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.

Facing Stress – Together

In times of stress, maintaining your connection is always the best choice.

keep your connection

After abandoning the post I repeatedly tried to write last week, I put out a call for topics on my FaceBook Page. What came back was a request for something close to the very topic I had abandoned – how to stay connected and trust God together as a couple in the midst of stress. I guess God intends for me to write about this whether I want to or not. So here goes my attempt at a rewrite with the advantage of an additional week of thought (and stress).

How Not to Do It

The other night I was completely stressed out over some serious issues with our finances. (It’s a complex situation that is tied up with a challenging job situation and my prospects for the earliest possible retirement.) Sadly, as is all too typical for me, my stress reaction spilled over into what my wife charitably calls being “prickly.” Honestly, it was anger, and I was snappy and not pleasant to be around. Nothing about my attitude invited intimacy with Jenni.

While Jenni was doing her best to reach out to me, I withdrew into my shell, which was her last straw. Whereas the unplanned cost of an expensive surgery for our dog hit me mostly in the wallet, it hit her in the heart, sick with worry for our elderly family pet. She needed compassion, and my anger and withdrawal were the exact opposite of what she needed from me.

I felt ashamed of my lack of faith, guilty that I let my emotions get the best of me, and I regretted how I had fumed about it all. Guilt and shame did what they always do; they caused me to withdraw and hide. (Look no further than Adam and Eve for how this works). We did what we almost never do, and went to sleep without even a goodnight kiss. It turns out Jenni didn’t mind, as she was fuming too at that point, although it turns out she was up in the night feeling sad and alone and wishing she had made more of an effort to maintain our connection.

The next morning I was still feeling pretty low. But as I began to think about it, I realized that in order to re-establish our connection and get us back on The Path of Intimacy, I needed to let go of the shame, fix my mess, and reach out to Jenni. She was also feeling regret, and we were happily able to make up (wink).

Shame separates. Grace invites.

There was a time in our marriage when I might have wallowed in this shame/misery for several days. After 35 years of marriage, I realize much quicker now that intimacy is always a better choice than separation and that it is always available to me if I will just turn toward Jenni and open myself up to her.

In this case, it meant a sincere apology, not only for my behavior but for shutting her out. I explained that I was trying to protect her from any further collateral damage my bad attitude might have caused her. Nevertheless, it was still a bad choice. Jenni admitted that she too had chosen to isolate herself. My lack of concern for her feelings had hurt her badly. But she also realized that her choice to separate actually ended up hurting her more.

Better Together

Whenever we face stress, we also face a choice. We can choose to separate ourselves from our spouse and face the problem(s) alone. Or we can choose to maintain our connection and face the problem(s) together as a team.

The first choice, separation, only exacerbates the situation by throwing in relationship stress on top of the other negative circumstances. It leaves us feeling isolated, defeated and depleted. Starting down The Path of Separation doesn’t always come as a conscious choice – sometimes it is just matter of letting our emotional reactions get the best of us. Sometimes, however, it is a deliberate choice, especially if we feel hurt or offended by our spouse.

The Path of Intimacy, on the other hand, is always chosen deliberately.

Choosing to maintain your connection isn’t easy or natural when stressful or hurtful circumstances hit you in the face. Here are some tips on how to keep your connection and support each other to keep your relationship off the Path of Separation.

  • Make every effort to choose a thoughtful response instead of an emotional reaction. Feelings can’t be helped, but how you manage them is your choice.
  • Whenever possible, use physical touch (non-sexual touch) as a reminder that the two of you are for each other. Physical touch, such as hugging and holding hands, produces oxytocin, which alters your brain chemistry in a way the promotes bonding (connection), generosity and trust.
  • Visualize and verbalize the truth that it is the two of you against the problem, not the two of you against each other. Say out loud, “I am for you” and/or “I am for us.
  • Apologize quickly if you let your emotions get the best of you. Forgive quickly if you are on the receiving end of the emotional outburst.
  • Believe the best about your spouse, even when they are at their worst. Remember that grace is an invitation to intimacy.
  • Find and speak the truth into your circumstances. Stressful circumstances can bait us into believing lies about ourselves, our spouse, God and our future prospects. Cling to biblical truths, especially concerning the unchanging nature of God and his promises. But don’t use truth to preach or accuse; use truth to encourage and bless.

How Not to Do It – Again

Good stuff, huh? Good but not easy. I know – as you will see.

Yesterday we were hit with another significant unplanned financial outlay – a costly car repair. Wham. I struggled all day to not let those angry, stressed out emotions back in. I did better than I did last week, but still, I would grade myself a D- at keeping our connection. Discouragement was leaking out everywhere. Today we managed again to make a quick U-turn off the Path of Separation.

As in my case, you aren’t going to be perfect at maintaining intimacy with each other, especially in the face of challenging circumstances. The main thing to remember is that the Path of Intimacy is always available to you. Remember that connection is always a better option than struggling separately. Be aware of how what you are thinking, saying and doing is impacting your marriage and your spouse, and strive to make choices that keep you intimately connected to each other.

You’ll be glad you did.

 

5 Signs You May Have Settled

Five signs of settling and some conversations starters to move your marriage forward again.

Don't Settle

Have you settled? I mean, in your marriage, have you settled for less than what you know is possible, less than all God desires for you and your husband or wife?

Sometimes it seems easier to settle and just accept your marriage for “the way things are.” Making your marriage better requires work. It requires attention, intention and consistent effort.

Once you begin to settle, it’s easy to slip into autopilot and just let things glide by. The problem is that there is no such thing as status quo in marriage. Your marriage is organic – a living thing. It’s either growing or it’s dying.

I strongly believe that no matter how great or terrible your marriage is, there is always more. Your marriage can always be moving forward, growing stronger and more intimate. If you aren’t sure whether or not you are on what I call The Path of Intimacy or The Path of Separation (you are on one or the other), here are some clues that you are on the wrong path, and some ideas on how to reverse course.

1. You have stopped reaching into the divide

When couples first start on the Path of Separation, it’s tempting to wait for your spouse to be the first one to reach out and reconnect. Maybe you even tried to move closer but were rejected. As the gulf grows wider, bitterness and resentment settle in, making it even harder to re-establish your connection. And so the cycle goes, with an ever deepening divide. Sometimes we just settle for managing the degree of separation.

It’s never too late to get your marriage back on the Path of Intimacy. It starts with a desire to do so, followed up with some deliberate actions. Sometimes small steps, little acts of love and kindness are all it takes to begin to draw you toward each other. Sometimes it takes some hard conversations about why you’ve drifted apart in the first place. Let your spouse know you miss them and miss your connection. Tell him or her that you want to stop the drift and work toward more intimacy.

Ask, “What would it take to bring us closer?”

2. You don’t have date nights anymore

One sign post of settling is that you stop prioritizing alone time together. Regular date nights out aren’t possible in every stage of marriage or for every budget, but every marriage needs one-to-one time that isn’t just functional in nature.

If you’ve never made a habit of having date nights, talk about why not and come up with a plan. If you have stopped dating, let your spouse know you miss it and want to start scheduling them again. Don’t stress yourselves by thinking it needs to be a big weekly production. Keeping it simple means it will be more likely to happen. In addition to having regular dates, work toward allocating 10-15 minutes a day just to sit close to each other and talk.

Ask, “What changes can we make in our lives so we can have regular one-to-one time?”

3. You blame all your marriage problems on your spouse

Couples who have settled often reach a stalemate in the blame game. Each blames the other for the problems in the marriage, and more often than not they have given up trying to get their spouse to change.

The thing is, by working so hard to change your spouse, you have set yourself up for disappointment. You can’t change him or her, you can only change you. I recently saw a quote that I really like, “Trying to change your spouse is an act of aggression, working on changing yourself is an act of love.” Commit to working on your stuff.

Ask your spouse, “What’s one thing I can do today that would make you feel more loved?”

4. You no longer dream together

Have you lost sight of your dreams? It can happen when you settle. Perhaps you no longer believe in each other or in each other’s dreams. Perhaps you have just forgotten about those things you once longed for. Maybe you’ve stopped talking to each other about your hopes, dreams, and ambitions because they just seem out of reach.

Whatever the reason, it’s never too late to dream together again.

Reignite your dreams with some conversation starters.

  • “If money was no issue, what would you want to do for the next ten years?”
  • “If you knew you couldn’t fail, what risk would you take that you have always wanted to?”
  • “Describe what you want our marriage to be like in five years (or ten years or when we retire).

5. You have stopped initiating sex

Have you settled for a less than fulfilling sex life? Do you no longer initiate sex because you are tired of being rejected or the lack of sexual engagement from your spouse? Have you settled for limited sexual intimacy? Are you afraid to ask for what you really want in the bedroom for fear of judgment or rejection?

From what I’ve observed, sex is the one area where couples seem to settle more than any other. I get it that sex is a huge vulnerability. I get that past wounds are hard to shake. But settling in your sex life is the most common on ramp to the Path of Separation. If you’ve given up on your sex life, apologize to your spouse and commit to working on that area of intimacy in your marriage. It is the one type of intimacy you can only share with each other, and sex needs to be seen for the wonderful privilege that it is.

Ask, “What baby steps can we take this month toward growing in sexual intimacy?”

 

Do you know in your heart that there is more for your marriage than what you are currently experiencing? Do any of these signs of settling ring true? Take steps this week to move from the Path of Separation to the Path of Intimacy.

 

“Who Do You Say That I Am?”

Three ways to ask a very important question

Who Do You Say That I Am

In Matthew 16, Jesus asked his disciples a question, “Who do you say that I am?” It’s a very important question.

It’s important because almost every part of your faith journey is rooted in who you believe God is. Not what you’ve been taught. Not what others think about God. But what you really believe to be true about his nature.

The thoughts you have about God produce the actions you take in your spiritual life, the fruit you produce, and the reactions you have to your circumstances.

What you do is inextricably linked to how you think.

“Every action is rooted in the thought that produced it.”
~Graham Cooke

Because it’s so important, it’s worth taking the time to deeply explore who God is, especially the nature of his love. As Paul says in Ephesians 3:19, the knowledge of his love is the key to the fullness of God in your life. (For a taste, check out the devotional video at the end of this post.)

Who Does God Say You Are?

In the same way, it’s important to turn that question around to God and ask him, “Who do you say that I am?”

Believing the truth about your identity is important because what you believe about yourself will drive many of your actions. Knowing with confidence who God says you are can propel you toward your destiny in God like little else can. As the Proverb says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” (Prov. 23:7)

We can get our identity from many different sources. The only identity source that really matters is God. He created you, and he knows you intimately, even down to the number of hairs on your head.

Have you ever asked God who he says you are? Have you ever inquired about his heart toward you? I think you might be amazed at all the wonderful thoughts he has about you.

If you aren’t sure how to hear from God, I cover a bit of that in my post “Who Are You?” Listening prayer may be new for you, but honestly, what good Father does not talk to his kids?

Who Does God Say Your Spouse Is?

Understanding your spouse’s true identity can transform your relationship, because how you see your spouse, what you truly believe about him or her, will affect your every interaction.

In my post, “Who Are You Married To?” I said this about understanding your spouse’s identity:

There’s more to tapping into your spouse’s identity than just being a careful observer. Sure that can help, but if that is all your rely on, it equates behavior with identity, and we all know that we sometimes act out of an immature expression of our identity. When you know who your spouse really is at the core of their being, you have the opportunity to spur him or her on to walk in their full dentity.

Knowing your spouse’s true identity is what allows you to have grace toward them when their actions fail to line up with who they really are.

Next to God, you are probably the most important ally your spouse has in walking in his or her true identity. (You can also be a big hindrance!) Seeing anew for yourself who your spouse really is can cause you to fall in love with him or her all over again.

Once you’ve spent time understanding the Lord’s nature and then inquiring of his thoughts toward you, I would encourage you to seek the Lord on behalf of your spouse. Listen to the heart of God toward your spouse. It’s a good idea to journal what you sense God saying.

Ask Each Other, Remind Each Other

There is a third way to use the question, “Who do you say that I am?” You and your spouse should ask it of each other.

In doing this exercise, here are a few pointers:

  • You should have an atmosphere of trust in your marriage before you engage in this process.
  • Don’t be surprised if your spouse hears from God accurately, even if this is something new for them.
  • Test what you hear from your spouse against what the Lord has spoken to you about your identity.
  • Whatever is said should agree with the nature of God.
  • In general what you say should offer encouragement, build your spouse up and/or offer comfort to him or her. This is not the time for offering correction or critique.

Even if your spouse is not willing to participate with you in this exercise, I suggest you go ahead and ask the Lord about your spouse anyway.

As you gain clarity on heaven’s perspective of each other, it’s important to remind each other regularly about the truth of your identities, especially if you see lies creeping in. I can’t count the number of time Jenni has done this for me, and it has saved me a lot of heartache.

 

Take your time in this process, but proceed step by step. Start by answering Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” Next inquire of God, “Who do you say that I am?” And finally, ask each other, “Who do you say that I am?”


If you want a little taste of what God thinks of you (and of your spouse), listen to this short devotional meditation by Graham Cooke called “Becoming the Beloved.

Can’t see the video? Click here.

Wives: Strong and Submissive

Submission and strength go hand in hand.

A Wives Only Wednesday Post

 

On Monday I wrote a post for husbands on the way the Bible describes their role in marriage.   In “Strong and Good” I explained how the model for biblical headship is Jesus. Today, I’m addressing wives on their role.

I’ll give you the same two cautions I gave husbands in their post. When it comes to Paul’s instructions on marriage in Ephesians 5:

  1. You should only read the instructions that pertain to your role.
  2. The only valid model for interpreting these instructions is Christ, our Bridegroom, and the church, His bride.

The S Word

Most of you have probably at least heard that there is something about wives and submission in the Bible. Some of you may even know the verses by heart.

Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Ephesians 5:22-24 (NIV)

Some may choose to ignore these verses or pass them off as out of date for our modern world.  But my belief is that if it’s in the Bible, especially if it’s in the New Testament, it’s probably something God cares about and something we should try to understand and apply.

Seeking Understanding

Most of those who have a problem with biblical submission have wrong ideas of what it actually is. What is needed is a clear understanding of the Bible’s perspective. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of explanation in the scriptures about submission, so people seek out understanding from a lot of different sources. For example:

  • Feminism – says women don’t need men in the first place and calling a wife to submission is like calling her to a life of slavery.
  • The culture at large – says 50/50 is the best way to run a marriage. Equality is the goal. Submission is unfair.
  • Wrong paradigms – use models like captain/first mate, pilot/co-pilot, CEO/VP, etc.

None of these perspectives provide useful insight into God’s design for marriage.

What we should focus on instead is the only clear model of marriage found in the Bible: Christ and the church. Specifically, submission is best understood through the lens of your relationship to Jesus. No, I’m absolutely not saying that husbands are gods or equal to Christ. I’m simply saying that the Bible clearly intends that you should glean lessons for your marriage from the way in which you submit to Christ.

Submission and Strength

Many mistakenly think that, as a wife, you cannot be both strong and submissive. But submission and strength are both essential to your role as a wife; they are not mutually exclusive.

Here is how I frame it up:

Strong & Submissive Bridelike

 

The upper right quadrant, the one labeled “Bride-like,” is what I think the Bible calls you to as a wife: to be both strong and submissive.

Forget the notion that submission means you are to be a slave or a doormat or a so-called “Stepford wife.” No, the bride-like imperative means you are to be empowered by your husband, secure and confident in his love, with a sure sense of God-given identity and purpose. This is how we relate to Jesus. This is how you should relate to your husband.

Don’t confuse submission with silence. You are to have a voice, a strong, clear voice in your marriage. But your strength does not conflict at all with the call for you to honor your husband with your respect, to follow and support him in humility, or to be selfless in giving your husband your love and devotion.

The fact is that true biblical submission requires real strength.

  • It requires you to have the mental strength to do battle with the lies you hear all around you about worldly marriage paradigms that say you must to look out for yourself and stand up for your rights. It can be a real challenge to keep your mind in agreement with the way God wants you to live your marriage.
  • It requires the emotional strength to face your doubts and fears and to trust in your husband’s love. It requires that you work on your self and on becoming the wife God wants you to be rather than trying to change your husband.
  • And it requires the strength of will to let go of your need to control, to follow God’s design for your marriage and to follow your husband’s lead, to partner with him and to lovingly support him, even when he missteps.

Yes, you can and should be both strong and submissive in your marriage. Don’t let anyone try to convince you otherwise. Your submission actually makes you powerful. True submission is a gift you give to your husband. The choice is wholly yours, because submission that is demanded or coerced isn’t biblical submission at all.

In your marriage, do you struggle with submission or with being strong? Share your story, leave a comment.

Be sure to come back next week when I explain “What Submission is Not.”


You might want to check out what some other wives have to say about what submission means to them:

You can also read my post “Respect, Submission and Trust” or Part 6 of What I Believe About Marriage, “Love, Respect, and Submission