I read this scripture early one morning this week, “Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city.” (Proverbs 16:32)
Are there times in marriage when we simply should not be communicating or using more words? I want to propose that there are those times and we should use them wisely. The book of Ecclesiastes reveals, “…A time to be quiet and a time to speak.”
Consider these five times that silence just might be described as golden.
- When your partner desires some quiet time or some alone time.
- When a disagreement is getting out of hand, it most likely is a good time for a communication time out.
- When one partner is feeling a bit snarky, it’s best not to respond.
- When an ongoing issue keeps surfacing we may need to back off and give it some time, or agree to disagree.
- When it’s time to close our day and go to sleep.
Use your quiet times wisely because sometimes, “Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues.” Proverbs 17:28
Drifting is natural, it happens sometimes without giving it much thought. Add to that our human propensity to get bored with the familiar rather quickly. Once the romance wanes in our relationships, we can be tempted to drift. We attempt to convince ourselves and our life mates that we’re not drifting, but we both know we are.
My daughter and I were out in a bay once when our boat lost its anchor. She went swimming after it. We barely noticed how far and how quickly that boat drifted away from us with the outgoing tide. It was just right there beside us a few minutes earlier.
What are the ingredients to a marriage that drifts? All too often we experience unmet expectations. Our disagreements become more intense and we seem to have conflict more often. Perhaps even old, destructive life patterns reemerge. Or, maybe we get behind financially and can’t seem to catch up. We’re working more hours, away from home more hours and unhappy for more hours. Now we’re feeling unfulfilled and it is so easy for marriage boredom to increase.
We didn’t mean for it to happen but life is full with our schedules, our children, yes, even our ministry. We’re missing one another, we’re not communicating as we should and we left certain disciplines that help to maintain a healthy marriage. Now we’re both feeling the sting of unmet needs and mumbling under our breath the negative things that bug us about our partner.
It can change; there is hope. We can reverse the effects of drifting. Here are seven steps we can take.
- Confess it to God and one other. Confession brings it into the light. It puts the subject on the table so to speak.
- Get back to dedicated times of communication about the personal and the nonpersonal. Get back to sharing everything in conversation with feelings and real-life intimacy.
- Pray while you communicate. Speak to God about your drifting from each other. Share your heart with your heavenly Father and ask Him for solutions to the drifting issue. Expect to hear those answers and then implement them.
- Get back to spending quality time together. There is no compromise; we need time together to relate, to have fun and to be friends again.
- Stop waiting on feelings. If you wait on feelings to return, you’ll never act. Act first because right actions bring about right feelings.
- Write out your mission statement. If you have one, find it and read over it once again. If you do not have a couple mission statement then you are missing out on writing down your reasons for marriage, your why. Get busy and put into writing your marriage mission statement.
- Dream again about where you desire your marriage to go and to grow. Vision is a focus for the future for the two of you. That focus runs adrift when we lose sight of us.
Rest assured, drifting can occur with each of us. But it is not our game plan to stay there. We must take steps to counteract the drifting that has taken place.
So often marriage is like a mirror and we get to see our real self through the reflections of our life mate. After all, who knows you better than your spouse? Who better to reflect back to you the image you are projecting?
All too often we become defensive, insecure or are in denial about these areas in our lives. We can hide them for some time, but eventually they will surface. When we lose our focus, lose our cool or lose our patience, it can become too much of a temptation to allow the real us to surface. We each have our weaknesses and when they are revealed, we have options.
Those options include: to run, hide, make excuses, blame others or face the weaknesses squarely in the eye. Many marriages separate and spouses run from their exposed weaknesses, but for those who are willing to maturely confess them, remain humble, remain teachable and accountable, there is great hope.
What we can do is to use the revelation of our shortcomings to allow God to change that area of our life. Confession and humility are powerful when it comes to change. Pride, on the other hand, will take us toward a greater fall.
A number of years ago we worked with a couple who struggled with financial agreement. It seems the wife had created excessive consumer debt. They asked for our help, humbled themselves, confessed wrongdoing and started on the path of healing their trust issues and then their budget changes. It could have been far worse if they would have not sought help, not confessed and not humbled themselves toward change.
Are you running from your marriage weaknesses? There is a better way.
Someone once shared with me these words, “I’ll respect him when he starts respecting me.” Still another said, “When she starts acting respectable, I’ll show her respect.” Really? Since when is respect conditional upon another respecting you?
Do you show respect to your boss even when they are not in some way earning that respect? Do you respect out of a desire to obey God, regardless of what you feel the other is or is not doing? Were you aware of the fact that there are respect clauses in the Scripture? Peter wrote that we were to “…treat them [wives] with respect,” and Paul wrote “…the wife must respect her husband.” (I Peter 3:7; Ephesians 5:33) There were no additional words that stated if the husband or wife also showed respect. Then again, there are no words that state we can demand respect — that’s not how it works.
Judas did a lot of disrespectful things as a disciple of Christ and yet Jesus still washed his feet along with the others. The woman caught in adultery was not the most respectable and neither was the woman at the well and our Savior showed much respect and forgiveness toward them. Perhaps your wife or your husband has not always shown you respect, but that does not give you license to return the same.
I love how author Gary Thomas weighs in on this very subject, “As our partners and their weaknesses become more familiar to us, respect often becomes harder to give. But this failure to show respect is more a sign of spiritual immaturity than it is an inevitable pathway of marriage.” He also notes, “When there is mutual respect in marriage, selflessness becomes contagious…. If you want to obsess about them [weaknesses], they’ll grow, but you won’t!”
How is respect growing in your relationships, especially within your marriage?
Marriage minefields are fields where we have buried or hidden devices (memories) just below the surface. We actually move forward in life by frequently looking backward. Most day-to-day life is not filled with new revelation but memory. Memory helps us to find our way home after work. Memory is used daily in order to live life. Life without the ability to recall even the slightest, most mundane details or important ones would be disastrous.
When we have an issue in marriage, we quickly go to our memory bank and pull up a pleasant experience, a neutral experience or a negative experience. If we find ourselves connecting to a pain-filled memory, we can begin to sweat, experience an increased heart rate and be inundated with a flood of negative emotions. When this happens, we know we have connected to a memory minefield.
Some of our memories contain lies or misbeliefs and still others are inaccurate. It was not uncommon for John and Elizabeth (not their real names) to experience knock-down, drag-out arguments. In sheer frustration late one evening, John looked at Elizabeth and said, “That’s it; I’m out of here!” Immediately, Elizabeth went silent and fell to the floor in a fetal position, where she sobbed uncontrollably. Even though John ran immediately to his wife, knelt beside her, and desperately tried to console her, it was as if he had left. Elizabeth didn’t or couldn’t hear his voice or acknowledge his presence. John later discovered that when his wife was six years old, she overheard her parents fighting. Her father’s words rang out as he screamed, “That’s it; I’m out of here!” Elizabeth never saw her father again
John was not her father; he was her dedicated husband. However, when Elizabeth heard that same phrase, she immediately associated the words with her father’s words from her childhood. That former experience was automatically connected to the present experience. The characters were different, but in her mind the outcome would be the same. The deep, wrenching pain of loss she once associated with her father’s abandonment returned as if it was programmed for this exact moment. Everything in her being was telling her, “Now my husband is leaving me too.” The pain was unbearable, and those same feelings of abandonment returned with a vengeance.
Elizabeth was no longer fighting with John; she was wrestling with pain-filled memories planted in a minefield just below the surface. Was it the argument they needed to resolve, or was it Elizabeth’s past hurts that needed to be healed? From many stories like this one, I have come to believe that most relationship issues in the present have a connection to the past; therefore, what seem like marital issues are often individual issues. I am convinced that when Jesus heals our individual issues, sins, hurts, and disappointments, marriage relationship issues can also be healed. *
*Adapted from Staying Together, Marriage: A Lifelong Affair by Steve and Mary Prokopchak
Many years ago, a wiser, older, more mature couple taught us this phrase: praise in public; construct in private. By that phrase they meant to always provide a word of praise for your mate when with your family, at your work place, with your friends or in any social setting. They also encouraged us to never, ever put our mate down, shame them, humiliate them or correct them in a negative sense in public. We took this counsel to heart and have adapted it for our marriage relationship.
When in public, it is difficult to be in a conversation with a person who frequently speaks negatively of their spouse. It is embarrassing and it is often shamed-filled. When a life mate feels the need to continually place their partner in a negative light, I question their own esteem.
Concerning praise, the writer of Proverbs puts it this way, “Let someone else praise you, and not your own mouth; an outsider, and not your own lips.” As married persons we are responsible to, called to, encouraged to speak praise of our life mate publicly. If we do not have words of encouragement, then we should practice not speaking anything.
When we bless our spouse before others, we are blessing ourselves and when we speak negatively and put our spouse down, we are putting ourselves down. How so? When we marry, two have become one. What affects one affects the other. Praise in public; construct in private.
Perhaps lechery is a word you are not familiar with. If you look into its meaning the dictionary states, “…unrestrained or excessive indulgence of sexual desire.” I have come across this “desire” within some marriages. Usually, it is the man who relentlessly pursues an inordinate desire for sexual relations, but this is not always the case.
Let’s be clear by stating that sexuality is something God has said “yes” to within the boundaries of marriage. It is something we should “desire” and “indulge” in regularly, but who defines “regularly” for you and your life mate and who then defines “excessive?”
Well, you both do. You find what works for you. You find what you both can agree to and enjoy. You find what honors, respects and blesses your spouse sexually and you purposefully and unselfishly pursue that. You also find what might be the cause of “…unrestrained or excessive indulgence.” We need to discover what is at the core of our lives that promotes something which is bringing harm to our marriage bed. Why? Because God’s gift of sex is never forced or abusive to another.
Let me give you some harmful effects of sexuality that can make their way into marriage.*
- Sex can be harmful if it is demeaning to another.
- It is unhealthy if it makes another person feel less valuable or used.
- It is unhealthy when it is purely selfish, used only for physical gratification.
- It is unhealthy when it shames another.
- It is damaging when forced or coerced and the law of “love does” not rule.
- Sex is not healthy when used as a replacement for affection or tenderness.
- Sex is unhealthy when it violates someone’s conscience.
- Sex is unhealthy when pornography is involved in any form.
Sexuality within the confines of marital commitment actually increases the marital bond. It fosters the growth of intimacy. It serves to reduce stress and anxiety by providing a special tone of togetherness and a release of tension. It provides a private and intimate shared experience and a bond of emotional security. It promotes a sense of well-being and happiness within the marriage and, of course, it is a gift given to us by our Creator to enjoy through many years of married life together.
(*Some of the above points are adapted from the book, The Sexual Man by Archibald Hart.)
My wife and I have found a place of intimacy that far exceeds any level of intimacy within a marriage through our connecting in prayer. We have made this a priority for many years and have grown our marriage in numerous ways through the vulnerability of prayer together. Here are seven benefits that we have identified from praying together.
- When we pray, we find agreement with God and with one another. Agreement is far more powerful, life-giving and life changing than disagreement.
- Through prayer together we are not so self-focused, but rather, we are focused on God, one another and the needs of those we are praying for.
- We are recognizing our need to trust outside ourselves. We are realizing we cannot provide all the needs or answers. We are humbling ourself to say, we need God. Prayer reminds us and our family that God IS our source.
- Prayer helps us to grow in grace and patience. We learn to wait on God. We also learn to confess our needs, brokenness and vulnerability. We, before God, recognize our need for forgiveness.
- We communicate our life issues when we pray and that helps us to hear out loud those needs. We pray what is on our heart and when we hear one another’s heart, we know what deeply touches us and concerns us.
- Prayer changes us as we learn to listen to God. It changes us financially, emotionally, mentally and sexually. In all ways we are changed as we reach out to and then hear God’s still small voice. Our hearts and our minds are transformed through prayer and we experience a greater level of oneness.
- Praying together increases our intimacy. As intimacy increases our trust levels increase and as our trust levels increase, our strength and bond together grows stronger.
Helping you to start your prayer trek
- Purchase a devotional book, read and then pray.
- Take turns praying/reading.
- Start small or brief and grow your time.
- Find a specific focus and pray.
- Walk your neighborhood and pray.
- Pray together with your children teaching them to pray.
- Pray in the car when there is a lull in the conversation.
- Pray when one of you or your children are not feeling well.
- Pray with thanksgiving to God repeatedly.
- Bless one another in prayer. Bless one another’s day, workplace, etc.
- Ask your spouse how you can pray for them.
Before we said, “I do” we diligently worked at not having or experiencing differences with one another, at least not out loud. We wanted to be argument free and not allow anything to inhibit our communication. But not long after saying “I do,” for many of us that changed. We trusted our marriage vows to hold us together while experiencing differences, even when they became heated. What changed?
Nothing changed other than we gave ourselves permission to be freer at being ourselves. No longer held back by what the other may think, we let our emotions and our words find freedom of expression even if those expressions were hurtful. If you have observed this in your relationship, you’re not alone. Let me share a rich truth that my wife and I have discovered along the way.
After we marry a new reality sets in and we realize differences really do need to be dealt with. While we have to acknowledge some of our differences as purely selfish, a few are simply a different view or opinion. Not wrong, just a different perspective. If we stay in immaturity, we will not listen to or make any attempt to understand our mate’s different view. We will perceive them as wrong and it will be our goal to convince them our way is the right way.
However, that is not the goal and such an approach will lead us to greater frustration. As we grow in maturity, love and understanding, we begin to realize God gave me this person to be different, to see another perspective and to strengthen our relationship through our differences. When we can embrace this truth, we will discover a greater whole, a more complete oneness and a healthier appreciation for those differences. In other words, one of us see’s what the other does not and in the end we’ll make a better decision and be able to embrace a more complete understanding.
Allow God to use your differences to strengthen your marriage!