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.

“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.

5 Common Lies About Intimacy (and 5 Truths)

Don’t buy these common misconceptions about intimacy. Choose to believe the truth instead.

Don't Buy The Lies

Everyone wants more intimacy. At least it seems that way to me. Every time I ask about what people want more of in their marriage, the top answers, no matter how I frame the question, always come back to intimacy.

In my New Reader Survey,  77% had great interest in posts about sexual intimacy and 82% had great interest in posts about emotional intimacy. Regardless of how I slice the data, male/female, years of marriage, kids or no kids, previously married or not, people are looking for more intimacy in their marriage.

The same goes for my “Three Things” survey,  where I asked people to identify the top three things they wanted more of in their marriage. The top answer is for more passion/sexual intimacy (65%). The next highest answer is for more spiritual togetherness (39%). In third place is a stronger emotional connection (37%).

Intimacy is The Goal

I believe that intimacy, in all forms, should be the main goal of every marriage. God built us with an innate desire for intimacy: intimacy with Him and intimacy with our spouse. Deep down we all need a strong connection to God and our spouse, and that’s ultimately when our marriages are strongest.

I also believe God designed us for a huge capacity for intimacy and that we can continue to grow closer together regardless of how long we’ve been married or how strong we feel the intimacy in our marriage currently is. There is always more, just as there is in our relationship with Christ.

Don’t Buy These Lies

So we all want and need more intimacy. There are some common misconceptions about intimacy in marriage that will do damage if you believe them. Choose not to believe the lies but to embrace the truth instead.

1. Guys Don’t Do Intimacy

In his book Scarey Close, Donald Miller has a chapter about men and intimacy. He says, “I don’t think men are as bad at intimacy as we might think. It’s just that we get pressured to go about intimacy in ways that are traditionally more feminine, specifically we’re asked to talk about it and share our feelings. We don’t really want to do that.” He goes on to say, “I think men do intimacy differently and I think that’s okay.”

In that same chapter he also says, “The problem is most men are actually great at intimacy it’s just that we’ve been led to believe we aren’t. And I’m convinced the confusion is costing us.”

I agree. Men do intimacy; they just do it differently than women. To begin with, for many men the path for emotional connection leads through the bedroom. A strong sexual connection actually makes them desire (not just be open to) a strong emotional connection. Another difference is that men tend to share more about facts and data than about their emotions, because these are things that are important to them. Finally, men tend to use a lot fewer words than women do.

What all this points to is the fact that when it comes to intimacy (being fully known, and yet totally loved and accepted), men approach it from a very different angle than women. We need to accept that difference in each other and be okay with it.

Truth: Your spouse probably does emotional intimacy differently than you do, and that’s okay.

2. Sex is For Him

It’s amazing to me how many women believe this one. Many women who don’t have the same testosterone-laden sex drive as their husbands do think they are fine without sex. They aren’t.

Sex is the only form of intimacy that God strictly reserved to be shared between husbands and wives, which makes sex not only unique but also sacred. In my Sexual Satisfaction Survey findings (which you can get a copy of by subscribing to my posts here) I found that one in five marriage are essentially sexless (sex less than once a month). That is tragic.

Believing that sex is primarily for husbands will rob wives of the sexual enjoyment and fulfillment that God has intends. Sex is not primarily a physical act. It is deeply spiritual and builds a wide pathway to a strong emotional connection as well. Having sex regularly strengthens your marriage, gives you a sense of well-being, and makes you actually desire sex more.

Truth: Don’t let the fact that you may have less physical drive allow you to miss out on the joy and pleasure that is rightfully yours.

3. Spiritual Intimacy is for Her

The male corollary to women believing that “sex is for him” is the lie that “spiritual intimacy is for her.”

While I observe that women tend to gravitate more naturally and easily toward spiritual matters, it doesn’t negate the fact that God desires an intimate relationship with husbands. I’ve found that I can love my wife best when I am strongly connected to God and that to be a good husband, I must first learn to be a bride – the bride of Christ.

If you buy the lie and leave the spiritual domain to your wife, it will not only inhibit your relationship with Christ (and therefor with your wife), it will rob you of the satisfaction and enjoyment that comes from leading your family spiritually. Most women have a strong desire to see their husbands step more fully into their spiritual leadership role. Dare I say that demonstrations of spiritual maturity and leadership are compellingly attractive to your wife. In my Three Things survey, more spiritual intimacy was the number one desire for wives.

As I explain in “3 Simple Ways to Lead Your Wife Spiritually” there are some easy ways to start to step out and lead. And for wives, read my post “How to Support Your Husband’s Spiritual Leadership.”

Truth: A thriving relationship with Jesus is for both husbands and wives and is the foundation of your marriage.

4. Intimacy Needs to Be Earned

There is a tendency in marriage to withhold the intimacy your spouse desires until you feel your own intimacy needs are being met. This is a dangerous game that will quickly land your marriage on the The Path of Separation, where you slowly spiral apart from each other.

The fact is that when you got married, the two of you became one. Therefore, intimacy should be your expectation at all times and you’ll want to continually and intentionally cultivate it. When you withhold intimacy, for whatever reason, you damage your connection and tear at the fabric of your oneness.

Withholding and punishing normally results in the opposite of what you hope it will accomplish. Waiting for your spouse to change before you become generous at meeting their needs does not work. The best way to keep on the Path of Intimacy is for you to work on you and becoming the best you can be at meeting your partner’s needs.

Truth: Grace, not judgment, is actually the best path to having your intimacy needs met.

5. Intimacy Is…

It’s safe to say that we all have our biases when it comes to intimacy, and we tend to think that our view is the “right” view.

What we often think of as intimacy is actually a byproduct of intimacy. A hot sex life, being romanced, having a deep emotional connection, or praying and sharing together are all fruits of intimacy. The lie is that if we go after to fruit, we’ll get the intimacy we want. The truth is that it’s intimacy that leads to the enjoyable fruit.

And intimacy is actually pretty simple (not easy, but simple), and it’s probably not what you think it is. It’s being fully known, weaknesses and all, yet being completely loved. (This is the same definition as intimacy with God, by the way). Stepping into the vulnerability that comes from be completely known, and being met in turn with unconditional love and grace, we experience the kind of intimacy that more easily leads to great sex, a deep soul connection, and a strong spiritual bond.

Truth: if you’ll work on being fully known, being transparent with the totality of your being, it will cause physical, emotional and spiritual intimacy grow.


These are my top 5 lies about intimacy. You’ll do well not to buy into them. Do you have some others lies that you’ve discovered in your marriage? Leave a comment.

Unstoppable Love

The unstoppable love you need for your marriage is closer than you think.

Unstoppable Love

Love.

It’s a much overused word. It’s the source of countless memes and a myriad of cutesy quotes all over the Internet. “Love” is everywhere.

Despite it’s prevalence, I chose “Love” for the third part of my website’s tag line.

Unquenchable PassionUnimaginable Intimacy – Unstoppable Love

(you can click the links above to get to the two previous posts)

Unstoppable Love

What does it mean to have marriage full of unstoppable love?

Ultimately, it’s a marriage full of the love of God.

That may sound simple, and it is. It may sound trite, but it isn’t at all. God’s unstoppable love is real, and it’s vast. Where your marriage is concerned, I’d even say it’s essential.

My sweet wife, a Children’s Pastor, pointed out to me that the Jesus Storybook Bible describes the love of God this way.

“God loves us with a Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.”

Don’t you want a marriage full of that kind of love? That’s exactly how God planned marriage to be when he designed it. Then he sent Jesus to show us what unstoppable love looks like in human form.

Love Like That

Just before the Apostle Paul writes to the Ephesians about marriage, he says this.

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)

To me it’s no coincidence that these verses introduce us to God’s thoughts on marriage. Before you can do the rest of Ephesians 5, you have to get these first few verses down pat.

Doing marriage God’s way starts with loving each other like Jesus loves us.

The Good News

You may be thinking, “I could never love like that.”

I agree. On your own, you could never do it. But you aren’t on your own. As a believer, you have Christ living in you. That’s right, the very love you need to love your spouse in an unstoppable manner is right inside of you.

We just need to learn to let it out. We do that by first receiving and then getting to know this unstoppable love that we carry around in us. That’s not a one time, pray the sinners prayer kind of venture. It’s a lifelong pursuit. As Paul prayed a few chapter earlier:

[I pray that the Father] would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:16-19

As Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, this is not a love that is far away and unreachable.

“I have revealed to them who you are, and I will continue to make you even more real to them, so that they may experience the same endless love that you have for me, for your love will now live in them, even as I live in them!”

John 17:26 (The Passion Translation)

This is fantastic news for marriage. We get to live out the great mystery of getting to know this unknowable love that is deep inside, ever pursuing us, drawing us closer, revealing itself as we get know him more intimately.

This is the love you and I need in our marriage. This is the Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love I get to lavish on my wife. This is the love that you get to lavish on your spouse too.

 

For My Daughter on Her Wedding Day

A letter to my daughter on her wedding day – five keys to a great marriage.

Lisa Otto Engagement

In just a few days my middle daughter, Lisa, is getting married. She and Otto are a wonderful match, and Jenni and I could not be more excited for their future.

Lisa has no doubt received all kinds of marriage advice from many people, but as her father and a champion for strong marriages I wanted to offer my own thoughts. I’ve struggled to condense down all I’ve written and read about marriage over the years to identify the essential keys that lead to an intimate, passionate and enduring marriage.

Here’s what I came up with.


Dearest Lisa,

The big day is approaching quickly! Amidst all the excitement and celebration I wanted to take a moment to share a few thoughts with you as you and Otto begin your marriage journey together. What follows is not a comprehensive list, but if you get these things right, it will go a long way to ensure you have a happy, healthy, intimate, passionate and enduring marriage.

1) Learn What Says “I Love You”

You and Otto have gotten to know each other pretty well through your dating years, but there is so much more you’ll discover as you become one in marriage. The most important thing for each of you to learn is what says “I love you” to the other. Trust me when I say that each of you will likely answer this question very differently. You may not “get” each other’s love needs, especially at first, but you don’t have to get them to do them.

It’s important to revisit this question regularly. You’ll want to be students of one another. It’s important to keep asking, especially in seasons of change or stress, “How can I best show you how much I love you?”

For this to work, you’ll both need to be transparent with your needs. Not in a demanding or selfish way, but in a way that helps each of you to love the other well.

2) Show Love Daily

Do something every day to communicate your love for each other. Be intentional about speaking and demonstrating love in ways that matter to the other. These don’t need to be grand or dramatic gestures. Small love expressions, given daily, will do more to sustain your marriage than big ones that only happen infrequently.

This means being intentional and watchful. It means keeping your marriage off of auto-pilot. Keep your eyes wide open and your hearts wide awake toward each other.

3) Practice Selflessness and Generosity

One amazing aspect of the two of you becoming one is that any time you bless the other, you also get to share in the benefit of that blessing. Learn to take delight in delighting each other with your love. Practice generosity and selflessness.

Give your love without condition and without the expectation of getting something in return. This is God’s kind of love. Practice giving love for love’s sake and for the sake of your marriage, rather than what you may get in return. But you will find that when you do this, the blessing does flow back to you.

4) Manage Your Expectations

It’s likely that you both carry many expectations into your marriage. For the most part it’s best to hold those expectations loosely. But there are two expectations that I encourage you to hold to steadfastly.

First is the expectation that this is a lifelong covenant you have together. It’s hard to imagine now, but there will likely be times ahead when you will need to be tenacious about this commitment you’ve made to each other.

Second, always believe and expect that the best days of your marriage are ahead of you. Regardless of how good (or how bad) things are, there is always more ahead. Deeper intimacy, more to know about each other, a stronger bond of trust, and grand new adventures are in front of you.

5) Pray

Always believe that God is for your marriage. He loves love. He is love. Press into him in prayer, both separately and together, for all you need to sustain and grow your marriage is found in him. Prayer for your marriage is a prayer he is eager to answer. And pray for each other, that you will walk in your true identities and that you will each fulfill your destiny in Christ.

There you have it. My short list of the essentials for a successful marriage. Just remember that, in the end, success in marriage isn’t about how many things you did right or wrong, but the level of intimacy (emotional, spiritual and physical) you share, because intimacy should be the ultimate goal of every marriage.

I Love You,
Daddy


What “keys to a great marriage” would you add to my list if it were your daughter getting married? I’d love you to add your thoughts in a comment.