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.

For the Joy of Intimacy

What if selflessness has the power to make your marriage stronger than ever before?

The joy of intimacy
Romans 12:2 says of Jesus:

For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

What was the joy that enabled Jesus to leave heaven, to step into our human existence and to sacrifice his very life for us before returning to the right hand of the Father? It was the joy of dwelling in intimacy with you and me – now and forever. Jesus wanted us so much, that he laid down his life to have us.

Where’s The Joy?

It’s human nature to look at selflessness and sacrifice in marriage in light of what it will cost us or what we must give in time and effort. But we often forget about what we will reap on the other side. In most cases (because there are no guarantees or magic formulas) the end result of sacrificial love is the joy and ecstasy of deeper intimacy in your marriage.

Do you have a hard time finding delight in giving your spouse your all, emotionally, spiritually or sexually? We all have a tendency to withhold a measure of our love until we feel our spouse is doing their “fair share.” We want to self-protect. We want to put our desires first.

But that wasn’t how Jesus approached us. He gave himself fully, even unto death, with no assurance that we would return his affection. To Jesus, the chance at intimacy with us was worth the risk.

The joyful anticipation of intimacy can move us from seeing sacrifice as a chore or obligation and into the realm of joyfully and generously giving our love and our selves.

I Bet You Know What It Is

If I asked you to identify something you know your spouse wants but that you only dole out in small measures, if at all, I bet you could name at least one thing right away – maybe several of them.

I understand there are reasons for withholding. I’ve held those reasons myself at times. Maybe it’s because it costs you more than you are willing to give. Maybe it’s something that doesn’t come naturally for you. Maybe it’s because you don’t feel you are getting from your spouse in equal measure.

I get all that.

But What If…

Consider the possibilities.

What if your acts of selflessness, however small and incremental, were rewarded with a greater sense of connection and intimacy with your husband or wife? What if they responded, in time, by moving closer to you in some small measure, in an area of your own need for connection?

What if a pattern of selfless giving took hold in your marriage and propelled you toward greater passion, depth of intimacy and a stronger bond of trust and transparency? What if your willingness to lay down your preferences actually resulted in your spouse wanting to serve you in return?

What if selflessness has the power to make your marriage stronger than ever before?

Our Story

Jenni encouraged me to share how the truth of this has unfolded in our own marriage.

As I began to understand the Bridal Paradigm and understand what it means to love Jenni in the same sacrificial way Jesus loves me, I began to be less selfish and more loving in ways that were important to Jenni. In turn, over time, she responded by opening herself up more to me, becoming less self-protective and loving me more generously in ways that mattered to me.

Let me make an important point. It wasn’t that I gave to her in order to get something in return or to get her to do something for me. That would not have been love but manipulation. Of course I hoped that she would respond in kind, but my motivation was not to get something, rather to deepen our level of intimacy. And it did.

For The Joy Set Before You

What enables us to give and love sacrificially is to look beyond the sacrifice into the intimacy offered on the other side. That’s what compelled Jesus to do what he did for us, even without the assurance that we would respond to his grand overture of love.

Set your heart on the joy of a marriage full of deep and abiding intimacy in every dimension, and see if that moves you to live more a more selfless marriage. I bet it will.

 

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.

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.