Can the way you think about marriage actually hurt your marriage?
On August 18 my new book, 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage, will officially launch (UPDATE: It’s now available!). And this month we’ll be looking at that essential question: is what you think holding you back from marital bliss?
Today’s Wednesday, the day that we always talk about marriage, so I thought it would be a good day to share an excerpt from the book about my own journey with faulty thinking–really the heart of the message. And then I’ll give you who are bloggers a chance to link up your own marriage posts below, too!
And now here’s the excerpt:
Keith and I had both waited for marriage to have sex, and we both assumed that it would be wonderful, mind-blowing, and perfectly natural. But it wasn’t. It was awkward, it was messy, and worst of all, it hurt. Whenever Keith wanted to make love, I felt rejected, because he wanted something that made me miserable.
My frustration finally grew to the point where I wondered, Why can’t he just love me for me and not for what I can do for him? I accused him of selfishness. Of not loving me. Of being a Neanderthal who couldn’t control his passions. The more we fought over sex, the more certain I became that he didn’t value me. I felt so lonely, and yet instead of being sympathetic and wrapping me in a bear hug, Keith lobbed accusations right back: “Why don’t you care about my feelings? Why don’t you want me?”
After I had prayed for two exhausting years that he would start caring about me, a thought entered my head: Do you believe the only one who can fix this relationship is Keith? Don’t you have something to do with it?
I didn’t particularly like that thought, and so I vehemently argued with myself about why changing was impossible. Even if we only considered sex, how was I supposed to enjoy something so gross and uncomfortable?
Then another thought hit me even harder: If God says that sex is good, and the whole world says that sex is good, maybe you should start figuring out how to make sex good.
I was stunned.
If that thought was right, then the responsibility fell on me to do something about my struggle.
I had to stop thinking sex was awful and start thinking, Sex is great—I just don’t have it all figured out yet. The problem may have started in the bedroom, but it wasn’t a problem with sex. It was a problem with how I was thinking.
The next few years in our marriage became my big research project into this thing called Us. I decided to conquer this sex issue once and for all, because if God created something this great, no way was I going to miss it! I read books and talked to friends about how to make sex work. I talked to wise mentors about how to deal with past issues that held people back. I studied Keith to glean what made him feel loved. Slowly but surely, I fell madly in love with Keith again. And thankfully, he with me too.
Faulty Thinking Leaves Us Stuck
My marriage was stuck when I believed that Keith’s libido was the cause of all our fights. After all, if his sex drive was the problem, then the only solution I could see was to make Keith want sex less. I threw my energy into that dead-end goal: I bought a wardrobe of long flannel nightgowns; I com-plained constantly about headaches; and I stopped kissing in all its forms.
I was fruitlessly expending all this energy, making myself and my husband frustrated, because I suffered from faulty thinking. It was only when I realized that I had a different option—instead of investing so much energy into getting Keith to want sex less, I could figure out how to make me want it more—did things begin to change.
When our options are limited, it’s easy to become hopeless. I believed that my marriage couldn’t get better until Keith changed, but I had no control over that. So I was stuck. And when you’re stuck, you stop trying—or you do counterproductive things, such as emptying out the local Salvation Army of all their granny nightgowns. You’re not fixing your marriage; you’re digging a deeper hole.
But what if that initial thought was wrong? What if peace and joy are not dependent on someone else changing,
but they instead flow from God giving us the ability to choose how to think, how to feel, and how to respond? We can choose to make our life fulfilling by aligning our thoughts more with God’s. Jesus, after all, isn’t just our way to salvation. He is Truth itself (John 14:6). When we grow close to Jesus, he reveals Truth. That lets us see all the options before us. Then we won’t feel stuck—we’ll know that there is always a way forward.
Christians Get Stuck in Marriage, Too
That sounds a bit like a clichéd bumper sticker, though, doesn’t it? “Are you stuck? You just need Jesus!” While this pat statement has a foundation of truth, if it were really that easy, wouldn’t all Christians have great marriages?
Yes, we would, and I think it’s to our shame that we don’t. But I’ve seen lots of faulty thinking in Christian circles that goes something like this:
Now prayer, of course, is one of the best weapons we have in bringing peace to our lives, and I certainly don’t mean to discount its importance. But the reason behind the prayer matters. If you pray only to get God to do something, then you treat God like Santa Claus or a rabbit’s foot, not a Savior with a claim on your life.
Prayer should always be about submission to God’s will; it should not be about convincing God to do yours.
Similarly, submission and love are among the noblest pursuits, but if your purpose in doing them is to cajole your husband into doing something to make you happy, then that’s manipulation too. And your faulty thinking—that you need your husband to change in order for you to be happy– limits your options for improving your marriage. You’re stuck.
These ideas that enter our consciousness—that by praying and loving enough we will have a happy marriage—are what I will call “pat answers.” They promise the moon and make marriage look so easy. But despite the initial seduction of the “promise,” ultimately these pat answers don’t work, because they put the responsibility for change in someone else’s hands. It’s not you, fully submitted to God, who acts to bring about change; it’s God all by himself, or your husband, or a friend. You become a bystander.
That’s from the intro!
So let me ask you today: Do you feel like a bystander in your marriage–like you’re twisting yourself into a pretzel trying to get someone else to fix things, because you figure there’s nothing that you can do?
Most of us are stuck there at some point or other. And unfortunately the church can make this problem worse. The way that we talk about prayer, and the way that we talk about male leadership, has made so many women stuck, just like I was.
It wasn’t that I didn’t pray–I did. I prayed a ton. But I prayed for the wrong things because I was thinking the wrong things. And I thought the responsibility for actually fixing things rested on my husband and on God.
It was only when I saw that God wanted so much more for me–freedom, and passion, and love–and that these things were possible if I just thought differently–that my marriage started to change.
That’s the heart for my book. I want women to see that God doesn’t want you stuck–and you aren’t really stuck. You just may need to think about your marriage in a different way. Whether it’s a relatively small issue, a general malaise, or a big thing that’s keeping you from feeling like you’re one, God does have a way forward for you. He really does. Let me show you!
Let me leave you with this thought: Instead of praying that God will make your marriage better, can you pray that God will help you think clearly about this issue? Maybe all it takes a bit of a mind shift to make all the difference in the world!