I Am Not Just a Christian Wife. I Am a Christian.

Why the church culture often gets a woman's role wrong--and what we should do about it.

I see it all the time: I’ll write a thoughtful, long post on how a woman should deal with sin in her family, and a commenter will say nothing except to quote 1 Peter 3:1-6 on how a woman should win her husband “without words”.

Or, to paraphrase, “Ladies, please shut up.”

There’s also a new book out that says that God created women to reflect the church, while men reflect Jesus. True Womanhood, apparently, is not being made fully in the image of God (read a great review of the book here).

Oh, friends, my heart hurts when I read things like these. My heart grieves that so much of the church is missing the transformational message of the gospel: that God loves ALL of us, and wants ALL of us to look more and more like Him. That God wants a close, intimate relationship with everybody–and that that relationship matters more than form or gender or church. God wants holiness and righteousness and transformed lives, not an empty, legalistic shell.

In our Christian culture today there is so much false teaching about womanhood.

Much of it is a backlash against the all-too-real negative effects of Third Wave Feminism, which has taught that marriage is just a lifestyle choice, and a ridiculous one at that; that women are better than men; or that the genders are interchangeable.

But that backlash is not a proper reflection of how Jesus feels about women, either.Nine Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage: Because a Great Relationship Doesnt Happen by Accident And so today I’d like to share some truths that too often get missed when we’re talking about women. Many of these are in my upcoming book, Nine Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage (out in August; you can pre-order it now!), but I thought these were too important to wait until then.

Friends: God so loves you. He cares for you as an individual. And His desire is for transformation and redemption.

And so here are 10 truths which I pledge as a woman, created fully to reflect Christ, and created with the intent purpose of being transformed to look more and more like Him:

1. My primary identity is in Christ.

He is my Saviour. I am made in the image of God; I am not made in the image of my husband.

2. I will not encourage young women to take their primary identities as being wives.

We are first made in Christ’s image; if a young woman does not marry, she is no less of a person. If a woman has an unfaithful husband, she is no less of a person. Our value is in our Redeemer.

3. I want to see everyone around me look more and more like Christ (Romans 8:29).

This is also God’s plan for their lives. Therefore, I will not listen to messages which tell me that because I’m a woman, I should not speak up about sin. Jesus graciously forgave, but He always dealt with the sin. This is meant to be my model as well. I want to be a spouse, not an enabler.

I understand that this means that I am to act in such a way that brings people closer to Christ, not that pushes them away from God by encouraging unChristlike behaviour. Therefore, if my husband wants something that would go against what Jesus wants for us, I will say no.

4. I will be good. I will not be nice.

Jesus was not always nice; but He was always good. He always acted in such a way as to point people to God, even if it made people uncomfortable. And He is our model. I will be good, even if it occasionally means going against my husband (1 Samuel 25; Acts 5).

At the same time, being good also means reflecting Christ, which means that I must do all of this with the same mind and attitude that Christ had: humility (Philippians 2). I recognize that I am also a sinner saved by grace, and I may not be right either. So I will strive to always go before God first, to always deal with my own issues first, and to invite wise women around me to hold me accountable. I will not presume that I always know what’s right, nor will I try to control or manipulate. I will simply, in the spirit of gentleness, stand up for truth as I ask God to reveal it to me.

5. Loving my husband means wanting what is best for him.

I will learn his love language. I will shower him with encouragement and praise and admiration. I will think of his needs first. I will pray for him daily. I will be his biggest cheerleader!

But my prayer for him is for his best; it is not that he be happy. My goal is to encourage him as he pursues Christ, not placate him or cover for him if he moves away from Christ. If I prop him up as he becomes an alcoholic, or a porn addict, or a gambler (or other such things), I’m not really loving him.

True godly submission means I submit myself to my husband’s welfare, not necessarily my husband’s will. (click to tweet)

True Godly Submission

6. I will be a peace-MAKER, not a peace-KEEPER.

Peacekeepers value lack of conflict over truth; peacemakers know there is no real peace absent truth. And Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).

7. I believe that I am responsible before God to work out my own salvation and my own relationship with Him.

God gave me a brain and an individual conscience, and that means that I can’t rely on others to make my faith (Philippians 2:12-13). I am allowed to question my husband’s interpretation of Scripture. I am allowed to question my pastor’s interpretation of Scripture. God wants me to be like the Bereans: to take everything I hear and compare it to what I know from Scripture to see if it is true (Acts 17:11).

8. I fully accept my responsibility to build a strong marriage–as far as it depends on me.

A strong community is built on strong families. But that also means that the Christian community has a stake in our marriages. Therefore, I will find godly mentors. I will join together with other Christians. When needed, I will seek out help and advice about my marriage BEFORE it gets to a crisis point. I will seek out Jesus’ strength and guidance for how to build my marriage up and how to love my husband the best I can.

9. However, if my church tells me that I am to follow my husband into ungodly behaviour, I will not listen.

If my church says that I am to do nothing about something which is seriously jeopardizing our family and his soul (such as porn use, gambling, refusal to work, sexual abuse of our children, etc.), I will seek out a new body of believers that has a complete picture of the gospel’s transformational power in our lives. If necessary, I will even contact civil authorities.

10. I believe that God cares more about the people in a marriage than He does about that marriage.

(Or, as Gary Thomas recently put it, God cares about the people not the shell).

Here’s what it comes down to: Jesus wants people transformed. When we hold to a rigid view of gender roles and marriage, we prevent transformation; we don’t encourage it. Instead of asking people to look Christlike, we simply ask them to follow rigid rules. We’ve replaced the heart of the gospel with a new kind of legalism that traps people in an immature faith.

It’s time for it to stop.

And so I hope that all women (and men) reading this can endorse this, and share it on Facebook and Pinterest and social media. Let’s get this conversation going!

I’d like to end with some very wise words about this issue from Gary Thomas about how God feels about His precious children:

If a marriage “shell” is used to allow real people to be abused and hurt, God may well take it down. Keep in mind, in the first century, Jewish women weren’t allowed to divorce their husbands. Jesus fought divorce to protect women who could be easily discarded with little prospects. His comments on divorce were to protect women, not to keep them in a harmful situation. He was caring for real people more than he was idolizing a “shell.”

Haven’t we turned this around a little? When a man preys on his wife and children, refusing to repent, almost laughing that they can’t escape his abuse because he has not been sexually unfaithful and won’t abandon them so any divorce would be “unbiblical,” and then he’s supported by well-meaning Christians who essentially say “the shell of marriage matters more than the woman and children inside the shell,” I think we’ve lost the heart of God.

 Let’s all get back to the heart of God.

Why We Shouldn’t Bad Mouth our Husbands

Today’s guest post is from Wanjiru Kihusa, a marriage blogger from Kenya, who is sharing about resisting the urge to badmouth your husband–while there will be opportunities to do so, have a plan beforehand.

Resist the Urge to Bad Mouth Your Husband
Why you should never speak ill of your husband

Two months ago I was in the salon getting my hair braided. I always carry a novel with me because it keeps me busy for the several hours I have to be seated. The fact that it also distracts me from the pain and discomfort is an added advantage. This day I was reading Tis by Frank Mc Court a really awesome memoir. There were about three ladies braiding and chatting away and I was doing a great job ignoring them until one of them said “these men, what do they usually want? You feed them, look after the kids, and they still cheat. I honestly don’t know what do with mine,”

I was puzzled. Who says that about their man in public? I was waiting for the other ladies to quickly change the subject because of the discomfort they felt at their colleague’s outburst. But instead they went on to share very intimate details of how their men were bad husbands and horrible fathers. I was horrified. So I politely told them “I am uncomfortable hearing all these things you guys are saying. Could you please change the subject?” You should have seen them stare at me in shock. The only thing that saved me from being told off was that I was the customer, and they needed to get paid.

This is not the first time this has happened to me in a hair salon. Whenever I express my displeasure at listening to their stories, I always get odd glances. These women expect me to agree with them in solidarity and probably even share my disappointments about my husband. It is an appalling habit that I detest, and as a wife, I want to tell you why you should never bad mouth your husband to anyone.

Don’t speak ill of your husband to your family

My sister once shared with me advice a married friend gave her; if your husband ever does anything wrong (and he will) never tell anyone in your family. They reason for this is that if you ever tell your family bad stuff about him, they will never look at him the same way. It could even be something as major as cheating but please don’t. Here’s the thing, even if you forgive him and go back to loving him, your family will always see him as a bad guy. Why? Because they love you and want the best for you. Reason number two is your family is not going to be objective and show you where you may have gone wrong. To them you will always be their “nice little girl” and he will now be the “bastard who broke our little girl’s heart.”

Don’t speak ill about you husband to male friends – and don’t entertain men talking ill about their spouses either.

This is not only wrong but also dangerous. Having a male friend who you tell about your husband’s shortcomings is a disaster waiting to happen. One of these days in a weak moment when your husband has angered you and your friend offers you a shoulder to lean, the friend zone line will get blurry and one of you will cross it. And that, my dear, is how affairs start.

Don’t speak ill about you husband to strangers

Don’t talk about him in the salon and in other women gatherings. The girls might even contribute their part but you will come off as petty and completely lacking discretion. These people will not offer you any help on how to fix your marriage, they will just get fodder for gossip.

So, who do you talk to?

With all these people who not to talk to, who should you share with what you are going through? Since we all need someone to talk to, here are a few guidelines on who would be best to talk to.:

  • A close girlfriend who is also married – a lady who has a solid marriage
  • She should be sober minded – sharing your marriage should not be gossip, the encounter should be helpful. Get someone who offers you a listening ear but also give good advice; not afraid to call you out when something is your fault.
  • A friend who will pray for and with you – you need someone who when she says she’ll pray for you, she does.
  • She should be able to keep a secret – majority of the things you share will be so personal it would kill you if you had them somewhere else.

I have an amazing lady who has been both a mentor and a friend. I met her when my husband and I started dating. We needed a mentor couple to walk with us and even after we got married they have been really helpful. We picked them because they have a solid marriage and values we deemed very important. This lady is kind and very helpful and is not afraid to tell me when I’m wrong. Whenever I need advice on a marriage or faith issue I can always trust her to help.

You, too, need a friend like that. Someone sober, caring and kind; and discreet too. This kind of friendship does not happen overnight but is something we constantly work on. However, even with such a great friend, use wisdom to know how much details to give.

There will many times your husband will offend you and make you angry. Because he is human, he will constantly fall short of your expectations and will not handle issues you raise as fast as you wish he would. There will also be equally many opportunities for you to talk to ill of him to someone. Resist the urge to bad mouth him to anyone.

meWanjiru Kihusa is a Christian family blogger. She speaks and writes on marriage and relationships matters. A mother to one (in heaven), Wanjiru also speaks about miscarriages and grief caused by loss. She looks to encourage young people by giving sober and correct information about marriage and relationships. Find her at her blog Wanjiru Kihusa, or at her beautiful sister site, Family Lounge. (I had fun poking around her sites to see the things that Kenyan women are talking about! Cool.)

Wifey Wednesday: The 6 Rules of Relationship Conflict

It’s Wednesday, the day when we always talk marriage!

And today, since I’m flying to Colorado Springs to tape Focus on the Family’s radio show tomorrow (it won’t air until this summer! I’ll tell you when, don’t worry), I thought I’d share a snippet I thought was really smart that was sent to me recently.

Through conflict we can grow more like Jesus, see the world in a bigger way, and learn to be less selfish. We can feel understood and valued by our spouse. We can end up feeling that our marriage is rock solid.

But that doesn’t happen if conflict tears down rather than builds up.

So if you want it to build up, follow these 6 steps:

6 Rules of Relationship Conflict--#marriage

Great tips from Embrace Happiness: The Art of Conflict Management.

I love #6–remind yourself that your spouse cares. It’s just like Believe the Best that we talked about last week!

Now I know not all conflict can go that smoothly. Some of us struggle with spouses who are deep in sin or who are extremely selfish. But that is a minority of relationships. Usually it’s just a misunderstanding that’s making us feel off kilter.

To repair those moments, keep in mind these rules.

And here are more relationship conflict posts that may help:

Talk About the Real Issue

Ending Conflict Quickly

What are Your Trigger Points for Conflict?

And for those of you where the issue is something more intense, and where the relationship is tenuous, I’d point to these instead:

Being a Peace-MAKER Rather than a Peace-KEEPER

Seeking Peace not the Absence of Conflict

Have a great day!

Now, what advice do you have for us today? If you’re a blogger, too, just paste the URL of a specific marriage post in the linky below! And be sure to link back here so others can see these great posts.

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How Do You Respect Your Husband if You Can’t Trust Him?

Reader Question: How do I respect my husband if I can't trust him?
What does it mean to really respect your husband?

Every Monday I like to put up a Reader Question and take a stab at answering it. Today a reader asks how she can respect a husband she still doesn’t trust:

I found out about my husband of 5 years had been addicted to porn and caught him by innocently searching through his photos on his phone while nursing my son in bed one morning. I regularly asked to use his phone so my looking through it was nothing unusual at all. The difference this time is he forgot to hide his stuff apparently this time.

We have had MANY hard conversations since then. He’s been getting help, hasn’t looked at it since July (when I caught him) and has been genuinely turning his life around and back to the Lord.

Here’s my issue: I still don’t trust him yet. I’ve forgiven him but trusting him again is something that takes a lot of work and time. We aren’t at that point yet. Is it possible to respect him without trust?

I do try but he doesn’t feel it anymore. I know it’s incredibly important to show respect and even biblical. I guess maybe I don’t know what respect truly is?

I’m being the best I know how to be while feeling so broken but it doesn’t seem enough. Please help, I’m so confused. :-(

Great question–and one that there’s a lot of confusion about. I want to leave the question of how you rebuild trust someone after porn use, because that’s a separate question that other posts do address.

Today I want to tackle respect, because it’s something we hear a lot: women need unconditional love, and men need unconditional respect, and we wives ARE to respect our husbands.

I’ve heard this love and respect dichotomy frequently, and many books explain this perspective well–like Love and Respect. The problem is that while love can be freely given, respect as a whole is something that is earned. It isn’t something which is just automatically bestowed. Loving an unlovable person is something many of us do all the time. But loving an unlovable person doesn’t involve declaring that this unlovable person is somehow lovable; it involves loving them regardless and choosing to treat them well.

To respect someone who is not worthy of respect is much trickier, because we think of respect  not primarily an action as much as it is a feeling. How can you respect someone who hasn’t done anything to earn it–but has instead squandered it?

And so today I’d like to take a broader look at what it means to respect someone, and what it is that we do owe our husbands.

How to Respect Your Husband when you can't trust him. #marriage

Dictionary.com defines respect in these two primary ways:

esteem for or a sense of the worth or excellence of a person, a personal quality or ability, or something considered as a manifestation of a personal quality or ability:
I have great respect for her judgment.

deference to a right, privilege, privileged position, or someone or something considered to have certain rights or privileges; proper acceptance or courtesy; acknowledgment:
respect for a suspect’s right to counsel; to show respect for the flag; respect for the elderly.

The first definition is the one we usually think of, and it is dependent upon the actions of the person. You earn respect.

The second definition is the one that we are told in books like Love and Respect that men really need–to respect their position as husband, regardless of how he’s acting.

And that is certainly something that you can do. So God is not asking you to actually approve of anyone’s behaviour or “esteem” anyone. He is asking you to show deference.

But what does respecting your husband mean practically?

Boundaries in MarriageI actually think respect is part of healthy boundaries, as Henry Cloud and John Townsend talk about in their book Boundaries in Marriage, and I’m personally more comfortable with their way of framing the issue. They ask us to do this: imagine everybody as a farmer’s field, with fences around what is their responsibility and under their ownership.  In your field is your own actions; your own feelings; your own opinions. You have control over these things. You should not let others trespass. So no one, for instance, can “make you angry”. Anger is a choice that you make.

At the same time, other people have their own feelings and opinions and actions, and you need to not trespass on their field. So your husband is allowed to act his own way. Your children are allowed their feelings (even if you don’t like them). Your mother is allowed to rant at you if she wants. But you are then free to respond to that rant as you want. You can’t control the rant; you can control your response.

So to respect someone is to say: I recognize where the fences are. I recognize and honour your fence, and I will not trespass it.

Why Women are Control FreaksIn the case of marriage this is super important, because, as I’ve said before, most women do have control freak tendencies simply because we feel responsible for everyone, so we want to make sure they act the right way.

We need to not try to control our husbands, but let them be free to act. And to defer and respect also means that we acknowledge that their dreams and ideas for the family matter, and that we will get behind those dreams and pursue them with our husband, even if they aren’t always our dreams.

To respect your husband, then, does not mean that you approve of what he does. To respect him means that you acknowledge and support his right to choose what he does.

That’s a big difference. You aren’t trying to control him.

In the same way, to love your wife does not mean that you feel that she is lovable. It means you choose to treat her well and cherish her, no matter what she does.

To get back to our letter writer, she is largely equating respect with trust. Trust absolutely is something which is earned; we should never trust someone who is untrustworthy. And often we think that the respect that is asked of us is in the same category. But it is not.

So if you have a husband who isn’t trustworthy, what does respect look like?

I think it’s like this:

I will not try to control you or prevent you from using porn. I acknowledge that you have the right to freely choose whether to seek accountability or not; whether to watch porn or not; whether to rebuild the marriage or not. I am not free to try to manipulate you, guilt you, or cajole you in any way.

However, just as you are free to choose, I am also free to choose. And if you do choose to continue to watch porn, know that I will be taking these actions (and you can figure out what those are). I am not trying to control you by doing this; I am simply doing what I believe is best for me and our children based on prayer and on the godly counsel that I have received.

I hope and pray that our marriage can be restored, and I will do everything I can to build that marriage. I want to find things to do to build our friendship. I want to spend time laughing together. I want to enjoy meals together. And I know that you are free to make that choice as well, or to not make that choice. Regardless of what you choose, I will treat you with love, and I will treat you with grace.

What I really want, however, is for both of us to look more and more like Christ, and going down a really bad path isn’t going to help that. So if you do go there, I will have to take action. But in the meantime, I will not nag you. I will not manipulate. I will not look over your shoulder. I will not blame you or yell at you for my own feelings. I will take my sadness and process it with friends and with a counselor. I will work towards building up our marriage. And I will pray that you will do the same.

When someone has broken our trust our impulse is to stick to them like glue and check their phone and computer constantly and nag and cry and rage. And that isn’t respect, because it is “violating their fence”. But setting up an accountability partner for your husband so that you know he is getting help, as well as setting up conditions for what you will do if things do not change, IS part of respect, because just as he is free to choose, so are you. It’s honouring your own spheres of influence and control that God has given you, so that we don’t unwittingly become a sin enabler.

Some may say, “but that’s manipulation!” No, it’s not. To manipulate is to underhandedly use emotional, social, and sexual tools to try to pressure someone to do it our way–it is to take away their agency, their right to make a decision. Unfairness is a large part of manipulation. We’re not doing that–we’re acknowledging their right to make a decision, but we’re also acknowledging our own right to make a decision. And it isn’t underhanded. It’s right above board, and in line with God’s thinking on sin.

I know it’s hard to stop nagging and yelling and crying when trust has been broken, but I think that’s what respect means in this case. But I’d love to hear from you: how have you respected your husband when he’s acted inappropriately? How do you draw healthy boundaries? Let us know in the comments!

Note: if you and your husband are battling porn, Covenant Eyes is a great way to install accountability–painlessly! And between now and May 11, when you sign up, you get 60 days free. Check it out!

How Believing the Best Can Turn Your Marriage Around

Highly Happy Couples believe the best--even during rough times! #marriage
What if changing a marriage doesn’t always involve something huge? What if believing the best–a simple shift in attitude–can change everything?

I get notes everyday from women who are just desperate in their marriages. One yesterday stands out to me: they have two very small children; she has no friends; her husband likes to go out with the guys; and they never do anything together. Whenever they are together she begs him to talk more, to go on a date, and that just pushes him away. And so he goes out more.

And she feels  unloved.

But here’s the thing: he probably does, too, because the only interaction they have these days is that she’s upset with him. So now what do you do?

The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages: The Little Things That Make a Big DifferenceThat’s where Shaunti Feldhahn’s book Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages comes in, and it’s our book of the month for our Ultimate Marriage Reading Challenge. I can’t recommend this book enough. I’ve read so many marriage books over the last year, but this is probably the one I’d say gives the biggest bang for its buck, because it’s so immensely doable. These aren’t huge changes you have to make; they’re actually quite small. Seriously, go buy it. It’s one of the best investments you’ll ever make.

Shaunti is a researcher at heart, and what she set out to do was to answer the question:

What separates highly happy couples from other couples? What are the key things they’re doing differently?

So she surveyed tons of couples and asked them to rank how happy they were in their marriage on a scale of 1 to 5–with 5 being Totally Happy–I’d marry them again! Many couples were one 4 and another 5; many were both 4s; and many were a 5 and a 3. Those couples are still pretty happy. But the couples where both said 5 were special.

Then she did in-depth interviews and surveys to try to figure out what practical things the highly happy couples were doing that the other couples weren’t. And she found two interesting things:

1. The things that the happy couples thought were making the difference actually weren’t.

2. The things that did make a difference were often quite small.

In other words, if you were to ask a happy couple why they’re happy, their answer is likely wrong. It’s not that what they’re saying isn’t important (“we always seek to serve the other; we never go to bed mad”), it’s that other couples may do those things, too–or they don’t actually do these things as often as they think they do. It’s something else that matters.

And what is that something else?

Shaunti lists 12 habits that make a difference, and some of them I’ve talked about on this blog before.

  • Wives–say thank you! In highly happy couples, men say “I love you” and women say “thank you”, and they show affection and gratitude easily.
  • Re-connect after a fight. Have a simple way to signal, “we’re okay”.
  • Turn towards each other when you’re upset, not away from each other. When you’re going through a hard time, spend more time together, not less. (I mentioned that concept in the post on sleeping in separate bedrooms.)

Today I want to talk about one more: Highly happy couples believe the best about each other.

Assuming that your spouse wants the best for you can change everything.

Here’s how this plays out: let’s imagine that couple that I was talking about at the beginning of this post. He’s heading out with the boys, and she interprets it like this: “he doesn’t want to spend time with me anymore. He doesn’t love me. He thinks I’m boring.”

And so what does she do? She cries. She builds it up to be a huge thing in her mind. When he’s there, she berates him for it, which blows up into a fight. He feels attacked, and just wants to escape.

But what if her interpretation was wrong?

(Incidentally, I’m not saying that it’s okay for a guy to spend a ton of time out with the boys and ignore his little kids. But I do think this problem would be solved so much more easily if she could believe the best.)

Let’s look at some stats.

When asked, “do you care about your spouse and want the best for them, even during a fight?”, 99% of happy couples said yes; 97% of mostly happy couples said yes; and 80% of struggling couples said yes.

So that’s good–in general, married people deeply care about their spouse and want the best for them ALL THE TIME.

But here’s where things get tricky. When asked, “do you believe your spouse wants the best for you, even during a fight”, 96% of highly happy couples said yes; 87% of mostly happy couples said yes; but only 59% of struggling couples said yes.

So 41% of struggling couples believe that their spouse does NOT want the best for them, but only 20% would actually say that’s true. That’s a lot of people who think their spouse is out to get them when their spouse actually isn’t.

Can you see how believing the best could transform this relationship?

If she said to herself, “I know my husband loves me and wants me to be happy, but he’s still going out with the guys a lot and I miss him. I wonder how we can reconnect?”–that gives a totally different feel for how she could approach him.

She could say, “I’m glad you had time to unwind with the guys! I was thinking about ways that we could unwind together this weekend, too. Can I run some by you and then we can brainstorm some together?” Now there’s no blame. There’s no hurt feelings. There’s just an issue that needs to be discussed, and it’s not a big deal.

Of course, it could be that this guy really is a lout, who really doesn’t care about his wife, and who really is an insensitive clod who doesn’t care about his kids either. Some men are certainly like that. But not very many. And if he’s truly that bad a character, don’t you think you would have seen that before you married him?

Shaunti believes that this one habit is a prerequisite to a happy marriage. It’s correlates more highly with happy marriages than any of the others. She says,

Either we try to believe the best of our spouse when we are hurt, or we allow ourselves to believe the worst sometimes–which keeps us from ever entering that lush valley where we so want to be.

It’s your choice. If your husband struggles with porn, can you believe that he wants to love you and wants to be sexually enthralled with you, but he’s fighting this battle he can’t seem to win? And can you join him in that fight instead of feeding the feelings that “he doesn’t find me attractive. He really hates me.?” (Note: if your husband doesn’t believe porn is a problem and won’t deal with it, that’s a totally different story. You need to confront him about porn and say, “no more”! But if he’s just struggling, or trying to stop, join the fight with him, not against him!)

If your husband spends a lot of time away, can you believe that he’s just trying to unwind and isn’t deliberately rejecting you–and then work at how you can spend more time together?

If your husband rarely shows affection, can you believe that he’s just wired differently than you, instead of believing that he doesn’t love you? And then reach out to him anyway?

Like I said, in some marriages he really doesn’t believe the best. Some marriages really are emotionally destructive. But this is a minority.

Shaunti says that in marriage we are often presented with times when there are two possible explanations for our spouse’s behaviour: a positive one and a negative one.

We tend to veer towards the negative. But if you veer towards the positive, and try to figure out why he acted that way, often you find that your more generous explanation was actually true! And the more you do this, the more you realize your spouse really does believe the best–and it’s easier to keep believing that. It snowballs.

So next time you’re facing a situation where you can believe your husband did something to hurt you or you can believe there was another explanation, seek out that other explanation. Find out the WHY before assuming anything bad. And you just may find a great deal of relief!

The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages: The Little Things That Make a Big DifferenceThis is just one habit. There are eleven more. And they’re not huge. But they make a big difference. And Shaunti also has an action plan to show you how to implement them, because you can’t implement twelve changes all at once.

This research is gold, and if we could catch hold of these things, our marriages really would be transformed. I had such a great time reading this book, and I hope you all did, too. If you haven’t already, pick it up. It’s easy to read. It’s short. There are tons of stories. And it will give you hope.

8 Prayers For Protection Over Your Marriage

Today author Jennifer White shares with us how to pray prayers for protection over our marriages!

8 Prayers for Protection Over Your Marriage
I said “I DO” in 1991 with a deep love, a sense of adventure, and joy that I had been chosen. Three years later, I said “I don’t” and “I won’t.” I was so shocked that life could be so hard and hurt so badly only three years into marriage.

Three years after the divorce, I vowed to be Mrs. David White for the rest of my life. We have been married sixteen years. But five years in, I was drowning in the same deep waters that had led me to end my first marriage. Pride and fear were suffocating me. I couldn’t see how this could ever be okay for either of us.

Exposed

“Help me Jesus” was the cry of my heart.

With that simple prayer I drew near to God and in turn, He ran to me with more help than I knew I needed. He gave me Beth Moore Bible studies, Joyce Meyer on a daily basis, and a great counselor. These women taught me how the Bible could affect the intimate details of my life.

I had read about God’s power and Satan’s fury, but I had not expected either of them to jump off of the pages of the Bible and into my life. I made it through three decades of sermons and ministry before “the battle is the Lord’s” became “God will fight your battles if you let Him, Jennifer.” (2 Chronicles 20:15b)

What a revelation! I had been completely unaware of the spiritual battle targeting my mind and my marriage. While it looked like I had a husband vs. wife problem, the real battle was exposed. God united me to Himself and to my husband. His archenemy was offering to divide us.

My life was in Christ, but I was vulnerable. I had not taken God’s Word seriously. My disregard for His way and His truth opened the door to Satan’s plan for my life.

Flaming Darts

…hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil.
Ephesians 6:16 NLT

Involuntary thoughts of hurting myself and other people haunted me for several years. I didn’t act on them but they made me feel crazy. I assumed it was stress related. Eventually, I decided that God could use a divorced preacher’s wife much more than an insane one. Yes, I divorced a pastor. So.very.sad.

Similar thoughts erupted in my second marriage. Thankfully God rescued me with the news that those thoughts were actually the flaming arrows mentioned in Ephesians 6. My counselor recognized the attack.

The enemy used the feeling of being crazy as a strategic strike in my life. But he didn’t stop there. He also whispered discouragement and fear using the sound of my own voice. He nurtured in me a deep fear of confrontation. He also used the sound of a disapproving parent’s voice to encourage me to disapprove of my husband.

Shielded by Faith

The last ten years of my marriage have been the most exciting and rewarding years of my life. Studying the Word of life armed me with knowledge of who God is and what He can do. God had been developing my faith in Him and that has changed everything!

And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.
I John 5:4 ESV

When a thought appears in my head, I have to be ready to evaluate it. I question whose character lines up with that thought. Is it God’s or Satan’s? Does God’s Word say that I should think this way? If not, then I need to reject it because it is intended to destroy me.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.
I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
John 10:10 ESV

Knowing God’s truth has literally freed me from the grip of the enemy of my soul and marriage. It continues to be my best defense.

Every Wife Needs a Sword

“To think God’s thoughts requires much prayer. If you do not pray much, you are not thinking God’s thoughts. If you do not read your Bible much and often and reverently, you are not thinking God’s thoughts….” A.W. Tozer

Years before this breakthrough, counselors who were Christians listened well. They helped me see the problem. But I remained unchanged. I was powerless to fix me and my marriage. They were too.

But Jesus sent His word and healed me (Psalm 107:20). I started walking in victory when I was counseled according to God’s Word.

I had no idea how powerful God’s Word could be. Today I see it as the supernatural antibiotic for the wounded heart and infected mind. That is exactly what it has been and continues to be for me.

Wounded women are frequently bitter, jealous, fearful, resentful, prideful, and/or contentious. These are symptoms of a mind infected by those flaming darts. Pride, fear and resentment monopolized my heart.

I learned to deploy God’s word as a sword against the very strong holds sin had on my mind. I was introduced to praying God’s Word and Germaine Copeland’s Prayers that Avail Much. Here is one of the Scriptural prayers she offers:

In the name of Jesus, I loose my mind from wrong thought patterns. I tear down strongholds that have protected bad perceptions about myself. I submit to You, Father, and resist fear, discouragement, self-pity, and depression. I will not give place to the devil by harboring resentment and holding onto anger. I surround myself with songs and shouts of deliverance from depression, and I will continue to be an overcomer by the word of my testimony and the blood of the Lamb.

I read this prayer and others aloud day and night. I read them in parking lots while I waited for someone. I read them on the treadmill. As I proclaimed God’s truth and promises, I felt stronger mentally and emotionally. I found myself making decisions based on the truth instead of the lies I once believed.

I firmly believe that the Sword of the Spirit slices through the slimy tentacles of sin. Praying according to God’s Word is the antibiotic my soul desperately needs. It also how I resist the devil so he will flee from me (James 4:8).

Are you praying God’s Word over your marriage?

Marriage Armor

There were too many years of heartache in my life before I realized that I needed God and His Word to defend me against the father of lies. What if I had begun praying God’s Word before my first marriage? Our marriage could have been a beautiful reflection of Jesus, our Bridegroom, loving and serving His Bride.

What if every bride armed her marriage with God’s Word?

Prayers for New Brides: Putting on God's Armor After the Wedding DressAs a veteran of one failed marriage and one rescued by the Savior, I am sharing my experience in Prayers for New Brides: Putting on God’s Armor After the Wedding Dress. It’s packed with Bible teaching and prayer prompts for many of the issues every couple faces.

Prayers for New Brides is designed to help wives show up, surrender and salute the almighty God who is able to defend their marriage. It is a faith building resource to help brides avoid getting destroyed by the flaming arrows. It is for every wife who longs to see God do more in her marriage.

Swing Your Sword

We can’t let the evil one lull us into a false sense of security. We need to arm our marriages with the same discipline a solider employs in preparing for battle.

Here are seven simple prayer prompts to help you arm your marriage today with God’s transforming Word.

1. Generous and merciful God, give me a hunger and thirst for righteousness so that I can live satisfied by You. I don’t want to demand more from my husband than he is supposed to provide. Matthew 5:6

2. Teach me to hear your voice so I can follow You all the days of my life and marriage. John 10:27

3. Wonderful Counselor, make me wise to the enemy’s divisive and destructive schemes. Isaiah 9:6, James 1:5, 2 Corinthians 10:5

4. Fill me with Your wisdom so I can excel as ______’s wife. Ephesians 1:17

5. Grant me a humble heart. Help me relinquish a false sense of control. I want to live a praying life. Matthew 7:7 and Proverbs 16:18

6. Mighty God, strengthen me to stand under Your authority every day in every way. Please forgive me for the ways I have dismissed Your perfect leadership. Ephesians 6:10, 11, 13, 14

7. Jesus, pour Your faith into me so that I can deflect the flaming arrows the enemy sends my way. Use me as a warrior of Your word in our marriage. Hebrews 12:2, Ephesians 6:17

8. Father, help me see my husband through Your eyes. I want to honor and cherish Him. I want to focus his value and avoid the temptation to disregard his unique contributions to our marriage.

Did you know to pray these things for yourself when you were a new bride?

Are you aware of the spiritual battle behind the scenes of your marriage?

Today I am offering Chapter 15 of Prayers for New Brides – Seeing Your Spouse through God’s Eyes as a free download. It is one of the most important lesson I’ve learned as David’s wife. Click here to get your copy.

Jennifer White, prayers for protectionJennifer O. White is the author of Prayers for New Brides: Putting on God’s Armor After the Wedding Dress and Marriage Armor for the #PrayingBride. Jennifer is a natural encourager who offers hope from the truths from God’s Word at her blog, Prayerfully Speaking. With every blog post, Jennifer is exalts the one true God who can empower us to do more than we can ask or imagine.

When the Way We Talk About Submission Turns People Off of Christ

Be careful how you comment! Sometimes we don't realize how too radical a view of submission can turn people away from Christ

On Mondays I always like to post a Reader Question and take a stab at answering it, and I have a quite a backlog of questions I’m getting ready to answer!

But today I thought it was important to share instead a Reader Observation and a plea for help from the vast majority of you who read this blog. I’ll get to that observation and that plea in a minute, but first, a little bit of background:

How asking for help from my husband made our marriage so much better!
Last month I published a guest post from Kate Tunstall, where she explained how after her first baby came she and her husband started to grow apart. And she grew more and more resentful about him not wanting to care for the baby until she sat down and talked to him, and realized they both were partially at fault.

They both opened up to each other, learned some new things about each other (and themselves), and sorted things out.

And it was all was because she chose to talk about it rather than keep stewing. Had she kept stewing, she wouldn’t have realized that much of their problem was due to misunderstandings. It was only in talking and creating vulnerability and openness again that they came to a solution.

I thought it was a great story that illustrated a point I’ve been trying to make on this blog a lot lately. Sometimes you have to ask your husband for help. You can’t expect your husband to know what you’re thinking unless you tell him. And in most cases, we may look for a “magic bullet” that will fix the problem, but ultimately we have to do the hard and sometimes awkward work of talking about it.

It so happens that Kate doesn’t identify herself as an evangelical Christian (though I will not presume to say what faith she does or does not have beyond that). But her post was right on about marriage and I published it.

The comments on that post, though, quickly veered in a really dangerous and counterproductive direction.

The first few comments are great; then they get weird. One woman wrote that this woman was wrong for expecting her husband to care for the baby; she used a rather derogatory and critical tone toward the guest poster, which other commenters (and I) tried to correct. Then someone else joined the fray and said this:

This post defies Scripture, as well as 1850 years of church teaching. Jesus did not tell us that communication was the most important thing, rather repentance and obedience.

I then commented that just because the church and our culture have sanctioned something does not automatically make it right–look at slavery, after all! (I brought up slavery because I thought NO ONE could defend slavery).

The commenter then defended slavery. And then I deleted the theological arguments they left about why slavery was justified, and banned that commenter.

Seriously, can you imagine what defending slavery in public does to the name of Christ?

I think it’s perfectly valid to wrestle in a seminary with the question, “does the fact that God let the Israelites own slaves in the Old Testament mean that God permits all kinds of slavery? Was slavery just for a time?” But to debate this in public is beyond the pale (and by the way, I still don’t believe God ever really blessed the institution of slavery).

Kate actually wrote a follow-up post on her experience guest posting on a Christian blog, and here’s some of what she said:

It is the year 2015. I was of the impression that the developed world had come a long way, even if only in the last thirty or so years. Whereas it was once acceptable, expected even, that there were gender-specific roles, I thought this narrow-mindedness had all but ended. (Having said that, men and women have different strengths, and I completely advocate the right to state such a fact without the fear of being labelled sexist. It is simple good sense.)

Do you see how sad that is? She was under the impression that the world had come a long way–and we’ve now made her think that the evangelical community is narrow-minded (even though it was a minority of the commenters).

She then says:

I was dismayed to learn that having made huge efforts, at personal cost, to ensure my husband’s needs are met (frequenting the gym regularly and never having to get up to our daughter during the night, for example), there has still been a suggestion that I expect too much of him [by wanting him to interact with our daughter]. I cannot understand or agree with this view – to me it is either antiquated chauvinism in a non-religious context, or, as Sheila discusses, misinterpretation in religion.

Sometimes we leave comments on blogs because we like debate, but we forget that people who do not share our faith will be reading them.

Be careful what you say and how you word things. You are not just debating with the author of a post; you are debating with everyone who will read this post and the comments. People who are searching are on this blog. People who are struggling with God are on this blog. We have a responsibility to the weaker brother.

And I get about 10,000 visits a day from search engines–most of whom arrive here because they use a search term that relates to a crisis in their marriage. And most do not know God. Please assume that when you are commenting here, you are not just talking to Christians. You are talking to moms and wives and even some husbands who are hurting, and who are genuinely searching for help.

One other important thing:

Sometimes our interpretation of Scripture, quite frankly, means that many non-Christian marriages are healthier than many Christian marriages.

Kate’s marriage seems very healthy–or at least her conflict resolution model is. And studies consistently show that children who interact with both parents are emotionally healthier than children who only interact with the mother. A father’s hands-on role is best.

The fact that some commenters were arguing that a husband shouldn’t be expected to interact with the children shows that many non-Christian families are psychologically healthier, which is scary.

Unfortunately, it’s not all that surprising. If you subscribe to the interpretation of Scripture where a wife can never point out where her husband may be in error (even though being a suitable helpmeet obviously equipped us for this role), or that a wife should not express an opinion or call her husband out on sin (seriously, read the comments on this one), or that it is not a wife’s place to draw boundaries and say, “I will not tolerate you treating me in an abusive or demeaning way“, then I doubt that marriage is going to be very healthy.

And some teaching in the church I believe is downright dangerous, like that from Debi Pearl about how when a wife is abused it’s because we’ve provoked our husbands, or that the way to deal with any marriage problem (even severe sin) is to “win him without words”. This leaves far too many families in desperate straits, unable to deal with real abuse, or unable to confront sin and urge their spouses on towards godliness.

So here’s what I would ask:

1. Remember you are God’s ambassadors.

If you have an opinion which would make the majority of the public cringe and question whether or not God is really loving, then ask yourself, “Is it really important that I express it here?”, or, at least, “how can I phrase this so that I’m saying it lovingly?” Obviously we will all hold opinions that are counter-cultural; that’s what being a Christian is. But there is no need to be ungracious or to throw anything in someone else’s face. Instead, we are to relate to them in as many ways as we can so as to not make offense unnecessarily.

Like Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:20-22:

To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.

2. EVERYONE: Please, please, please publicly correct those who give God a bad name.

If you see a comment on this (or any other site) that you think gives God a bad name, then leave a comment to say that that person is wrong, or that most Christians, in your opinion, do not share that point of view.

I’m saying this one to the vast majority of you who are silent, or who may comment but don’t want to touch the inflammatory ones with a ten foot pole. Even a simple, “I think that is the wrong interpretation of Scripture, and want to point out that you hold a minority view” would be awesome!

Right now the off-base comments seem more important than they really are, because 95% of people never comment. Can you imagine how powerful it would be if every time someone said something really inflammatory, a bunch of people said, “I don’t think that’s an accurate view of Scripture”?

3. Think about giving Kate some Encouragement

Her post where she talks about her experience on this blog is right here. If some of you want to go over and give her some encouragement, that would be great!

I, in turn, will:

1. Delete comments whose only purpose seems to be to be inflammatory.

2. Delete comments that may be well-reasoned, but that are so offensive and wrong that I think God will be maligned. (like the pro-slavery ones).

3. Allow comments through that are well-reasoned, even if I think they are wrong, if they don’t cross a threshold. And then I will try to correct them as often as possible.

4. Delete comments where the commenter is insulting another commenter, or making assumptions about other commenters that really aren’t warranted or that are too judgmental.

And I really will try to get to my backlog of Reader Questions too!

I was thinking yesterday in our wonderful Easter service, where I saw my “adopted” niece get baptized, that God is about grace and changing lives and Jesus so wants to bring the world to Himself.

I want this blog to be a part of that. But sometimes I worry that we do the opposite, when I let certain things through.

I do want to allow discussion, but I am really far more concerned about the impression we’re giving those who don’t know Christ than I am about fostering free flowing debate.

I still will always let things through that are respectful, even if I don’t always agree (as long as they’re not totally beyond the pale), but I’d just ask that all of us participate in policing this community and making it a safe place for those who aren’t yet Christians to visit and to learn from.

May we never inadvertently turn off, or turn away, a seeker.

Thanks, everybody! And let me know what you think of my comment policy.

[UPDATE: You guys are awesome! Thanks for all your helpful comments over on Kate’s blog! ]

[UPDATE 2: OH MY GOODNESS! One of the commenters I kept deleting just posted this comment over on Kate’s blog (she hasn’t approved it yet; she sent it to me first). Okay, people, this just proves that some of you don’t get it. How in the world does posting this comment on her blog further the cause of Christ?

Oh, and by the way, when I speak about what we need to do to make our marriages better by drawing boundaries, that doesn’t mean we’re ordering our husbands around. That means that we say, “you are free to choose to do that, but I will not stay here/listen to you/etc. etc. if you sin in that way in front of me.” That is perfectly legitimate and perfectly in line with the gospel, and I’m sorry people think that women should allow men to treat them disprespectfully or destructively–or even worse that God sanctions this.

Here’s the comment:

First, I want to state that we were 2/3rds of the commentors you are referencing. Second, we want to apolagize to you in the way it came across. Our differences are with Sheila and not with you. If you are not a christian and are not teaching God’s Word then we have no problem at all with what you shared. However, please understand that is not the way it was presented at a website (Sheila’s) which is about teaching how marriage should take place in a christian marriage.

As christians we have no problem with a wife asking a husband for help and we certianly think a father should be deeply involved in raising his children. We do not beleive though that God’s Word teaches a wife has the authority to tell her husband how their marriage and parenting is going to play out. Share her hopes and feelings, most certianly. Ask for help, definetly. But not tell him or order him. It goes against scripture.

So please understand our disagreement was not with you but with Sheila whose teaching deals almost exclusively anymore with teaching wives to take the authority position in their marriages and not teaching wives the scripture that pertains to them in the Bible while yet holding husbands to the teaching that pertains to them. In other words, everyday Sheila tries to What I find unacceptable is when a difference in values, and thus opinion, gives rise to anybody forcing their own beliefs upon somebody else. There is no justification for that. Or in other words she forces values and opinions on christian men/husbands through her teaching- using God’s Word as her weapon but only applying it to men.

In other words you stepped into a long running battle that unfortunately is filled with hard feelings on both sides. We are sorry you got stuck in the middle and it would have been handled much differently had we known that you were not a christian.

I know this is not a flattering comment in regards to Sheila but I ask you to do two things before you make judgement.

Review her last year (or three years of posts). Do a count on how many address women treating their husbands better or addressing what we as christians would call women’s own sins? Now count how many are addressing men’s sins. You’ll find that somewhere around 80-90% address men’s sins and yet she is speaking to women everyday. The basic theme of her blog is not how to be a better wife or even how to have a better marriage, it is simply about taking control of your husband. If that is not the case, why the vast difference in the number of posts? Are men worse then women? Are men causing more marriage problems than women?

We do not expect someone who does not share our faith to agree with what the Bible says but even people who do not share the same beliefs can agree that the only person you can change is yourself. If you are speaking to the same group everyday, why are you constantly teaching about the sins of the other?

Respectfully and wishing you & your husband the best.

And now a word to that commenter who really doesn’t get it. If you continue to try to get a non-Christian involved in a disagreement between Christians, and continue to try to post things that defame Christ, even though I have told you not to, I WILL publish your email address. This is ridiculous. Please understand: YOU ARE GOD’S AMBASSADOR. How in the world did you think that this comment furthered the cause of Christ?

[UPDATE 3]: Just thought of something even more ironic–and kinda funny!

Okay, so that commenter who is obviously more concerned with winning an argument with me than with portraying Christ in a positive light has a beef with me: I have been teaching on this blog about how women can confront their husbands when their husbands are in sin, instead of teaching women to serve their husbands.

Emotionally Destructive Marriages: 10 Truths about marriages characterized by emotional abuse
I don’t actually believe that my posts are skewed if you count them up at all, but it is true that I’ve been hammering the point about Emotionally Destructive marriages recently–and about calling your husbands out on sin. There are two main reasons for this: one is because I can see the Google searches that lead people to this page, and so, so many of them have to do with wives whose husbands use porn.

But the second is because people like this commenter keep commenting–and they scare me! Are there really that many people out there who believe that women should not confront their husbands in sin? If that’s true, then I have a lot more teaching to do! Ironically, if these commenters would stop leaving such incendiary comments about a woman’s role, I could move on to other things. But the fact that they keep popping up here shows me that there is still much teaching to do in the church about appropriate relationships. And that’s why I chose Leslie Vernick’s book The Emotionally Destructive Marriage to look at in our reading challenge last month–because what these people are advocating are essentially the blueprints for an emotionally destructive marriage. And the more I hear from them, the more I have to talk about it!

Reader Question: How Do You Leave and Cleave If He Won’t Leave?

Reader Question: My husband is lazy and won't get a job!
When we get married we’re supposed to leave and cleave–but what if your husband won’t leave his mother and father?

Every Monday I like to post a reader question and take a stab at answering it. Today we’re talking mother-in-law issues:

What do you do when your mother-in-law interferes? She will call the house and if I don’t answer she will call my husband at work and bug him about me not answering…She calls every evening around 7 when my husband is getting home. Most times I don’t even get a hello from him before she calls. Some nights she will keep him on the phone for up to an hour…Almost every Sunday she bugs us about going to church with them and she gets mad if we don’t go to their church. Every time we plan on going out something comes up (usually because of his mom) and we don’t. We have only been out once in the last year for our anniversary. I feel like I never see my husband and when I do his mom is involved. It is very stressful and it is causing a wedge between us. Please help!

Here’s another woman who is frustrated that her husband is still primarily concerned with his mother:

My husband and I have been married for 14 years and have several children. We married quite young and went straight from our parents’ homes to married with a baby on the way. We’ve been through a lot in our marriage, but one thing that hasn’t changed is his tendency to choose his mom over me. If she wants us to do something and I do not want to, we do it. We have talked and argued and battled over this our entire marriage. When he does go along with something, he acts as if it couldn’t be helped. In the past I have tried to get him to go to counseling, but he “doesn’t like the idea”. I realize that this is a power struggle that I am in, but my life and marriage are being controlled by his mother. I am 33 years old, a mother myself, and do not want her dictating our lives. What do I do that is both pleasing to God and putting my foot down?

Leave and Cleave: Handling it when your husband lets your mother-in-law interfere

The Basics: What Does “Leave and Cleave” Mean?

Genesis 2:24 says,

That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.

When we get married, we leave behind our parents and we join with our spouse, becoming one flesh with them. We are a new unit.

That doesn’t mean that we aren’t to honor our parents; they deserve our love and respect and our help, especially as they age. But our primary allegiance is no longer to them; we’re supposed to identify first and foremost with our spouse.

On a Daughter Getting Engaged: Getting ready for them to leave and cleave
This summer, after my husband walks our oldest, Rebecca, down the aisle, the minister will ask Keith and me and Connor’s parents if we are prepared to let our children go. I never thought much about that, but as the date draws near the enormity of it is hitting. I have to let Rebecca make her own choices. I can’t interfere. I can’t demand that she update me on what’s going on with school. I can ask, but it really needs to be her choice, and I need to be okay with that.

I hope that she still wants to spend lots of time with us, but ultimately that is her decision, not mine. She and Connor will be the unit, and we won’t be a nuclear family in the same way again.

How Do You Talk About Leave and Cleave?

Usually when leave and cleave in-law issues come up, the conversation with our husbands focuses on the mother.

Let’s imagine the first scenario for a minute:

“Your mom called right as you came in the door again! I feel like I never get to talk to you. Instead of eating dinner with the family you speak all night with her. She is always interfering in our lives and taking you away from us!”

Now, what’s your husband going to think? He now is put in the position of either defending his mother or attacking his mother–neither of which is really comfortable for him.

What’s a better strategy for having this conversation? Offer him two things:

  1. A specific chance to help you
  2. A chance to plan with you

Let’s say the conversation instead looked like this:

“Honey, I feel like we’ve had so little time together lately because your mom has been calling so much. I love your mom and love the fact that you love your mom, but I’m feeling lonely. Can we talk about how to find time to feel more connected?”

Now the issue is no longer his mom–it’s the fact that you have a need that he can fill–and many guys like feeling like Captain America swooping in to save the damsel in distress.

You could also frame a conversation like this:

“I love your mom and so appreciate her role as grandma. I also really love our own nuclear family. Can we talk about what a great relationship with a grandma would look like, and what a great nuclear family would look like?”

Again, no blame is being placed. You’re not attacking his mom and asking him to choose sides. You’re just asking for some ideas. And as you have these conversations, you can say something like this:

“I’d like to write down what we’re saying so that we can refer to it later. What do you think is a reasonable amount of time to spend together with your family in the evenings? How often should an adult check in with their parents if they want to honor their parents? How many weekends a year should a family give their parents, and how many weekends should they take, just them? Can you think of a family that we know with a great relationship with their parents–but also as a nuclear family? How often do they spend with their parents? What makes that relationship great?”

Once you get these parameters written down, you can now refer to them when things get out of hand.

“Honey, I notice that you said you thought it was reasonable to check in with parents every other day for about twenty minutes, but in the last few days you’ve talked to your mom for an hour each day. How do you think we can move our family closer to what we want?”

These are the kinds of conversations that are often more productive. You’re not blaming, you define parameters, you set up goals which you you can easily see whether you’ve met or not, and you have something tangible to come back to if things don’t work.

Who is Responsible for Leaving?

It’s important that parents let their children go, but ultimately the child must decide to leave. And you can’t make that decision for your spouse. If your mother-in-law is taking a lot of your husband’s time, you can certainly talk to her. But your husband must be the one to set the parameters.

How Can You Build a Life with Your In-Laws?

It’s easier for him to set those parameters if you make an effort to love your mother-in-law and make your own relationship with her. If your husband feels as if he always must choose between two women who don’t like each other, you put him in a difficult position.

Romans 12:18 says,

 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

Do what you can to have a great relationship with your mother-in-law. Sometimes that won’t be possible, but try. Ask for recipes. Ask for her to teach you something. Ask if you can join a hobby with her, or take her shopping. Go get your nails done together on a regular basis.

If you can find a way to relate to your mother-in-law that does not involve your husband, you go so far in making it easier for your husband to leave.

I’m about to be a mother-in-law, and I’m starting to have some sympathy for the mother-in-law in these relationships. Here’s the thing: I believe that mothers-in-law often become interfering because they are desperately afraid of losing their child. And so you try to make sure that your son still loves you as his mom. You want to still feel special.

I know that I won’t worry about losing my daughter if Connor takes some time to get to know us individually. And that’s why we were so happy when he agreed to go on a father-son canoe trip coming up with my husband! If we feel as if our son-in-law loves us as individuals, and not just because he’s married to our daughter, then we won’t be nearly as concerned with our daughter proving her loyalty. And I’ve been so proud to watch how Rebecca is trying to reach out to her future mother-in-law, and put her at ease that she won’t take her son away from her. She gets it.

So reach to your mother-in-law. It may not take much–but if she knows you’re an ally, not a rival, then she may have an easier time letting go of her son.

Dayspring Serenity Prayer

What if Your Husband Never Chooses to Leave and Cleave?

What if you’ve done all of this and your husband is still at her beck and call?

Can you move away? I’ve known several marriages that have broken up that I’ve always felt would have survived if they had just moved away from her parents (in those cases it was SHE who wasn’t leaving, not HE).

If that’s not possible, you have two choices:

  1. Grow bitter about it and make his life miserable
  2. Decide to let it go and love your husband

I know that everyone would be better off if your husband learned to leave and cleave. But you can’t make him. You can seek out a mentor couple; you can ask for all of you to sit down with a counselor; you can even go to your pastor. But if things don’t change, what are you going to do?

I wrote a post a while ago about changing our attitudes when there’s one big area where your husband disappoints you–and you have to learn to accept it, and find ways to make your own life happy and peaceful anyway.

If you know that your husband is going to talk to his mom every night at 7 for an hour, then can you find something you do at 7 that you enjoy, so you’re not disappointed and stewing every evening? If you know that your mother-in-law is going to want your husband to help her with errands this Saturday, can you plan something fun for you and the kids so that you don’t end up making him feel guilty?

BoundariesAnd if your mother-in-law wants you all to come do something with her, it’s quite okay on occasion to say, “I really need a weekend just with the kids. I’d love for you to join us, but if you feel you must go with your mother, feel free. But I think I’ll keep the kids here with me this weekend.” You don’t need to go along with everything; you can set boundaries yourself.

Keep expressing your feelings, as we talked about above, but ultimately you’re letting go and you’re letting your husband make his own decisions. Sometimes in that letting go he feels freed to look at the situation more objectively, because it’s not so emotional. He may decide that you look like you’re having a lot more fun without him–and he wants to join you! But even if he doesn’t, at least you’re not as miserable anymore.

Now it’s your turn: Let me know in the comments, have you ever had to set boundaries around in-laws? Or are you an in-law yourself and you’ve had to watch how you treat your adult children? Tell us any tips you have!

Why One Size Fits All Advice Doesn’t Work

Marriage Advice: God cares about us looking more and more like Him far more than He cares about rules. So be careful of black and white advice, even about submission and respect.

The problem with giving marriage advice is that I can always think of about a million different exceptions where the advice may not apply.

There’s rarely a one-size-fits-all rule when it comes to relationships.

In fact, I think that’s why Jesus told stories so much–so that we could glean the principle, not just the law.

Let me give you an example.

Good Girls Guide My SiteWithholding sex is wrong. Sex is an integral part of marriage, and we should not deprive our spouses. I’m quite adamant about that; I have a whole chapter in The Good Girls Guide to Great Sex about why it’s so important to make regular and frequent in  marriage, even if we don’t always feel loved or don’t always want it.

But, as I pointed out last week, that piece of advice, while generally true, isn’t always true. If your husband has just been watching porn, or is all aroused because of watching some heavily sex saturated TV show, having sex with him right then enables sin. Saying, “I will not have sex with you after you have looked at other naked women” is a perfectly legitimate boundary that supports the sanctity of marriage and does not enable sin. After all, as Hebrews 13:4 says, “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” (NIV)

Nine Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage: Because a Great Relationship Doesnt Happen by AccidentThis was my basic issue when writing my new book that’s coming out this summer, 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage. Too often the Christian advice that we’re given can actually hurt, rather than help, our relationships if we lose sight of the broader principle behind it.

And what is the broader principle that God wants for us?

I’d say  God wants  these two primary things: It’s not His will that any should perish, so He wants all to come to know Him, (2 Peter 3:9), and He wants us to be transformed into the likeness of His Son (Romans 8:29).

He wants us to come to salvation, and then He wants us to be sanctified and made to look like Christ.

Those are God’s goals for us–the ENDS, as it were. And the means, the way we get there, are all of the teachings that we’re given in Scripture. But those teachings are not ends, in and of themselves, and too often we confuse them.

For instance, one of the means that God gives us for achieving the ends (growing like Christ) is to submit to our husbands and respect our husbands. But are there times when these MEANS would actually achieve a different END than God wants? Absolutely.

In the story of Ananias and Sapphira that we find in Acts 5, that couple owned a piece of land that they sold, and then they brought part of the proceeds to the apostles to go towards helping in the work of the church. So far so good. But they decided to tell the apostles that the money they gave was ALL the money they got. They wanted to look better than they were.

Ananias came in first, lied, and God struck him down. Sapphira came in afterwards, and Peter gave her an opportunity to make things right (she did not know Ananias was dead). He gave her the opportunity, in other words, to be unsubmissive–to disagree with her husband. She didn’t take it, and she was struck dead (Larry Crabb would argue that doing what God wants instead of following your husband into sin IS being submissive, not unsubmissive, and I agree with him. But that’s a bigger point for another post).

When I bring up that story, I get people arguing that it doesn’t show that you can go against your husband, because it could be that Sapphira was actually the instigator. But it makes no difference whether she plotted the whole thing (was the instigator), planned it with him (was equal), or just went along (was lesser). Peter gave her a chance to do the right thing apart from her husband and she did not take it, showing us, and wives forevermore, that God does not want us to participate in sin with our husbands. When sin is involved, we are to stand separately.

And what about the story of Abigail and Nabal from 1 Samuel 25? Nabal had put his family in danger because he had not compensated David and his men for the help they had given him. And Abigail intervened, apart from her husband’s wishes, to save the family. When your husband is dangerous and unreliable, you do the right thing. You don’t follow him to disaster.

Too often we preach the rule and forget these ends–that God wants us to look more and more like Him.

For instance, I received this letter recently:

My husband and I lost our house five years ago when my husband lost his job. We’ve been moving from house to house, staying with relatives, until we get kicked out. And we always get kicked cause my husband refuses to look for a job. He’s qualified for a bunch of jobs (he’s even been offered some), but he always says something better is coming. We have two small children, and I’m working part-time, but it won’t pay the bills. My husband spends all of his time on the computer looking up new jobs and how to start his own business, but he doesn’t actually do anything. I know my sister is getting sick of us living in her basement, but I don’t know what to do. I’m trying so hard to respect my husband? I encourage him and tell him he’s awesome and that I’m so proud of him, but I’m so angry right now.  He refuses to get a job, and I need him to. I know I need to respect him, but it’s just so hard.

The real issue here is that her husband is not acting responsibly, and he needs to step up to the plate. By framing the issue as respect, she’s missing the boat. And unfortunately, far too often in Christian circles if women are having issues in their marriage they are told that the only answers are to be more submissive and to respect more–which assumes that the problem is caused in the first place because they aren’t more submissive. “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

And I have often heard wives told to submit as if submission is the ENDS–that what God wants, more than all of us looking like Christ, is to have the right order in relationship.

Should we respect our husbands? Of course! But let’s not forget that the ENDS matter more than the MEANS.

That’s what Jesus said in the stories found in Mark 2 and Mark 3. In Mark 2 the disciples were hungry, so they were picking grain on the sabbath. The Pharisees criticized them since this was unlawful. But Jesus points out that David did something unlawful, too, when his companions were hungry. He concludes in Mark 2:27: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” And then Mark 3 opens with a story about Jesus healing on the Sabbath.

The Pharisees were so focused on the rule–keeping the sabbath–that they forgot the principle–God wants our best.

And in your marriage, God wants your best–which includes both of you looking more and more like Him.

That’s why it’s not about rules. It’s about aiming for God’s best for you and your husband. Let me give you two quotes from our books from The Ultimate Marriage Reading Challenge in January. Gary Thomas, in A Lifelong Love, says this:

A Lifelong Love: What If Marriage Is about More Than Just Staying Together?For instance, in a real-life scenario, a wife told me that her husband said, “Quit throwing away my pornography. I need it. If you throw away my pornography, I’m throwing away your Bible.”

Her desire is that her husband not keep a stash of pornography. That’s what she wants. But it’s also what will most bless her husband. So she doesn’t give way and allow him to maintain a separate sexual life apart from their intimacy. Sh blesses him by saying, “No, I won’t stand for this.” Sometimes what we want can also be a blessing to our spouses, even if they don’t want it. To bless other people is to seek their ultimate good, and their ultimate good is what draws them to God.

And John and Staci Eldredge, in Love & War, say this:

Love and War: Find Your Way to Something Beautiful in Your Marriage[Staci speaking]: For years I think we both thought that to overlook your spouse’s issues was the most loving thing to do…By all means, we overlook their little quirks; we even overlook the ways they wound us, if by overlook we mean we forgive them. But this doesn’t mean we turn a blind eye to issues that will eventually harm them, or the marriage, or the children. God doesn’t.

It is not love to ignore your spouse’s sin, or brokenness, or immaturity. It is not love to let something wrong carry on. It is not right. Truth be told, it is a lack of love that lets it all go on for years. When you let your own fears keep you from bringing something up with your spouse, that is self-protection. Or indifference. God loves until what he loves is pure.

We work for our spouse’s ultimate good. That is the ends.

But that’s murky, isn’t it? We’d rather have a black and white assurance of what w should do. But isn’t murky God’s modus operandi? Jesus dies and rises from the dead, and the only method He left of telling the world about it is a motley crew of fallible disciples, guided by the Holy Spirit.

That’s how God works–we have to walk by the Spirit! That makes us pray, and listen to God, and stay close to Him. And He’s also given us mentors in the church to ask. And if that doesn’t work, and there’s still a big issue in your marriage, there’s also taking it before the church leadership (Matthew 18).

There is no one size fits all advice, because we’re all different.

But we all have the Holy Spirit, and our church community, and hopefully mentors.

And so, whenever you read a piece of marriage advice, put it through this lens:

Will acting in the suggested way make me grow more like Jesus, or make me look less like Him? Will acting like this make my husband look more like Jesus, or less like Him? What should I do right now to encourage all of us to look and act more and more like Jesus?

That’s what it’s about, people. It’s about being Christlike. So go deeper with God and with His word. And then love and respect in integrity, truth, and grace.

 

Rebuilding Trust After a Porn Addiction

Rebuilding Trust After a Porn Addiction

I get a lot of reader’s questions like this one:

I found out about my husband of 5 years had been addicted to porn and caught him by innocently searching through his photos on his phone while nursing my son in bed one morning.  I regularly asked to use his phone, so my looking through it was nothing unusual at all. The difference this time is he forgot to hide his stuff apparently this time. We have had MANY hard conversations since then. He’s been getting help, hasn’t looked at it since July (when I caught him) and has been genuinely turning his life around and back to the Lord.  Here’s my issue.  I still don’t trust him yet. I’ve forgiven him but trusting him again is something that takes a lot of work and time. We aren’t at that point yet. Is it possible to respect him without trust?  I do try but he doesn’t feel it anymore. I know it’s incredibly important to show respect and even biblical. I guess maybe I don’t know what respect truly is? I’m being the best I know how to be while feeling so broken but it doesn’t seem enough. Please help, I’m so confused.

And here is one woman’s answer to rebuilding trust after a porn addiction…welcome Jen Ferguson from Soli Deo Gloria Sisterhood

I was in my bed sobbing uncontrollably.  The revelation hit me in the gut and never have I felt so alone as I did in that moment. The reality of my life hit me: I cannot trust anyone not to let me down.

Thankfully, with the new morning came new light into my darkness: No one is infallible. Everyone makes mistakes, including me. People will fail me, but this does not make all relationships destined for failure.

That wisdom right there seemed to right my sinking ship. Suddenly, I had gone from shipwrecked to being fortified with a grace I hadn’t known I was withholding from people in my life, primarily from my husband. For years we had battled together against his porn addictionNever did I consider divorce, but looking back at it, never did I consider living into the fullness of marriage again, either. For years I could not bear to think about trusting Craig again.

Could I ever stop my suspicions he would one day return to porn?  Would I ever be able to talk to him about his addiction without accusation and fear?  The truth was, I could give him my body in the bedroom, but could I ever truly again give him my heart?

Realizing my own fallibilities was the first step in helping me to rebuild trust in my husband. How many times had I hurt him over and over in the same manner?  I was not a white lamb in this relationship. My blemishes, though different than his, were still sins for which I needed forgiveness and grace. It was me that was placing his sin on a grander scale than my own. This was certainly not how God saw it.  Sin is sin.

Rebuilding trust was a dual effort for us. Yes, he had betrayed me by using pornography and needed to show me that he was actively pursing a life without it. But, truthfully, I had lost some of his trust, too. When I first discovered his porn addiction, I went into “control” mode. I watched over his every move. I accused him before listening to him. I became a parent instead of a spouse. I let my anger rule my words.  We both had to come to a place of acknowledging our own needs for forgiveness and recognize our marriage wouldn’t thrive without a foundation of trust.

Four Steps to Go from Ruin to Reunion

1. He communicates with me and I listen.

One of Craig’s major triggers that would propel him into his porn addiction cycle was stress.  When things felt too hard or too much, when he felt as though he was at risk for failing or rejection, he would shut me out and get lost in the world of porn for release and escape.  Before he really became invested in freedom, I would ask him questions, knowing something was wrong, and he would simply give me a pat answer like “things are busy at work.”  Now, he knows I know when something is bothering him and he is willing to sit down with me and be real and honest with what is happening and how he is responding to those situations.

2.  I respond with wisdom and he listens. 

One day, Craig’s friend invited him over to watch the TV show, Game of Thrones. I happened to see part of one episode the previous season and I knew there was nudity in it.  When I saw the invitation on Craig’s computer, my first reaction (that thankfully, I kept in my head) was “No! You can’t do that! It’s not good for you!”  If I had said that, I would have regressed back into my fear-based, parenting-like behavior, where he felt disrespected.  Instead, I simply told him how I thought the show might trigger him back into porn and asked him to pray about whether or not he should view the show. He ended up not going, not because I demanded him to stay home, but because God led him to the conclusion that watching nudity on TV would not be conducive to his walk toward freedom. He felt respected by the fact that I asked him to fully consider the ramifications and seek God instead of shouting at him about what he should or shouldn’t do.

3.  He accepts accountability.

I know the password to all of Craig’s electronic devices and have permission at any time to view anything on them. There is a password on our cable account that restricts adult entertainment access and MA-rated television shows and movies that only I have (which he asked me to put on). He has a regular group of friends he can count on to pray for him and from whom he seeks counsel. All of these things give me tangible ways to see that he is trying to keep himself safe from things that could easily ensnare him.

4. We forgive each other continually.

We must make it a practice to forgive and extend grace. We will both mess up in a variety of ways, but instead of using these mistakes as ammunition against each other to try to prove that we are not trustworthy, we choose to use them so to practice the character of Jesus, who always extends forgiveness.

Rebuilding trust does not happen overnight and it can feel like an impossible goal, but with God, anything is possible. Trust is a crucial piece to your marriage and it will not thrive without it. God knows this and He will actively help you rebuild it. You’re not in it alone.

 

Jen FergusonJen Ferguson is passionate about Jesus, her husband, and her two girls. She is the facilitator of The Soli Deo Gloria Sisterhood and loves to encourage women to bring their true selves out into the light.  She is the co-author of Pure Eyes, Clean Heart: A Couple’s Journey to Freedom from Pornography.  

WifeyWednesday175Now it’s your turn! Have some marriage advice? Leave a comment, or link up a URL of your own Wifey Wednesday marriage post in the linky below!

This Wifey Wednesday we talk about how to rebuild when he’s the one who has sinned sexually. Next Wednesday we’ll look at how to rebuild trust when it’s been you–especially if you’ve been withholding sex, and now you want to change but your husband doesn’t trust you yet.



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