a day 

  • Touch. Cultivate the valuable practice of tender touch on a daily basis.  

  • Hug for at least five seconds.  

  • Remember the two most important minutes of your marriage: right when you meet at the end of the day.  

  • Laugh. The more you laugh together, the more you love your spouse. Humor helps you cope.  

Once a week 

  • Do something active that lifts your spirits. This is an insurance policy against boredom.  

  • Broaden your sphere of interest. Make a list of activities and circle those you might find pleasurable. Make time to do them. 

  • Give your mate space to enjoy certain activities that are his/hers alone.  

  • Boost your mate’s self-esteem. When your soul mate helps you reach your potential and boosts your self-confidence, your options seem limitless. Look for diamonds—dig through the rough to look for the good in each other. Compliment your spouse. 

Once a month 

  • Rid yourselves of harmful residue. Explore unfinished business (unpaid bills, how long in-laws stay for Christmas, disciplining the kids). Talk about it and do your best to make decisions.  

  • Talk about your money. Admit to any deception and set up safeguards that will keep you honest.  

  • Talk about your emotional needs and anger. Forgive when you feel hurt.

  • Protect each other from over-commitment. Decide together what you and your family can handle. 

  • Update how well you know your spouse. Check in with your spouse—what would he or she like you to know? 

  • Fire up passion in the bedroom. Schedule a sex date at least once a month. Guard your time fiercely. 

Once a year 

  • Review your top ten highlights of the year. Decide together what constitutes a highlight. Make the review a memorable tradition.  

  • Chart your course for the coming year. Be proactive about where you’d like to be as a couple twelve months from now. Ask God for guidance. Take time to consider what really matters most to both of you in your relationship.  

  • Write a mission statement and revisit it yearly. Begin with “Our purpose is . . .” Use this statement to keep your marriage on track. Consider what you’d like to change.  

  • Think of six things you wish were different and set ways to improve them in the next year. Set specific goals. Understand the power of making resolutions together. Awaken your can-do attitude and trust God in your coming year together as a couple.

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

Navigating Holiday 'Potholes'

The holidays can be a wonderful time of laughter and love and gatherings with family. But it can also be a time of conflict and stress and hurt feelings—especially in a marriage when you’re bringing two families together. So what can you do to navigate those Christmas “potholes”? We’ve got some tips for you!

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One of the big issues that comes up with couples is when one spouse likes to spend holidays with his/her own family, but the other spouse would rather it just be the two of them. 

What marriage hasn’t gone through this? We recommend to every married couple that they understand the importance of “leaving” and “cleaving”—that is, of separating themselves as a married couple. Holidays are an excellent opportunity to begin your own traditions as a married couple. Then, the ideal situation is to share and give attention to both sides of the family. 

If your parents are wise, they’ll understand how important it is for you to establish your own family, your own traditions. Parents should do everything possible to bless their adult children in making those decisions, letting them know that as much as they’d love to be with you, they want you to have your own traditions and they want you to continue your relationship with the other in-laws. 

However, not all parents will be so understanding. You’ll need to be cautious about control issues that might be coming from a set of parents. You need to be gracious and kind as you finesse this situation year by year. And if children are added to the mix, it just gets stickier. However, you can make it work if you communicate with each other, compromise as needed, and establish clear guidelines to which you both can agree. 

Another common issue for couples is conflict with the in-laws. These conflicts are tough because even though it seems like they’re outside the marriage, your attitude toward your in-laws can undermine your relationship with your spouse. Your spouse feels pulled to protect and love you, and yet at the same time probably feels pulled because he or she wants you to love his or her parents. You both want to be able to have a nice time with the grandparents and the grandkids. Everyone wants to have peace and harmony in the family. 

Sometimes, however, a situation is so difficult, personalities clash so strongly, or other reasons cause such friction between you and your in-laws that being together is nigh unto impossible. So what can you do if you’re facing that kind of problem?  

First of all, we coach people not to try to resolve a family conflict during the holidays because it can then create all sorts of difficult memories for all the future holidays.  You need to go directly to your in-laws—maybe one-on-one. Get together, try to exchange some pleasantries. Go for a walk or at least be somewhere neutral without distractions. Look at your in-law(s) and just say, “I love your daughter (or your son).” Then add, “I want to wish you a merry Christmas. There may be some things that we could talk about after Christmas, but I just really wanted you to know that I am love you and want to enjoy this time with us all together.”

At this point, however, you don’t want to get into a long discussion of the issue or hurt that has happened. In this first encounter, simply affirm that you are celebrating Christmas with them, that you are thankful that you can all be together. Leave it at that. This paves the way for you to have a holiday celebration without having to ignore what they feel is “the elephant in the room.” Later however, after the holidays, you’ll need to address it. 

You might first go to the in-law one on one—after you’ve done a lot of praying, of course! (In fact, ask your friends to pray about this.) Your mother- or father-in-law needs to look into your eyes, hear the tone of your voice, and see your humility. Explain why you feel hurt. Reach out. Explain that you want to make it right for the sake of your spouse and your kids. Let the focus be on you. Take responsibility.

Realize that you won’t be able to change your in-law, no matter how much you may want to or how much he or she needs it. Romans 12:18 says, “Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.”

Of course, as you do all of this, ask God for wisdom. You need boundaries so you don’t allow yourself to be walked all over or torn apart in front of your kids, or whatever. You need to be clear, concise, and honest. You may not be able to solve the situation, but you might at least be able to come to a truce that will allow your spouse and kids to be able to visit the grandparents and have happy holidays together in the future.

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

Little Fights Can be a Big Problem

Q: We don’t have big fights, but lots of little disagreements and hurts simmer under the surface. How can we handle these? 

A: The moment you do or say something that hurts your spouse, 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? 

Photo by from Pexels

Photo by from Pexels

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 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. 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.

To deal with conflict will require several important steps: 

Humble yourself and pray. Before you say a word to your spouse, get on your knees and talk to God. Ask him to help you resolve the issue in a way that honors him. Ask for sensitivity to your spouse’s perspective on the issue. As you pray, God will soften your heart and help you see his priorities for your relationship. Sometimes prayer is all you’ll need. One of our callers told us, “I stopped saying to my busy pastor husband, ‘Spend more time with me.’ Instead, I went to God and said, ‘God, I love my husband and want to spend more time with him. Allow him to have more time.’ And God did!”

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. The latest incident may just be the trigger. There may be a deep, long-standing problem that has been buried over months or years and must be rooted out and dealt with. 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. This is no time to let a golf match or a shopping trip interrupt the process of identifying hurts, confessing wrongs, and seeking forgiveness. You may even want to take a day or weekend away in order to avoid anything that would distract you. 

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 working through your disagreement. It should be someone you both trust and respect, someone who will treat your relationship and conflict with the utmost confidentiality. Invite this person to ask you periodically how you are doing at resolving the issue. God can direct you to such a person if you ask him.

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

The Communion of Communication

There’s no doubt about it: Communication is vital in marriage.

When couples don’t share their lives and hearts with each other consistently, the atmosphere in the home can get colder than an arctic winter. Without communication we fall out of sync and disconnect, leaving plenty of room for chilly distance and selfishness to grow.

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Photo by from Pexels

Communication is the process of sharing yourself verbally and nonverbally in a way that your spouse both understands and accepts—though not necessarily agrees with—what you are sharing. Studies show that couples who communicate frequently have a more satisfying relationship. And couples who achieve deep levels of communication enjoy the most satisfaction of all.

So what does effective, meaningful communication look like in an intimate relationship? To answer that question, we must look at God’s model of communication with us, his beloved. Throughout Scripture we see at least three basic levels on which God has communicated with us. You and your spouse can evaluate the effectiveness of your communication by asking yourselves if these three levels are fully operational in your day-to-day interaction.

Information and History

God went to great lengths in Scripture to share with us volumes of important and interesting information. He tells us how the heavens and the earth were created. He includes countless biographies not only of godly men and women but also individuals who refused relationship with him. He recites in painstaking detail how his Son was born, lived, died, and was raised again to redeem fallen mankind. He describes the early decades of church history. In Scripture, God has provided information for us in panoramic, overarching summaries and jot-and-tittle details.

Effective communication in a marriage must include information of many kinds. Obviously, you need to be talking constantly about the details of personal schedules, finances, and childcare, for example. But your spouse also needs to know on a daily basis about your activities away from home, your work projects, your interactions with other people, the surprises that happen to you, and any number of events and happenings you encounter while apart. By sharing information with your spouse, you are welcoming him or her into your world, which encourages intimacy.

Opinions and Beliefs

In addition to the information in Scripture, God generously shares with us his opinions and beliefs about our life here on earth. He left with us the law and commandments of the Old Testament, the sermons and parables of Christ, and the instruction of the Epistles. And because God is God, his opinions and beliefs on any topic constitute truth. He is always right. His opinions and beliefs are moral absolutes for us, defining what is right and what is wrong.

Our opinions and beliefs are not perfect like God’s, but they are no less valuable to intimacy in a marriage relationship. Your spouse needs to hear what you believe about what is happening in your family, your community, your church, and the world. When you share your opinions and beliefs, you are welcoming your spouse into your thoughts, which encourages intimacy.

Feelings and Desires

Throughout the Bible, God reveals a wide scope of emotions—joy, anger, jealousy, love, grief, disappointment, and others. Jesus wept. Jesus became angry. Jesus loved. Jesus also held little children on his knee and participated in joyful weddings. God has emotions, and he chose not to hide his feelings from us in Scripture. We also sense the yearnings of God’s heart in his Word, his deep desire for a relationship with us, his sorrow when we do not respond to his love.

Your spouse needs to hear not only your information and your convictions, but also your feelings and desires about what is happening in your life. This doesn’t just mean that you express your emotions by laughing, crying, or venting in front of him or her. It also means describing what is going on in your heart with words such as, “I feel like...,” “It hurts me when...,” “I’m so happy about...,” or, “I really wish that...” When you share your deep emotions and yearnings with your spouse, you are welcoming him or her into your heart, which encourages intimacy.

A key to meaningful, intimacy-building communication is to develop proficiency at all three levels. Become an expert in the serving love of sharing with your spouse what you know, what you think, and what you feel. Your marriage will be richer for it.

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