Assistance in marriage
There can be many kinds of problems in a husband and wife’s marriage and relationship. This writing presents solutions to improve the relationship
When a man or a woman finds a spouse, they may marry thinking that they will live ”happily ever after”. They may think that nothing can disturb their happiness and that their life together will be like sunshine every day without any clouds. They may also doubt whether there will be any serious problems in their relationship because everything has gone so well so far.
However, the fact is that we live in an imperfect and fallen world in which nothing is as it was when Adam and Eve lived together in Paradise. In practice, this imperfection means that when people get together, they also bring into the marriage their own difficult personalities and especially their selfishness, which is a result of the Fall of Man and is certainly the biggest reason for homes breaking up these days. If we do not want to be freed from this selfishness, it can greatly harm the relationship.
Below we are going to consider this topic in several ways, especially in the light of the Bible. We are going to concentrate on those mistakes we make because either we do not see them, nobody has ever told us about them, or we do not understand them in the light of the Bible. If any of these topics apply to your own life, you can be freed from them; especially if you ask for God’s help.
- (Gen 2:24) Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall join to his wife: and they shall be one flesh.
When trying to describe the relationship between man and wife and marriage, one of the best verses is Gen 2:24 which is first mentioned in the account of the Creation, and appears also in the teachings of Jesus (Matt 19:4,5) and Paul (Eph 5:31).
What is noteworthy with this verse is that it shows us three principles: leaving, uniting, and becoming one flesh, all of which still apply today. These verses actually contain all of the important information about marriage – other teachings of the Bible just confirm them and bring additional light to these principles, but nothing really new or different.
It is noteworthy that most problems in marriages result from not obeying these principles. We may have our priorities wrong, meaning that the not-so-important issues have come before marriage. An issue that may especially hamper a relationship is the fact that one of the spouses has not really separated him/herself from his or her parents and other important relationships.
The next quote describes such a situation. It describes a very common situation in which a mother-in-law continually interferes in a marriage because she feels that maybe the young bride cannot take care of her son and does not know how to take care of the house. This problem – called the “mother-in-law trouble” – is probably the best illustration that earlier bonds were not broken in a healthy way.
The married couple sat silently for several minutes. Finally, the young wife said, "I have endured this for four years, and now I have had enough! I am sick and tired of this! In addition to my husband and myself, his mother is the third wheel. And if you can’t help us, our marriage is finished!”
Before I had time to say anything, she drew breath and continued by listing reasons why she felt as she did. ”Tony’s mother calls him every day. Not a single day goes by that she doesn’t call! If I answer the phone, she only asks for Tony and waits without saying anything to me. I can't get her speak to me. Whenever she visits us, she starts commenting on things that she thinks are wrong. 'Why can't the children do this or that?' She thinks that everything is my fault. I don't raise my children in the right way. I don't treat Tony like a good wife should treat her husband. She thinks that everything I do is wrong. And because I am a foreigner, she speaks about me as 'a foreign daughter-in-law’. And my husband lets all of this continue and continue. I can't get any support from him. What a husband I have!” As she said this, she clasped her hands and glared at her husband. (…)
When we discussed this for the first time together, both Tony and Joyce explained that their parents caused them confused feelings. When they left my office, I thought about two other married couples with whom I had discussed on the same day and who also had problems with their parents. It felt like I was faced with an epidemic. (1)
GIVING UP ONE'S PARENTS. Breaking the bond with one's parents, which Gen 2:24 advises, is one of the primary preconditions for a marriage to succeed. If the husband or the wife has not broken the bond with his or her parents and any other binding human relationships in a healthy way, the new marriage is usually not very successful.
What then does giving up one's parents mean in practice? It never means denying one's parents or leaving them in trouble (see1 Tim 5:8), or abandoning them. Neither does it mean that we should stop respecting our parents because this command is still valid.
Instead, what it means is that we should keep our family separate from our marriage, so that it does not disturb the relationship. When we have been united with our spouse, our marriage is the most important human relationship on Earth; other human relationships come after that. If we consider our relationship with our parents to be more important than our marriage, it shows that we have not yet broken the child-parent bond, and it might greatly disturb formation of a close relationship with our spouse. It can cause friction between the spouses.
Below is a list of some expressions of dependence or even addictions that can be found in our life if we have not broken the child-parent bond as we should. If you notice these dependencies in your own life, it is good to ask yourself whether they are hurting your marriage:
Time. Do you talk with your mother on the phone for hours every day or go shopping with her too often? If you do this weekly or generally spend plenty of time with your parents, you may do it at the expense of your own spouse and marriage. Moderation in everything is a good policy in this area.
Living together. Do you live with parents, under the same roof with them? Sometimes this can work and sometimes you may have to do so, but usually when two generations live together it results in problems. Most common among these problems are the following:
- The parents interfere. It is common that the mother-in-law interferes in the housekeeping of the daughter-in-law and tries to give advice about how it should be done.
- A young person who has always lived at home can feel himself torn in two because he feels a sense of duty and desire to please both the parents and the spouse. The mother may also feel sad when her son comes home and first goes to his wife and not to her.
- If a young person who has always lived at home spends a lot of time with his parents, the spouse can easily feel pushed aside and like an outsider.
- Disputes and quarrels can create difficult situations for a couple. If a young person who has always lived at home goes to get support from his parents in these quarrels or tells them about the spouse’s faults, it can drive a wedge between the young couple. They should learn to work out their problems together and not tell the parents or other people about their problems.
Economic dependency. Are you economically dependent on your parents? Sometimes this cannot be avoided and parents may willingly help, as often found when one's studies are still unfinished and there is no other source of income. This becomes a problem only if the economic support has conditions to it, conditions by which the parents can control the life of the young couple.
ANOTHER SIDE TO GIVING UP. The above-mentioned Biblical command to give up one's parents is directed primarily at the younger generation, especially to the man, who should keep his family (parents) apart from his marriage.
However, there is also another side to giving up: the parents’ role. Just like the young couple must give up their parents, the parents must also allow their children to leave. Parents must allow their children to leave without clinging to them, interfering in their lives, or even giving advice if it is not specifically asked for. It is true, however, that the parents’ desire to give advice often comes from wanting to help and feel needed. Because of this, the young couple should not immediately refuse advice. Parents should allow their children to live in peace, and be friendly but not intrusive.
If parents cling too tightly to their children, it can result in their children having a great emotional burden on their shoulders and feeling conflicted, especially when they try to leave home and establish their own family. These kinds of damaging dependencies are found especially in single-parent families and families in which the parents’ marriage is unhappy, when the parent turns to his or her child and makes him a substitute for the lost intimate and reliable companion. This may result in the child experiencing difficulty in leaving the parent because the wrong kind of closeness has formed over the years.
If you are a parent in this situation, it is good to make sure that you do not tie your children to yourself in the wrong way; instead, help them leave you. Of course, you can listen to and support your children, but give them the ability to leave freely and peacefully when it is time.
REMEMBER THE ORDER OF IMPORTANCE IN YOUR LIFE! We previously discussed how breaking the child-parent bond is necessary and a basic precondition of marriage. If this does not happen, the marital relationship cannot begin on a healthy foundation: there can be problems from the very beginning.
Not only is it necessary to break that parental bond; it is important to weaken bonds with people who are not blood relationships. Many problems in marriage come up because the wife or husband is closer to others than they are to their spouse; they favor people outside their marriage. The marriage partners are not closest to each other, having put others in a place of more importance in their life. This weakens their relationship. Or they have perhaps not understood that the spouse should be the most important person on Earth, before other less important things.
Below, we are going to study some wrong models and priorities that may appear in our lives. If you notice these wrong behaviors in your life, there is reason for you to quickly put them in the right order.
Being busy and on the move. If you are a busy man or a woman and spend all of your time creating a career, doing hobbies or are busy doing other things instead of taking good care of your spouse and your relationship, you do not have your priorities straight. Whenever you have other matters above the most important ones and have not maintained your relationship with your loved one, you have made a wrong choice.
The next example provided by Rob Parson indicates how common this is. He refers to men, because it is usually them who neglect their spouses like this, even though women may also be guilty of the same nowadays. Do you have a similar situation in your life?
I am sorry if this feels too emotional, but I am unable to write about this man without feeling, for I have met him so often in the letters I have received and I have also made so many of the same faults myself.
I would say that about half of the letters we receive talk about how the spouse is too busy to listen or speak. A usual letter would be like this:
My husband is a faithful husband and father, but he is always busy. He has a full-time job and in addition to that, he is a member of many committees and acts actively in the local congregation. I and the children do not see him very much. I am getting bitter, but I feel that I cannot tell anyone how I feel.
I do not want my husband to think that I do not support him. Other wives seem to manage this kind of a situation. Am I at fault? At home, my husband does not speak much...(2)
Meetings. Religious activities may completely rob us of time we ought to be spending with our spouse. Even though it is certainly right to work hard for the kingdom of God, it is possible that becoming too active may cause us to neglect our family. We leave them behind or shove them into the background in favour of activities at our church such as choir practice.
Therefore, reserve time during which you can give your undivided attention to your family. Do not neglect them because of any spiritual or earthly matter. The order of importance should be that the relationship with your spouse comes immediately after God; then come your children, and after them, going to meetings. The following list describes the priorities:
1. Your own relationship with God
2. Your spouse
4. Congregation, spiritual and earthly work
5. Other issues
Where does this order come from? Why should we have to place our spouse and children in a more important position than spiritual work?
The answer is simple. Our own family is always our most important congregation and mission (see 1 Tim 3:2-5,12, 5:8, Tit 1:5-9). We are responsible for them and their welfare, and if we take too many other responsibilities, we may disturb this order. Another reason is that if our spouse is satisfied and everything is well in the family, also our spiritual work will lie on a better basis.
Children. One way to establish wrong priorities is to place one’s children before one’s spouse and make them the priority. This can happen when a child is born and the new mother becomes more attached to the baby than her husband. The arrival of babies can be a critical time in a relationship – husbands can easily be made to feel like outsiders. It is also possible for fathers to place their ‘little darlings’ in a place of greater importance than their wives. That is why it is good to understand that the most important relationship in the family is not the relationship between the parent and the child, but between the man and the wife. If we put children ahead of our spouse, it will always disturb family life and the children may also suffer. If the relationship between parents is harmonious and filled with love, the children will also feel safe and happy. First invest time in your relationship with your spouse, and then everything else will improve.
In a marriage, it is very common to find that we feel disappointed with one another because the other person fails to meet all of our expectations and may also act in a ‘wrong’ way.
Sometimes, this disappointment can grow into such deep bitterness that all positive feelings towards one another seem to have died and we cannot find anything good to say about the spouse. Communicating with our partner can be impossible or so bad that our relationship cannot improve. We are going to look at some of the ways to untie these double knots. It all starts with our being willing to change ourselves.
CONFESS YOUR SINS! When problems appear in a marriage, it is common to find that that we feel disappointed with our spouse. Once rooted, bitterness can grow and poison our minds. This is addressed in the Letter to the Hebrews, Chapter 12, verse 15. Bitterness arises when we:
- Judge and disapprove of our spouse’s habits and do not accept him/her as he/she is.
- Are irritated by the spouse’s faults.
- Try to prove who is right and wrong.
- Dwell on the same negative issues.
- Demand payment for our injuries, as did the unmerciful servant described in Matthew 18, whose attitude was, “Pay back what you owe me!”
- Refuse to love or respect our spouse unless he/she changes.
If you express this kind of a disapproving attitude towards your spouse, you are as guilty before God as your spouse who has neglected you. Whenever we judge our spouse (or anyone else), we act in the same way as the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18. The servant was called wicked because he did not want to forgive. His fault was actually not a lack of love but the fact that he did not want to show mercy to his fellow servant and accept him with his faults. Forgiveness is always a decision, not an emotion. Feelings follow later:
- (Matt 18:28-35) But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellow servants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that you owe.
29 And his fellow servant fell down at his feet, and sought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.
30 And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.
31 So when his fellow servants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told to their lord all that was done.
32 Then his lord, after that he had called him, said to him, O you wicked servant, I forgave you all that debt, because you desired me:
33 Should not you also have had compassion on your fellow servant, even as I had pity on you?
34 And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due to him.
35 So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also to you, if you from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.
The best way to be freed from this kind of accusing and disapproving attitude towards others is to confess our sins to God and ask Him to free us from this wrong attitude. 1 John 1:9 teaches: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
However, the problem often is that we do not notice our wrong attitude; it can be hidden from us. We may see the mote in our brother’s eye but pay no attention to the beam in our own eye (Matt 7:3). The attitude described in the next quote is very common:
“Suddenly, my heart was filled with gratitude towards my husband,” she said. ”The strange part was that all the time I had thought that the fault was in my husband. I was angry because he never admitted being sorry about anything. Not until now do I understand that I had it all wrong. I myself was selfish and demanding and needed forgiveness.” (3)
CHOOSE TO BE GRATEFUL! A basic problem that may appear in many relationships, especially in marriage, is that we do not accept people as they are. We want them to be different. It is common that the husband and the wife may be provoked by each other’s characteristics and weaknesses to such an extent that they start to accuse and judge each other about not fulfilling their expectations. Their verbal and unexpressed demand of the other is: "You must change; otherwise, I cannot accept you!”
If this seems familiar, it is good to understand that it is not your job to try and change your spouse; you should accept him/her as he/she is and learn to get along. Just as we are advised to love even our enemies (Matt ), so should we love our spouse with whom we might be angry or who fails to meet our expectations.
What this then means in practice is that we should not set any conditions on our relationship or try to change our spouse so they better deserve our respect. We should respect and admire him/her now, as he/she is. Everybody wants to be accepted without condition. We must actually be grateful for our spouse instead of constantly complaining about his/her faults.
Begin to bless your spouse and thank God for those habits of theirs that may irritate you at the moment. If you get irritated because your spouse has the habit of always being late, or is reckless with money, or is an alcoholic, or untidy, or any such thing, start to thank God for these behaviors instead of constantly grumbling about them and being angry. In the beginning, this can be difficult for all of us but the good news is that if we are grateful to God for everything, we cannot be bitter towards other people at the same time:
- (1 Cor 10:10) Neither murmur you, as some of them also murmured...
- (Rom 12:14) Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not.
- (1 Thess 5:18) In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
- (Eph 5:20) Giving thanks always for all things to God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ;
- (Ps 118:24) This is the day which the LORD has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.
- (Col 2:6-7) As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk you in him:
7 Rooted and built up in him, and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving.
HOW DO WE MAKE OURSELVES UNHAPPY? One way to make ourselves unhappy is to depend on other people for that happiness. The fact is that we often base our happiness on how other people treat us. We tell people that our bad mood is the result of treatment we have received from our spouse. We fail to understand that it’s what we’re saying to ourselves that is causing these emotional reactions. In fact, we choose to feel dissatisfied and choose to complain about our spouse’s faults, even though we could choose to feel satisfied.
What might help us solve this problem?
The answer is a very simple piece of advice, one we do not always want to obey: We must take care of our own lives and stop expecting from the other person something they cannot provide. If our eager expectations have not been realized, what does it benefit us to grieve and brood over things that have not changed up until now? It is so easy to look around and see the difference between how things should be and how they really are, but if we concentrate on it too much, it will only make us unhappy.
The best you can do is to show your spouse your approval and appreciation – which is within your ability to do – and stop expecting them to fill your needs and serve your expectations. You can live a good and satisfying life, even if your spouse does not meet any of your expectations. It is mainly our own demanding attitude and the fact that we base our happiness on other people that makes us unhappy.
Seek the plan God has established for your life and try to renew your relationship with God instead of placing expectations on your spouse. If you get your relationship with God onto a new level, it might lighten part of your burden, or at least give you something else to think about than your spouse’s neglect:
I looked into the eyes of that young wife and said, "What a pity that your whole happiness depends on what your husband does. If he is a good husband, he will treat you the way you want and spend his time with you. But if he rejects your company, you have nothing left. Your whole world depends on your husband. That's why you feel so empty.” She nodded in consent and bowed her head. I continued, "You are not a whole person. You are only a half. You are unable to live if your happiness depends on someone else. The right kind of women's liberation movement means to find your own happiness with the help of God. You must have courage to be yourself and stop being dependent on your husband or any other person. Only then can you be happy.”
She knew that I was right – I had hit the nail on the head. She promised to change her way of thinking and to live her own life in full. When they left me, I was convinced that the young wife had decided to set herself free from a mental bind to her husband and to find her own source of happiness with the help of a renewed relationship with God. (4)
JEALOUSY. One thing that can disturb a marriage is jealousy, which often drives us to find reasons outside of ourselves. In this situation, we may have burdensome thoughts of the spouse’s unfaithfulness, and a fear that he or she will not love us anymore.
Again, forgiveness leads to a new kind of freedom. If you release your jealousy and agree to forgive your spouse and give up all the accusations – whether or not he/she was guilty – you can be freed yourself. You must above all give your spouse full freedom and end making all your demands. Let your spouse be as he/she is. Do not pose any demands about how he/she must love you or what he/she can or cannot do. If you do this, you can experience peace in your own heart:
- (Luke 6:36 37) Be you therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.
37 Judge not, and you shall not be judged: condemn not, and you shall not be condemned: forgive, and you shall be forgiven:
The second thing in jealousy is that the roots are often in the past. They can come from experiences of rejection in the past such as from the unexpected end of a relationship, or the divorce of one’s parents – especially if the parent of the opposite sex is the one who left the marriage. These and many other negative experiences can lead us into not really liking ourselves, and that is why we have doubts about our spouse’s love and fear that he/she is unfaithful. The next quote describes this kind of a situation:
In a party, I sat opposite a successful Christian businessman and his beautiful wife. I was very surprised when the melancholic wife asked me, "Could you tell me why I am so jealous of my husband, even though I don’t have any reason.” The husband had, according to the wife, dismissed three secretaries because of his wife’s jealousy and finally hired the most common looking woman he had found, but not even this had solved the wife’s problem. ”The problem is not your husband, but you not liking yourself.” Crying, the woman admitted that it was very difficult for her to accept herself. Later, the husband told me about their love life, "When my wife’s unfounded suspicions make her jealous, I can't touch her. But when she regrets her accusations, she could eat me. I never know which is waiting for me, a banquet or a fast.” (5)
ACT RIGHT! When it is a question of everyday life in marriage, it is common that we act in ways that do not build the relationship and lead to a dead-end. It is seen in how one talks with their spouse and in what important things are left unsaid. It can also be seen in our behavior, in whether we are friendly and polite or whether we are angry.
Next, we are going to look at some damaging behavior and how we can correct it. If you notice these behaviors in your own life you can start to correct them today.
Avoid you-sentences and accusations!
- (Jam 1:26) If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridles not his tongue, but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.
It is important to keep in mind that when things that irritate and bother us come up, we only speak from our own point of view and do not attack the other person.
Often, we fail to explain things from our point of view and don’t share how we feel; instead, we attack each other's character. In this kind of communication we may also use plenty of you-sentences: "You always…", "You never…", and "Why don't you …" are commonly heard.
There is a better way to communicate, however. Instead of using “you“ sentences or making accusations, we can learn to use “I” sentences – "I feel…”, “I would like…”, “I hurt when…”, “I get irritated when..." – sentences that allow us to share how we feel and explain why we feel that way. The principle here is that we neither raise ourselves above, nor accuse or condemn our partner, but only ask our partner for help. We ask for help to solve a problem that bothers us:
Peace negotiations often fail because of “you” sentences and accusations, which get the spouses going against each other and end the negotiations before they have started.
"You do not help enough with work in the house.”
"You spend too much time at work.”
"You can't handle money.”
"You don’t care.”
Sentences with “I feel” are not nearly as provocative: they open the door for continuing the conversation and finding a practical solution to the problem.
"I feel that I can't handle all the chores in the house by myself. I have been thinking about how we could divide them better. Would you like to listen what I have to propose?”
"I often feel that I am left outside of your life, because you spend so much time at work. Could we speak about it?”
"I feel frustrated because we never have enough money. Could we think of ways to better handle our money together?”
"I feel bad about what you said in the morning. I'm sure you didn't hurt me on purpose, but I would still like to tell you how it made me feel.”(6)
Speak like to your best friend!
- (Eph 4:31-32) Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice:
32 And be you kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you.
In marriage it is often possible that the partners are like each other’s worst enemies. They may hold a grudge against each other and have bottled up inside their spouse’s neglects or wrongdoings, which then may erupt in the form of various accusations.
If we find we are guilty of this behaviour, we should pay attention to our use of language. If our spouse is the dearest person to us, we should treat her/him accordingly. We should actually treat him/her as our best friend or as a total strange to whom we are very polite.
What this means in practice is that we should always make sure when we speak to others that we speak in a friendly way. We may not be able to change the negative feelings we feel towards our spouse in an instant, but at least we can try to change the way we speak. Talking like a friend would include things like:
- Not having a harsh expression on our face
- Not using a cold and accusing tone of voice
- Not using sentences including "You always" and "You never"
- Not shouting or raising our voice but speaking in peaceful way.
- Not calling each other bad names.
- Not bringing up things from the past (cf Eph 4:26: “... let not the sun go down on your wrath”).
- Not concentrating on each other’s faults or imperfections, but thinking and perhaps telling one’s spouse about his/her positive characteristics or the positive things he/she has done. (Cf. Romans 12:10: “…in honor preferring one another” and Phil 4:8: “Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”)
- (Matt 5:25) Agree with your adversary quickly...
- (Jam 5:16) Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that you may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.
We previously talked about how we should confess our sins and wrong attitudes to God.
The same policy also applies to the person with whom we live: we can apologize to her/him and take responsibility for things that we have done wrong. Our words do not have special powers in themselves but if we are sincere they can often clear jammed channels of communication and bring about reconciliation and healing to the relationship.
People who believe themselves to be perfect and who never see their own faults should start to do so, and should learn to apologize. If you are the kind of a person who sees the faults of your spouse but do not see your own need to be always right, you should understand that this may be the mote (cf. Matt 7:1-5) in your eye and see that you must confess your mistakes to your spouse. If you, for example, are a nagging wife such as the one that is described in the Proverbs– a person with whom it is difficult to live with in peace – then you should confess this wrong attitude to your spouse and apologize:
- (Prov 21:9) It is better to dwell in a corner of the housetop, than with a brawling woman in a wide house.
- (Prov 27:15) A continual dropping in a very rainy day and a contentious woman are alike.
START COMMUNICATING! One requirement of a healthy marriage is to maintain communication or to get it started. By far the biggest problems in many marriages are communication problems; they are twice as common as any other difficulties in marriage.
It is not so much a question of the amount of communication, but of the quality and depth of it. Many married couples can easily talk about the future of the children, the children's schooling, interior decorating, or buying a new washing machine, for example. But when it comes to their unmet needs, problems, or issues that hurt them, it is common that these issues are swept under the carpet without talking about them. We may then be irritable and bitter towards each other, even though the spouse does not even know how he/she should change. It is automatically assumed that the spouse is aware of all of these issues, even though he or she is not.
One of my friends, a family therapist, discussed divorce with a couple who had been married for fifteen years. He asked the wife, "Why are you leaving your husband?” The woman answered, "He always behaves in a certain way – and I hate it. I can’t stand it anymore.” My friend asked, "Have you ever told this to your husband?” "No, I have not.” The therapist turned to the man, "Have you had any idea of this?” “No. I had no idea that she felt like this.” They had been married for fifteen years, were now getting a divorce, and they had not thoroughly talked about what had destroyed their love.
In another case a couple who were getting a divorce started to talk about the possibility of saving their marriage when they were in court. ”How should I change?” the man asked. He expected a profound answer. But the wife said, "I would like you to hold me close in the evenings without it having to end with sex. I would like you to compliment me in front of other people, and that you would say that you love me. I would like you to let the phone keep on ringing when I'm speaking to you. I would like you to make me feel that you want me.” This was thirteen years ago. They are still married, they still love each other, and they still continue to improve themselves. (7)
What can help us overcome a lack of communication then? How can it be made better?
We must start to talk about those issues that until now have been swept under the carpet. We should not be silent about everything. We should sort things out instead.
If we start talking with our spouse we will know about his/her needs and be able to help him or her. The following points should be stressed:
Ask each other! The first thing is to understand what our spouse needs. What most bothers them? What has hurt them? How would he or she want to change some things? Ask these questions because they may not dare to mention them and we ourselves are not good at reading their minds. This important stage should not be skipped; it is worthwhile to ask the spouse what he or she really wants.
Be willing to change! The second important thing has to do with us, and whether or not we are ready to change. If the other person has brought up points that need to be addressed then we need to be willing to change. We must choose between selfish and unselfish behavior. Are we truly willing to help? The things the spouse has suggested might be difficult to do, but if we at least try to do them we can take the relationship to a new level.
Starting conversations. One way to solve problems that have been swept under the carpet is that you and your spouse reserve a certain time when both of you have time to discuss the most important issues.
For example, in the case of money matters and debt (one of the biggest problems in relationships), we must reserve the time to discuss them and consider alternatives for resolving the problem. We could consider the next alternatives in money matters:
- If you spend more money than your spouse and cannot control the use of your money, might you leave that area of responsibility in the hands of the more economical spouse? This could prevent many unnecessary purchases.
- Avoid buying on the spur of the moment, which often leads to accumulating unnecessary debt (cf Rom 13:8: “Owe no man anything, but to love one another...”)
- Keep a record of each person’s monthly expenses. Both of you can write down in your own books three things: 1) purchase, 2) date of purchase, and 3) cost. By keeping an accurate record of monthly expenses you can better understand where all the money goes.
- Never make big purchases without first getting your spouse’s acceptance and approval. You should either first discuss such purchases, or agree on a certain sum you can use without talking about it together. Many quarrels in a marriage can be avoided if we followed this advice.
- Make a plan with your spouse about how to use your money and stick to this plan.
The most important thing is that we start talking with the spouse whether it is about money or other matters. It is not worth sweeping problems under the carpet, and it may be that by talking things out we can find a solution to our troubles.
The next example shows that it is possible to find solutions. It addresses money-related concerns and our use of time, two very common problem areas in marriages:
We used to argue a lot about money. We used to say things like ”Why did you use money on these things?” or "I thought we were saving money for this.” Or "You said that this month we have to be very frugal and now look what you have bought.” Finally, we came to the conclusion that we should make an annual budget. So we prayed for flexibility and an open mind and started to make our budget. We signed the plan and swore that we would stick to it. Every January, we go through it and make changes to it, and we have not had any serious arguments about money for years.
We also talked about the use of our time. Because our schedules during the first years of our marriage were so imbalanced, we were both very frustrated and sad about it. Finally, we had to draw up a plan, define how many evenings a week we could be away from home, how much time we could spend travelling, on what day of the week we could spend time with each other, and what we would do when the schedules did not work. Agreeing on rules of the game put an end to repeated disagreements and disappointments. (8)
WHEN THE FEELING OF LOVE HAS GONE. It is usual in many marriages that there comes a time when the feelings of love have wilted or even completely died. In this situation (which actually is very common, because in every relationship it is impossible to always feel to the fullest), many people perhaps no longer feel positively towards each other and the other person's faults can become profoundly irritating. We might even think at this stage that nothing can be done.
But what can help us in this kind of a situation? How can it be made better?
We have to act and behave as if we do care and that we are truly interested in the other person, even if we are not greatly enthusiastic about it. We are advised to feed even our enemies (Romans 12:20) and care for them; this should also be applied to the spouse who might seem like our worst enemy.
It is true that in the beginning this can seem impossible. But God's love "is shed abroad in our hearts" (Rom 5:5), and it can help us. If we have received Christ into our lives then we are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19) and God can affect our will and actions (Phil 2:13). It can bring a new perspective to the way we see issues.
The next quote refers to this. (Do not, however, take seriously the matter of divorce). It shows the impact of our will to care for one another. It also shows how feelings, even if they have died, can later change for the better:
The reporter and priest Dr. George Crane tells a very enlightening example about this: A woman came into his office full of anger towards her husband, thinking about getting a divorce. “I not only want to get rid of him but also pay him back for what he has done. Before I get the divorce, I want to hurt him as deeply as possible because of what he has done to me.” Dr. Crane presented a brilliant plan: "Go home and think and act as if you really loved your husband. Tell him how much he means to you. Admire all of his good qualities, praise all his tolerable features. Try to be as friendly as you can, as considerate and generous as possible. Do everything you can to give yourself to him, to please him, and to make him comfortable. Do everything you can to make him believe that you love him. When you have convinced him of your immortal love and that you can’t live without him, then drop your bomb. Tell him how much you hate him and that you are going to get a divorce. It will hurt him greatly.”
With a shine of revenge in her eyes the woman smiled and said, "Bravo, bravo. Oh yes, how he will be surprised!”
And so she did, with great eagerness. She behaved "as if". For two months she acted out of love, was friendly, listened, gave, encouraged, and shared.
When the woman did not come to visit Dr. Crane again he called her: "Are you ready to go through with the divorce now?” "Divorce?” the woman asked. ”Never! I noticed that I really do love him.” What she had done had changed her feelings. The experiment had become an experience. (9)
- (Eph 5:22-25, 28, 33) Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands, as to the Lord.
23 For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the savior of the body.
24 Therefore as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.
25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;
28 So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loves his wife loves himself.
33 Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.
When problems appear in marriage, the cause is often problems that were mentioned in the previous chapters, such as wrong priorities or not accepting the spouse if he or she does not behave in the desired way. These two issues cause most of the problems in relationships.
Another important concern in marriage is that we correctly understand our position as spouses. The Bible clearly teaches that both spouses have specific roles that they should adopt, roles that include the wife's respect for and submissiveness to her husband, and the husband's expression of love for his wife. The Bible verses above describe those roles. If we either fail to understand these roles or we do not want to take them, then we can experience conflicts in our relationship.
Below, we are going to look at how the wife’s submissiveness and the husband’s expression of love can impact everyday life. Also we will show that if even one of you is ready to change it can bring new life to your relationship.
THE WIFE'S DUTY. There are many ways in which a wife can show respect for her husband, submit to him, and generally react to him. Some of these ways have to do with one’s attitude in everyday life:
The right attitude. A wife should have the right attitude towards her husband. As the Bible advises the wife to revere her husband (Eph 5:33) and to be a suitable companion and helper (Gen 2:18: And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.), wives must also let their husbands experience this. The duty of a wife is to make the husband feel that he is admired and valued, that he has a suitable "helper" who wants to stand beside him, that his wife wants to be submissive, and that the husband is the "ruler over his own household" as is mentioned in the Book of Esther (Esther 1:20-22). The next verses describing Sarah touch on this very subject:
- (1 Peter 3:5,6) For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection to their own husbands:
6 Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters you are, as long as you do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.
-(Gen 18:12) Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?
It is most of all a question of your desire to make your husband feel happy and valued. It might also require you to change your own behaviour so that you want to serve and please your husband with all of your heart, to agree to his wishes and not nag. If these occur it can move your relationship with your spouse into a better direction.
No preconditions. In expressing the respect she feels for her husband, the wife should never set preconditions. The problem with many wives is that they expect their husband to change before they can respect him. They constantly nag about his faults and think that he has not earned their respect. In talking about him, they tell people, "You do not know what my husband is like!” They may even tell him that he is not perfect enough to earn their respect.
If you are a wife in this situation, it is good to understand that you are being disobedient to God if you set preconditions that must be met before you give your husband any respect, or expect that your husband must first change. A wife should not respect her husband because he has in some way earned it, but because the word of God advises her to do so. The husband is the head of the woman, even if he is not perfect or not obedient to the word of God:
- (1 Cor 11:3) But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.
- (1 Peter 3:1) Likewise, you wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives
It is most of all a question of obedience to God’s will; it is also a matter of your own attitude, which is not based on positive feelings. You may have to choose between the two. Feelings can sometimes fight strongly against obedience but if you decide to value, respect, admire, and favor your husband – then feelings can follow later.
Step into the background!
- (Eph 5:24) Therefore as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.
- (Col 3:18) Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.
One area in which the wife’s submissiveness should appear is in decision-making. The husband is the head of the wife and the wife should submit to her husband and understand her position. She should not place herself forward in the wrong way or take control when she should step aside and stay in the background.
What this means in practice is that you as the wife should always give priority to your husband’s decisions and give him the last word (cf. Num 30:11-16). If you have not reached an agreement, you must always yield to your husband’s solution and decision, unless it is clearly in conflict with God’s will. You can, of course, express your thoughts and wishes to your husband but the final decision should be his even if he makes some wrong choices (remember not to nag!). Also, you should learn to submit to your husband’s will in difficult situations and when you disagree with him.
Bob Mumford tells about this in his book. He talks about a woman who understood that the husband is the head of the wife:
One woman I know has a beautiful voice. She is often asked to sing in the church or in meetings. Her husband would rather want her to stay at home, because they have several small children. I once asked her, "How is your singing going?”
She answered, smiling, "I'm finally starting to learn to sing only when the Lord wants me to.”
"Well, how do you know when the Lord wants you to sing and when not?” I asked.
She laughed and answered happily and with confidence, "God has given me a husband. I ask Jim. If Jim forbids it, I know that the Lord does not want me to sing. If he says yes, I am sure that the Lord wants to use me and my voice. It’s so simple, and it works like a miracle.” (10)
Make your husband happy
-(1 Cor 7:34) ... but she that is married cares for the things of the world, how she may please her husband.
In the everyday life of marriage, there is often a danger that spouses concentrate only on their own needs and expect the spouse to meet them. They expect the spouse to make them happy and smiling.
However, if you as a wife are in this situation it is good for you to reverse this and start to please your husband and make him happy. There are many ways in which you can please your husband and make him satisfied. These can be, among other things, the following:
Agree to your husband's requests! If your husband asks for a service or expresses a wish, you should not always refuse. You can also ask your spouse if there is anything you might do for him or to please him. You should also happily agree to have sex when your husband asks for it.
Confess your disobedience! If you have been disobedient to your husband – you might not have been submissive – or have behaved in an unsuitable manner, you can confess your wrong attitude to your husband and tell him about your wish to change.
Do not nag! One important thing is that you do not nag your husband or speak about his faults to others. Instead, try to be sympathetic and warm towards him, and listen carefully when he speaks.
Do what your husband enjoys! One way to make your husband happy is to do something he enjoys. It can be his favorite food you cook for him. Or then it might be a kiss and a warm greeting when he comes home. Or you could be interested in your husband’s life and take part in the same hobbies – many men like their wife to take part in their activities.
Other men can also appreciate that you allow them an extra free day for a fishing trip, for example. You could prepare sandwiches and send him on the fishing trip smiling.
Taking care of your appearance is important. All husbands want their wives to take care of themselves. You do not need to be a beauty queen, but it is surely good if you take care of your hair and appearance after the wedding.
A tidy and clean home and washed-up dishes are things that men respect and that make the home comfortable. Their value is noticed at the latest when they are missing. However, do not make this so important that it will rise above all other things!
Understand your husband! One important difference between men and women is how they react to stress.
Wives’ most common way of getting rid of stress is to talk. They speak to their husbands about their feelings and problems and are relieved. Men, however, want privacy and peace to clear up their thoughts. They do not get rid of stress by talking.
What this means to you as the wife is that you should not demand that your husband talk to you or tell you about his feelings. You should not try to help him by proposing various solutions. If you try to get your husband to talk – "Tell me everything" – it will only increase his stress and he will feel bothered because he longs for peace. If you try to get him to open up, he might only sink deeper into himself.
The best you can do is to be warm and friendly towards your husband and give him the peace to clear up his thoughts, let him experience how nice it is for him to come home in which he is accepted and where he can be without "interrogation". So, do not try to force yourself into his private life, but accept the way he is. And when at some stage he comes back from his cave, he may also speak to you:
Going to a cave is seen, for example, in the following kind of a conversation: "What is wrong?” "Nothing.” The husband does not say, "I’m nervous and I must be alone for a while.” He only stops speaking. The wife should not take this personally, but understand that her husband needs time for himself to sort out the reason for his stress. The time for constructive conversation is when the husband comes out of the cave by his own initiative. If the wife at this stage accuses her husband of going into the cave, the husband will only retreat back.
(…) The woman can try to find out where her caveman is in his thoughts. She can say, for example: "When you are in a mood to talk, I would like to spend a little time alone with you. Tell me when the time is right.”
When a man feels that the woman is demanding him to speak, his mind will go empty. He will not find anything to say. He will be in a tough spot. The woman will make her husband feel reluctant by questioning him. If you disapprove of your husband not talking, it only ensures that he will not have anything to say. Instead, if the husband can feel that he is accepted as he is, he will slowly open up. (11)
A non-Christian spouse. Since we are talking about a wife’s attitude towards her husband, another problem is when a wife does not act in the right way towards her non-Christian husband.
It is very common that when a wife becomes a Christian, she immediately tries to talk her husband into becoming interested in matters of faith and to get him to change his lifestyle and behavior. She can have a converting and demanding attitude: "Change!” She may also think that she can get her husband interested in faith and save him through her sermons and complaints.
If you are in this situation, it is good for you to know that the above-mentioned way is not the right course of action. If you start to preach and talk to your husband about matters of faith, it will provoke his resistance and irritation; this is because the man has been created to be the spiritual leader of the family and the wife created to follow him.
The best you can do in this situation is to keep silent and not speak a word about spiritual matters to your husband – or at the most only briefly answer if he asks something. If you do this, it can be a great relief to your husband and minimize his resistance. The next verses refer to this:
- (1 Tim 2:11,12) Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.
12 But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.
- (1 Peter 3:1Likewise, you wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives
What is more important is to make sure that you are being a submissive wife and want to make your husband happy and please him. You must concentrate on making him comfortable and not on converting him. You should also be careful not to spend too much time with your Christian friends, and that you never go to meetings without your husband’s consent. It would be better if you attended meetings only when you cannot be together with your husband
THE HUSBAND'S DUTIES. As we previously mentioned, the wife can improve the marriage by trying to improve her own life. This certainly also applies to the husband. He, too, can influence and improve the marriage.
What can the husband do to improve his marriage? There are many things. The points we are going to look at below are among the most important ones:
The husband should love his wife
- (Eph 5:25,33) Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;
33 Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.
- (Col 3:19) Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.
The first basic requirement in the husband’s attitude towards his wife is love. Actually, he should love his wife just as Christ loved the church, as the above-mentioned verses indicate.
What this means in practice is that the husband must love his wife in every situation and without any conditions. He must accept his wife even when she fails to meet his expectations or when she is not being perfect. He should also respect a nagging, lazy and difficult wife just as the wife should respect a difficult husband.
It is true that this kind of care without any preconditions can be difficult, but the Holy Spirit of God can help us with this. He can do in us what we are not able to do or do now wish to do:
- (Rom 5:5) And hope makes not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given to us.
Another matter the husband should pay attention to is continuously taking care of his wife. The fault of many men is that they – after being sure that they have gotten their dream girl – drift into a resting phase in which they feel too confident and become careless and lazy about their wife. They may perhaps become absorbed in their work. All these can over the years injure the relationship or even lead to a divorce, as the next quote very well indicates:
We recently took part in a small seminar in which there were a lot of old married couples, between the ages of fifty and sixty. We noticed that many men were exceptionally considerate towards their wives. Because we were just writing this book, we asked them where their behavior came from. Almost without exception the men said, "This is my second wife. During my first marriage, I worked so hard because of my career that I didn’t take care of my wife. I hurt her deeply for many years, and finally she could no longer bear it. This time, I will do things differently. I lost my first wife but I am not going to make a mess of things anymore.” (12)
If you as the husband want to avoid this kind of mistake, start paying attention to your wife again. Fight especially against your selfishness and laziness, which are probably your worst enemies. If you overcome these qualities and have the energy to pay attention to your wife again, you can develop a relationship with fewer conflicts.
The man as the head of the wife
- (1 Cor 11:3) But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.
- (Eph 5:23) For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the savior of the body.
When it is a question of the man’s position as the head of the wife in the family, to which the above verses refer, we can say that it is a part of the order that God has created – the established order since the Creation. If we do not obey this, it is always wrong and opposes God’s will.
However, it is good for each man to consider a couple of issues connected with this area and their own behavior. These are:
Do not be a dictator. Being the head of the wife does not mean being a dictator, using force or commanding the wife. (It is true that many men have tested and teased their wives in this area and demanded subjection, but this is not right. The only verse they remember from the Bible may be that the wife should submit to her husband.) The wife does not need to be tested. She wants her husband to walk before her and make decisions as a good leader – a leader who thinks about his followers, not a dictator. There is a great difference between these.
So, the primary task of the husband is not to get his wife to obey him – she can still choose to be disobedient – or to talk about being submissive. The husband must think about her benefit and take care of her, which certainly includes that the husband asks for his wife’s opinions and advice on different issues and makes his decision only after receiving that information. Her primary task is to be submissive to her husband, but the husband’s task is to love his wife.
God’s will. The second important thing is that since Christ is the head of the man (1 Cor 11:3), the man must seek God’s will for his own life. The husband is under the authority of another power (Matt 8:9) and therefore he should learn God’s will, seek His guidance, and understand God’s plan for his life.
What this means in practice is that the man has to choose between following his own will and gaining personal comfort, and following God’s will, just as Jesus had to choose between His own will and His Father’s will (Matt 26:39). The following verses refer to this choice that can be the most difficult one for us:
- (Matt 6:9,10) After this manner therefore pray you: Our Father which are in heaven, Hallowed be your name.
10 Your kingdom come, Your will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
- (Rom 12:2) And be not conformed to this world: but be you transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
Make your wife happy
- (1 Cor 7:33) But he that is married cares for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife.
- (1 Peter 3:7) Likewise, you husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.
We previously covered how the wife can make her husband happy and please him, and we noted that we can find several ways to help a marriage gain a new beginning.
This is also true for the husband. He, too, can please his wife and make her happy and contented. Below, we are going to look at some of the most common ways the husband can make his wife contented and please her. If he makes the effort first, it can save a poor relationship.
Agree to your wife’s wishes! The first way in which the husband can improve the relationship with his wife is to agree to her wishes. If the wife has presented a realistic wish, the husband should not always refuse. To make things even better, the husband can also ask his wife if there is something he could do for her to please her.
Give time and pay her your undivided attention to show that you care. A problem for many men is that they are more married to their career, work, and hobbies than to their wife.
Therefore, the husband should understand that the wife yearns to be together and to do things together things that may include taking trips, eating out, or breaking weekly routines so you can do something special together. Gifts or money cannot compensate for time and undivided attention:
A wife whose successful husband had given everything to his business, cried bitter tears in my reception and told me, “All the time he gives me expensive gifts and each time I think how much nicer it would be to get his time and love. Doctor Wheat, I don't want all those gifts. I only want him to pay attention to me sometimes.”
During those twenty-five years that I have been advising people, I have noticed that whenever a man sets his business or his career before his wife, there is nothing he can buy to make his wife really happy.
You can fail in many ways in giving up and at the same time fail to build a good marriage. (13)
Courtesies such as souvenirs, little gifts, or flowers can be a sign that a husband remembers the wife. Many women value these things, especially flowers (it is often difficult for men to understand what women see in flowers), especially if they receive them on other than festive occasions. If the man forgets the common celebrations, it can greatly hurt the woman.
Do the work that is still undone! If the husband does the work undone in the home – like changes the bulb, washes the car, cuts the grass, etc. – and does not put them off, it can be one way for him to show that he cares. Many women greatly value the fact that their husband takes care of these jobs without having to wait for six months for them to be done and without having to remind him many times. Doing them as soon as possible or at an agreed-upon time (posting a list of on the wall can be a great help) certainly brings satisfaction into the home.
Touching and caressing without the thought of sex is important for many women. They long for physical contact – caresses, massaging, hugging, kisses, etc. – without it always leading to sex. For many men, tenderness and sex are the same and they cannot separate them from each other, but the experience is totally different for women. They see these physical signs of affection as a sign that their husband is interested in them and not only in sex. On the other hand, the woman’s sexual drive will be much higher if she gets enough attention in everyday life and not only in connection with sex.
The words the husband says to his wife are important (this naturally applies also to the wife’s words to her husband), because they can either extinguish or awaken love.
If the husband, for example, does not respect issues that are sensitive to his wife and jokes about her cooking, housekeeping, appearance, or relatives, they can easily extinguish love. In the same way, if the man compares his wife to his own mother or openly criticizes her, it can only cause damage. The wife will quickly become cold towards her husband in the middle of all the criticism, and it can also put an end to her sex drive.
On the other hand, the man can very much affect his wife's love for him with his warm words. He can use nice and tender words and concentrate on his wife’s virtues and let her know about them (the same can be also done by writing a letter). He can also tell which things he most enjoys or values in his wife or tell how he is grateful for all the things she does for him (cooking, etc.).
If the man uses these kinds of warm words a lot, they can lead to waking the wife’s interest and also sexual desire – she may be aroused in a completely new way. But on the other hand, if these words are never used, it can even result in the relationship breaking up:
After the pastoral care had ended, Sara wrote: "It is difficult for me to give up the love I felt towards another man, and to say no to the first man who has really listened to me. During these thirteen years of marriage, I have felt that Bruce doesn’t love or want me. He never notices what food I cook for him, how I look, or how I try to keep the home beautiful for him. He never pays any attention to me. I’m just a part of the furniture. There is no way I can believe that I’m important to him.” (14)
Listening is also one way to pay attention to your wife, and it is an activity the importance of which many men do not always understand. For example, in one study 4,500 women were asked what displeased them most about their partners and 77% answered: "My husband does not listen"; 84% said that the husband does not hear what they are saying or is not willing to hear, and 41% said that the men forbade them to feel as they felt. – Shere Hite: Women and Love (London: Viking, 1987, pages 11-15). It is important to pay attention to at least the next few points if your listening is to be successful:
- Concentrate on listening. The first point in listening is that we should concentrate on it. If the husband only growls something from behind his newspaper and does not even turn to look at his wife when she is speaking, it is a great insult to her. It shows that the husband is not listening at all.
This kind of negligence can be easily mended. If the man only looked his wife in the eyes and made little positive replies when she is speaking, it would show that he is at least listening. This is a very small thing, but it can have a great effect on the relationship. The wife will also understand that her husband at least tries to concentrate and that the matter she is explaining is important. She will feel herself accepted and valued, because her husband listens to her.
- Understand her feelings! The second point in listening is to understand the woman’s feelings, not diminishing or trying to make them disappear. It is very common that when the wife shares her feelings (worries, depression, etc.) and problems, the husband immediately begins to give advice and preach to his wife, or then he may underrate the problems and his wife’s feelings. He may, for example, try to somehow resolve all the problems. He may try to make them seem smaller – by saying things like "There is nothing to it”, or “How can you feel like that or be so depressed when…”, or “There is no use worrying about that.” Instead, he should concentrate on being a sympathetic listener.
It is important to understand that the woman does not want advice or solutions; rather, she wants her husband to understand how she feels. Her way of getting rid of the stress is to talk, so the husband should simply patiently listen to her and express interest until she is finished talking. The husband can greatly help his wife by simply letting her tell him what is bothering her and making her feel that she has been understood:
My wife Sally once told me about being frustrated over some personal problems. I started to give her advise on how to solve those problems. I will never forget her answer. "I didn’t come to talk to you so that you would teach me or preach to me," she said. ”I know what I have to do. When you start to teach me, I feel as if you didn't listen or care at all for me. I want someone to listen to me. If I can't speak to you, to whom can I speak?”
At that moment, I decided that I want to be the kind of a husband who gives the freedom and security to his wife and other people to tell about their feelings without having to fear criticism, preaching, or acts of revenge. I have also had to teach other people about positive and accepting listening. (15)
Conversation. It is important for the husband to talk to his wife. One of the most common complaints women make is that the husband does not speak at all. That is perhaps the most common complaint. This kind of a man may refuse all conversation: "I don't want to talk about it...”, or “I am not interested...” or “I don't know, why do you keep on asking?” These replies show the man is greatly neglecting his wife. He may live as if he’s on an island of his own even when married – an island the wife often tries to visit but in vain.
To make things right, you as the man should simply start to become interested in the small things that you may find insignificant but your wife finds very important. You should inquire about the things that interest your wife and discuss them with her. Also, when your wife asks something from you, you should patiently explain it as well as you can and not just touch on it briefly. The man's right attitude and desire to make an attempt can create miracles in the relationship.
Common prayer. One thing many wives want is common prayer. They want their husband to pray with them and for them, and want him to take his place as spiritual leader of the home.
It is true that this can be difficult for many men who do not talk a lot. Some of them would rather pray alone, but it is worth trying. Perhaps the best time of the day to do this is either in the morning immediately after waking up, or in the evening before going to sleep. That is when both of the spouses can tell God their common prayer concerns for their home, relatives, spiritual life or spiritual work, for example. (One way is to make a list of prayer concerns and then pray over each of them for about five minutes. Another way is, for example, to listen to Bible recordings at the same time with prayer.)
The previous chapters dealt with the most common problems in marriage and how to solve them. These same issues also affect sex life in marriage. People have noted that if the couple has difficulties in other areas of their relationship those problems soon also affect their sex life, which is a barometer of the whole relationship. Sexual activity may not satisfy them in the same way anymore because the atmosphere in the relationship can be negative, or they might not have sex at all, which is not unusual.
We are going to look at some of the most typical problems in sex life. Many of these problems may disappear after the spouses start talking to each other again.
Especially to the wives:
GIVE YOURSELF COMPLETELY AND GLADLY TO YOUR HUSBAND!
When we are talking about women and sexuality, one thing they are especially guilty of is using sex as a weapon. If the husband has not met the wife’s preconditions – has forgotten some things, has not showered properly or has not done his part in the relationship – then the wife can revenge her husband's neglects by being cold and refusing to have sex. She may turn her back on her husband’s sexual needs and refuse to meet them.
If you as a woman have behaved like that, it is good to understand that you have done wrong and have been disobedient to God. The Bible clearly teaches that spouses are obligated to meet each other's sexual needs, as 1 Cor 7:3- 5 indicates. Actually, the wife, after getting married, loses the authority to control her own body, and that is why she must give her body completely to her husband. The same is also true for the husband:
- (1 Cor 7:3- 5) Let the husband render to the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife to the husband.
4 The wife has not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband has not power of his own body, but the wife.
5 Defraud you not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.
The second important thing is that you should learn to “fulfill your marital duty" with pleasure, not reluctantly, dutifully, or with clenched teeth. Many men want their wives to be more active – meaning things like reacting to the husband, touching and caressing – to show a more favorable and positive attitude towards sex. It is true that this can be difficult in the beginning, but if you pray to God for the right kind of attitude, He can give it to you.
Understand sexuality in a right way! One wrong view many women and also men can have is that sex is dirty, shameful, and disgusting, and not meant to be enjoyed in any way. They may even think that the holier or more spiritual they are, the less they can be interested in sex, or at least it must be done as quietly and quickly as possible.
However, it is good to understand that sexuality in itself is not a bad thing – just like many other things are not bad in themselves – but that misusing it is. This kind of negative attitude towards sex has come from the surrounding culture (cf. 1 Tim 4:3, 4), but it is not found in the Bible. The only restriction on sexual behavior is that it should take place only in marriage. In marriage, sexual intercourse (in the original language ‘coitus’) is undefiled (cf. 1 Cor 7:1-5). If spouses do not understand this important point, it can prevent them from freely giving themselves to their sex life and can also lessen their enjoyment:
- (Hebr 13:4) Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled: but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.
If you as a wife or a husband have the attitude described above, reject it as being non-biblical. Understand that sexuality is God's gift, which you can enjoy together with your spouse. It is not meant only for making children, but for fulfilling the sexual needs of the spouses and for their enjoyment. Give yourself to it completely and freely!
Especially to men:
UNDERSTAND YOUR WIFE!
We talked above about how the wife should give herself completely and gladly to her husband. However, there are also certain aspects to which the husband should pay attention. The fact is that men do not always understand their wives’ difference in sexuality and for this reason can act in a wrong way. They should pay attention to the next considerations, all of which are familiar to most women:
Everyday life outside the bedroom. It is good for the husband to understand that the wife’s most important sexual area is her heart. To her, sexual intercourse is all-inclusive, meaning that what takes place outside the bedroom is also important. If she is appreciated outside the bedroom, gets time and tender words, she will more easily feel sexually aroused. But if these needs remain unfulfilled, she may lose all interest in sexual activity and become cold.
You as a husband should improve in this area. You should invest time in doing activities with your wife every day and not only in the bedroom, because she yearns for it and can otherwise become indifferent towards sex. It is true that it can require an effort in the beginning, but the benefit is that the wife’s sexual desires can be re-awakened.
"My husband is too fast." The man should not be too hasty with his wife. He himself might become aroused very fast – seeing a woman with hardly any clothes on might arouse him instantly – and he may go "straight to the point", but his wife might not always be as fast as he is. It may easily happen that the man has already gotten his satisfaction when the wife is only just getting aroused.
To make things better, you as the man should wait for your wife, caress and "warm her up", so that she has time to be properly aroused. Therefore, you should not put your penis too quickly into the vagina, try to delay your ejaculation long enough for your wife to be properly aroused. Also, you should not turn your back on your wife too soon and go to sleep, because the wife gets part of her satisfaction from closeness after the climax. Turning one’s back too soon can be a great insult to the wife and reduce her sexual interest.
Clearly communicating one's needs. Sex life in marriage – like in everyday life – can become wordless and silent. It is actually very common to find in marriages that years or even decades pass and the spouses still do not know how the other one wants to have sex. The spouses can be very clear about each other’s opinions and thoughts, but the other’s sexual needs might remain a complete mystery for them. Perhaps they are afraid that if they talk about their unpleasant experiences, they might ruin the good that still exists.
If you are in this kind of situation, you should start talking. The fact is that no one among us completely knows the other's body or completely understand his/her needs and desires – we are not so good in reading minds.
We must ask our spouse what he/she likes or dislikes, and how often he/she would like to have sex. It may be difficult to be interested in sexual activity if one must constantly "eat without an appetite". Perhaps the next list from the book called Kristitty koti [The Christian Couple (p. 54,55), Larry and Nordis Christenson], can help clarify this:
One of our seminar's homework assignments is that we ask married couples to write down some issues in their sexual relationship, and then discuss these together. Some have written to us later telling: "discussing those eight questions opened a new stage in our sex life."
1. There must be something your spouse does during sexual intercourse that you really like. What is it? – You can mention at least a couple of things. (When someone does something right, he/she should be encouraged in that!)
2. Can you mention one thing in your sex life which your spouse has done and which you do not especially like or enjoy? (Briefly explain why.)
3. When or in what way do you get most satisfaction during sexual intercourse?
4. In your sexual intercourse, do you do something that seems to bring special satisfaction to your spouse?
5. Is there something that you like but that your spouse does not like?
6. How often would you like to have sex? How often does your spouse seem to want it?
7. When would you most prefer to have sex? When least?
8. What do you like most in your sexual intercourse? What least?
Tension and various pressures on performance, especially on whether the man can satisfy his wife and give her an orgasm, can make the sexual relationship in the marriage problematic. The fact is that many couples, especially in the beginning of their relationship, have these kinds of pressures, which can prevent them from properly giving themselves to sex and enjoying it. They can also feel embarrassed by their appearance and body, and be too self-conscious, which can interfere with their sex life. They may also be so conscious of themselves and their performance that the main point may be forgotten.
If you as a married couple are in this vicious cycle, you should immediately break out of it. If you take these things too seriously, you are not behaving in a rational manner.
Therefore, give each other the possibility to fail and be imperfect also in this area! Do not pretend to be satisfied or a perfect lover, freely be what you are and feel what you feel! You should also accept each other's imperfect bodies and understand that everybody wants to be accepted just as they are – with their faults. In addition, you should start talking about these issues. Issues like one's fears, appearance, and other delicate matters should be talked through so that they will not trouble you.
Forgive your parents! It is important that you forgive your parents, if your marriage is to succeed. It is often found that those people who have not forgiven their parents from their hearts – especially the parent of the opposite sex – usually transfer this resentful attitude to their marriage and sexual relationship. They may unconsciously resent and suspect their spouses.
If, for example, the woman has a grudge against her father, she may also be suspicious of her husband or even sexually dislike him. She may feel that her husband’s making a pass at her is the same as if it were her own father. She may not understand that the cause of her negative attitude comes from early experiences in family relationships, and that those memories now direct her life. She fails to understand that when she has the right attitude towards her parents, her relationship with her spouse can change for the better.
The key to being freed from these bonds from the past is forgiveness. If you feel that you were not accepted as a child, or were sexually abused, you must forgive those who treated you wrongly. You must stop making accusations and judging them. If you agree to stop making accusations and lay to rest any grudges you may bear, your sex life will improve.
Too often we hear stories about how for women sexual molestation or exploitation in the childhood results in psychological rejection towards everything that is sexual. One choleric woman admitted that she was “totally dead sexually” – “I do not feel anything when my husband has sex with me. It is as if I didn't have any sexual feelings." When I questioned her further, she revealed that her stepfather had forced her to have sex with him regularly from the age of six to seventeen when she was old enough to end the situation. What caused the lack of her feelings? Blind anger! The woman hated her stepfather so much that the anger killed her ability to love anyone else. I am happy to tell you that this woman is completely normal now, but it took a lot of time and forgiveness. (16)
CONTRACEPTION IN MARRIAGE. An issue a married couple will sooner or later face is the question of children and contraception. They may be faced with it especially if they already have several children or their financial and other resources are limited. They have to think what to do when they have no more resources.
We are going to look at the use of contraception, which is often the only alternative in this kind of a situation (this is because it is difficult to be without sex in marriage as the other person is present all the time, compare 1 Cor 7:5). We will especially look at whether a method is really contraceptive. Some methods are not; they can even cause an abortion. If you are struggling with this, you should read the next information.
Is it really a contraceptive method? Above, we mentioned that some methods are not contraceptive; they can, in fact, cause an abortion. This happens when the following methods are used:
- The coil does not prevent fertilization but prevents the fertilized egg cell from attaching to the wall of the womb. Thus, it is a method that causes an abortion at a very early stage.
- Birth-control pills and capsules are generally good and reliable contraceptive methods: they prevent the egg cell from leaving the ovary. However, in those rare situations in which an egg cell does leave and fertilization takes place, they can also cause an early abortion as the fertilized egg cell does not attach to the wall of the womb. In these cases, these methods can work in the same way as the coil.
- Morning after pills work in principle in the same way as birth-control pills, except that they contain a larger amount of hormones. These pills are, however, not a contraceptive method, but are a method, which prevents the fertilized egg cell from attaching to the wall of the womb. Thus, they cause an abortion.
Different methods. Even though many methods are abortive, there are also real contraception methods. The following can be mentioned:
- The condom is one of the most common contraceptive methods. It is in principle a very safe method, unless the condom breaks.
- The pessary is a preventive method similar to the condom. The difference is that it is placed in front of the womb to prevent the sperm from going further. You can also use foam ovule or disposable diaphragms separately or together with the pessary. They contain agents that paralyze the sperm. Also those are placed inside the woman’s vagina before sex.
- Interrupted intercourse is the most common method. Its disadvantage is that it is a psychological disappointment to both, because you will not experience the climax. It is also unreliable, because ejaculation may take place sooner than is expected and the sperm may reach the egg cell.
- Sterilization, binding the woman’s fallopian tubes or the man’s seminal ducts, is another method. Its disadvantage is that it is usually irreversible, thus generally better suits older people. The operation is easier to do to a man. In Finland, for example, people over thirty years of age or parents who already have at least three children can have it done without an authorities’ permission. Because of its irreversibility, it cannot be recommended to many people.
- Safe days. One increasingly popular method is not to have sex on those days when it is possible to get pregnant. It has been proven that fertilization can take place only during a certain time, in the middle of the menstrual cycle when the woman’s egg cell is released from the ovary and carried into the fallopian tube. (The menstrual cycle is calculated as starting on the first day of menstruation and ending on the first day of the next menstruation.).
Therefore, if you avoid sex on the days the egg cell is released in the middle of the menstrual cycle and a few days before and after (the egg cell lives only about one day but the sperm can stay alive inside the woman for about 3–4 days), fertilization cannot take place. Based on this, we can say that days one – through seven (1–7) and twenty – through twenty-eight (20–28) of the menstrual cycle are generally unfertile, while days eight – through nineteen (8–19) are those when it is possible to get pregnant. If a woman’s menstrual cycle is very irregular, it can naturally change these dates.
There are certain signs from which you can recognize the moment when the egg cell is released and it is possible to get pregnant. These are:
1. The body temperature always rises about 0.5 degrees Celsius when the egg cell is released, and will stay there until the next menstruation. If the body temperature is measured every morning and it has stayed high for three days, the next days after that will be unfertile.
The problem with this method is that also other influences like having a cold or an infectious disease can raise the body temperature.
2. Another sign is that there is a change in the secretion that comes from the vagina. The secretion that has nothing to do with the menstrual discharge is white, dim, and dry soon after the menstrual discharge. When the egg cell is discharged, it changes into bright, more glassy, and running. This translucent secretion only comes for a few days, until it again changes into whiter again. If intercourse does not take place during these few days, fertilization cannot take place either.
3. When you feel a sharp pain in your lower stomach, it is often a sign that the egg cell is released. Combine this sign with the two listed above and you can be quite sure.
1. Daniel NYLYND, Hankalat suhteet, p.118-119 / citation from the book, In-Laws, Outlands, article of NORMAN WRIGHT.
2. Rob Parsons, Tahdon rakastaa, kaikesta huolimatta (Loving Against The Odds), p.39-40.
3. Merlin Carothers, Taivasta maan päälle (Bringing Heaven into Hell), p.32
4. David Wilkerson, Jumalan paras sinua varten (Have You Felt Like Giving up Lately), p. 22,23
5. Tim Lahaye, Luonteesi ja sen mahdollisuudet (Your Temperament Discover It’s Potential), p. 238
6. Bill and Lynne Hybels, Rakkaudesta rakennettu (Fit To Be Tied), p.138-139.
7. Rob Parsons, Tahdon rakastaa, kaikesta huolimatta (Loving Against The Odds), p.235.
8. Bill and Lynne Hybels, Rakkaudesta rakennettu (Fit To Be Tied), p.140.
9. Daniel NYLYND, Luova uskollisuus, p.108, 109 / citation from the book Myytti vihreämmästä ruohosta (The Myth of the Greener Grass) / Allan Peterson.
10. Bob Mumford, Onnellisina elämän loppuun asti (Living Happily Ever After), p. 40
11. Maiju Kuhanen, Minä nainen, p. 159-162
12. Bill and Lynne Hybels, Rakkaudesta rakennettu (Fit To Be Tied), p. 155
13. Ed Wheat, Onnellisina yhdessä (Love Life for Every Married Couple), p.26-27.
14. Daniel NYLYND, Luova uskollisuus, p. 41 / citation from the book Myytti vihreämmästä ruohosta (THE MYTH OF THE GREENER GRASS) / Allan Peterson.
15. Floyd Mcclung, Jr. ,Jumalan Isänsydän, p. 84 (The Father Heart of God)
16. Tim Lahaye, Luonteesi ja sen mahdollisuudet (Your Temperament Discover It’s Potential), p. 226
Bovet Theodor, Avioliitto (DIE EHE. EIN HANDBUCH FUR EHELEUTE)
Christenson Larry, Kristitty perhe (THE CHRISTIAN FAMILY)
Christenson Larry and Nordis, Kristitty koti (THE CHRISTIAN COUPLE)
Cole Edwin Louis, Miehuuden haaste (MAXIMIZED MANHOOD)
Davis Linda, Näin voitat puolisosi Jeesukselle (HOW TO BE THE HAPPY WIFE OF AN UNSAVED HUSBAND)
Graham Billy, Avioliitto ja kotimme (THE CHRIST-CENTERED HOME)
Hybels Bill, Kristityt seksihullussa kulttuurissa (Christians IN A SEX CRAZED CULTURE)
HYBELS BILL and LYNNE, Rakkaudesta rakennettu (FIT TO BE TIED)
Karppinen Saara, Tahdon
Lahaye Tim, Erilaisina onnelliset (FOUR STEPS TO AN INTIMATE MARRIAGE)
Lahaye Tim, Luonteesi ja sen mahdollisuudet (YOUR TEMPERAMENT DISCOVER IT’S POTENTIAL)
Lee, Nicky & Sila, Avioliitto-opas
Lilly Gene, Anteeksiantamisen voima (GOD IS CALLING HIS PEOPLE TO FORGIVENESS)
Madsen Poul, Avioliiton ihanteet (HÖGA IDEAL)
Mumford Bob, Onnellisina elämän loppuun asti (LIVING HAPPILY EVER AFTER)
Nylynd Daniel, Hankalat suhteet
Nylynd Daniel, Luova uskollisuus
Parsons Rob, Tahdon rakastaa, kaikesta huolimatta (LOVING AGAINST THE ODDS)
SOPANEN MARJA-LIISA and TAPANI, Toinen toisellemme
Trobish Walter, Kanssasi naimisiin (I MARRIED YOU)
Venden Morris L., Minä, sinä ja hän (LOVE, MARRIAGE AND RIGHTEOUSNESS BY FAITH)
Wheat Ed, Onnellisina yhdessä (LOVE LIFE FOR EVERY MARRIED COUPLE)
Jesus is the way, the truth and the life
Grap to eternal life!