Faith, Life

Part 3: How to protect your marriage

This is the post in the marriage series that I don’t want to write, but I’ll warn you, I’m passionate about it all the same. I’m serious about these topics because they have safeguarded my marriage and given me such a security that I can only thank God for his guidance. That said, the points at the end are a little invasive and might make you squirm in your seat a bit.

Go back and start with the first post if you haven’t read it yet. The points build on top of each other.

Ok, carrying on from the first seven points, let’s jump into the next four points quickly because I’ve got a lot to say! Some of these ideas you might not have heard, some might seem old fashioned, yet try to take them in with fresh eyes. Read them with your own behavior in mind, not your spouse’s. Think about how these can apply to you and what you need to work on, not what he needs to work on. Deal?

And while I’m being bossy, I’d ask that you not skip over reading the few scriptures included. My words have no supernatural power to speak to your soul, but His words do. Enough gabbing, let’s get started.

15 secrets to a lasting marriage - PART 3 - How to protect your marriage

For the first seven points, start here.

#8: Communicate and connect.

Have regular conversations.

The first step in protecting your marriage is to have regular communication and time together to connect. It’s not easy with all the demands of jobs and kids, but like we talked about in part 1, your spouse has to be a top priority to maintain a healthy marriage. It can just be at the end of the day when things are winding down and the kids are (finally) in bed. If you need to talk about the schedule or appointments, fine, but also ask how his day went and tell him how yours was. Make a daily effort to be more than ships passing in the night. Be friends.

Author Stormie Omartian says asking your spouse “‘How can I pray for you?’ brings an aspect of love and care into the situation. My husband will usually stop and answer that question in great detail when he might otherwise not say anything. I know of even non-believing husbands who respond positively to that question from their wives.”

I have personally tried this on various occasions and had the same experience.

Share your lives.

In the same vein of connecting, it’s important not to lead separate lives, to do things together. Don’t watch TV in different rooms every night. Sleep in the same bed. Find common interests — shows, sports, hobbies — and make an effort to share your lives. And as counterintuitive as it might be to ask for an earful of stuff you’re not really interested in, ask about his interests outside of work — golf, football, project, hobby.

All of these little efforts add up, strengthen your bond and steady your foundation. When the kids are grown and gone, you won’t be staring at a stranger, you’ll be staring at the person you did it all with.

Time out. I’m trying to keep this short and not interject my silly little comments about how Marcello snored before he had a tonsillectomy and when we had little babies we didn’t sleep in the same bed. Or how I repeatedly try to learn about wine because it’s his passion, but I almost fall asleep anytime someone talks about oak barrel versus steel drum storage. I’m yawning just thinking about it. I don’t have all these things down, but I’m working on them and that’s the point. I just didn’t want you thinking I’m up on a stool with my finger wagging at you. No, I’m sitting on the couch next to you having a chat. Ok, time in.

Go on dates.

I can’t believe I am going to add dates in here, because I used to get angry when people would tell me we needed regular date nights. We had three kids in four years. We were tired and poor. Plus where do you find someone who wants to watch a baby, a two year old and a four year old? So take this with a grain of salt. But now that our baby is two and the boys are more self-sufficient, Marcello and I are are going out more regularly and it has breathed a new life into our relationship. It really helps us to get out into the world, see each other beyond the four walls of our house and focus on each other.

Also see: Date night ideas and ways to save

Laugh about it.

Life is hard, but don’t forget to see the humor in it. A study showed that couples who laugh together have a greater quality relationship than those who don’t. “Participants who laughed more with their partners during a recorded conversation in the lab tended to also report feeling closer to and more supported by their partners,” says social psychologist Laura Kurtz.

#9: Love your wife. Respect your husband.

As much as this world tries to tell us that men and women are the same, we’re not. We are very different — equal in worth, but different; therefore, our means of becoming fulfilled and receiving love are different. Women want to be loved and men want to be respected.

Emerson Eggerichs, author of “Love & Respect” puts it like this: “One of the most popular illustrations we use in Love and Respect Conferences compares women and men to pink and blue. The audience responds immediately when I talk about how she sees through pink sunglasses and hears with pink hearing aids, while he sees through blue sunglasses and hears with blue hearing aids. In other words, women and men are very different. Yet, when blue blends with pink, it becomes purple, God’s color—the color of royalty. The way for pink and blue to blend is spelled out in Ephesians 5:33: “[Every husband] must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband” (NIV). Living out Ephesians 5:33 is the key to blending together as one to reflect the very image of God.”

So how does love and respect play out in everyday life? Tony Evans offers this advice to couples in “Victory In Spiritual Warfare”:

To the husband: “When she trusts and experiences that you value her, she will respond to your needs without the necessity of a law or requirement to do so. Women have been fashioned to respond — it is up to the man to set the tone of the home through leadership that demonstrates sacrificial love in order for her to do so. … When was the last time you sent a Valentine’s card and it wasn’t Valentine’s Day? Or you watched the kids, listened when she talked, took on her pain, or validated her skills, her dreams, her hurts, and her life?”

To the wife: “Your part as wife is powerful. Keep in mind that nowhere in the Bible is a woman commanded to love her husband. God expects you to love your husband, but it’s never commanded the way a man is commanded to love his wife. Why? Because that’s not what your husband needs the most. What your husband needs most is respect. Your husband ought to feel like a king around you, on top of the world. He should hear you call him your strong tower.”

Build your partner up.

Words can be a powerful motivator or disabling poison. Would your spouse say that you make him feel good or bad about his character? Do you say more positive or negative comments to him?

Let’s talk about some ways we can build our spouse up:

  • Tell him you love him daily.
  • Offer genuine compliments.
  • Be on his side.
  • Tell him you are praying for him.
  • Tell him you will never leave him.

Speak well of your spouse in public.

If you put your mate down at a dinner party, you’re not only disrespecting him, but giving him a double slap in the face doing it in front of other people.

If you have a fantasy that the rest of the guests will join in with your critique, and in his humiliation, your spouse will see the error of his ways and change immediately, you are quite mistaken. That will never, ever be the case. It will only do hurtful damage. Aside from hurting your partner, belittling him in front of other people makes you look insecure and makes everyone else uncomfortable. Don’t do it.

Instead, speak of him in high regard and offer sincere praise. This is not about making yourself look like a wonderful spouse because you are so kind and thoughtful, it is about building your spouse up and affirming him. By the way, you’re more likely to get more of what you’re praising when it is affirmed!

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. — Ephesians 4:29

#10: Don’t flirt or cheat, even in your mind.

If you absorb and apply the following ideas, you won’t believe how fulfilling, bonding and godly your intimate life will become. Yes, godly. As Gary Thomas says, “It may sound shocking, but it’s true: God doesn’t turn his eyes when a married couple goes to bed. It only stands to reason that we shouldn’t turn our eyes from God when we share intimate moments from our spouse.” He created this union of one, after all. In it’s uncorrupted form, it’s beautiful.

Do not watch sex on TV.

Over half of movies made today are rated R — 55 percent. And along with foul language and violence, are the sex scenes. As you know, sex scenes in movies now are basically pornography. Nothing is left to the imagination. I can’t for the life of me understand why this is so widely accepted.

It wasn’t meant to be like this. God intended sex as a beautiful, intimate act to be shared in marriage. Not casually. Not to be watched in group settings. I’m going to say something crazy by the world’s standards: We should not watch these sex scenes — with or without a spouse.

So what does this do to marriage? After you watch a movie with an explicit love scene, how to you feel toward your spouse or about yourself? Real people can’t compete with body doubles and lighting and scripts and practiced camera angles. Let me tell you personally that eliminating these perversions from the marriage bed leads to security, freedom and intimacy. No longer are you comparing yourself to a woman who has an entire crew to make her camera-perfect and has never had a baby. You are free to be you — and that feels marvelous.

But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. — Matthew 5:28

Watch your mouth.

No jokes are allowed about a “free pass” if you met your favorite actor one night. In fact, you shouldn’t talk about a favorite hot actor at all to your spouse. You shouldn’t even comment on the attractiveness of any other member of the opposite sex, on TV or not.

As my friend Ashby says, your spouse is your type. You don’t have any other type after you’re married. He is it. She is it. She’s short and blonde, you like short and blonde. He’s tall with dark hair, you like tall with dark hair. Do you hear me? The only thing you say about anybody’s sexuality is that your spouse is downright beautiful. That is it.

Your mate is the only one for you.

Let’s talk about fantasies and flirting. You cannot engage in them. I’m going to say it again, you cannot engage in fantasies or flirting. If a thought of sexual fantasy enters your mind, is it a sin? No. If you engage it, then it becomes a sin.

Flirting is not harmless. It is a slippery slope. I once heard a sermon by Jill Briscoe on David and Bathsheba. David, the king, sees a beautiful woman bathing from his palace and sends for her. She comes, they conceive a baby. Ultimately David has her husband sent to the front lines so he dies in an effort to cover up his wrongdoings and marry her. He eventually is tormented by his sin and repents, but the destruction is done.

After her sermon on fidelity, Jill was approached by a woman who claimed to never struggle with fidelity temptation. In fact, a man she knows had recently approached her and she said she felt nothing. Jill asked her if she was attracted to him. She said no. “Well, just wait until a David moves in next door,” Jill responded. In other words, temptation can be real for anyone in the right situation. Be on guard.

Men and women can’t be close friends.

Ok, now if you aren’t a Christian, you’re going to think I’ve gone off the deep end on this one. In fact, I thought the same thing the first time I heard it. But if you’re married you cannot have close friends of the opposite sex. Why? Because of temptation. Think about it for just a moment. Have you ever experienced or seen a close friendship of a man and woman that has lasted decades without one falling for the other? (Let’s think “When Harry Met Sally” please.) Be honest, now. I haven’t. It’s not about trusting or not trusting someone, it’s about removing the temptation so it isn’t even on the table. It’s also about eliminating any jealousy or mistrust that is sure to arise from your spouse.

Marcello and I have strict boundaries to alleviate any jealousy or temptation in this regard. For example, if we have a couple over he calls the husband, or I call the wife. We wouldn’t mentor someone younger than us of the opposite sex. And as far as business meetings, we alert each other in advance. Now, of course we have conversations and less intimate relationships with our friends’ spouses or neighbors, but a boundary remains.

I’ll give you one example of how this has worked well for us. We went out to eat together and a waiter at a restaurant he frequents for work made a comment in Italian, “Oh, so your having dinner with your real wife today?” He didn’t know I understand Italian and it could have sparked an unnecessary fight, but because of Marcello’s transparency I already knew that he had met a colleague from a winery there the day before for business. The possibility of secrecy and questions disappeared and we had a lovely dinner together. It’s so important to protect that boundary and keep building trust.

Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. — Hebrews 13:4

#11: Don’t deny each other.

In a relationship it is normal that one person wants sex more than the other. In order to compromise, one person will have to come down on the scale and the other come up so that they meet in the middle.

I heard an anecdote from the “Sacred Marriage” DVD that sums it up perfectly. A therapist asks the wife how often they have sex. She responds “Always. Three times a week.” The therapist also asks the husband separately how often they have sex, to which he responds, “Never. Three times a week.” As we can see here, they were having the same experience but very different reactions! It’s a good idea to talk about expectations so both partners are satisfied.

If you aren’t familiar with the Bible, you might be surprised to know that it tells couples not to deny each other so that we won’t be tempted (Corinthians 7:5). There are many unhealthy outlets for sexual appetite that will lead to destruction and addiction. A regular sex life not only physically connects you as one, but it also wards off danger zones such as pornography and affairs. As Gary Thomas puts it, “The only sexual life a Christian spouse can legitimately enjoy is the romantic life a spouse chooses to provide.”

Of course abuse is never acceptable. Topics discussed in this series are meant to be in the context of a heathy relationship. If you are in an abusive situation and need help, visit The National Domestic Violence Hotline online or call 1-800-799-SAFE.

How can I stop refusing my husband when I’m not in the mood?

First, let’s address that fact that waiting until issues are resolved within the marriage to have sex is backward. In fact, connecting during the act of sex will make it more likely that issues will be resolved.

So when you’re tired and not in the mood, but you don’t want to refuse your husband, what can you do? (And by the way, he might not acknowledge it, but being rejected is hurtful to a man just as it is to woman. Another reason to talk about expectations in advance to avoid rejection.) 

The first step is to pray about it. Yes, in marriage you can ask God to give you a desire for your spouse. He wants you to be one with your spouse and to fulfill each other, and he will honor prayers that are within his will.

Stormy Omartian and Kay Arthur helped equip me with some practical tips that sound old-fashioned to some, but are pure gold when it comes to marriage. This is from Stormy’s book, “The Power of the Praying Wife”:

“When your husband communicates to you what he has in mind, as only a husband can do, don’t roll your eyes and sigh deeply. Instead, say, ‘Okay, give me fifteen minutes.’ During that time, do something to make yourself feel attractive. For example, take a shower or relaxing bath. Put on scented body lotion or his favorite perfume. … Slip into lingerie you know he finds irresistible. Don’t worry about your imperfections; he’s not thinking about them. If you feel self-conscious, wear a beautiful nightgown that covers areas that bother you. While you’re doing this, pray for God to give you renewed energy, strength, vitality, and a good attitude. Hopefully, when you’re ready, your husband will find you were worth the wait.”

When you stop denying each other in the bedroom your marriage will blossom like you’ve never experienced.

Us against the world.

Kay Arthur taught me in one of her lessons to think about my husband out in the world. If I push him away at home, it is natural that he would be more tempted when he is with a female colleague or to entertain thoughts when he sees a beautiful woman. It sounds naive, but I had just never thought much of that before. I just never thought him capable of that, but I am making him more vulnerable — emotionally and physically — when I reject him.

I also saw a video with Priscilla Shirer where she interviews several men and one of the topics was when men travel or have an occupation that might put them in precarious situations (two of them were musicians). These men said that they didn’t have a mind battle with temptation because they were intimate with their spouse before they took the trip, just like they planned to do before every trip. It had bonded them in their relationship and released sexual energy.

Do not deprive each other of sexual relations, unless you both agree to refrain from sexual intimacy for a limited time so you can give yourselves more completely to prayer. Afterward, you should come together again so that Satan won’t be able to tempt you because of your lack of self-control. — 1 Corinthians 7:5

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6 thoughts on “Part 3: How to protect your marriage

  1. Kate, thank you again for writing this series. I appreciate you so much. I want to chime in on the “Men and women can’t be close friends” part. I completely agree, and also want to add that this is important for our kids, too. I grew up having many guy friends, even in college, and I wish I would have spent more time with my “girlfriends” when I was younger so that I could have more lifelong friendships. My husband also experienced this, and was friends with many girls when he was in school. Knowing this, we both try to encourage our sons (especially our preteen son) to really cultivate relationships with his guy friends because they will be the ones he can still be close friends with after he’s an adult.

  2. Jenny, this is such a great point! Thank you so much for adding this important info. I’ll be sure to remember this as my kids get older too. Thank you!

  3. I just read this part of the series today. It’s taking me almost the whole month of June to do this study. With us moving and all it’s hard to sit down and just be.
    This part of the series hit home. I realized I need to change up myself to be what he needs me to be. I read this with tear filled eyes because my heart is breaking after realizing I created some damage. Thank you so much for writing this. I will really take this on and use it. Hopefully and praying that it gets better.
    Work in progress…

  4. It’s hard to come to realizations that we’ve done damage in our marriage. I know that feeling! The good news is that God is in the restoration business. Thank you so much for being so open. I knew God wanted me to write this, but it didn’t get a terrible amount of reads, so I’m so very happy it can help you :) xoxo

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