Why You’re Overlooking Your Marriage’s Biggest Flaw

When we forget that evil exists within our own hearts; indeed, when we stop ordering our thinking and feeling around God and begin to live to please ourselves, we open the door to all kinds of evil in our marriage, especially the evil we are most likely to be unaware of or excuse: the evil of self-obsession.

We don’t like to talk about this evil as it pertains to us (though we’ll talk plenty about our spouse’s failures in this regard), but silence and ignorance is where evil grows. If we don’t recognize the existence of evil and guard against it we’ll never find a cure for it.

Instead, we’ll just explain it away or blame others for it.

Dallas Willard talks about how “We are like farmers who diligently plant crops but cannot admit the existence of weeds and insects and can only think to pour on more fertilizer. Similarly, the only solution we know to human problems today is ‘education.’”

Educating an evil person without regard to evil doesn’t remove the evil; it simply makes him or her cleverer in spreading their evil.

If I get all kinds of marital education and knowledge but never confront the evil self-obsession that lies within my heart, I’ll use that knowledge (my spouse’s love language, for instance) as a weapon rather than a blessing. I’ll employ her love language to get my way rather than to bless her.

Denial

The most popular path among Christians to deal with our evil self-obsession is to deny that it exists, or at least that it is motivating us. In his book Renovation of the Heart, Dallas Willard warns that “denial—usually in some form of rationalization—is the primary device that humans use to deal with their own wrongness.”

This is universal. Every married person reading this is in some way a bit in denial about the evil lingering in their heart that is negatively affecting their marriage.

Personal evil is so painful and difficult to admit that we are tempted to transfer the evil to others. We don’t think of ourselves as angry spouses; we think our spouse is wrong in lighting the spark that makes us angry.

A man doesn’t think of himself as lustful and unfaithful. He thinks of his wife as cold or preoccupied or neglectful.

A woman doesn’t think of herself as critical. She just thinks of her husband as a doofus.

The Cure

Evil is best confronted by ordering our minds and hearts around the presence and will of God. Evil is coddled when we forget God is God and try to set ourselves up as God.

This is where self-obsession assumes its throne. It is nothing less than evil for me to try to turn my wife into a “love Gary as he likes to be loved” machine. That’s narcissism. God calls her to seek His kingdom first (Matthew 6:33). Here’s the question to ask if you want to know how much you are directed by God and how much you are motivated by hidden selfish evil in your marriage: do you spend more time praying for your spouse’s relationship and service to God or more time praying about how they need to become a better spouse to you?

Edith Schaeffer wrote, “The philosophy of living with an underlying motive of doing everything for one’s own personal peace and comfort rapidly colors everything that might formerly have come under the heads of ‘right’ and ‘wrong.’… If one’s peace, comfort, way of life, convenience, reputation, opportunities, job, happiness, or even ease is threatened, ‘just abort it.’”

When my life isn’t ordered around God, I fiercely resent being inconvenienced. I’m driven to do what I want to do, what I think is best for me, and my wife will pay the heaviest price for my evil self-obsession.

According to Dallas Willard, “Self-idolatry rearranges the entire spiritual and moral landscape. It sees the whole universe with different eyes…The fundamental pride of putting oneself at the center of the universe is the hinge upon which the entire world of the ruined self turns.” He quotes John Calvin, who said that “the surest source of destruction in men is to obey themselves.”

Husband and wife: will you realize that self-obsession may be the biggest threat to you and your marriage’s happiness? If we do not admit that this is evil, if we are not aware of and do not actively confront the evil of self-obsession, that evil will make us and our marriages miserable. It is so much easier and feels so much safer to talk about the evils of others rather than our own. Dallas Willard again: “It is common today to hear Christians talk of their ‘brokenness.’ But when you listen closely, you may discover that they are talking about their wounds, the things they have suffered, not about the evil that is in them.”

When I understand how evil I am and how evil I can yet be, and that evil begins with self-obsession, I am more determined to order my life around God’s word and will and, just as importantly, release my wife to do the same. I will seek out the Scriptures to understand his heart. I will submit my thinking and actions in a way that proclaims in fact, not just in word, “You are my Lord and my God” and “You are my wife’s Lord and God.”

One of the best gifts you can give your spouse is to be ruthless about admitting and discarding the evil in your own heart, beginning with the evil of self-obsession.

 

[Note: this post could be harmful to men and women married to abusive spouses who have given themselves over to evil. While all of us need to explore and discharge the evil in our hearts, some spouses need to be saved from an evil, oppressive situation. If you suspect that may be the case with you, please seek other counsel. This teaching is for those who want to save their marriage, not for those who need to be saved from their marriage.]

Running on Empty? Here’s How to Keep Your Marriage’s Fuel Tank Full

Today’s marriage tip comes from Patrick Schwenk as a guest blogger for Gary Thomas’s site. It leads to a great question: what’s one way you can make your spouse’s life easier today?  

I (Patrick) have a bit of a reputation for running out of gas, perhaps because I once read an article that said gas pumps have more germs than a toilet seat. I don’t know how many germs that is, but it’s enough for me not to want to touch either one too often. Or maybe it’s because it takes time to slow down, stop, and fill up. Whatever the reason, I don’t enjoy stopping for gas, which is why I run out so often.

Some experts say you can drive your car at least forty miles after your gas light comes on. My “research” would say that is fairly accurate—some cars more and others less. Normal people pull over and refuel long before the warning light comes on, but not me. I once pushed my motorcycle beyond the forty-mile test limit. I lost—again. If anything has come close to motivating me to change my ways, it was walking my Harley for just over a mile through our neighborhood and past our neighbor who hates Harleys and loves Yamahas. Exhausting and embarrassing!

My problem with running out of gas took on a whole new meaning once I became a dad fourteen years ago. I soon discovered and would learn over and over again that parenting is a gas guzzler. Surviving the transition from married couple to married with kids requires a lot of energy. Living out God’s purpose for marriage and family is exhausting. Trying to do it well often leaves us running on empty.

One of the biggest reasons we find ourselves running low on fuel is because of self-neglect.

Most couples who have been running on self-neglect for too long feel weary…they have pretty much run out of gas. So the encouragement in Galatians 6:2 to “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ,” is a key principle for protecting each other during the season of being married with kids.

The Greek word translated as “carry” means to “put upon one’s self, to lift up, or carry what is burdensome.” It conveys the idea of coming alongside and lightening the load for another person. When we carry another’s burden, we take that burden on ourselves. We share the load so that the other person doesn’t suffer alone.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor and theologian who spoke out boldly against Hitler, wrote that Christians “must bear the burden of a brother. He must suffer and endure the brother. It is only when he is a burden that another person is really a brother and not merely an object to be manipulated.”

Bonhoeffer was saying that relationships in the real world, especially Christian relationships, come with responsibility. Jesus calls us to do some heavy lifting for one another. Marriage in particular comes with a charge to “carry each other’s burdens.” Our spouse is not “an object to be manipulated”; rather we are called to “endure” and even “suffer” for and with each other.

That is a convicting statement! We might not come out and say we see our spouse as “an object to be manipulated,” but how often do we look to get something from our spouse instead of looking out for our spouse?  One way we can love our spouse is by attempting to lighten the load when our spouse is running on empty.

Protecting our spouse requires that we provide strength when our spouse is weak or struggling.

In which areas of your marriage and parenting are you struggling most right now?

What specific things can you do to help your spouse carry the burden and avoid self-neglect?

The Danger of ‘Choice Paralysis’ When Your Marriage is Struggling

Today’s post comes from Gary Thomas and is an adaptation from his new book Loving Him Well: Practical Advice for Influencing Your Husband. While the post primarily addresses women and wives, men and husbands should feel free to change the genders and apply it accordingly. Nothing stated here isn’t also true for men.

When Your Marriage is Going in the Wrong Direction, Doing Nothing is Usually Your Worst Choice

When a marriage is going “south,” one of the worst things you can do is…nothing. People in panic often fear making the wrong move but sometimes “no move” is the worst move. Not doing anything will get you just what you’ve got.

The first thing so many women (and men, for that matter) in the Bible had to be told was to stop being afraid and become bold. When Hagar was abandoned by her husband and exiled to what looked like her and her son’s slow starvation and death, God’s angel encouraged her: “Do not be afraid” (Genesis 21:17). When the women who had been faithful to Jesus were beside themselves with grief, wondering what had happened to the body of their precious Jesus, an angel admonished them, “Do not be afraid” (Matthew 28:5).

Because of God’s Spirit within us, we are sometimes called to bold action. The “safe” path is sometimes a slow drift toward destruction. One of my favorite Christian philosophers, Elton Trueblood, put it so well:

“The person who never goes out on a limb will never, it is true, have the limb cut off while he is on it, but neither will he reach the best fruit. The best fruit which human life offers seems to come only within the reach of those who face life boldly . . . with no excessive concern over possible failure and personal danger. The good life is always the gambler’s choice, and comes to those who take sides. Neutrality is seldom a virtue.”

Fear gives birth to paralysis—and sometimes inaction is our greatest enemy. Marriages can slowly die from years of apathy. I’ve seen many relationships wilt from unhealthy patterns that one or both partners refused to address until they became “calcified” and thus were ten times more difficult to break. This is true of addictions, unhealthy communication, and disrespect. The longer a bad situation goes on, the more ingrained it becomes and the more difficult it is to fix.

If you always play it safe in your marriage, you’re going to end up in some ruts. What I believe will give you the most boldness and courage to address issues that need to change is understanding who you already are in Christ.

The Spiritual Platform to Influence Your Spouse

Let’s apply some simple theology here. Who does the Bible say is your refuge — God or your husband? Deuteronomy 33:27 provides the answer: “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.”

In whom does your hope lie? Your husband’s continuing affection? First Peter 1:21 says, “Your faith and hope are in God.”

Where will you find your security? You and your husband’s ability to earn a living and your husband’s commitment to stay married to you? Philippians 4:19 answers, “My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

Where will you find supreme acceptance that will never fade or falter for all the days of your life? “As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride,” replies Isaiah 62:5, “so will your God rejoice over you.”

If you’re trying to find your primary refuge in your husband, if you’ve centered your hope on him, if your security depends on his approval, and if you will do almost anything to gain his acceptance, then you’ve just given to a man what rightfully belongs to God alone.

And that means you’ve turned marriage into idol worship.

When you do that, both you and your husband lose. How will you ever find the courage to confront someone whose acceptance so determines your sense of well-being that you believe you can’t exist without him? How will you ever take the risk to say what needs to be said if you think your future depends on your husband’s favor toward you?

Your future depends on God, not on a fallen man. Your security rests with your caring Creator’s providence, not with your husband’s paycheck. Your acceptance as a person became secure when God adopted you, not when your husband proposed to you. If you truly want to love, motivate, and influence your husband, your first step must be to stay connected with God. Find your refuge, security, comfort, strength, and hope in him.

Armed with this acceptance, security, and empowerment, you become a mighty force for good. You can then claim the power of Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 31:8: “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

Fear and discouragement create stagnancy and persistent disappointment in marriage. If you’ve had your fill of those, why not try God’s path of faith and boldness? When you begin taking initiative instead of simply feeling sorry for yourself, you become an active woman, and active women mirror the active God who made them.

An Active God

The first thing God wants us to know in Genesis chapter 1 is that he is an extraordinarily active God. In Genesis chapter one, thirty-eight active verbs describe what God does: he creates, he speaks, he separates, he calls, he blesses, he gives, and much more—all in just one chapter. Then—and this is key—he tells the woman and the man to do the same: “God blessed them [male and female] and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground’ ” (Genesis 1:28).

God made you, as a woman, to rule in this world, to subdue it, to act according to his image. Sin often drags us back toward sluggishness, despair, and despondency—giving in to life as it is rather than remaking life as it could be with God’s redeeming power unleashed. People give up on their marriages, give up on prayer, give up on their churches, give up on their kids, and eventually even give up on themselves. They say, “It’s no use,” and start to sulk instead of painstakingly remaking their marriage—simply because their first (or even tenth) attempt failed.

Initial romantic intensity is unearned; it seems to fall on us out of nowhere. But a solid, lasting marriage has to be built (and sometimes rebuilt) stone by stone. You married a fallen man and that means the time will come when you need to become an active woman to confront the weaknesses you see in yourself and your husband.

As daunting as this might seem, here’s the hope behind it: the current challenges in your marriage may well be God’s vehicle for you to become the strong woman he created you to be. Maybe you grew up with an overly passive view of being a woman. Maybe you’ve always let people run over you and allowed things to happen rather than to rise up and unleash the power that is yours as a woman not only created in the image of God, but filled with His Holy Spirit.

This challenge, as scary and painful as it might be, could be the doorway to new growth, new maturity and a new woman who more closely resembles the character of Jesus Christ.

For more teaching on this topic, check out Loving Him Well: Practical Advice on Influencing Your Husband: http://www.garythomas.com/books/loving-him-well/

What a Vacation Reveals About Your Marriage

Today’s post from Gary Thomas begins talking about vacations before transitioning to something way more universal … and convicting. There isn’t a marriage that can’t benefit from today’s advice. 

Lisa and I are about to embark on a Win Shape Sailboat Cruise where I’ll be speaking once every evening, and Lisa will be planning the play during the day. We’ll be out of the country, and I may not have the ability to interact with comments until we get back, but the thought of going on a cruise—with all the play during the day—reminds me of one of the unforeseen incompatibilities between Lisa and myself.

One of the advantages of being so broke the first decade of our marriage was that it kept Lisa and me from recognizing our “vacation incompatibility.”  When you can’t afford to go on one, you won’t ever find out that you can’t agree on what you’re supposed to do while you’re on one.

To me, “vacation” meant bringing along a half dozen books, not having a schedule, and spending most of my time (apart from daily runs) lying around and talking with the family.

To Lisa, “ vacation” meant exploring every last vestige of the city or island we happened to be visiting, with events scheduled pre-breakfast, post-breakfast, mid-morning, after lunch, a “special” dinner, and “just one or two things you need to see in the dark” after dinner.

Once we could afford the occasional vacation, it seemed like an impossible burden to overcome—we were living examples of James when he wrote, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it” (James 4:1–2).

The real problem was that both of us were using our own needs as the basis for what we thought the family should do. The subtitle of Sacred Marriage, “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?” made me think with a smile of a similar thought: “What if God also designed vacations to make us holy more than to make us happy?”

I thought I needed rest; Lisa thought she needed excitement, but what if what both of us needed was a bit of humility and a lot more Christlikeness? Maybe the purpose of any particular vacation wasn’t about me getting a certain amount of rest or my wife getting a certain amount of excitement. Maybe God’s agenda was to confront the pride that rules our hearts. God may not have been as concerned with what my wife and I deemed most important; He may well have been far more interested in both of us being shaped into the image of Christ: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus” (Philippians. 2:3–5).

It’s precisely because I so desperately wanted rest that I needed to be challenged not to make my wants the determining factor of how my family would spend its time. And it’s precisely because Lisa was so eager to do so much that the vacation afforded her such a powerful example of crucifying her own wants and learning to put someone else first. Isn’t it possible that God was more concerned about me growing in unselfishness than about me getting some rest? And isn’t also possible that God was more concerned that Lisa learned to think of the needs of someone else, even though she was so excited about seeing some new things?

If you don’t enter into these questions regarding so many marital situations (this goes way beyond vacations)—if, that is, you don’t see your pride as your greatest spiritual enemy, and Christlikeness as a worthy goal of your journey together—you’ll get lost in the give-and-take of conflicting personal desires. That will spawn nothing but resentment, frustration, and alienation.

When two people desire to grow spiritually, conflict acts like an X-ray. It shows the “doctor” where the problem lies, what needs to be cut, or what medicine needs to be applied. When two people just want to be happy, conflict becomes a battle—somebody has to win and somebody has to lose. That kills personal growth and it eventually erodes intimacy in the marriage.

It’s not until we crucify our pride and take on the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus that we can be freed to vacation with the ultimate purpose: enjoying ourselves immensely, but also allowing God to use a seemingly no-win situation in order to help two people both become more mature. In this sense, with neither of us getting exactly what we wanted, both of us won. God used a common event in life to accomplish His eternal purposes.

Every day we wake up in our marriages with a particular agenda: “Will I get what I want today?” This agenda may be deeply buried in our unconscious, but it drives us. When it’s frustrated, it can unleash a torrent of anger, bitterness, and resentment. How much better to choose to apply God’s agenda: “What does God want me to get out of my marriage today? Rest or service? Affirmation or greater humility? Fun or the chance to crucify my selfishness?”

Sometimes, the answers might well be rest, affirmation, and fun. But we should always be open to asking the question, “What does God think I need most this week?” and humbly submit to that.

But please don’t worry about us this week. We’ve learned how to navigate this and I am relatively confident we’re going to have a great time on this work/vacation. Fun and enjoyment are great blessings in marriage, and not every situation marriage calls us into needs to be thought of as a test. Sometimes we really can (and should) just have fun. But for both Lisa and I to get to the place where we can experience full enjoyment now, we had to first go through the above spiritual cleansing.

I share this just before we leave in case it might be relevant for one or two of you as well…

Understanding the Mind of the Man you Married

Did you know men and women think differently? I KNOW. Surprising. Turns out there’s a perfectly logical, scientific explanation, and today’s post from Gary Thomas explains what that means for your marriage. Men: this is a great article to share with your wife. Women: if your husband is a bit relationally tone deaf (or just plain deaf), this will help you understand why, and why that’s actually a BENEFIT to your marriage. Enjoy!

Many marital problems arise not because of an issue between a specific couple— say, Jack and Jill or Larry and Sherry— but because of a breakdown in understanding between a male and a female. In the next three posts, I hope to offer wives some insight into the intricacies of the male mind so you’ll learn how to better communicate and live with your husband. But there will be plenty of helpful information for husbands to understand themselves, so men, please stick around!

The last several decades of neuroscience have demonstrated that well before a baby comes into this world, while it remains safely tucked inside the mother’s womb, the brain of a male baby gets bombarded with testosterone, while a female baby receives greater quantities of female hormones. Between the third and sixth month of that unborn baby’s life, hormones begin to shape the tiny brain, influencing how that individual will interact with the world. Yes, males receive some female hormones, and females receive some testosterone, but the quantities of these hormones (males have up to twenty times more testosterone than females; females tend to have much more oxytocin than males) will stamp that child’s brain by the sixth month of pregnancy—three months before any mother or father has a chance to “socialize” it.

Admittedly, there exist what neuroscientists call “bridge brain” males and “bridge brain” females. Our tendency toward masculine or feminine brains occurs on a continuum, resulting in various degrees of stamping. But even here, a “bridge brain” male will have more testosterone than a “bridge brain” female.

The male brain therefore functions much differently than the female brain. Dr. Louann Brizendine, who studied at Yale and Harvard and is now on the faculty of UCSF Medical Center, states, “The vast new body of brain science together with the work I’ve done with my male patients has convinced me that through every phase of life, the unique brain structures and hormones of boys and men create a male reality that is fundamentally different from the female one and all too frequently oversimplified and misunderstood.”

While our brains are more “plastic” (that is, moldable) than we used to think and therefore susceptible to socialization, according to Dr. Brizendine, “male and female brains are different from the moment of conception.” Since brains develop by degrees, stereotyping can lead us astray, but certain things tend to be true. For example, male brains usually have less serotonin than female brains. Since serotonin calms people down, men are more likely to act explosively and compulsively. Surprised? Probably not.  (Of course, as I’ve said repeatedly on this blog, this doesn’t excuse or diminish abusive behavior by a husband. I’ve addressed this here: “Taking Non-Physical Marital Abuse More Seriously http://www.garythomas.com/marital-abuse/, here: “God Hates Domestic Violence” http://www.garythomas.com/god-hates-domestic-violence/ and here: “Enough is Enough” http://www.garythomas.com/enough-enough/, among other places.)

Here’s another example. Men also have less oxytocin in their brains. Oxytocin has been called the “cuddle chemical” as well as the primary generator of the “tend- and- befriend” instinct. In general, the more oxytocin someone has, the less aggressive he or she is likely to be. On the positive side, more oxytocin usually means more empathy, making the person more likely to notice how you’re feeling and more likely to inquire about it.

Why is your husband less likely to tune in to your emotional pain and verbalize his concern than, say, your sister or your best friend? His brain doesn’t work the same way a female brain does; it just doesn’t occur to him to connect his affection with verbal inquiry. The “mirror- neuron system” of your husband’s brain, which Dr. Brizendine calls the “ ‘I feel what you feel’ emotional empathy system”— the system that helps a person get “in sync with others’ emotions by reading facial expressions and interpreting tone of voice and other emotional cues”— “is larger and more active in the female brain.”

Remember, this is true not only of your husband in particular; it’s true of men in general. Be careful that you don’t fault or resent your husband for being a man!

If you want to motivate your husband and communicate with him, as well as enjoy a fulfilling marriage with him and raise healthy kids with him, stop expecting him to act or think like a woman. He can’t do that. Nor should he.  I’m not saying empathy doesn’t matter. As I write in Cherish, “Emotional abuse is also the withholding of love, encouragement, and support. It can be a sin of deprivation every bit as much as a sin of commission.” But as you’ll see in the next post, the way a man expresses empathy can be different than the way a woman often expresses it.

Rid yourself of every tactic and skill you use in talking to your sisters, best friends, and mother, and realize that a man’s mind functions very differently. Some similarities exist, of course, so a few things will interrelate. But if you expect him to talk to you like your lifelong best friend does or your sister does or your mother does, and evaluate him on that basis, you’re being unfair. And you’re going to be disappointed.

This post is all about understanding that your husband is biologically wired to relate to you differently than you relate to him or your female friends. Influence begins with understanding, and in the next two posts, we’ll seek to delve into how you can make this work in your marriage’s favor.

If you want that information sooner, this post is adapted from my most recent book Loving Him Well: Practical Advice on Influencing Your Husband. Loving Him Well is a substantial rewrite of Sacred Influence, with about fifty percent of it being completely new. I’ve worked with many more couples over the last decade-plus that Sacred Influence has been out. For instance, there’s an entire chapter helping the church deal more appropriately with abusive marriages (though the book isn’t written for women in abusive marriages). Due to my own ignorance and lack of experience, I wasn’t sensitive enough to that issue when Sacred Influence first came out. And whereas Sacred Influence had a few paragraphs about wives dealing with porn-watching husbands, there’s now an entire chapter (in fact, now the longest chapter in the book) devoted to that subject. High speed Internet access has changed everything in this regard over the past decade and a couple paragraphs will no longer suffice.

I didn’t recommend any one buy revised editions of Sacred Marriage, Sacred Parenting or Sacred Pathways if they already had the originals, as these were rather light glosses, mostly tightening things up, clarifying a bit, and updating cultural references. But Loving Him Well is more than a rewrite—it’s a substantially different book (with about half the content being the same as its predecessor, however).

You can check it out here:

 http://www.garythomas.com/books/loving-him-well/

50 Shades of Silly: Why ‘Grey’ Sex Isn’t All That Great

I (Josh) tend to be a contrarian, which means when marriage blogs got on an anti-50 Shades of Grey kick I kinda rolled my eyes and thought “we’ll never run something like that at Thriving Marriages.” And yet here we are with today’s anti-50 Shades post from Gary Thomas, because 1) being a contrarian isn’t a super noble attribute in a human and 2) today’s post is really good. The core problem with the 50 Shades series isn’t the kink, but a fundamentally misguided understanding of what healthy, liberated pleasure actually is. Hope you enjoy, and are maybe even inspired to experience 50 vibrant shades of healthy, God-centric sex with your spouse tonight. (Share this with them: you never know!)

I’m not into creating lists of “do’s” and “don’ts” that aren’t in Scripture. If anything, the Bible is relatively silent about such lists within marriage. It’s not my intent to disparage any appropriate act that a husband and wife enjoy in their private moments.

Yet every once in a while, popular culture comes up with yet another—let’s be honest—silly expression of sexuality that is supposed to make the rest of us feel like perhaps we’re missing out on something. So, with a little bit of fun and just a little bit of insight, let’s rethink what is being so celebrated this week through a poorly written trilogy and a major Hollywood release.

1. A man or woman who gets pleasure by giving you pain isn’t really someone you want to fall asleep next to, is it?

2. The way our brains operate, if you need pain to get sexually excited, that level of pain becomes normative and routine, so you have to increase the level of pain to get the same excitement. In a long-term, lifelong marital sexual relationship, that’s a problem.

3. When sex recreates past abuse instead of providing a healing alternative, it cements the soul in dysfunction rather than releasing the soul into healthy intimacy.

4. If your sex life requires a secret “back” room and you have kids, you better not be raising your children in a studio apartment.

5. When sexual relations require a hardware store’s worth of product, it’s evidence that the couple hasn’t learned how to use what they already have: their hands, their hair, their lips, their fingertips.

6. A woman who has been pleased and sexually served by her husband for many years doesn’t need handcuffs to surrender. Memories of past pleasure will hold her to that bed with a much greater force.

7. If a couple ignores the spiritual side of sex, their satisfaction in the bedroom is living on borrowed time.

8. Just about every wife wants to occasionally be “taken”—but by a man who has her pleasure in the front of his mind, not her pain.

9. The husband in the Song of Songs compares his wife to a mare harnessed to the Pharaoh’s chariot (1:9), but he doesn’t actually try to harness his wife to the Pharaoh’s chariot.

10. It’s simply foolish to feel intimidated by or envious of the sexual relationship of a couple that requires a billionaire’s income and schedule to sexually excite each other.

11. Far more exciting than seeing a woman in a blindfold is when a man creatively pleasing his wife watches her eyes open wide in surprised ecstasy and then shut tight to enjoy the moment.

12. Daily kindness will get a woman in the mood far more certainly than sanitized metal.

13. A woman finds her “liberation” by being completely dominated by a man? Is this 2015 or 1815?

14. When a woman is psychologically healthy, knowing that her husband won’t hurt her if she surrenders will pleasure her far more than the thought that he might.

15. A spiritual connection—knowing each partner is supported in prayer, and that both husband and wife bow their knees to God before they touch each other, gives spouses the spiritual freedom to surrender their souls, not just their bodies.

16. For long-term sexual satisfaction, a woman is pleased far more by knowing any “yes” will lead to her being carried away by her husband’s touches, not used by his demands.

17. The “scandal” of pure marital sexuality is that the “tools of the trade” are in full view for all to see—nothing has to be hidden because everything is already celebrated in the biblical Song of Songs.

18. Soul-satisfying sex without commitment is as real as chocolate cake without calories.

19. An abused man who expresses his hurt with violent sexual acts against a woman is “healed” by his sexual partner being willing and submissive? The last time that happened in real life was never.

20. True surrender comes when a wife knows that she can slide into her husband’s arms with the full confidence that he’ll soon make her momentarily forget everything bad going on in her life and feel everything good, not vice versa.

21. Love isn’t expressed by accepting intentional pain; it’s built by giving and receiving unselfish pleasure.

22. While an occasional blindfold might be enticing, far more satisfying to a healthy wife is to see in her husband’s eyes how much he desires and adores her.

23. A sexually creative wife doesn’t need a whip when she knows how to use her hair. On second thought, a sexually creative wife doesn’t need a whip, period.

24. Healthy men and women want to be desired for who they are, not for the toys they can afford.

25. Watching or reading about an unmarried couple having aberrant sex doesn’t lead to a more exciting sex life; it leads to irrational dissatisfaction with normal marital sex.

26. Is this really how you want to define a fulfilling sexual encounter with your mate? “I survived. That wasn’t so bad. I’m more stoic than I thought.” (Yes, that’s a direct quote)

27. When sex is at its best, the husband wants his wife and the wife wants her husband even more than they want pleasure, and infinitely more than they want pain.

28. It takes zero creativity to surprise a virgin; it takes an intentional, creative and thoughtful husband to surprise a wife.

29. The best mark of fulfilling sex isn’t a bruise or a scratch—it’s that special glance between husband and wife two hours later.

30. Before husbands wonder if there’s something “wrong” with their wives who are hesitant about this kind of sex, they would do well to ask themselves if there’s something a little dark about wanting to do these kinds of things to a wife.

31. It takes far more bravery to commit yourself to one partner for life than it does to commit yourself to a new sexual encounter.

32. If you think your “inner goddess” is found through sexual pain, you have a very tiny deity indeed.

33. What’s nobler? A married couple thinking up new ways to give pleasure or a dating couple thinking up new ways to give pain?

34. A strong man isn’t looking for a young woman to dominate; he’s looking for a woman who inspires him, a partner to share life with, and a fellow parent with whom he can build a family.

35. As my friend Deb Fileta states, why walk the fine line between pleasure and pain when as a married couple you can give yourselves up entirely to pleasure?

36. If a guy is “fifty shades of [messed] up,” he’ll bring you far more misery than pleasure as soon as you step out of the bedroom.

37. Let’s be honest. If your lover leads you into a place that looks like the “Spanish Inquisition,” you’re in a horror movie, not a romance.

38. A guy who has to control you in the bedroom won’t stop trying to control you in the living room… Or the kitchen, or the car, or anywhere else, for that matter.

39. The best marital sex doesn’t require one man “training” a woman; it requires sharing and learning and growing together.

40. A woman who is truly cherished doesn’t need the comfort of a helicopter on standby to take her away at a moment’s notice; she rests in the comfort of knowing there’s no there other place she’d rather be than in her husband’s bed.

41. A wife who has been married for twenty years and who gives her husband an anniversary “present” he’ll never forget has a far more inspiring book to write than a virgin who gave herself away to become a controlling boyfriend’s semi-violent fantasy.

42. You have to use rough leather on the back only when you haven’t discovered the exciting power of kind words softly delivered to the ears.

43. Explicit or violent sex may make some people overlook truly deplorable writing long enough to read three books, but it won’t allow most women to overlook a truly deplorable relationship or man for more than three years.

44. Sex needn’t always be about conception, but when it’s never looked at that way, that’s when the couple is truly missing out on something pleasurable, powerful, wonderful and fulfilling, all at the same time.

45. Sex for a few months with someone you barely know is about as much an accomplishment as rolling a ball downhill; sex for a few decades with someone you know inside out and have loved for twenty years is poetry put to music.

46. The most effective tools of lifelong marital intimacy and interest between two sinful people are grace, humility and kindness.

47. When a lover tells you there’s a “fine line between pleasure and pain,” he’s making excuses; he’s not planning to fulfill his promises.

48. Proverbs 5:19 prays that a man might be ever captivated by his wife’s love, not enraptured by her pain.

49. Would a man who truly cherishes a woman’s body ever want to leave a mark on it?

50. When the husband in Song of Songs declares that his bride’s “lips drop sweetness as the honeycomb,” (4:11) he found that out from kissing themnot from biting them.

Don’t Be the Bubble-Buster in Your Marriage

Today’s post comes from new Friend of the Newsletter ™ Gary Thomas. Gary is a well-known author and speaker about marriage and when you read his thoughts today you’ll see why. You can buy Cherish – his new book referenced in this post – here.

Robert has an admittedly sordid history with pornography. He has been in recovery for years, has set up appropriate accountability and has gone out of his way to rebuild his marriage.

He has (in his words) “devoured” my book Cherish and has sought to apply every principle in every chapter. He knows he can never remove the hurt he has caused his wife in the past. He knows she will always feel a sense of betrayal, but he is working diligently to cherish her in the present in order to give her hope for the future. He has kept a “cherishing journal.” He makes the bed every day, praying that God would bring joy back into their intimacy. He keeps fresh flowers in the bedroom. And he has learned to make sex all about his wife’s pleasure. She is discovering, to her great delight, that it’s possible for a thoughtful middle-aged husband to help his wife experience two or more “standing ovations” during a single performance.

His efforts outside the bedroom are just as intense. On vacation, he plans for her enjoyment and fun. He tries to make the most of every birthday and anniversary (as well as Valentine’s Day).

On a recent birthday, he researched and purchased the perfect birthday present for her and couldn’t wait to give it to her (though he waited to let her sleep in). She was delighted when she opened it. He then had two options for breakfast—her favorite restaurant or her favorite meal at home. She opted for the restaurant.

Robert took great pains to get ready. His wife had scolded him for always wearing a “Jerry Seinfeld” outfit of jeans and running shoes, so he picked out an outfit that he thought would perhaps even impress her.

“Gary,” he told me, “I came out of the bedroom all dressed up, feeling like a boy who is looking at his mom before he goes to school, hoping she’d be impressed that I have listened and changed, and the only thing she said was, ‘Your shirt is wrinkled.’”

Robert didn’t respond the way he wishes he would have or should have. But this was not the first such “bubble busting” occurrence. He knows he has messed up. But he also knows he has changed and that there has been great improvement in virtually every aspect of their marriage. He doesn’t want his wife to pretend the past never happened, but he does want her to acknowledge that the present is very different.

“Our family knows her as a ‘bubble buster,’” Robert explained. “The family joke is that when one of her grandchildren is old enough to draw her a picture, she’s likely to say, ‘The leaves are the wrong color.’”

Forgiveness is difficult. It takes time to fight past resentment and contempt for a spouse’s past failings. But if you have decided to work through whatever the issue was, then part of working through it is learning to “reboot” your brain and acknowledge the progress your spouse has madeSometimes, we fear that acknowledging a new present might diminish the hurtful past. That’s not true. That’s a lie. But you punish yourself and your spouse if you keep acting like nothing has changed.

Robert remains committed to cherishing his spouse. I admitted to him that one of the potential weaknesses of Cherish is that marriage is much sweeter when both spouses embrace the message. Lisa and I are in the midst of our best marital years by far because we are bothcommitted to the idea and practice of cherishing each other. Doing so makes marriage very sweet, indeed.

“Unilateral” cherishing still makes marriage better, but it’s not the same and it won’t produce the same results. It can help, but the marriage will still have its weaknesses.

If your spouse is trying to grow, don’t hold her or him back by nailing them to the past.Acknowledge the growth. Don’t compare them to where you wish they would be, especially if your wish is a perfect spouse. Compare them to what they were, be thankful for the growth and encourage them.

My fear is that Robert may be tempted to give up. He has had many doors slammed in his face. My prayer for him and my counsel for him is to persevere, and to find creative ways to share with his spouse how this “bubble busting” is holding both of them back.

I wish his spouse would read Cherish. She’s of the mindset, however, that because Robert is the one who “messed up,” he’s the one who needs to experience all of the “fixing.” She’s missing out on some sweeter seasons of marriage, perhaps not realizing how far a husband will go to preserve a cherishing marriage once he tastes it.

Let’s pause for a moment and ask ourselves, do we acknowledge our spouse’s growth? Are we comparing them with how much better they are now than they used to be, or are we downgrading them because they’re still not where we think they should be? Do we think discouragement fosters more change than encouragement? Wouldn’t you rather go out on a date with an enthusiastic and earnest husband who has a wrinkled shirt than blow up a date by essentially saying, “I know you tried really hard, but you still don’t quite measure up?”

Let’s not be bubble busters. Let’s learn to cherish each other as we are and as we grow into the people we yet want to be. After all, doing so is ultimately for our own good.

[As always with posts of this kind, I want to emphasize that I am not calling wives in abusive and violent marriages “bubble busters.” There are some marriages from which women need to be saved, and cherishing isn’t an appropriate strategy to confront violence.]

If you’re a wife reading this who recognizes a little bit of herself in Robert’s wife, I urge you to consider getting a copy of my newest book Loving Him Well: Practical Advice for Wives to Influence Their Husbands. It’s a substantial re-write of Sacred Influence.