Is Your Marriage Good? Or Just Good Enough?

If you’re like most couples, you launched into marriage as if it were a magic carpet ride to paradise. You were in love, deeply in love. Your wedding was tearful, joyful, tender, and touching.

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Then came the honeymoon. Wow! How could two people be more in love than you were? Dreamy days and steamy nights, a week of romantic violins and sparkling fireworks. You didn’t ever want to go home.

Once you settled into your first home, you brought the honeymoon with you. Parting in the morning to go to work was a real bummer, and coming home to each other every evening was the highlight of your day. Everything else took a backseat to the beautiful life you were forging together. Remember those days?

Where did it all go? At what point did the days of moonlight and flowers turn into weeks and months of tuna-noodle casseroles and falling asleep on the sofa watching Netflix?

Now, we’re not saying that the cow-eyed, heart-throbbing honeymoon couple you used to be has mutated into a pair of fuddy-duddies who never have any fun. But you must admit that, as the miles have rolled up on the odometer of your marriage, some of the chrome has lost its shine and the engine coughs now and then. Whereas your married life came off the starting line with the excitement of a sports car accelerating through hairpin turns, you have more or less settled into a freeway existence on cruise control.

In reality, the intensity and ecstasy of the honeymoon never lasts for any of us. It wasn’t meant to. Let’s face it: We would probably blow a gasket keeping up that pace for a lifetime! But this doesn’t mean you must remain the victim of the status quo, that you must settle for a relationship that is good enough—but not as good as it could be. Cruise control may be alright for your Buick, but it’s not alright for your marriage.

Cruise control means that you are simply maintaining, that you have settled into a groove and are just rolling along at a functional pace. Your marriage may be good, but is it getting any better? You may still be going together, but are you growing together? You need to guard your marriage against just being good enough.

There is a subtle danger in just cruising through marriage. Unlike a car on cruise control, marriages cannot just maintain constant speed. If your relationship isn’t growing deeper, it is growing more vulnerable to relational disconnect, discord, and even emotional divorce. And that’s just what God’s archenemy wants. Satan is out to rob you of the vitality and success God has in store for your marriage. And one of the ways he can take you out is by convincing you to settle for a good-enough marriage, to give up hoping and praying and working for everything God can make your marriage to be.

If you are not guarding your marriage by purposefully nurturing growth and dealing with thorny problems as they spring up, you will soon find your relationship withering. It doesn’t happen overnight, of course. Rather, good-enough marriages atrophy over the years due to laziness and lack of effort. A marriage that seems healthy today can slowly and almost imperceptibly drift toward divorce over a period of years if it is not constantly and purposefully reenergized.

“Hey, no marriage is perfect,” you may say. You’re absolutely correct. But that doesn’t mean your marriage can’t get better and stronger and more fulfilling as the years go by, no matter how many miles you have logged together. We encourage you to practice guarding love in your relationship.

So, what can you do to get your relationship off cruise control and rekindle your marriage dream? Here are a few suggestions to try or adapt:

  • Do something different just to snap yourselves out of the status quo. For some ideas, see our book 40 Unforgettable Dates With Your Mate.

  • Take your spouse to a restaurant you have never visited before, or prepare a meal that has never been on your menu before.

  • Sit down with your spouse after the kids are in bed and share a pleasant childhood memory; a dream vacation you would like to take with him or her some day; or a genuine, original, never-before-shared compliment for your spouse. Ask your spouse to share a memory or dream you have never heard before—then listen with interest.

It takes effort and energy, purpose and planning, time and tenacity. But the first step to a great marriage is deciding not to settle for good enough.

Don't "Deprive": What's That Mean for Your Sex Life?

Q: Is there a “normal” frequency when married couples should have sex? How can we figure out what works for us?

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A: The second question begins to answer the first one—in other words, discover what works for the two of you. The key is to communicate your needs and express your desires, then do what you can to make lovemaking the pleasurable and bonding time that God created it to be.

Women should understand that most men have a rhythm to their sexual pacing, so wives need to be good students of their husbands. Some guys want to be intimate with their wives every seventy-two hours. Other men every forty-eight hours. Other men once a week. Other factors such as stress, illness, fatigue can affect men’s desire for sex. Those same factors affect women as well. Men need to understand that if their wives are working around the clock, be it in the home or outside of the home, chances are sex is going to be really low on their “to do” list. Yet women really need that intimacy because it creates safety and security for them. 

The Bible even speaks about the need for married couples to have sex. First Corinthians 7:5 says, “Do not deprive each other of sexual relations, unless you both agree to refrain from sexual intimacy for a limited time so you can give yourselves more completely to prayer. Afterward, you should come together again so that Satan won’t be able to tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”

Lots of couples may not have had sex for awhile—but it’s not because they’re taking time off for prayer. More likely, they are just exhausted, or dealing with a new baby, or having too much stress at work or at home. The Bible says, don’t deprive each other. One of you may not feel like it, but so what? Give yourself to the other anyway. Take care of each other in this area. Why? Well, because of the second part of that verse: Satan will be glad to provide someone else to meet your spouse’s needs. The longer you go without sexual connection, the more chance you’ll go underground or be led into sin.

The bottom line is not to let too much time go by without that connection. You both need it.

*For more revealing insights about what your spouse’s most intimate sex needs are - and how to meet them - check out The 5 Sex Needs of Men and Women in our online bookstore!

Don’t Let Deployment Tear Your Family Apart

It’s a fact: military deployment is tough on a family. Research shows deployment is an emotional and stressful experience for military personnel, their spouses and their children.

Photo by Wyatt on Pexels

Photo by Wyatt on Pexels

The National Healthy Marriage Resource Center reports that the separation can cause stress due to the loss of emotional support, disconnected relationships, and increased caretaking and household responsibilities for the civilian spouse. It can also cause spouses to experience loneliness, anger, depression and anxiety.

Reunion can also be a challenge for military personnel and their families. Just look at this information from The National Healthy Marriage Resource Center:

  • Research shows that the non-deployed spouse often carries certain expectations about the reunion and may feel let down if his or her partner is withdrawn and depressed upon return.

  • The returning spouse may also face health/mental health conditions that make reintegration challenging.

  • Further, following deployment, the non-deployed spouse may feel irritated at relinquishing the independent roles they have established during their partner's absence, while the returning spouse may wonder why he/she cannot simply resume pre-deployment roles.

  • It may take several months before couples adjust to living together again. This process often involves a reexamination and renegotiation of the marriage, family roles, and family structure.

(source: National Healthy Marriage Resource Center, http://www.healthymarriageinfo.org/resource-detail/in-the-military-relationships-and-marriage-collection-by-topic/#couple_stressors)

These are difficult challenges to face—and to overcome—but there is a way not only to survive trials but also to grow even stronger in the process. Here are five vital keys to building a fortress of love that will protect your marriage.

Connect and Stay Connected

Your ability to endure together in the hard times is directly proportional to the depth of your partnership in good times. Two hearts must link up to grow strong together. If you want to stay glued together in difficulties, you have to apply the cement of partnership now. Before you go your separate ways each day, give each other a heartfelt, “I love you.” Stay connected by calling each other during the day. Do what it takes to feel connected and present for each other even when you’re apart

Make Your Relationship a Safe Place

Is your relationship a safe place where both of you can run from the troubles of life? Your spouse needs to know now that your loving arms will always be a shelter in the midst of a trial or tragedy. He or she will sense that assurance only if you practice empathy and comfort now.

Keep Communicating

It’s difficult to communicate during tough times. Even the smallest of trials can drive a wedge between a husband and wife. And if small conflicts can divide you, think how much more some of the devastating blows of life can push you apart. Trials are a threat to communication because they isolate you in your own thoughts. Trials have a way of forcing even the most communicative people inward.

Rest in the Truth That God Has a Purpose for Trials

If it were up to us, we would choose to navigate through life with as few problems as possible. God doesn’t see things our way, however. He has allowed trials in our lives to teach us to persevere. Great marriages are often forged through difficult trials. Whatever you may be facing in your marriage right now, let the words of James 1:2-4 be both instruction and comfort: “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.”

Decide to Tackle Trouble Together—Wherever It Takes You

We have found that our love for each other is glorious in the good times—the vacations on the beach, the memory-making experiences with the kids, the times of deep intimacy together with Jesus Christ. It’s easy to love in the good times. But when our marriage comes under intense testing, we still have in our possession what really matters: A love that won’t quit. No matter where our trials take us, we have each other.

*For more practical marriage advice, check out The Great Marriage Q&A Book. It's available in our online bookstore!

Keeping Secrets - Can it Help? Or Does it Hurt?

Q: Is it okay to keep secrets from my spouse?

Photo by Demeter Attila on Pexels

Photo by Demeter Attila on Pexels

A: You need to be honest, but you also need to measure how much about the facts you need to disclose. Self disclosure can be good, but it can also go too far. For example, if you are going to get married, your future spouse has every right to know about your sexual past, but he or she doesn’t need to know every detail and the name of every person from your sexual past. Sharing all of that can only cause pain. Be honest with where you’ve been, but be careful as to the level of disclosure you use.

We have had callers to our radio program who, at a point in their marriage, had committed adultery—had an affair. They have experienced the guilt and pain; they’ve gone back to their spouse; they’ve come clean with God. They call to ask us if they should confess the infidelity to their spouse. 

That’s a very difficult question. It can be very tempting to take the easy way out and not say anything. You can figure it’s over and done with and you don’t want to put your spouse through that. There is some truth to that, and in certain situations that may be the best course of action. But we also want to challenge you to think about the intimacy factor. By keeping your secret, how is it that you could ever experience all the intimacy that God desires in your marriage relationship?

First, consider emotional intimacy. When you are emotionally intimate with your spouse, you are connecting. You experience grace, listening, validation, honesty, as well as the sharing of hurt or disappointment. At that point of openness, Satan loves to zoom in and whisper in your ear the voice of condemnation, of unconfessed sin. He can’t do anything about the fact that he knows you’ve straightened it out with God, but he wants to make you continue to feel the pain of experiencing openness with your spouse while you’re holding something back.

Second is spiritual intimacy. You’ve been forgiven by God, but you’re also covering a sin. Proverbs 28:13 says,  “People who conceal their sins will not prosper, but if they confess and turn from them, they will receive mercy.” How will you deal with that?

Third is physical intimacy. When you move into physical intimacy with your spouse, does this affair come up in your mind? How is that affecting your ability to give yourself completely to your spouse?

There’s going to be a lot pain if you confess. There’s no doubt. It’s tough, but that’s one of the consequences you face for having committed the sin in the first place (if this is the only consequence you have from committing adultery, consider yourself fortunate). But if you come to confession to your spouse explaining your desire for that true, unhindered oneness, you’ll be a long way toward reconciliation. Have boundaries in how much you tell. You needn’t give all the details. Lay down the honest truth. Honesty and confession can carry a relationship into new places.

The best way to deal with secrets is not to have them. Be truthful. Live a life of truth. If there is something you’re hiding, then get it out. If there are secrets in your life that you know you need to tell your spouse, than tell him or her in love. Don’t view certain secrets as “small,” for there is always deception in secrets. Instead, ask yourself, “Would I say this, do this, or think this if my spouse were right here in the room?” If the answer is no, then you shouldn’t do it. To protect yourself, be willing to be openly honest with your spouse. For example, if you’re noticing the flirtation of a co-worker, express your concern to your spouse. That will hold you accountable.

*For more practical marriage advice, check out The Great Marriage Q&A Book. It's available in our online bookstore!

Make a Date for a Date

Are you and your spouse making time to “date” each other? Whether you’ve been married a few months or a few decades - dating your mate is vital to keeping your marriage relationship fresh and vibrant!

Photo by  bruce mars  from  Pexels

Photo by bruce mars from Pexels

Dating your husband or wife will be very different from dating a potential husband or wife. Yet it is just as important. When you were single, dating was a time to get away alone, to talk, laugh, and have fun together. You took time to learn more about each other, about your past and your dreams for the future. You gradually felt at ease with each other. But, you see, even though you’re married, the two of you still need the same thing. You need to get away alone and continue to talk, laugh, and have fun together. You need to learn more about each other, your past and your dreams for the future. You need to feel at ease with each other as you face new challenges together. That’s why dating shouldn’t stop with marriage.

Too often, married couples get settled, caught up in the routine of jobs, church, parenting, and other commitments. Many couples are so busy that they don’t take time to nurture the foundation of their family—their marriage and their relationship with each other. As we know all too well, when that marriage foundation begins to crumble, everything else comes down with it.

Your marriage is your most important relationship after your relationship with God. Your marriage needs nurturing. Like a plant needs water or a car needs an oil change, your marriage needs consistent attention. It needs care and nurture every day; it needs a special “tune-up” once in a while. You need to reconnect with your spouse. You need to work at your marriage.

Keeping a marriage together and the romance alive takes time. It means making one’s marriage and spouse a priority and setting aside time for only him or her. In other words, it means planning dates on a regular basis.

If you and your spouse are not currently dating, we want to encourage you get into that habit. The two of you really do need time to reconnect and continue to stoke the fires of the romance that brought you together in the first place. Your marriage needs to be strong to withstand the onslaughts of daily life. When you know that you both are on the same team working toward the same goals and cheering each other on, then even the toughest competition won’t be too much to handle.

If you already are in the habit of going on dates, we say, “Good for you!” Now maybe you could spice it up a bit! Perhaps only one of you initiates the dates and handles the details. Try switching it up! Or maybe you have your “standard” date. Maybe trying trying something new!

You might be asking, “Why can’t we just go to dinner and a movie?” Well, you can, and that’s a good place to start. But if you’re going to go out to dinner and a movie and spend the money on the date and a baby-sitter anyway, then make the date count! It’s what we call having a “date with a purpose.” Intentionally give your time together a purpose beyond just sharing an event. Focus on your mate’s love needs. Put him or her in the spotlight and nurture your marriage relationship.

Just think about how much your husband or wife (and you!) can benefit as you work at investing in your relationship. We encourage you to try making a date for a date with your spouse. Think of it as a way of loving your spouse more concretely. Affirm him or her as you begin, and start small, allowing the impact of the dates to stoke the home fires. Stay at it. Stay positive. We know it will be worth it!

If you need some ideas to get started, check out our book: 40 Unforgettable Dates With Your Mate.

How to Fight Fair

You and your spouse have had an argument. You want to talk it out, but your spouse retreats. What do you do? Is there a way to “fight fair”?

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When you are in a conflict, it is imperative that you communicate openly and honestly. Failure to share your feelings and talk through your differences will stifle any efforts to clear the air and restore intimacy.

Here are a few helpful things you can do in order to handle your inevitable conflicts and learn to fight fair.

Choose an appropriate time and setting.

Do you and your spouse really need to solve an issue moments before two dozen guests arrive for a dinner party? Select a time and place that minimize distractions, guarantee privacy from the children, and won’t make you tense right before an event.

Ask permission to address the conflict.

Make sure your spouse is ready to face the issue before you bring it up. For example: “Are you ready to talk about our disagreement over how to discipline the children?” or “I’m ready to confront our money problems. Are you okay with that?”

Avoid the silent treatment.

Sometimes—especially when you’re are angry—you both will clam up and give the silent treatment, thinking that the silence will communicate your perspective. Don’t mistake silence for communication. In fact, silence often is only manipulative. The goal is to open communication, not play games.

Agree on a plan for handling conflicts.

Answer this question with your spouse: How do we want to talk to each other when a conflict arises?

Pray.

Prayer makes a positive impact on the resolution of conflict. Prayer takes two people on opposite sides of an issue and welcomes into the debate a third person: Jesus. Bringing Jesus into your debate means deciding together to play by his rules.

Listen to this example:

“Some friends of ours have been married over thirty years. They have their times of disagreement, and they shared with us how one time they hit the wall and simply could not come to an agreement. The wife turned to the husband and said, “I’m going to submit because I believe that God has put you in that position. And I trust you. But I’m going to tell you something: I’m going to go to God over this issue.” The husband listened to her, gasped, and said, “Wait a minute. You’re going to go to God?” “Yeah, because I know that he loves you and that he, through the power of the Holy Spirit, can deal with you.”

This gives a glimpse into the heart of a strong marriage. The man who hears these words from his wife realizes that his wife isn’t trying to control him; instead, she desires that he be controlled by the Holy Spirit. She goes to her ultimate authority in prayer because she desires God’s outcome for the situation. And her attitude stimulated her husband to seek after what God’s will in the situation. 

When you get to the point where you just aren’t seeing eye to eye, transfer the situation to the hands of God and leave it there. Then the Lord has a chance to do a wonderful work in your marriage and in your lives. God gets all the glory. God gets all the credit.

*For more practical marriage advice, check out The Great Marriage Q&A Book. It's available in our online bookstore!

Getting Back on Track when Marriage Gets Tough

Photo by  Gus Moretta  on  Unsplash

Photo by Gus Moretta on Unsplash

Marriage isn’t easy. Whether you’ve been married a long time or a short time - you know it’s the truth! No matter how good your marriage is, you and your spouse will go through times of drought. Why? Because your spouse was never meant to satisfy you completely . . . only Jesus can love perfectly.

Happiness in marriage is not found when both partners are devoted to having the other partner provide all the happiness for them. Jesus must have this foundational position in your marriage. Being a faithful, wise, and loving spouse ultimately relies upon your choice to be faithful to God. When a husband or wife is unlovable or unable to be made happy, the marriage can only survive when you find hope and happiness in God’s strength, power, and glory.

Before you can ever know the deep security and confidence God intends for you to enjoy as a couple, you need to be certain in your heart that your relationship is rooted in a love that will never give up. Good things are possible because a bond exists between you, and God will not let you ignore it. He created the marriage bond—that solemn covenant—to be unbreakable.

So what do you do when you think things have gotten off-track in your relationship? When you feel the love fading?

Remember, love is a choice, not a feeling. You may not currently feel like you’re in love with your spouse, but because of the commitment you once made, you must choose to love and show it by your actions. You will find that the feelings will follow.

But what if you realize you’ve hit a roadblock in your marriage that you can’t get past on your own. You may need someone to step in and help you navigate the journey of healing to repair the damages and hurts in your marriage. A counselor could also be part of your team in helping you work through the rebuilding process.

Unsure if it’s time to add a counselor to your team? Ask yourself these three questions:

  1. What is the problem?” At first glance, the answer is obvious: It’s the trial itself - stress, arguments, financial troubles, illness, etc. But here’s our point. First, the problem isn’t either one of you--you are on the same side and you are battling this problem together.

  2. “What do we need from each other?” After you have made the decision to battle your problems together, ask yourselves what kind of help you need to solve them. Identify areas where you have the strength and know-how to support each other. Do you need the other to step in with a decision? Do you need some space? How about comfort and encouragement? Perhaps you need your spouse to brainstorm with you or to seek God’s truth with you in his Word and through prayer.

  3. What kind of outside help do we need?” Resolving a trial or crisis is often beyond your ability and resources. In the case of marriage-threatening trills, in fact, this is always the case. God wants to put other people in your life to lift you up. Your task at this stage can be as concrete as making a list of the people you need to talk to who can help you in some way. Or getting recommendations for a qualified, trustworthy Christian counselor.

No matter what the situation, we want to encourage you that great marriages are often forged through difficult trials. Whatever you may be facing in your marriage right now, let the words of James 1:2-3 be both instruction and comfort: “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.”

It’s easy to love in the good times. But when our marriage comes under intense testing, we still have in our possession what really matters: A love that won’t quit. No matter where our trials take us, we have each other.

Help Your First Responder Spouse to Open Up

Photo by freestocks.org from Pexels

Photo by freestocks.org from Pexels

First Responders deal with traumatic events in their daily jobs. They put their lives on the line – and often sacrifice their lives – for people they’ve never met.

Research has shown that—because of these traumas—First Responders are highly susceptible to things like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), vicarious and secondary trauma, and compassion fatigue. And the same trauma that effects the First Responder can also impact their entire family and support system. It can create a disconnect – he or she is willing to die for a stranger, but struggles to connect with those closest to him or her.

{source: An Inside Look at the Impact of First Responders’ Work on Their Relationships by Dr. Andy Brown and Lenka Cervenanova, Published April 25, 2016}

If your spouse is struggling to open up about what they’re thinking or feeling, there are ways to bridge that gap.

The marriage relationship is the place that God gives us to have security to begin to sort through issues when we begin to hit them. Your love, compassion, and grace can give your spouse the freedom to get through to the other side of whatever is keeping him or her from opening up. Your unconditional love for your spouse is the place it starts. Try to create a safe place for your spouse to open up to and talk about these things, whatever they are.

The next step is to begin to do some communicating. Help your spouse to go below the surface and talk about what’s going on inside. Give him or her the sense of security that you will walk alongside, wherever it takes you.

Studies show that couples who communicate frequently have a more satisfying relationship. And couples who achieve deep levels of communication enjoy the most satisfaction of all.

Try these communication skills:

  1. Take one issue at a time. A full day’s worth of news and experiences and troubles can be overwhelming. Pouring everything out at once seldom gives your spouse much information about anything. It’s one way we tend to skim over our issues and never get to the core of them. You can help your spouse stay on track with a few helpful phrases: “Tell me more about . . .” or “What were you saying about . . ?” or “That sounds like another issue. Let’s talk about the other one first and come back to this one later.”

  2. Allow one person to speak at a time. When you are communicating with your spouse, keep him or her in the spotlight. When your spouse is expressing, give him or her room for full expression—no interruptions, no feedback. If you both fight to be heard at the same time, communication is bound to break down.

  3. Be specific and to the point. One of you may start at the main point and go from there. The other may talk around a topic until eventually arriving at the point. You need to take the time to hear each other.

  4. Listen. The biggest single step you can take to improve communication in your marriage is to improve listening. James 1:19 says, “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” If you want your spouse to freely share his or her heart with you, you must convey with absolute certainty that he or she has your undivided attention. Listening attentively isn’t easy. Maintaining eye contact may be unnerving to you and jumping in with a solution may be hard to resist. However, listening is the key to understanding your spouse’s needs.

  5. Respond appropriately. At some point after listening, of course, you must respond. The point is not for you to introduce your own agenda, but to clarify and fully understand what your spouse is expressing. You can get into trouble at this point if you fail to look out for your spouse’s best interest.

*For more practical marriage advice, check out The Great Marriage Q&A Book. It's available in our online bookstore!