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.
Last week my husband and I took a 5 day trip to the Houston area to celebrate 31 years of marriage. It fills up my love-tank when I spend time with my husband. I also found myself reflecting on the power of life-giving relationships.
Right before we left for Houston, I found myself irritable with my husband. When I thought about what was truly bothering me, I wanted more quality time with him. Then I realized, “Oh, he is making up hours at work so that he can take days off with me.” When I reframed the situation in my mind, I was able to realize that I was simply being petty.
Life-Giving Relationships need priority.
We only have so many hours in the day, if we don’t prioritize our relationships tasks and deadlines will win over relationships. As a type A personality I have let my tasks and responsibilities run my schedule. I am trying to change this, and make people my priority.
Last week, I was working on blog post that I regularly post on Monday’s when I received a text from my friend Susan Mead about having lunch. I had made a mistake and written our lunch date for the next Monday. When I looked at her text I knew I had a decision, I could either go out to lunch with Susan OR complete the blog post. Because we were going out of town, I couldn’t do both. In the past, I would have stolen the time from my anniversary trip.
The Holy Spirit will lead you on how to prioritize the time in your day so that you are able to fulfill your calling in your life. Part of your God-given calling is to make time for relationships. I am so thankful for the way that God gave me time with my children when they were small. I often felt pulled in every direction. It was only by listening to the still small voice of God leading me that I could prioritize time with each one.
Life-Giving Relationships may be Life-Long or Seasonal
Every year in grade school I would moan to my mom at the end of the school year. “Mom, I had the best year! Next, year could never be as good.” Then I would talk about each of my friends. Some of the friends continued to be strong each and every year, others because my classes would change would become more like acquaintances. I would mourn the fact that I couldn’t keep up with every relationship. In fact, if we tried to make every relationship life-long, we wouldn’t be able to fulfill all that God called us to do in our lives.
Recently, a hard decision that Wayne and I faced was the choice to answer God’s call on our lives and to move across country to relocate in Frisco Texas to plant Life Bridge Church. It was a bold move for us. We still value all the neighbors, friends, co-workers, church family that we used to see regularly in the flow of our lives. It was sad and we grieved saying goodbyes. We love it when we have the opportunity to connect on social media or in other ways.
Life is bittersweet and takes twists and turns that we don’t always anticipate. I have sat with so many broken couples who did not anticipate their marriage ending in divorce. Their relationship that was once the joy of their life had been broken by sin and neglect. God is a restorative God. He heals, mends, repairs, and restores the broken places of our lives and gives us the hope of new beginnings.
Life-Giving Relationships are our Inheritance
Jesus modeled Life-Giving Relationships. He gathered the 12 around him and lived every day life with them. The disciples didn’t think they would have only 3 years with him, they wanted the relationship to stay the same. But Jesus knew His purpose. He was called to die and rise again for those he loved. Because of what Jesus did on the cross, we have eternity with him and with others who call on His name. Everything else will pass away, but life-giving relationships lasts forever. In eternity we will have an abundance of what we didn’t have on earth…TIME.
I would love to give you an opportunity to read the Introduction and First Chapter of my upcoming book 9 Traits of a Life-Giving Marriage which comes out in book stores on October 2. Click the button for immediate download.Download Here
Have you every wondered what the secret was to be happily married? Have you wanted to find out how you could have a marriage like that? Shaunti Fieldhahn has spent 15 years researching what we need to know about men, women and relationships. Listen to her short video:
5 Habits of “Highly Happy” Marriages
If you want to build a marriage that lasts, it’s helpful to study those who have exceptional marriages. Shaunti Feldhahn’s study led her to write Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages. Instead of focusing on our problems in marriages, she encourages that we look at things that the happy couples to do to make their marriage stronger. What actually works to make marriages great. The following 5 areas are summarized from her book.
A marriage is a daily endeavor to share love with our spouse. Wonderful Marriages have in common that both the husband and the wife put into practice little things in a marriage. The simple fact of a wife saying “thank you” and affirming the husband for work he has done goes a long way to show respect to him. When a husband reaches out to take his wife’s hand it shares the sweetness of love in a simple way. One way to begin to build a stronger marriage today is to start concentrating on the small things in your marriage that says “I Love You.”
Happily Married couples believe the best about their spouses intention. It’s amazing what a difference it makes on what you think the heart of someone you love. Couples with great marriages give each other the benefit of the doubt and think positively about their intentions.
3. Take Charge of Your Feelings About Your Spouse.
All of us can have bad days and our feelings can snowball out of control. As happily married couples choose to think good thoughts about their spouse, they also choose to take charge of their feelings. Feelings can be inaccurate and can color how you respond to someone. Your response can be harsh or disrespectful and that will lead to a harsh and unloving response from your spouse. Before you know it you are on a crazy cycle. One way to break the cycle is to take charge of your feelings.
It can be tempting to pull back and not share your full heart with your spouse. It feels risky to be open and vulnerable with your heart. However if you risk it all, you have the opportunity to hit the jackpot with your spouse. Totally surrendering and letting yourself be vulnerable will help open emotional intimacy which often leads to physical and spiritual intimacy as well.
I’m excited to share that I have completed the manuscript to 9 Traits of a Life-Giving Marriage which will be in bookstores beginning October 2. Click here and you can download the introduction and first chapter of the book for free.