When Living as One is One-Sided

Hope and help for those struggling in a one-sided marriage.

Let God be your hope

I sometimes receive comments from discouraged and frustrated readers whose spouses are not meeting their needs. In many cases the comments come in response to some advice I’ve offered, stating something like “I tried that, but it didn’t work,” or “I tried that, but my spouse didn’t respond.”

I received two such comments on my previous post about how to shift your mindset to think as one. I suggested that thinking as one means “we” thinking instead of “me” thinking, to put a higher priority on the relationship than on being right, and to focus on giving instead of getting. Ideally, both husband and wife will take this “oneness” mindset, but it won’t always be that way.

A good example is one struggling commenter that suggested, “If you really want to help people in this area you need to offer suggestions as to how people like me can get the attention of people like my wife to respond in kind.”

In addition to the response I gave in comments to the post, I decided to take him up on his suggestion. Truthfully, though, this post is not so much about how to change a reluctant spouse as it is how to keep your hope alive.

No Easy Answers

There are no easy answers; no quick fixes. But here are some things you can do to move your marriage in the right direction when it feels like it is off track:

  • You can’t change your spouse, you can only change you. Work on being the best spouse you can be. If your efforts are oriented toward getting your spouse to do something, or stop doing something, they will see it as manipulation and an attempt to control them.
  • While loving your spouse well and meeting their needs generously often results in them coming around to offer you the same, there are no magic formulas or guarantees. Choose to love well anyway.
  • Let sacrificial and unconditional love, Jesus’ kind of love, be your motivation for meeting your spouse’s needs. If your motivation is to get something from your spouse in return, disappointment will run you over, and you won’t be able to sustain it.
  • It’s perfectly okay to hope for improvements in your marriage, but don’t make change a precondition for continuing to love your spouse well.
  • Pray. Pray a lot. Pray mostly for God to change your heart. Pray for God to give you an intimate and lasting marriage. Pray for God to teach you how to love well. Don’t pray for God to change your spouse.
  • Seek God for a revelation of how he sees your spouse and your marriage. Having heaven’s perspective will help sustain you through the worst of times.

3 Rules of Happiness

In this post, I proposed the following three axioms, which may seem at first blush to conflict with each other:

  1. The primary purpose of your marriage isn’t to make you happy
  2. You need to take responsibility for your own happiness
  3. Love and serve your spouse as if their happiness depended on you

Happiness is not the right goal for any marriage. Having a great marriage will certainly produce happiness, but I see it more as a by-product than a goal.

No Doormats or Enablers

The other side of the coin is that loving well does not include being a doormat or an enabler of unloving or unkind behavior. If your spouse is consistently causing you pain with their words or actions and neglecting your needs, it’s important that you speak up. As lovingly as possible, make it clear that you want a strong, enduring and intimate relationship but that the path you are on isn’t going to get you there.

Don’t issue demands or ultimatums – those only backfire. Communicate your needs. Communicate your pain. Don’t accuse or blame. Don’t impute motives to your spouse. Talk about you, your needs and how you feel. This is hard, I know.

Seek outside counsel if your issues are serious or longstanding. Sometimes it takes a third party to get you unstuck from ingrained patterns of interaction. Seek help from your pastor, from friends whose marriage you admire, or from a professional counselor.

(Important note: in the case of physical or emotional abuse, seek outside help immediately.)

God is Our Hope

Ultimately, hope for a great marriage (or just for a better one) is not in your spouse, in your self, or in your circumstances.

Hope for your marriage must be found in God. Hoping in God is not just mindless optimism or denial of the reality of the situation. Rather, it is based on a belief that God is good, that he is for you, for our marriage and for your spouse.

Trusting God to heal your marriage and make it all it can be does not relieve you of the responsibility to continue to love your spouse well or to serve him or her with your whole heart. Hope and trust do not equate to resignation or passively waiting for things to get better. No, our faith in God’s ability to move in our marriage means we partner with the Holy Spirit, day-by-day, step-by-step.

We are all called to emulate Jesus and his relentless pursuit of us, his bride. Especially when you feel your hope fading, press into Jesus and spend more time than usual in prayer and worship. Your connection to him in times of struggle can sustain you and encourage you like little else can.

The fact that God is our ultimate hope is not simply an empty platitude. It is a foundational truth.

Patience for the Long Haul

If you and your spouse have spent a long time on The Path of Separation, it’s going to take time and consistent effort to get back on The Path of Intimacy. But it is also true that until one of you turns toward the other, you are going to continue to drift further apart.

I encourage you to be the one to turn first, to reach out and to make every effort to draw closer. It’s important that your spouse see your heart and understands your desire is for renewed intimacy, not control. If you don’t get an immediate response, hang in there, keep believing for the best and loving well.

I’ve heard more instances that I can count of troubled marriages being restored and made stronger than ever due to one spouse selflessly loving the other, though in some cases it took years. Find and read testimonies of restored marriages – it will encourage your heart.

I hope and pray this post has offered some help and hope for those struggling in a one-sided marriage. I truly believe no marriage is beyond God’s power to restore. Yours included.

3 Essential Ways to Think and Act As One

Three shifts in thinking to grow your understanding of what it means to be one with your spouse.

Think As One

It’s clear to me that oneness between husband and wife is a gift that God grants us when we wed. You and your spouse are one by virtue of the fact that you entered into the marriage covenant. (It’s a direct parallel of our oneness with Christ when we give our lives to him).

While oneness is yours, it takes of lifetime of growth in our understanding to fully enjoy the fruit of being one. (Just like in our spiritual walk.)

Thinking As One

Walking together as “one flesh” usually entails some pretty radical changes in our thinking. But getting our thinking right will usually bear fruit in our words and actions. As Graham Cooke says, “Every action is rooted in the thought that produced it.”

While many of our perspectives have to change in order for us to walk in the fullness of our one-flesh union, below are three changes in thinking I see as an essential place to start.

Get vs. Give

It’s natural to think primarily about what we get out of our marriage relationship and what we can get from our spouse, but that is not one-flesh thinking.

One-flesh thinking says that because we are one, when I give to my wife, I actually also get to enjoy the benefit and blessing the comes from my generosity toward her. I can’t bless my wife without also blessing myself.

Rights vs. Relationship

Another shift toward one-flesh thinking is to put your relationship ahead of your rights. When you lay down your right to be offended, your right to get your way, and even your right to be right, it brings grace into the equation. And grace is always an invitation to intimacy.

It is more important to be love than to be right.

Me vs. We

Me-centered thinking has no place in your one-flesh marriage. Self-centered thinking includes such things as self-protection, self-reliance, selfishness and self-importance. These thought patterns produce separation instead of intimacy.

Being one means we replace me-centered thinking with we-centered thinking. That means replacing self-protection with transparency and openness toward your spouse. It also means working to protect your relationship and your spouse more than your self. Allow self-reliance to morph gladly into mutual interdependence. We must learn to let go of selfishness, where our own needs are the focus of our attention and efforts, and joyfully focus more on our spouse’s needs.

There are many other implications that come from the fact that you and your spouse are actually one. Can you describe any other ways of thinking that are important for living as one flesh? Leave a comment with your ideas.

35 Years and The Best is Yet to Come

Whether your marriage is doing great or struggling greatly, your best years are still ahead of you.

The best is yet to comeRegardless of the current state of your marriage, there is always more. More passion. More intimacy. More pleasure. More freedom. More trust. More of everything you are longing for in your relationship.

How do I know this? Because I know that marriage is supposed to model our relationship with Jesus, and that’s how it is with him. There is always more. In fact, I’ve found in my spiritual walk, the more I know, the closer I get to Him, the more I realize how much more there is to know and experience in God. There is no limit. It’s the same for your marriage.

35 Years and counting

Jenni and I celebrated 35 years of marriage this week, and we both still marvel at how it just keeps getting better. Of course, it doesn’t happen by default. We are intentional about our marriage and about loving each other well. The biggest part of keeping your marriage on The Path of Intimacy is being watchful – keeping yourself and your marriage off of autopilot.

Five years ago I was writing for YourTango in the now defunct Traditional Love section. I wrote a piece called “Why After 30 Years of Marriage The Best Is Yet to Come.” In it I said:

Are less sex, more fights, poorer communication and drifting apart really the inevitable? With a nod to the movie Date Night, is it really just a matter of time before couples settle for becoming just “excellent roommates?”

I say no!

Whether you have been together six months or six decades, it is possible to see your future as one filled with excitement, passion and great potential.

In the article, I go on to share five keys to keeping the best times in front of you. You can read them here.

It’s been five years since I wrote that article. It’s still true today, at the 35-year mark. And it will be true on our 40th and 50th anniversary because we plan on keeping it that way.

What’s Better?

You may be asking, “What could possibly be better after 35 years of marriage?” Well, let me tell you:

  • Sex – yes I’ll put this one right out there. Although we are in our 50’s and there are a few physical challenges, our sexual relationship exceeds anything we had in those early years of our marriage. Don’t buy the lie of inevitable sexual decline. We have learned how to please each other, and we have learned what it means to be unselfish lovers. We see our sexual relationship for the privilege it is and relish in surrendering our bodies wholly to one another.
  • Intimacy – I define intimacy as being fully known and yet completely loved. After 35 years we know each other inside and out, and still, we are purposeful about pursuing intimacy on a continual basis. And we have learned that grace is an invitation to intimacy with each other, whereas judgment creates separation.
  • Selflessness – we know better now than ever that, because we are one, when either of us serves and blesses the other, we both win. We’ve pretty much banished score keeping from our marriage and have learned to delight in delighting each other as best we know how.
  • Taking a long view – we have been through many seasons over our 35 years. We have weathered some tough times, and we’ve had plenty of joy and bliss along the way. I feel like we understand better now than ever that life will throw some garbage at you, but it will pass. And we know that any trial is best endured together. The closer we remain, the better we can weather the storms of life.

Above all else, it is the revelation of The Bridal Paradigm that keeps us moving forward in our marriage. The understanding of our marriage is continually being shaped by our understanding that our love is a direct reflection of our love relationship with Jesus. As we continually grow in the knowledge and love of the Lord, we continue to grow in the knowledge of and love for each other. It is a truly endless journey.

PS  That’s me and Jenni in the photo above. Check out my about page if you ‘d like to read more about Our Love Story.

5 Secrets to Sexual Surrender

Mutual sexual surrender is the best path to sexual intimacy.

Mutual Sexual Surrender

What does mutual sexual surrender in marriage look like? It looks like this:

The husband should fulfill his wife’s sexual needs, and the wife should fulfill her husband’s needs. The wife gives authority over her body to her husband, and the husband gives authority over his body to his wife.
1 Cor 7:3-4 NLT

Remember, when I talk about surrender, I’m not referring to any of the negative connotations of that word (loss, giving up, defeat). Rather, I’m talking about the complete giving over of your self to your spouse – about being all in 100%, holding nothing back. I’m not talking about losing your self, but rather bringing the fullness of your self to your spouse and marriage for purpose of building intimacy and strengthening your marriage.

This is what I mean by sexual surrender: laying aside self-centeredness, self-protection, and self-reliance and learning to give generously and unconditionally in a way that blesses and delights your spouse.

Secrets of Surrender

Surrendering your self and your body to your spouse isn’t necessarily natural or easy, but there are some steps you can take that will help you in the journey toward mutual sexual surrender.

1. Believe – that God created sexual intimacy for a couple’s mutual delight and as the ultimate form of human intimacy, designed to be only available between a husband and wife. Believe that God calls you to give your body over fully to your spouse for their sexual fulfillment (see 1 Cor 7:3-4 above).

2. Accept – that you likely express your sexuality very differently from your spouse. Cherish each other’s sexuality as God-given, and never denigrate each other for it. Accept your own sexual desire as healthy and your wishes as normal (as long as they are in the bounds of scripture, of course).

3. Delight in delighting each other. Take joy and pride in the deeply satisfying smile your spouse wears the day after a night of bliss together. Shift your perspective of sex from “have to” to “want to” to “get to” and see it for the wonderful privilege it is. (See my post Sex: Right, Duty or Privilege)

4. Respect – each other’s boundaries. Exploration is a normal part of any healthy sexual relationship but must always be done in a way that honors each other. Never push your spouse into anything that violates their personal integrity. Making love means that love should be at the center of every action.

5. Mutuality – is a must. One sided surrender is not sustainable. Each of you should be focused on what you give more than what you get. See #3 above. Realize that because you are one flesh, when you give pleasure to your spouse, you benefit as well. Being one flesh means that score-keeping has no place, especially when it comes to sex.

As I said in this post, I see sex in marriage as being more about your surrender than your satisfaction. But the truth is that mutual sexual surrender is the best path to a deeply pleasurable and satisfying sex life.

What do you think of the “mutual sexual surrender” idea? Have you experienced it in your marriage? Are you willing to give it a try? Share your thoughts in a comment.


For more thoughts on sexual surrender, see my separate posts for husbands and wives:

What Does Love Look Like?

 

Discover the love found within the Bridal Paradigm

 

Love Like ThatThe Bridal Paradigm, where Jesus and the church are our model for marriage, offers us a beautiful picture of God’s heart for marriage, and it holds the promise of power to transform your relationship with your spouse.

That’s a pretty big promise. But it’s a promise I believe God is eager to deliver on, if we will endeavor to take hold of it.

Love Lives In You

Paul begins his instructions on marriage in Ephesians 5 with this preface.

Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.

Ephesians 5:1-2 (MSG)

The amazing truth is, as I said in my recent post, Unstoppable Love , love “like that” is not some ideal – out there and yet to be attained. It’s a living love that actually indwells you, because Jesus indwells you.You just need to discover it for yourself and then let it out on your spouse.

A lot of people get all knotted up over what the Bible says about roles of husbands and wives in marriage. I believe that most of it would dissolve away if we would simply focus on the love that is the foundation of the Bridal Paradigm

His Role Looks Like Christ

What wife would not want to be loved by her husband like this?

  • He loves his wife unselfishly, not using his position to control her or to push her into conformance, but to bless her.
  • He may never be required to literally lay down my life for her, but he must be willing to sacrifice himself (physically, emotionally, financially, etc) for what is in her best.
  • He will pursue her relentlessly and fiercely with his love, understanding what pursuit means to her.
  • He cherishes her by surrounding her with care and concern for her well-being – clearly demonstrating that he is for her.
  • He is consistent in speaking the truth of the Word over her in a way that encourages and edifies her and reminds her who God says she is.
  • He provides for her faithfully – which means applying himself diligently, but not to the extent that he neglects her need for time and attention.
  • He will do all in his power to establish and maintain a deep connection with her and protect the intimacy of the relationship. Staying connected is more important than being right or asserting his rights.
  • He beautifies his bride, as Jesus does, seeing her the way God sees her, perfect and beautiful, through the eyes of grace.
  • Above all, he partners with Christ, encouraging her to walk in the fullness of her true identity, toward the goal of fulfilling the destiny God has for her life.

Her Role Looks Like the Church

Before giving you some practical implications for a wife looking like the church, let me preface it by saying that we are all being transformed into the image of Jesus. So in a very real sense, wives are to also emulate Christ.

In light of the Christ-like love bestowed upon her, a wife returns his love in this way:

  • She believes in and trusts him.
  • She offers her full surrender, to hold nothing back from him, bringing the fullness of her genuine self to the marriage.
  • She best honors and enables his leadership by willingly remaining under his covering and protection.
  • She honors and respects him by listening to him and knowing his heart, giving importance to things that are important to him.
  • She knows that his desire is for her and believes that his intentions toward her are always be good.
  • She can come to him with anything and trusts that he will respond with love and grace.
  • She puts him first, above all other relationships.
  • She comes to him, fully unashamed, taking him as her only intimate lover.

Clarifications and Limitations

Of course, in comparing Christ and the church to the marriage relationship, Paul was not implying that husbands are in any way superior nor wives in any way inferior. Husbands are certainly not diety and have imperfections we will never find in Christ.

However, the truth is that the closer a husband comes to emulating Christ, the easier it will be for his wife to emulate the church.