The One Thing Your Marriage Needs Most This Year

Here’s to a happy, intimate 2018!

I regularly run surveys among my readers to keep my finger on the collective pulse of the couples who follow my blog. The survey I am currently running  asks the question, “What do you want more of in your marriage right now?” (You can take it now if you’d like to have your answers included in the results.)

I’ve asked a similar question in a number of surveys over the years, and the answer always comes back the same: couples want more intimacy most of all.

What Couples Want

In the latest survey results, when asked to give the top 3 things they want more of in their marriage, 9 out of 10 respondents indicated a desire for more emotional, physical or spiritual intimacy. Over half placed one of these as their number one need, and almost half picked more than one form of intimacy as a top three need. I’m probably safe in guessing that intimacy comes in high on your list of marital desires as well.

A surprising finding from the survey is that men and women don’t differ in their desires as much as you might think. In fact, the top three needs of men and women were exactly the same and in the same order. Men and women both picked sexual intimacy as the number one need in their marriage (though not in the same percentages), and both picked spiritual and emotional intimacy as their number 2 and 3 needs, respectively. Chances are you and your spouse are longing for the same things.

So if seemingly everyone desires more intimacy, why are so many couples struggling to find it?

In Search of True Intimacy

People define intimacy in many different ways. Some say it’s a feeling of closeness and connection. Others say it’s about sex or romance or both. The Bible has a slightly different take on intimacy:

Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.

Genesis 2:24-25

Here, at the very creation of marriage, God defines what it means to be one flesh. It means living naked and unashamed. That’s what I describe as being fully known and being totally loved. This is intimacy at its core.

In my post, Keeping Your Marriage Strong for the Long Haul, I summarized the quest for intimacy this way:

Intimacy is the antidote for the roommate syndrome that wrecks so many marriages. Intimacy reaches its zenith when we are fully known (weaknesses, warts and all) and completely, unconditionally loved. Intimacy is the main goal of every marriage (in all forms: emotional, spiritual, sexual, financial, etc.), and God built us with an innate desire for intimacy; intimacy with Him and intimacy with our spouse. I also believe God designed us with a huge capacity for intimacy and that we can continue to grow closer together regardless of how long we’ve been married.

Not One Thing But Many Things

Make it a goal to journey more deeply into intimacy with your spouse in the year ahead. As you do, keep in mind that true intimacy involves the entirety of your being. It isn’t just about improving your sex life, or getting more regular about going on dates, or spending more one-on-one time talking and really listening, or learning to pray together.

It’s about all of it. Everything.

Don’t be overwhelmed by that thought. What it really means is that there are lots of ways to build intimacy. Pick an area and start making small changes toward more fully knowing each other by being more transparent and showing your heart to your spouse. As you both open up to each other more, respond with unconditional love and grace.

You are probably thinking, “Easier said than done.” True. But as you start with small steps, you’ll begin to see the fruit of every effort you make in the direction of a deeper, more intimate connection.

Praying that you and your spouse have a happy, intimate 2018!

 

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.

 

What Submission is Not

What Submission is not: The Doormat, The Boss, and The Manipulator

A Wives Only Wednesday post

 

In my Wives Only Wednesday post last week, Wives: Strong and Submissive, I explained how strength goes hand in hand with biblical submission. True biblical submission has nothing to do with weakness or subjugation, as it is so often wrongly characterized. In fact, submission actually requires strength.

Submission Misconstrued

Unfortunately, there is a pretty strong cultural push back against God’s design for marriage, and I find it is mainly due to a lack of understanding of what God’s heart really is on this subject.

What does it mean for you to respect and support your husband’s Christlike “headship” with the gift of your submission? It means that your submission to your husband should be a direct corollary of your submission to Christ. Paul describes in Ephesians 5 how God designed marriage to reflect the relationship between Christ and the church, represented by the Bride-like characteristics in the chart below.

Weak & Unsubmissive

I don’t usually like describing something in the negative, but today I want to introduce you to the three wives represented by the other quadrants: labeled above as the Doormat, the Boss and the Manipulator.

The Doormat

This is probably the wife I hear described most often when people protest the notion of submission. “I’m not going to be a doormat for anyone!” The good news is you aren’t supposed to be!

This wife makes the mistake of equating submission with weakness. She is often filled with self-doubt and insecurity. She thinks her opinions don’t matter and that her needs are unimportant, even as the resentment over her presumed “less than” status builds. She thinks she has no voice.

The Doormat can be withdrawn from the relationship with her husband, mistaking passivity for humility. She feels uncertain of her identity in Christ, as co-heir with her husband of the full inheritance that is hers by virtue of her faith in Jesus.

[There are also plenty of “dictator” husbands who treat their wives in this way.  It’s important to realize that Paul never instructs husbands to make their wives submit, but rather to love their wives in a Christlike manner.]

The Boss

This is the wife who feels she must lay submission aside in order to show herself strong and to prove herself capable.

This wife tends to be disrespectful to her husband, her words and tone letting him know of her frequent disapproval. She will put him down to friends and family and broadcast his mistakes in order to “keep him in his place.” She thinks that in order to avoid subjugation she must push for her own way. Her self-interest is front and center of most decisions, and she is easily offended.

The Boss frequently contends for power, thinking that to do otherwise shows her to be weak.

The Manipulator

This wife is neither submissive nor strong, sharing some of the characteristics of both the Boss and the Doormat.

The Manipulator comes across as uncaring toward her husband, from her expressions of disrespect to her self-protective withdrawal from him. She is fearful, distrustful and resentful of any expression of leadership on his part.

She lacks the emotional strength and the integrity to deal with her husband forthrightly. She plays games to get her way. She may try to hide her emotions, but they will eventually bubble up into an outburst of some kind.


To make the point clear, I’ve described the behaviors of these wives in pretty strong terms. Chances are, none of these describes you exactly, but beware of the characteristics they portray. Be vigilant against the mindset that equates submission with weakness. And be vigilant against the world’s prevailing sentiment against submission in any form.

Pursue strength and submission with equal vigor. Glean from your relationship with Jesus the kinds of attitudes and attributes that should attend biblical submission. If you are watchful, you will see lots of parallels between your spiritual walk and your marriage. They are everywhere.

Grace Abounds

To a greater or lesser degree, you are going to fail to be the wife you want to be.

There is good news for those who mess up in their quest to walk out a biblical marriage. It’s called grace!  God is for you and for your marriage. His desire is to see you and your marriage thrive. Pray for the wisdom to love and serve your husband well. Pray for your husband to walk in his full identity as leader and lover. Know that God’s love and approval of you don’t change, even when you slip into weak or unsubmissive actions or attitudes.

God’s grace and love abound, and nothing you do or fail to do can change that. 


A note to any husbands reading this post. The post is intended for your wife. While you can encourage your wife to be strong, it is not your responsibility to make her submit. Work on your end of the marriage partnership, to love and serve your wife as Christ loves the church, giving himself up for her.  Loving your wife well will draw out both her submission and her strength.

Read my corresponding posts for husbands

 

What Headship is Not

What Headship is not:  Nice Guy, Dictator, and Manipulator

A Men Only Monday post

 

As I explained last week, the biblical model for marriage Paul gives us in Ephesians 5 is that, as a husband, you have the role of head, “as Christ is head of the church.” Being head is not a role you earn. Regardless of whether you embrace it or not, it is your God-given responsibility. I don’t know why, but that’s how God set it up.

Remember, the clear implication of Ephesians 5 passage on headship is that being “head” means being like Jesus.  It does not mean being boss. Jesus’ kind of headship means displaying Christlike strength and goodness. Your headship as a husband is founded in being both a good leader and a generous lover.

I don’t normally like writing posts about what you should NOT do. But when either strength or goodness are missing from the way you walk out headship, it can do damage to your marriage.  This can be clearly seen in the top search terms that bring wives to my blog.  The first is something like “my husband refuses to lead.” The second, following closely behind in the number of hits, is “my husband acts like a dictator” or similar terms.

I shared a chart last week to illustrate what Christlike headship should look like. Below, I’ve updated the chart to label the three ways in which your headship can fall short.

weak and bad chart

The Nice Guy

There are many wives longing for their husbands to stand up and take their leadership role seriously. Like I said, wives come here for that reason more than any other.

I’m not making excuses, but the widespread pushback against biblical headship, even within the church, has many men reluctant to lead their marriages. Some of these genuinely kind men are afraid of being labeled misogynists or worse. Some have bought into the lie that there should be no distinction in the roles of men and women in marriage. Some have wives who contend for authority, even wives who claim to want their husbands to step up and lead! These men who are hesitant to take their leadership role seriously are what I call “Nice Guys.” They are good but weak.

Society and the church have given rise to the Nice Guy syndrome. These men are pleasers who tend to avoid conflict. These are the men who leave most or all the decisions to their wives, either because they are totally disengaged or because their wives argue and put them down for every idea and hold past decisions over them indefinitely. Nice Guys often just give up, rather than rocking the boat by trying to lead.

Whatever the reason for their refusal to lead, these men often don’t realize that their weakness makes them unattractive to their wives over time. Worse, their resulting disengagement leaves their wives feeling unloved and alone. It’s not a formula for a passionate, intimate or lasting marriage. Many Nice Guys also end up feeling unfullfilled, because I believe there is a God-given desire in most men to prove themselves strong and capable of leading their wives and families.

It’s Nice Guy husbands that pose the biggest threat to biblical marriage today because their error is much more subtle and socially acceptable than the next group.

The Dictator

In days gone by, maybe 50 years ago, this was the number one problem with husbands in marriage. This kind of brutish, self-serving husband led to feminism and the desire for egalitarian marriage. Dictators are the reason the pendulum has swung so far in the other direction, giving rise to so many Nice Guys.

Unloving husbands who use their authority to control or coerce their wives are very bad news. These are the men who are abusive and flaunt scriptures at their wives about being submissive, all the while ignoring the scriptural mandate for them to love their wives unconditionally and sacrificially.

Selfish, controlling husbands give biblical headship a bad rap.

The Manipulator

The husband who is both weak and unloving is double trouble.

This husband is self-centered but lacks the guts to act on it openly. He doesn’t care about what his wife needs or wants from him. He is only concerned for himself.  He will manipulate and deceive in order to get his way but is not willing to confront issues head-on.

The manipulator refuses to take responsibility for his actions and shifts blame onto his wife. He plays games to get his way. He is often controlled by fear, and his buried frustrations may bubble up to the surface as angry outbursts.

The manipulator doesn’t refuse to lead because he is incapable, he refuses to lead because he doesn’t care.

Grace Abounds

I have described the Nice Guy, Dictator, and Manipulator in pretty strong terms. There are, of course, many less severe ways to screw up headship.  I know because I’ve done them all from time to time.

There is good news for us who mess up in our quest for biblical headship. It’s called grace!  God is for you and for your marriage. His desire is to see you and your marriage thrive. Pray for the skill to lead well and for a revelation of Jesus’s love and strength. Pray for your understanding of the love of Jesus to grow deeper, so you can love your wife in the same way. Note the prayer Paul prayed for the church in Ephesians 3, leading up to the chapter on marriage.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being,  so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,

 Ephesians 3:17-18

This is a prayer God is eager to answer! 

Be diligent. Vigorously pursue the kind of headship Jesus displays to us, his bride. When you slip into actions or words that are weak or unloving, admit your blunder and ask your wife to forgive you. She will admire you for it.

My point in stating what headship isn’t is to get you to be watchful over your role as husband and to strive diligently to be both strong and good. Your wife deserves that from you, and God is calling you to it. Christ lives in you; you just need to learn to let him out!

 


A cautionary note to wives reading this post: it is not your job to browbeat, manipulate or judge your husband if he happens to fall into one of the non-Christlike quadrants, even occasionally. It is not your job to correct or coerce him. That is the job of the Holy Spirit. Don’t even think of forwarding this to your husband, and do not even think of using my labels for name-calling! Your job is to concentrate on your role in your marriage. Please read my companion posts for wives “What Submission is Not” and “Wives: Strong and Submissive.”

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