Can We Turn Things Around?

Are the problems in your marriage tearing you and your spouse apart? Is there anything that can be done to turn things around when you feel at the end of your rope? Yes!

Photo by  Kelly Sikkema  on  Unsplash

Believe it or not, there is a way not only to survive trials but also to grow even stronger in the process. How can you make sure that you and your spouse have what it takes to get through these storms? Here are five vital keys to building a fortress of love that will protect your marriage.

Connect and Stay Connected

Your ability to endure together in the hard times is directly proportional to the depth of your partnership in good times. Two hearts must link up to grow strong together. If you want to stay glued together in difficulties, you have to apply the cement of partnership now. Before you go your separate ways each day, give each other a heartfelt, “I love you.” Stay connected by calling each other during the day. Do what it takes to feel connected and present for each other even when you’re apart.

Make Your Relationship a Safe Place

Is your relationship a safe place where both of you can run from the troubles of life? Your spouse needs to know now that your loving arms will always be a shelter in the midst of a trial or tragedy. He or she will sense that assurance only if you practice empathy and comfort now.

Keep Communicating

It’s difficult to communicate during tough times. Even the smallest of trials can drive a wedge between a husband and wife. And if small conflicts can divide you, think how much more some of the devastating blows of life can push you apart. Trials are a threat to communication because they isolate you in your own thoughts. Trials have a way of forcing even the most communicative people inward.

Rest in the Truth That God Has a Purpose for Trials

If it were up to us, we would choose to navigate through life with as few problems as possible. God doesn’t see things our way, however. He has allowed trials in our lives to teach us to persevere.

Great marriages are often forged through difficult trials. Whatever you may be facing in your marriage right now, let the words of James 1:2-4 be both instruction and comfort: “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.”

Decide to Tackle Trouble Together—Wherever It Takes You

We have found that our love for each other is glorious in the good times—the vacations on the beach, the memory-making experiences with the kids, the times of deep intimacy together with Jesus Christ. It’s easy to love in the good times. But when our marriage comes under intense testing, we still have in our possession what really matters: A love that won’t quit. No matter where our trials take us, we have each other.

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

Bring Back the FUN!

Q: Our marriage is—well—boring. How can we bring back the fun?

A: On your wedding day, you were flooded with joy over your spouse and you gladly proclaimed your undying commitment to each other in front of family and friends. It was a moment when all the emotion of King Solomon’s love poem came fully alive: “I am my lover’s, and my lover is mine” (Song of Songs 6:3).

But maintaining the I’m-rejoicing-over-you attitude isn’t automatic once your relationship has logged some miles and picked up a few dents and dings. It’s even worse if you carry around lots of unresolved disappointments. Where did the magic go?  Is there any way to get the magic back? We’re glad you asked! Read on . . .

1.  Put Each Other at the Top of the List

Move each other to the top of your to-do lists, just below your love for Jesus. You must make spending time together a priority, just as you did when you were first dating. We are amazed at how many people buy into the idea that “quality time” with their spouse and children is sufficient. Quality time is a myth. You need hundreds of hours of quantity time before you can enjoy real quality time.

Let your body language demonstrate that your spouse is your priority. Make eye contact. Give undivided attention. When you walk together, hold hands.

Instead of evaluating your daily success by how many tasks you check off your to-do list, ask whether they are the right tasks, those that properly balance God time, personal time, and family time. Your attention to the Bible, prayer, and fellowship with God will give you access to the only power source that will ultimately satisfy, allowing you to properly honor your family.

2.  Confess to Each Other

Unresolved offenses block all kinds of intimacy—emotional, physical, and spiritual. We know this from our own experience and from talking to countless couples whose love has grown cold. Trying to get close while those hurts remain is like trying to hurdle a hundred-foot wall. It won’t happen.

When you sense a wall between you and your spouse, something is very wrong. Husbands, why not take the lead to address the pain and restore intimacy? Become responsible for the tone of the relationship and get your marriage back on course, especially if you are guilty of contributing to the pain.

3.  Get to Know Each Other Again

Most men tell us that they were far more successful at connecting with their wives before marriage or before children. And many women report to us that as family responsibilities and challenges mount, they lose track of their husband’s most heartfelt needs. Recapturing the joy in your relationship requires that you get to know your spouse all over again.

Try some of your old favorites again. What are some of the things you and your spouse did when you first met and married? You know the things we mean: hobbies, sports, shopping, cheap dates, even parking beside the lake. Your spouse’s interests don’t have to be your favorite things to do, but you can take turns participating in each other’s favorites. Honoring your spouse means sacrificing some of your own agenda to please each other.

4. Rethink Your Thinking

You probably know someone who is always negative, who always sees the dark side of everything. Whether the subject is work, church, or spouse, that person notices flaws and failures everywhere.

What tapes are you playing over and over in your mind about your spouse? Can you change the way you think about your spouse? Absolutely. We believe it is possible to learn to fall in love again; you only have to do two things:

  1. Be willing to fall in love with your spouse again.

  2. Control your thoughts. Change the focus of your thinking to the qualities that caused you to fall in love with your spouse in the first place.

Ask God to refresh your love for your spouse. Even if you currently complain to yourself about your spouse a hundred times a day, even if you genuinely feel your marriage has gone bad, even if many days you don’t feel in love anymore, you can change. God can still help you develop a celebrating love.

5.  Rekindle Romance and Physical Intimacy

Sex is part of this, but even more important is making sure your spouse feels cherished. Even more important is the need for just plain fun time. Decide with each other what “fun time” looks like for the two of you. Then plan it. Sit down with your calendar and be serious about setting time for not being so serious. Agree that during fun time, you will be relaxed and upbeat with one another. This is not compatible with dealing with issues. Agree to solve conflicts before or after fun time.

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

Healing from an Affair

Q: We’ve been through the pain of an affair. We want to move on and have an even stronger marriage. How can we do this?

A: Your number-one goal is to rebuild trust. Recovering from adultery takes a lot of time and work that a counselor can help with, but two important aspects of moving beyond an affair are having commitment and having realistic expectations of each other. It’s difficult, but it can happen.

Begin each day with a clean slate and live obediently in the power of the Holy Spirit within you. Say no to the threats to your marriage and to the temptations to be less than the person God called you to be. Determine to guard your own heart, for you alone are responsible for your own thoughts, words, and actions. You are the one who must say, “No way!” when you are tempted to compromise your role as husband, wife, or parent.

You need a battle mentality. You need to draw a line in the sand and declare to the enemy of your heart, “Not me.” You need to make a commitment to guard your heart at all costs. Then you need to live out that commitment on a daily (even hourly) basis.

Decide that you will not knowingly do or say anything that will damage your marriage again. Individually and as a couple, commit yourselves to living obediently and creating a legacy that honors Jesus Christ. You want to leave behind two life stories that will encourage and equip your children and grandchildren for their marriages. You may want to do something concrete, such as carefully wording your commitment and printing it on paper. Then sign it, and keep it where you will see it often. Create one for yourself, then you and your spouse write your corporate commitment.

Be consistent with the basics. Study the Bible on a daily basis. Share what you read and discover with your spouse. Pray daily, on your own and with your spouse. Confess to God any known sin in your life. Live above reproach in all your activities so that God’s light can shine through you.

Having resolved to guard your heart against all threats to your marriage and family, how much of your commitment can you keep in your own power? If your answer was anything but zero, you may need to rethink it. Jesus told us, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). That’s right, you can’t do anything apart from your dependence on Jesus Christ. If you want to guard your heart, you need to see yourself as a branch that is utterly dependent on the vine to which you are attached.

Jesus is the vine; you and your spouse are branches. You need to rely on Jesus daily to guard your heart. Your pastor can’t guard your heart for you, and your favorite TV preacher can’t do it. Your Bible study group, your accountability partners, and all the good Christian books and tapes you can get your hands on can’t do it either. All of these things can encourage you and teach you, but only Christ can guard your heart. You can’t do anything without Jesus, but look what you can do with him. The apostle Paul testifies with confidence, “I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).

God knows our hearts. He knows our fears. He knows our sins. He knows our deepest thoughts before we even think them. And yet how often we try to ignore or gloss over our inner battles, temptations, and attitudes hoping he won’t notice. We mistakenly think if we press on with a business-as-usual mind-set, he won’t be offended.

A vital key to guarding your heart is to come clean with God about what he already knows and sees. Don’t pull back from God when you blow it. Be open with him. Tell him everything, including how you feel. He’s not going away. He is available to you all day, every day. He wants to be involved in everything you are involved in, including your marriage. As you open yourself to him from the heart, you connect with the lifeblood of the vine, Jesus Christ, the source for guarding your heart.

*Our book, Healing the Hurt in Your Marriage, can help you understand different conflict styles and teach you how to move toward forgiveness and healing!

If His Needs Aren't Met...

In their book The Married Guy’s Guide to Great Sex, Christian sex therapists Clifford and Joyce Penner discuss what happens when men struggle with sex:

“When a sexual struggle invades your relationship, it attacks your self-esteem—and your wife’s. As you feel worse about yourselves, both of you will respond with characteristic weaknesses. You may withdraw, become more aggressive, deliver put-downs, show frustration or anger, or otherwise damage your relationship. Sexual dilemmas have a way of perpetuating themselves. . . . Spouses avoid each other because they don’t want to fail again. When they finally do connect, both are anxious and feel pressure to succeed. The likelihood of success lessens, and the problem grows.”

A wife needs to understand that when she makes only a halfhearted effort to have sex with her husband, he hears these messages:

  • “I’d rather be doing ten other things than making love to you right now. You’re just not worth my effort.”

  • “You don’t do anything right.”

  • “You don’t attract me the way you used to.”

When a husband receives those messages—whether or not they are what his wife intends—he feels rejected and reacts in several ways.

1.      He may withdraw sexually and emotionally. When a man feels disrespected and disconnected, he may not verbalize it well. Instead he may withdraw. When a wife rejects her husband’s request for sex, it’s not that he feels the attempt failed; he feels that he’s a failure. A wife can say, “That’s not what I’m communicating.” Maybe so, but that’s how it feels to her husband. Even when she says no for a valid reason, rejection to a man spells one thing: rejection. And when the rejection happens often enough, he will shut down.

2.      He may become angry and resentful. When a man’s need is unmet, he will try to fix it, control it, or change it. If he can’t, before he pulls away and goes elsewhere (to solitude or to another woman), he may grow frustrated and then angry. The frustration arises from being misunderstood, disrespected, or unheard. Unresolved anger then becomes bitterness or resentment, ultimately resulting in isolation.

He may express disappointment. He may not be able to say, “I feel disappointed,” but you can sense his disappointment. He may frown or pout. His anger may be passive-aggressive: not cooperating, not listening, avoiding contact, or coming home late from work with no phone call. Or his anger may come out through criticism or harsh comments.

Many of a man’s emotions go through the gate of anger. Fear, frustration, irritability, sadness, rejection, hurt—all are usually expressed through anger. This man, while expressing anger, was also experiencing all these other emotions. Pent-up anger eventually is manifested in isolation, resentment, bitterness, and depression. If a husband is expressing anger regarding sex, invariably this strong emotion is a secondary emotion, covering an emotion even more vulnerable.

3.      He may become vulnerable to sexual temptation. Although a husband may not physically cheat on his wife, he may begin to fantasize or lust after other women. That’s what happened to Greg. During their eleven-year marriage, Greg’s wife, Kristi, rarely had sex with him, and when she did, she usually told him, “Let’s make this quick so I can go to sleep.”

“After several years of this,” Greg told Gary, “I began to think that this was just my lot in life and that I would need to learn to live with it. ‘I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength,’ right? But it’s not working out that way. My job requires that I work closely with several women, and they have expressed an interest in me. Until lately, I’ve never considered being unfaithful to my wife. But my wife’s rejection of me (which is not the way she sees it) has led to a fantasy life, and I’ve found myself drawn to other women who don’t think it would be so horrible to be intimate with me. I can’t believe I’m having these thoughts. But I just can’t shake them.”

The opportunity for sexual fulfillment outside marriage is constantly available to a man. Even though a husband is personally responsible for staying faithful and maintaining sexual boundaries, a wife’s behavior contributes to his vulnerability to temptation.

Most men are used to seeing responses to their actions. Work brings a paycheck. Running breaks a sweat. Initiation leads to a response in many areas of his life. But when a wife rejects his initiation of sex, he becomes upset—sometimes passively, other times indirectly, and maybe even overtly.

In Making Sense of the Men in Your Life, Kevin Leman writes, “Wife, in the twenty-first century, sexual disinterest on your part is flat out dangerous. Maybe in the Garden of Eden, where sexual images didn’t abound, sexual apathy could be managed. But this isn’t the Garden of Eden, and your husband isn’t living in a pure world. If you want him to be faithful, the least you can do is never give him a reason to look elsewhere.”

As a wife, you have great influence on your husband’s sex life. When you commit to fully engage with him before, during, and after sex, you help keep him fully focused on you.

*For more revealing insights about what your spouse’s most intimate sex needs are - and how to meet them - check out The 5 Sex Needs of Men and Women in our online bookstore!

Do I Have to Date My Wife?

Q: My wife sometimes complains that I don’t pay her as much attention as I did when we were dating. Now that we’re married, do I still have to “date” her?

A: Of course you have to date her! You don’t know what you’re missing!

Photo by  Huy Phan  on  Unsplash

Photo by Huy Phan on Unsplash

Dating your wife will be very different from dating a potential wife, yet it is just as important. When you were single, dating was a time to get away alone, to talk, laugh, and have fun together. You took time to learn more about each other, about your pasts and your dreams for the future. You gradually felt at ease with each other.

But this time, your dating experience will be so much better! Think about it, the woman you’re going to date:

  • Doesn’t care how much you spend on her or how well you dress.

  • Has already seen you at your very worst—and loves you anyway.

  • Doesn’t need to be impressed.

Who wouldn’t want to date this person?

Even though you’re married, you and your wife still need to get away alone to continue to talk, laugh, and have fun together. You need to learn more about each other, your pasts and your dreams for the future. You need to feel at ease with each other as you face new challenges together.

That’s why dating shouldn’t stop with marriage. Too often, married couples get settled, caught up in the routine of jobs, church, parenting, and other commitments. Many couples are so busy that they don’t take time to nurture their marriage.

You wouldn’t think of ignoring your car for a year at a time, so why do you think your wife can go for days or weeks at a time without attention from you?

So ask your wife on a date. It can be as simple or as fancy as you want. Take her to dinner. Go for a walk. Whisk her away for an overnight (don’t forget to set up a babysitter for the kids!). The sky is the limit. You probably were pretty creative when you were courting her. Draw on that once again. (Our book 40 Unforgettable Dates with Your Mate will give you some great ideas!)

And we can guarantee you one thing—the rewards will be well worth it!

Here are some fun ideas for celebrating your wife:

  • Be accessible to her—always! Tell her where you will be and how long you will be gone.

  • Let your coworkers know you can always be interrupted when she calls.

  • Repeat your wedding vows often. Tell her that if you had it to do all over again, you would choose her again and again and again . . .

  • Continually promise and reassure her that your love for her and faithfulness to her are “till death do us part.”

  • Invite her to tell you how she desires to be loved, then seek to love her in that way.

  • Give her a head-to-toe massage.

  • Compliment her, especially for the little things.

  • Send flowers or chocolates or whatever little gifts she likes.

  • Lavish her with nonsexual touch.

  • Call her during the day just to say hello.

  • Put your arm around her or hold her hand in public.

  • Say “I love you” before she does. Begin and end each day with encouraging words.

  • Write notes to her regularly telling her how proud you are of her.

  • Hold her hands and pray for her.

  • Send her cards or love letters.

  • Bring her breakfast in bed.

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