God created each of us with hearts that desire to be open. It takes emotional energy to keep thoughts and feelings hidden. When we feel frustrated or hurt, a common response is to shut down emotionally—to protect, rather than share our hearts.
At a pivotal point in our marriage, I realized that, although I felt safe to openly share how I felt with my husband, Wayne didn’t feel the same safety with me. Wayne processes his emotions and thoughts internally, and when he doesn’t feel safe, he keeps to himself. Every time I spoke critically of my husband, in effect, I added another brick to the wall that divided us. We had been through a couple of hard years and the bricks were stacking up between us. The taller that protective wall got, the more effectively it hindered our emotional intimacy.
When I accepted the responsibility for my actions and asked for Wayne’s forgiveness, the wall between us immediately began to come down. A newly created environment of emotional safety allowed us to draw together with greater intimacy.
If an emotional brick wall is dividing your relationship, one or both of you are probably experiencing some of the following things:
Communication is closed or strained.
It feels as if you’re walking on eggshells in an attempt to avoid confrontation.
You feel like you have to perform a certain way to please the other person.
There’s an inability to be fully open and honest. 26
To experience intimacy in marriage, both partners need to feel safe. In addition, one or both of you may feel:
Misunderstood or rejected
Mistrusted or mistrusting
Emotionally shut down
An emotionally safe marriage is one that allows you the freedom to be who you really are. You can trust that your spouse will love you no matter what. You feel unconditional acceptance. You feel safe to share the most valuable part of you—your heart. In an emotionally safe relationship, you are confident your spouse will not crush your hopes, dreams, or deepest desires. And you feel confident that what you share will remain private.
Both spouses need to embrace their responsibility to create an environment of emotional safety in their home. You can start by learning how to handle conflict in a way that builds up, rather than tears down, your partner’s confidence and security.
If you have been married for more than a week, I’m certain you’re aware that your marriage is not perfect. No marriage relationship is. And regardless of how wonderful or terrible your marriage may seem right now, I’m also certain that you are aware of ways it could be better, healthier, stronger, and more loving. We all desire to see positive changes in our relationships. We all want to be built up, encouraged, and empowered to live life to the fullest.
I Wrote This Book:
1. To Help Marriages Thrive Rather Than Survive
Unfortunately, so many marriage relationships limp along at less than life-giving; worse yet are the relationships that actively drain the life out of one or both partners. You may know someone in a hurting marriage; you may even be that person. And maybe, fearful of what others will think of your imperfect life, you’re hiding that pain from your family and friends. You think to yourself, “Suck it up,” or “Hang in there until the kids are grown,” or “Nobody’s marriage is perfect; this is just the way life is.” You think, if you try harder, you can just make it work.
Being connected to Jesus gives fresh life to marriage. He is the Life-Giver. The life-giving joy, power, and purpose for marriage flow from the One who created us to be in relationship with each other. Apart from Him, we can’t do anything. Embracing the creative power of God can turn a mediocre (or miserable) place in your marriage into a masterpiece of His design.
2. To Help Couples Learn a New Way to Communicate
For more than thirty-five years, Dr. John Gottman and his team have studied marriages. As a research scientist, he uses rig- orous methods and standards respected by medical science. The data he’s gathered gives a scientific glimpse into the anatomy of a marriage.
In the family research laboratory, aka “the love lab,” Gottman’s team uses instruments to measure the heart rates of couples during conflict-filled conversation. They record the dis- cussion and analyze the facial responses. During a ten-year study, with a ninety-one percent accuracy rate, they were able to predict which couples would divorce.
The couples whose marriages were not doing well often began disagreements with a harsh tone. Soon, the scientists watch- ing would observe what Dr. John Gottman labeled as “The Four Horsemen.” These four negative styles of behavior are lethal to a marriage and could lead to a chaotic end. Here is the list:2
Horseman 1: Criticism. Criticism is more than a complaint. Criticism attacks character and blames the other person, “What is wrong with you?”
Horseman 2: Contempt. Sarcasm and cynicism are common types of contempt. This disgusted attitude sometimes includes name-calling, mockery, sneering, or making jokes at the other’s expense.
Horseman 3: Defensiveness. Defensiveness denies responsibility and focuses all the blame on one’s partner. “I’m not the problem; you are!”
Horseman 4: Stonewalling. This is the last horseman to arrive, but the first one to parade off in silence. Stonewalling occurs when one partner shuts down or tunes out the discussion. They ignore the spouse with a coldness that is felt by everyone involved.
You may be thinking right now, “What should we do? The four horsemen not only know our names, but they regularly visit at our address.” If you are experiencing criticism, contempt, defensive- ness, or stonewalling in your marriage, you may be desperate for something to change.
[Tweet “Learning a new way to communicate is like learning a new dance” #MarriageRocks]
A new beginning can occur right now, if you make a choice to change your behavior. If you have been stepping on one anoth- er’s toes in this disappointing dance, shake up the steps. Decide today to relate to your spouse differently. You won’t be able to control your spouse’s words, tone, or behavior, but if you change your dance steps, you will change the dance.
God’s plan and purpose for your marriage is that you overcome all adversity through His strength. As your heart finds safety in Jesus, He will teach you how to bring safety into your marriage. The Holy Spirit is your comforter and your guide.
In a marriage covenant, you are promising before God and witnesses that you are going to be faithful and true to your spouse, sexually, emotionally, and spiritually. Keeping your relationship strong in all three of these areas creates a wholehearted connection that helps divorce-proof your marriage. In contrast, a marriage without the safety of a wholehearted connection will fail unless the bond of intimacy is restored.
Remember, if you are brokenhearted, God is able to mend your broken heart. If you feel half-hearted because of stress, hurt feelings, or broken promises, God is able to light a fresh fire of intimacy and make your relationship whole.
If you or your spouse has spoken heartless words or done heartless things to each other, know that God still works miracles in the lives of couples who trust Him to restore their marriages.
You can’t control what your spouse does; you can only control how you react. You can control your own choices, so choose to walk with a faith-filled perspective towards your marriage.
God is at work in your heart and in your marriage. If you have been going your separate ways, turn around, and get reconnected. If your marriage has been under attack, get help. Sometimes reinforcements are necessary for the battle to win back your relationship and rebuild a wall of safety around it. If you feel alone in your marriage, begin again to prioritize the emotional, sexual, and spiritual oneness in your relationship.
4. To Help Couples go from “Good” to “Great”
As a couple, you have the opportunity to allow the Spirit of God to make your marriage a masterpiece. I pray that your marriage will be a sign that points to the goodness of God in how He has worked miracles in your marriage.
God desires for marriage to draw us into a closer relationship with Him—unity with Him enables us to have a life-giving marriage.
Only God could think of creating a rainbow of color, caused by the refraction of the sun’s light by rain in the sky. After the global flood, God showed Noah a rainbow and told him it symbolized a promise to human kind that He would never again destroy the whole earth with a flood.
The rainbow of promise between a husband and wife is not that each of them will be perfect in their marriage relationship. On the contrary, because every marriage is made up of imperfect people, the imperfection of your marriage will be evident to you and others. Thankfully, our hope is not in our own performance.
Helping good marriages become great marriages is a lifelong passion for Wayne and I. Help us share this message with others. Here is a video that you can share with your friends.
Every human being is woven together by God in a unique way. You can either magnify your spouse’s weaknesses, thereby causing strife with your scrutiny, or you can accept who God made them to be.
I struggled with accepting Wayne early on in our marriage. Here is his testimony of how God changed my heart and it impacted our relationship.
Learning to Accept Your Spouse
It is often the very traits that initially drew you to your spouse that you may have to come to terms with after you are married. For instance, you may have a husband who is a strong-willed leader; he knows what he wants and when he wants it. You may have been impressed by his confident demeanor and decision-making ability when you were dating. Now, those same traits make him seem overly opinionated. Or maybe you’re married to a wife who is very detailed-oriented. While you were dating, you appreciated her planning skills and innate ability to efficiently organize her home. Now, it seems like all she does is nag and nit-pick you to get all the details right.
Acceptance can be hard! Sometimes it can feel like acquiescence. You feel like you are “stuck with the other person.” You reluctantly put up with them while the life drains out of your relationship. That doesn’t seem very life-giving. But stay with me, because acceptance can bring about beautiful change.
As a wife, you have the power to magnify the God-crafted personality of your husband. As a husband, you can lift up your wife’s God-given characteristics. When you do, you not only change the way you perceive your spouse, but, over time, you also change his or her perception of you and of yourselves as a couple.
In response to the encounter with the Holy Spirit that my husband spoke of in the video, I began to speak words of respect to my husband. I also began to speak positively about him in public, building him up. My decision to accept the way that God created Wayne, empowered a miracle-cure in our relationship. His personality did not change. But when I looked at him with eyes of acceptance and respect, my husbands confidence level grew.
You may be thinking, “You don’t know my husband and how difficult he is!” You are right; I don’t know your husband. But I know that you chose him. Something about who he is fits with who you are. Otherwise, you would have chosen someone else. Or, more accurately, God would have chosen someone else for you.
When Wayne and I conduct marriage conferences, it isn’t unusual for at least one man in the audience to turn to his wife and say, “See, you need to treat me with respect! If you would treat me like your Prince Charming, then everything would be fine.” If you’re tempted to point the finger at your spouse and demand that he or she changes first…don’t. Your mandate for superficial acquiescence will not bring breakthrough, but it’s a sure path to bitterness.
It’s important to embrace the way God has made your spouse. It is also helpful to accept how God has made you. Understand that the way you two work and live and love together may not be the same as any other couple’s relationship. There are no cookie- cutter marriages.
For far too many years in ministry, I believed that, if God had just switched our gift-mix, life would be better. If Wayne had my gifts and I had his, we would fit into the traditional Christian perspective of marriage.
Joyce and David Meyer felt pressured to change who they were early in their marriage. The church they were attending made it clear that Dave should be the one who taught the Bible study they were leading from their home. The couple tried to conform; Dave taught while Joyce kept silent. It didn’t work very well. God had not designed them to be like that.
Just as Priscilla’s name frequently appears before Aquilla’s in Scripture because Priscilla was the primary speaker, Joyce Meyer is a natural communicator and teacher. Their gifts didn’t need to be swapped. Neither did Wayne’s and mine. You don’t need to be or do something other than that for which God created you. God doesn’t make mistakes. He uses us individually, even as He uses us together.
If you are feeling pressured to fit into some type of mold, relax and enjoy who God has made your spouse to be. Enjoy and embrace the distinct way you are made and look for all the ways you suit each other.
This blog post is adapted from the first chapter of 9 Traits of a Life-Giving Marriag
Many relationships begin with positive, life-giving time spent together. What were some of your favorite things to do when you were first forming a relationship with your spouse? Do you remember how those activities and the time spent together drew you closer? You likely felt affirmed, appreciated, and encouraged. You enjoyed each other’s company and spent time laughing while you got to know each other better. Your affection drew you together, and your passion seemed unquenchable.
1. Accept Who Your Spouse Is…
Acceptance often get’s a bad rap. We think that to accept our spouse, that we are excusing all of their bad behavior. No, accepting your spouse is appreciating who they are as a person.
Marriage relationships often start in a whirlwind of romance and pleasure. The expectation is that those feelings of love and friendship will bloom and continue to grow. But in too many marriages, the opposite occurs. Instead of spending more time together, external factors take precedence. As life’s demands pull at our attention and energy, we grow apart and those happy honeymoon days turn into a distant memory. You need to focus freshly on who your spouse is and appreciate their uniqueness (rather than criticize their weakness).
Though we were wildly in love when we were dating, the rose-colored glasses came off before we got married. We fought throughout our engagement, not because we were at odds with each other, but because of the fears each of us was carrying down the aisle. Having seen my parents struggle in their relationship, I knew what I didn’t want for my own marriage. So, in a naïve attempt to make our marriage perfect, I focused on both of our weaknesses and tried to fix our young relationship. I wanted to make sure we dealt with all our “stuff ” before the big day. It didn’t work very well.
As certain as I was that God had brought Wayne and me together, I prayed weekly (sometimes daily) that we would be able to work out our differences before we said “I do.” Even from the early days of our relationship, it was clear to me that Wayne is a strong man. Certainly, he wants my best, but there are some areas—areas that I believed needed “fixing”—in which he was (and is) immovable. For that, I am thankful. Because, really, I wouldn’t want to change my husband. Remember, he is who God made him to be. Not only that, but since I couldn’t change him, I had to learn to trust God and realize that it isn’t my role to act like the Holy Spirit in Wayne’s life.
It wasn’t until we got married that I embraced the fact that he was mine for life. What a relief! God had not only brought us together; He would keep us in His care. I relaxed into one of the most enjoyable times of our relationship, and life was good.
2. Have Fun Together
As newlyweds, we lived in a tiny trailer. I attended college, Wayne was in seminary, and we were poor and very happy. Wayne and I loved playing tennis at the nearby courts. (We would go from trailer to trailer knocking on the doors of our young married neigh- bors, until we found a couple willing to play doubles.) In our tennis shorts and shoes, we strengthened the bond of our friendship. In between studies, we played and enjoyed those honeymoon years. We went to the movies. We attended concerts. We hiked and went on picnics. And when bad weather cancelled our outdoor plans, we made love to the sound of the rain hitting the tin roof.
Take time to evaluate how you spend time together. Are you creating experiences of fun? If not, be intentional about spending time together making new memories.
3. Pray Together
When you pray together, you are sharing intimately about your deepest needs, wants and desires. Creating that place of safety and intimacy will be glue that holds you together as a couple. Friendships that are deep go deeper than the surface level.
Praying together as a couple can help you be on the same page. If you listen to your spouses heart in prayer, you are able to understand the deepest motives of the heart. Even if one of you feels uncomfortable praying outloud, you can create moments where you hold hands and pray in silence or read written prayer. Prayer is very intimate. Let prayer be a glue that holds your friendship together and invites the presence of the Holy Spirit into your life.
Being married is an adventure. Let’s face it; we each bring habits and expectations into a marriage. None of us is perfect. I know I fall short as a husband; all men do. Just as every woman fails to be a perfect wife.
The words, “’Til death do us part,” join us with a partner who has his or her own preconceived ideas of what a marriage is supposed to be like. Inevitably, we don’t meet each other’s expectations. We are each faced with the need to confront our own immaturity, weaknesses, and selfishness because marriage has a way of revealing what was previously hidden or suppressed.
When I dreamed of being married, I pictured myself as a man who would be strong, loving, affectionate, and kind. I was already a pastor. At the age of twenty-nine, I was used to having my own space and my own way of doing things. Suddenly, I was faced with being the leader in a home with a very strong woman who had ideas of her own. I also was charged with being a covering to a wife whose tenderness and vulnerability went far deeper than her confident exterior revealed.
He transforms the broken pieces of our lives into a union with purpose and hope. That’s what He did in our marriage. Over and over again, I have been amazed at how God has used our story to bring healing to other couples.
As Sue and I talked about the writing 9 Traits of a Life-Giving Marriage, we debated whether we should co-write it. After Sue’s book, 9 Traits of a Life- Giving Mom, had so much success, we both agreed that Sue would write this book on marriage and I would be her coach, confidante, and support.
Having quite a collection of great marriage books, we realized that most of the books have been penned by the husband with the support of the wife. As such, this book offers a fresh perspective on the characteristics of a life-giving marriage. You’ll notice that Sue’s writing style may be more vulnerable and transparent than you are used to; she writes from the heart. And we both hope that what you read in the pages that follow will strengthen and encourage you in your desire to be a better husband or wife.
We do not feel called to present ourselves as experts. Our desire is to walk alongside you, honestly and transparently, in this journey of marriage. The One we look to as the main expert on marriage was never married, yet He speaks of the church being His imperfect bride. His name is Jesus Christ.
Are there things about Sue that I would like to change? Yes, of course. If I were writing 9 Traits of a Life-Giving Marriage, would I choose to describe the circumstances of our marriage differently? Yes, I would. A husband’s perspective will always be different from that of his wife, just as every human being sees life from a unique vantage point.
1. Make Marriage an Adventure by Walking Closely with God
Throughout my marriage to Sue, I have learned that the greatest thing I can do to be a better husband is to walk more closely and intimately with God. In relationship with God I find strength, wisdom, insight, boldness, courage, and power to lead my home with honor and integrity. It’s a great exchange. I give Jesus my imperfectness, and He gives me His Holy Spirit as a guide, comforter, and encourager.
2. Make Marriage an Adventure by Being Transformed
With confidence in the transformative power of God, I know He is able to lift you out of the lowest pit and encourage and empower you. God is the One who brings life, even out of death. In Him, we have the opportunity to diffuse all work of the enemy and embrace the creative work of God. The Marriage Adventure begins with transformation. God uses marriage to rub off our rough edges and make us more like Him.
In the middle of every adventure is the scary middle. It’s the time in your life that you feel stuck and you want to quit. In the middle of everything work fighting for is the tough stuff. I hope as you read our story it will encourage you to keep going and not give up.
3 Things Your Spouse Needs to Hear You Say to Help Your Marriage
Have you ever found yourself saying the wrong thing at the wrong time to your spouse? I know I have. In order to say words that build up and encourage our spouse we need to see them as God’s recreations through Christ.
This video by MercyMe may bring tears to your eyes as you realize that God’s unconditional love makes you (and your spouse) flawless. Watch this video and share it with others:
God’s Unconditional Love Will Transform Your Marriage.
Don’t make the mistake to think that it is your unconditional love that will transform your marriage. It is the unconditional love of God as seen in the cross of Jesus Christ that makes your marriage flawless. We all make so many mistakes in life.
Here are 5 things you can say to your spouse to encourage him/her.
1. I respect you…
Sometimes women have a hard time respecting their husbands when they have made mistakes. They find it easier to love their husband despite their mistakes, but they lose the respect. Once their eyes shone with respect, but now they reflect the disappoint they feel. We can put our husbands through hell, reminding them of all the ways they fall short. They hear it in the words that we say and how we say it.
God’s word to wives through the apostle Paul is to respect their husbands,
“So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.”
Seeing our husbands through the light of God’s redeeming love, we are able to treat them with respect as we trust that God is taking their flawed lives and has made them flawless. It’s like we look at our husband and then look beyond them to the eyes of Christ, we can respect him. Our respect is a choice based on the command of Christ, not based on our husbands performance. We may not respect his poor choices, but we can fully respect who He is in Christ.
Wives need respect from their husbands as well. More and more women have leadership roles in our society that require a lot of work and sacrifice. When a husband honors and esteems the accomplishments of his wife, it brings shared joy. No one knows everything that a wife goes through to be a strong leader, the husband covers her with His love and respect.
2. I love how God has made you…
It is important to say “I love you”… but to keep going and expound that we love how God has made our spouse. This gives you a wonderful opportunity to expound on his/her unique strengths. It also communicates acceptance of how God has made him/her to be. These words value your spouse as an eternal being made with a divine purpose.
3. I want to help you become all that God has created you to be…
The moment before the camera clicked for our engagement photo, my husband to be said these words, “I want to help you become all that God has created you to be…” It was back in the day that camera’s had timers. When Wayne said those words, the light reflected and the camera created a rainbow arc over us. We are looking deep into each others eyes. You can see in my eyes a deep trust.
My husband and I are so very different from each other, yet we have both been radically committed to being supportive of who God has made each one of us to be. We have regularly made sacrifices of time, commitment and money to help each other accomplish what God has called each of us to individually and as a couple.
One of the things God has created us for, is to help marriages through vulnerably telling our story.
We have ministered to marriages all of our married lives through premarital counseling, couples coaching, retreats and conferences. Now, we have a new resource that is coming out in bookstores near you. I would love for you to download a copy of the introduction and first chapter here.Download Here
I would also love for you to be a part of our launch team. The book launch is scheduled for October 23. Send an email to Alyssa@SueDetweiler.com to find our more about being a part of the launch team.
Pastor Pete Wilson does a great job talking about how we can end up drifting away from God’s purposes in this message:
When couples get married, the intent of their heart is not to drift apart. In fact, they can’t imagine drifting away from the one they love. Yet, you can’t take your spouse for granted. If you don’t pay attention to what they are saying, you won’t pay attention to how they are feeling. A lack of attentiveness to your spouses needs will not only land you in “the dog house” it will put you in danger of traps that you never anticipated.
. It’s easy to sleep in from church one day and feel like you have taken a wonderful sabbath rest. However, if it becomes a habit of your marriage, you won’t have the anchor of Christian Community to help grow your intimacy with God and with each other.
Ask yourself these questions about the habits of your marriage: 1. Do we pray together every day? 2. Do we treat each other according to God’s word? 3. Do we go to church together every Sunday?
There has been a false statistic floating around that says that 50% of all Christian marriages end in divorce. When author and researcher Shaunti Feldhahn took eight years to research this, she found that this statistic was not only false, it was being used to demoralize christian marriages. “Pastors need to know this,” she said. “People need to be able to look around the average congregation and say, ‘You know what, most of these people will have strong and happy marriages for a lifetime. Doing what God says matters. This is a big deal to know.”
There are all kinds of sin that causes a marriage to drift: pornography, adultery, lying, stealing just to name a few. Sin separates us from God’s best for our lives, and isolates us from intimacy with others. Whether your spouse nows everything about the sin you are caught in or if you are still trying to hide it, sin is devastating to a marriage.