Posts in category Marriage difficulties

Denial the key to happy marriage?

Last week, I sat in on a broadcast taping of FamilyLife Today® radio broadcast. Shaunti Feldhahn was discussing her latest book, The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages. I’m in the process of reading through the book and plan to write some blog posts about it as it relates to men.

happy marriage

Photo by Bill Branson

The book is the result of her surveying and interviewing about 1,000 couples, looking to find common denominators to marriage success. One of the findings that caught my attention was the idea of assuming the best of a spouse.

Feldhahn found out that more than 95 percent of couples who identified themselves as highly happy said they know their spouse still cares about them, even in the midst of an argument. For those who called themselves mostly happy, it was still 87 percent. By contrast under 60 percent of struggling couples felt that way about their spouse.

This wasn’t the first time I’d run into this phenomenon.

I keep my eye on research about marriage and family issues. Several years ago, I ran across a study that piqued my interest. The finding was that perception, and not reality, is the source of marital bliss. 

Researchers from Northwestern University surveyed 77 married couples and 92 dating couples about their relationships. Or their perception of it. The article I had read in LiveScience took a very jaded view of the researchers’ findings, but acknowledged the same conclusions as in Feldhahn’s new book.

As self-interested, self-absorbed creatures, our own thoughts, feelings, needs and goals come first, and that sometimes means fooling ourselves into thinking we are the center of other people’s thoughts, feelings, needs and goals when, in fact, they are mired in their own business.

But should we be disillusioned by our own illusions? Maybe not. Happy marriages might just be those in which both partners uphold a very nice perception of each other, even when things aren’t so great. And this makes sense. Happiness is a state of mind, and if denial paints a partner better than they really are, the relationship is bound to be satisfying, as long as no one is slapped in the face with reality.

This perception is not so much about denial as it is about being charitable and gracious to a spouse. And this revelation is nothing new. One of the best-known Bible passages, even cited by non-believers, comes from the 13th chapter of the Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth. In it he lists seven things that love is and eight that it isn’t.

Love IS:

  • Patient
  • Kind
  • Truthful
  • Protective
  • Trusting
  • Hopeful
  • Persevering

Love ISN’T

  • Envious
  • Boastful
  • Proud
  • Rude
  • Self-Seeking
  • Easily Angered
  • A Score-Keeper
  • Glad About Evil

Any guy who’s been married more than a few days knows that the difference between the two lists comes down to willful choice. There will be times when you feel your wife’s actions deserve a snide remark, but what she needs is to be shown love and forbearance.

I’ve come to realize that the best way to avoid the low road is to run everything through the filter of Philippians 4:8, which challenges us to look exclusively at the other person in the best possible light.

“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”

So, actually, seeking the best in the one you’ve seen fit to commit your life to is not denial of the truth … it’s the recognition of it.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just finished reading Scott Williams’ post Denial the key to happy marriage? from the Stepping Up men’s blog.

STEPThink - 10-point checklistDo you find yourself assuming bad motives in your spouse? What would happen if you started assuming the best?

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistSpeaking the Truth in Love turns conflict into connection. Read how to package the two in this article.

STEPPass - 10-point checklistShare this blog post with your spouse or a friend and challenge each other to build a marriage on expecting the best.

No, cheaters never prosper

You drive along Interstate 30 in Little Rock, and there it is, a billboard with an astonishing message. It pictures three former U.S. presidents — Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Bill Clinton — along with the words:

Who said cheaters never prosper?  Happy Presidents’ Day!

This is the latest campaign from, a highly profitable website with a most unusual clientele — people who are interested in committing adultery. If you register on the website, you can connect with others interested in cheating. As the website states:

Long gone are the days of working late and having an affair with the office secretary, with today’s technology the ability to have a discreet emotional or sexual affair is at your fingertips. You have definitely come to the right website. Ashley Madison’s married dating services can help you find that special someone who makes you feel young and alive again.

And yet Ashley Madison claims it merely facilitates cheating rather than promoting it. One of the more amazing statements on the website is, “No, Ashley Madison does not encourage anyone to stray or have an affair, despite our trademark, ‘Life is short, have an affair.’ In fact, if you are having difficulty in your marriage or relationship, you should seek counseling.”

Provocative statements

Ashley Madison’s founder is a Toronto entrepreneur named Noel Biderman. He and his wife say they are happily married with two children. But he also says that “Monogamy, in my opinion, is a failed experiment.”

Biderman tends to make provocative statements like that when defending his company. And he’s a master at deflecting criticism. “You eradicate Ashley Madison, you’re not going to eradicate infidelity. That’s what allows me to sleep at night.” Or, “If you think that all affairs happen on Ashley Madison, you’re very naive.”

Those are clever words. By addressing absurd accusations nobody would make, Biderman deflects legitimate complaints about making money from something most people consider to be immoral.

Apparently helping adulterers is a big business. And you wonder if Biderman considers any publicity as bad. Every time he defends the company against those who despise his product, that means more people are aware of that product. One could argue that even this article is only helping Ashley Madison.

Cheaters never prosper
The truth about adultery

Do cheaters prosper? In many respects, Ashley Madison only rehashes the excuses people have made for thousands of years about adultery: Guys can’t help themselves … It can often help marriages … We shouldn’t be too prudish about cheating … You need to let men sow their wild oats … etc., etc., etc.

Statements like these will encourage men (and women) who are unhappy in their marriages and are looking for some extramarital spice. But you and I know they are lies. The truth is that cheaters do not prosper.

For one thing, adultery destroys marriages. Ask yourself, why do so many people consider adultery such a betrayal? Why is it that Noel Biderman’s own wife says she would feel “devastated” if he cheated on her? It’s because sex as God designed it is much more than a physical act; it binds a couple together emotionally and spiritually in a way they can only partially understand. If your wife has sex with another man, the sense of hurt and betrayal cuts to the core of your soul.

Guys, what kind of impact do you think just one little cheating incident might have on your wife? As one woman said, “My husband wants me to stop bringing up his affair because he has ‘repented.’ What about me? He acts like nothing has happened, but I walk with anger. I cry out to God every day, but the hurt is still fresh.”

Second, adultery harms your legacy. Children feel the impact for many years to come. In most cases, it severely damages the relationship between the parent and child. In addition, the children may repeat that behavior when they are adults. Consider the story of one of the presidents pictured on the Ashley Madison billboard, John F. Kennedy. His womanizing is common knowledge now, but many don’t know how his behavior was influenced by his father, Joseph, who cheated on his wife regularly. His children knew it, and a number of them went on to be unfaithful to their own spouses. Few families in American history have accomplished as much as the Kennedys, but their legacy has also been clouded by reckless immorality.

Let’s be faithful

In response to the Ashley Madison initiative, FamilyLife has begun a campaign to encourage people to be faithful to their marriage vows. In fact, we’ve even created our own billboard for I-30 in Little Rock.

God offers the strength to withstand temptation, and the hope to build a lasting marriage. Cheaters never prosper. But those who trust in God do.

Note: For more on the “Stand Firm for Families” initiative, read “Doing Nothing Is Not an Option,” by Dennis Rainey and “A Billboard That Hurts Women and Children,” by Barbara Rainey.

Watch your words: they shape the kids

watch your wordsThe nation’s longest-running study on child mental health offers a nugget of wisdom for parents: watch your words, because your arguments will affect your children well into their adult years.

The Simmons Longitudinal Study has followed 300 one-time kindergartners from Quincy, Massachusetts, well into their adult years. The study, detailed in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry found, among other things, that:

… 15-year-olds exposed to their parents’ verbal battles, or involved in family arguments, were more likely to be functioning poorly at age 30 than other people in the study who did not live in increasingly fight-filled homes.

The children exposed to family fighting were two to three times more likely to be unemployed, suffer from major depression, or abuse alcohol or other drugs by age 30. They also were more likely to struggle in personal relationships, but that was evident to a somewhat lesser degree.

Many child advocates may see this as a reason to champion immediate divorce rather than face a bad home environment. But a Boston Globe article that detailed the study, highlighted something entirely different: redirecting communication in a positive way.

“You almost have to give a prescription to parents who are fighting not to fight in front of their kids,” said Joseph Powers, a family therapist at McLean Hospital.

Arguments don’t have to descend into verbal abuse, experts say. The solution is to make the arguments constructive, or, failing that, to swiftly repair the damage of heated words. When ruptures do occur, saying sorry right away can heal the harm.

“There are stresses in the life of a family,” Powers said. “But families also have the capacity to repair that, to come to the person and say, ‘I just blew it, I’m very sorry, and can we do this another way?’ “

When people share so much life and space with each other as couples and families do, there will be opportunities to grow through disagreements. Children and teens are often “caught in the crossfire” as the article suggests. Depending on the child, they may withdraw or go on the offensive, or side with one parent or the other. Those arguments may grow into resentment and bitterness, which lead to isolation and deep wounds. This is a prime time for parents to model godly behavior in the way they deal with conflict.

For some ideas on how to deal with disagreements in your marriage and to give your children a healthy model for resolving conflict, check out these articles from

21 things a man needs to know about marriage (part 3)

This is the final installment in a three-part series. The full first part and second part of 21 things a man needs to know about marriage is here, but we’ve listed the first 14 things from those posts here.

  1. A man needs to know that the ultimate team is marriage.
  2. A man needs to know the difference between being a consumer and an investor in life, in relationships, and marriage.
  3. A man needs to know the Christ-like role of servant, husband, and lover.
  4. A man needs to know that marriage is meant to mature a man into Christ-like character.
  5. A man needs to know the meaning of love.
  6. A man needs to know that a marriage and family depend upon God as their maker.  
  7. A man needs to understand sexuality as God’s good creation, distinct from its counterfeits.
  8. A man needs to know that the key to great sex is exclusivity.
  9. A man needs to know that marriages typically have a one or two year “honeymoon era.”
  10. A man needs to know that living together and having sex before marriage uses up a good portion of the “honeymoon era” euphoria. 
  11. A man needs to know that commitment is a key to success in all of life, and especially in relationships with a woman.  
  12. A man needs to know that marriage is not easy.
  13. A man needs to know that the purpose of marriage is less to make you happy, than to make you holy.
  14. A man needs to know that God gives authority and responsibility to a husband to make the marriage thrive and last.

things a man needs to know about marriage15. A man needs to know that he can change his marriage by changing himself.  He can make himself a better husband by making himself a more consistent and devoted follower of Jesus.  If he wants to improve any aspect of his marriage, family or parenting, the solution lies in deepening his daily commitment to God.  The path to build a great marriage or heal a marriage is to humble one’s will, to let the Holy Spirit take control of him and to obey Christ.

16. A man needs to know that romance is created and sustained intentionally.  Thinking about what she likes, remembering what is important to her, setting things up the way she prefers … these are all critical.  In dating and various stages of life, romance can spontaneously happen, but for the long term, it must be deliberately planned and created.  If a man wants to be a leader, this is an area in which to lead.  It leads to good things.

17. A man needs to know that divorce is avoidable.  He understands that nothing is impossible for God, and he humbles himself to admit and repent from the ways he fell short in loving his wife in the past, so he can excel at loving her from this day forward.

18. A man needs to know that he can recover from a wife’s affair because he has the power to forgive.  Jesus forgave all his sin, and he is called to do the same with his wife.  Furthermore, he seeks to understand what led his wife to be unfaithful, even if it means admitting his own failure. Usually a man breaks his vow to choose, love, and protect her before a woman breaks her vow to be faithful.

Note: if you have an affair, you don’t have control over whether you can recover because you can’t force a wife’s forgiveness.

19. A man needs to know that even the worst things can be redeemed for deeper purposes.  Romans 5:3-5 reminds us to rejoice and find value in tribulation, loss, and suffering because tribulation brings perseverance, and perseverance brings proven character like that of Jesus, and proven character brings hope, and hope does not disappoint because God’s love is poured out to us by His Holy Spirit.

Face crises and trials and suffering straight on with Christ and a few close teammates. A man steps up by surrendering to Jesus Christ and persevering in making Him the center and Lord of his life.

20. A man needs to know that humbling yourself to your wife is the gutsiest and most successful way to heal her heart and your frequently-compromised relationship. A man with courage and wisdom will never overlook his wife’s hurt feelings.  And he’ll seek to overlook the disrespectful words she blurts out in reaction to how he hurt her feelings.

When you are in conflict, don’t wait for things to blow over.  Don’t try to point out her fault.  Don’t try to minimize the situation.  And don’t defend yourself.  Instead, be a leader.  Start the apology.  A great starting point is, “I was wrong.  I hurt you.  Please forgive me?”

21. A man needs to know that a wife wants you to lead her, but will tend to lead and control you if you don’t lead and initiate.  Leadership starts with your character and your devotion to Christ.  Your walk with God determines the quality of your love and leadership as a husband.

Seek God.  Read His word in the Bible.  Pray for Him to shape and lead you.  Humble yourself before Him.  Seek a mentor or group to help you grow and become a good husband.

Leadership of a wife is humility before God, initiating teamwork with your wife, praying with her every day and praying for your family.  Most guys I know well are like me in this: If you’re frustrated with your wife and your marriage, the solution lies in getting back into Jesus and His Word!

21 things a man needs to know about marriage (part 2)

This is the second in a three-part series. The full first part of  21 things a man needs to know about marriage is here, but we’ve listed the first seven things from that post here.

  1. A man needs to know that the ultimate team is marriage.
  2. A man needs to know the difference between being a consumer and an investor in life, in relationships, and marriage.
  3. A man needs to know the Christ-like role of servant, husband, and lover.
  4. A man needs to know that marriage is meant to mature a man into Christ-like character.
  5. A man needs to know the meaning of love.
  6. A man needs to know that a marriage and family depend upon God as their maker.  
  7. A man needs to understand sexuality as God’s good creation, distinct from its counterfeits.

things a man needs to know about marriage

8. A man needs to know that the key to great sex is exclusivity.  The modern consumer mindset tricks a man into thinking that more sources of sexual stimulation will satisfy him.  But like a drug, they thrill but do not satisfy.  Sexual entertainment, images, and illicit sex erode rather than enhance sexual joy in a marriage.

To be a great lover is to practice with only one woman for life.   It is to be generous, exclusive, and serving; not greedy, distracted, and taking.  A great relationship and sexual relationship are connected in marriage, and that only happens when a man’s sole target of sexual affections, imaginations, and enjoyment is his wife.

9. A man needs to know that marriages typically have a one- or two-year “honeymoon era.”  This is a period of semi-blind euphoria that makes the relationship magnetic and easier. It’s as if our Creator gives that to us humans to get us jump-started in marriage.  Couples should know that when the euphoria wears off and they eventually settle into normality, the different feelings they experience do not indicate that they married the wrong person or are not “in love” anymore.

10. A man needs to know that living together and having sex before marriage uses up a good portion of the “honeymoon era” euphoria. It often causes the onset of reality after marriage to begin almost immediately after the wedding, depending on how long the couple had been living and sleeping together.  Research shows that divorce and issues of mistrust are more common for those who cohabit before marriage than for those who do not.  Cohabiting is not a “smart start” or “good practice” for marriage.

11. A man needs to know that commitment is a key to success in all of life, and especially in relationships with a woman.  One way of defining commitment in marriage is that it means never considering divorce. If you know that you won’t be leaving or divorcing, it forces you to face differences and problems and work through them.

In marriage it is the security of commitment that allows a woman to feel peace in the relationship.  The assurance of a husband’s commitment helps a woman entrust herself to him emotionally and sexually.

12. A man needs to know that marriage is not easy.  Marriage is not automatic, and it’s often difficult.  The euphoria of romantic infatuation in the first years of marriage fades, requiring the mature resolve to behave lovingly and invest relationally to build a deeper bond than infatuation.  Marriage will take intentional and continual effort.

13. A man needs to know that the purpose of marriage is less to make you happy, than to make you holy.   Now it’s true that a good marriage to a good woman can make you happier than most anything else on earth.  But if your goal is to be happy, then you will be focused on yourself, and you will damage your character and your relationships.

If you aim to be holy — like Jesus, not like a monk — you will invite God to change you.  You will allow your marriage relationship to change you and crush your selfish will and defensive pride. You will experience true oneness in your marriage — you’ll be deepest friends, intimate allies, generous lovers, caring providers, complementary partners, spiritual enhancers. (Thanks to Gary Thomas for the idea)

14. A man needs to know that God gives authority and responsibility to a husband to make the marriage thrive and last.  He is to steward and shepherd himself and his wife’s union.  He is to be proactive at assisting God in healing her past wounds, creating oneness in their bond and assuring her (and their children) of his love for her.

Women are natural responders when men initiate in love, prayer  and humility.  Men must not be passive, arrogant, distracted, or controlling.  A man will not point the finger at his wife’s behavior or shortcomings, but will examine his history as a husband and ask God to change Him.  His heart, his care and his initiative is the key to his wife’s responses and the marriage’s health.

Be watching for part 3.

21 things a man needs to know about marriage

In a culture of counterfeits and mistruths, marriage needs to be re-branded as an awesome, noble, and challenging adventure.

Guys have been blindsided in our culture.  We don’t see the path to manhood, and we often don’t know how to view women, sex, relationships, marriage, and our role as husbands.

CoupleFacetoFaceWheatFieldA key to the problems guys and men face is that we don’t understand the North Star of relationships.   It’s the gold standard of selfless love, the blueprint for building a family and blessing your children.  What’s that North Star?  Knowing Jesus Christ and His purpose for marriage, and trusting in His strength to make a lasting relationship possible.

Marriage needs to be re-explained.  It needs to be re-branded as an awesome, noble, and challenging adventure. Our manhood, our happiness and our children’s future depend on marriage — yours, mine, and everybody else’s.

In a culture of counterfeits and mistruths, it’s important to understand what marriage is about.  As you read through the following list, ask God to remake you and help you understand what it means to be a man and a husband.  Let’s value marriage and relate well to our wives, whether we’re married yet, or preparing for that woman.

1. A man needs to know that the ultimate team is marriage.  It’s the union and oneness of man and woman in lifelong covenant.  It’s the team that anchors a family.   It’s a bonded relationship that mirrors God’s sacrificial, unconditional, lasting love for his children (those who by faith have accepted His sacrifice and adoption into his eternal family).

2.  A man needs to know the difference between being a consumer and an investor in life, in relationships, and marriage.  Don’t let an advertising-saturated consumer society make you act like a consumer in relationships.  Decide to add value to a wife, not take value.

Just like great quarterbacks serve receivers, and great receivers serve quarterbacks, we need to be investors, not childish consumers, takers, or complainers.  We are to be modeled after Jesus, the ultimate relationship investor.  He is the definition of a man … responsible, initiating, courageous, self-sacrificing, healing, peacemaking, justice-doing, other-centered, not self-centered, loving others in ways that add value and nobility to them.

Before he is married, a great husband will be a relationship investor who will build friendship that adds value into the life of a young woman, her self-esteem, and her potential to serve God.  He will channel his sexual desires and expression into devotion to God and commitment to one wife for life.  He will marry and be sexually exclusive — only having eyes, imagination, and sexual intimacy with one wife.  Ask yourself this question daily: “Would I want to marry me?”

3. A man needs to know the Christ-like roles of servant, husband, and lover.  He is to be an investor in his wife, and he sacrifices himself for her best. He defines his manhood as pursuing purity in Christ, chastity before marriage, and enthusiastic fidelity in marriage.

4. A man needs to know that marriage is meant to mature a man into Christ-like character.  It can help conform him to the image of Christ, reshaping his will and identity into union with, and deference toward, his wife.  This is like the Father, Son and Holy Spirit who honor, defer to and glorify each other.

The friendship of marriage helps each spouse become a better version of themselves, closer to what God designed and redeemed them to be.  They must face the truth about themselves — their strengths and their imperfections.  They will face conflict and difficulty and must grow empathy and teamwork.  Selfishness must melt away if they are to become healthy, strong, and mature together.

5. A man needs to know the meaning of love.   God defines love not by how much you want to receive, but by how much you are willing to give of yourself—your will, your freedom, your time, your emotions, your forgiveness, your resources.  The model is Jesus, who demonstrated love for us by dying for us while we were yet sinners.

A husband does this by choosing his wife as a priority in his life over all other pursuits, possessions, and distractions — regardless of whether she is kind, lovable, or respectful.  Love brings out the best in her.  A man initiates love, rather than waiting for or demanding respect or kind treatment.  Love is not dependent upon feelings.  Decisions and choices to love can regenerate the feelings of love.

6. A man needs to know that a marriage and family depend upon God as their maker.  God is the authority.  He provides the blueprints for marriage and is the power source of love, wisdom, and health.  God can heal any marriage if the persons submit themselves to God and let Him change them.

7. A man needs to understand sexuality as God’s good creation, distinct from its counterfeits. He understands that sexuality makes sense in the context of union to God and the union of marriage.  Outside that context it’s often reduced to moralism, rules, suppression, secrecy, illicit imagination, temptation, and shame.  Or, commonly, it is reduced to a consumer experience — materialistic self-interest, physical gratification, entertainment, techniques.  This causes shallow, stunted human bonding, untold stories of abuse, damage, abandonment, and fragmented families.

Watch for Part 2 next week.

How not to treat your spouse


How not to treat your spouse

Photo by Noella Choi

In his book Love and RespectEmmerson Eggerichs makes the scriptural argument that a woman’s deepest need is to be loved or made secure. And a man’s deepest need is to be valued or significant. Eggerichs also tells how not to treat your spouse. He calls it “the crazy cycle,” where a woman hears a comment from her husband that makes her feel unloved or threatened. And that makes her more likely to react in a way that communicates a lack of appreciation, which makes him feel disrespected.

Well, as Shakespeare put it, “A rose by any other name smells just as sweet…”

I ran across this article in Psychology Today by author Steven Stosny, “Marriage Problems: 50 Ways to Cause Fear and Shame.” Interesting how closely Stosny’s fear-shame dynamic parallels Eggerichs’ love-respect crazy cycle. To me, this is further proof that all truth is God’s truth. Hear it first from the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians, where he gives husbands and wives the right way to respond.

Nevertheless let each one of you in particular love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

Here are a few of the no-nos in Stosny’s Psychology Today list of 50 ways to cause fear and shame. Each action on the list can undermine that deep need for security and respect and invite a downward spiral toward isolation and worse.

  • Ignore her.

  • Tell her to get over it.

  • Yell or get angry at her.

  • Flirt with other women.

  • Dismiss her ideas.

  • Exclude him from important decisions.

  • Imply his inadequacy.

  • Disrespect his work.

  • Make comparisons to other men.

  • Rob him of the opportunity to help.

Do you find yourself falling into any of these traps with your wife? The worst thing you can do is stay silent about them, because that builds resentment and leads to isolation. The key is communication and action. Ask yourself, “What can I do to reverse the crazy cycle to build her security?”

Better yet, ask your wife. Tell her that you recognize your communication together is not what it should be. Tell her that you want to know whenever you say something hurtful. Ask her what she needs to hear from you to feel loved and secure.

Or maybe there are some things your wife is doing that are causing damage to your relationship and to your need for value and respect. What could she do to help you feel more significant? Once again, the best thing you can do is talk about it. In a respectful and honoring way and at the appropriate time, mention how you feel when she says certain things. Tell her how much her words and her opinion are important to you and your desire to be the best that you can be.

How not to treat your spouse is to speak thoughtless words, return insult for insult, and let resentment and bitterness lead to isolation. Always remember that your mate is not your enemy. God has given you to each other to provide love and respect, significance and security. You were created to be His perfect gift to each other.

The courage to resist temptation

Dan is a man’s man. A family man. Venerable. Virtuous. If you met him, you’d like him. But despite an impeccable track record, he almost threw it all away.

He was going through a season in his life when everything was difficult — he felt pressure at the church where he was the pastor, and he felt the unrelenting pressure of being a good husband and father. His desire was to resist the temptation to sin, but temptation is usually very subtle.

It all seemed so innocent. He missed his twentieth high school reunion, and soon afterward received a note from an old girlfriend who had dumped him just before the prom. She said she missed seeing him at the reunion; he was the one person she was hoping to reconnect with after all these years. Dan wrote back and said he would love to reconnect as well, and perhaps they could get together the next time he returned for a visit.

So he set up a lunch meeting for him and his wife, Kathie, to meet with this woman. Notice that Dan included Kathie; he wasn’t a total fool … at least not yet.

When Dan’s old flame walked through the doors of the restaurant, he thought to himself, She is better looking now than she was at 17! Almost involuntarily he said to Kathie, “Wow, would you look at that?” which got him a sharp elbow in the rib cage.

After a cordial lunch, Kathie left the table for a few minutes, and instantly the conversation turned more intimate until she returned. When lunch was over they said their goodbyes and Dan thought, Well, that was that.

After Dan returned home, he received another note from the woman saying she had hoped they could have spent more time together, just the two of them. She had some things she really wanted to talk about, and she wanted some “closure” in their relationship. He wrote back and said he would be speaking at a conference a few hours away that fall (one of our Weekend to Remember marriage getaways, if you can believe it!).

In her reply she said that, by “coincidence,” she’d be in the same city that very weekend on business, so maybe they could get together. They set a dinner date.

But this time Dan didn’t tell Kathie about it.

Now, Dan is a geologist by training, a very smart man. And he did what men have been doing for centuries: He rationalized his actions. He even thought he could use the rendezvous to tell his old girlfriend about his faith in Christ!

“You are an idiot!”

But in his gut he knew it was wrong, and for several months he felt increasingly guilty. Every time he opened the Bible, no matter what passage he tried to study, all he could hear was God telling him, “You idiot!” Here he was, a pastor at a growing church, the leader of a beautiful family with a wife and three children, a man who spoke around the country on how to have a good marriage, and he was about to put himself in a situation where he could throw it all away in a single compromise.

The only thing that saved Dan from certain shipwreck was an accountability partner, a man he met for breakfast every week to talk about their lives and to challenge each other to walk in obedience to Christ. Dan called him his “sparring partner.”

To Dan’s credit, at one of their breakfasts he finally told his friend about what was going on. After listening, his sparring partner courageously stepped into Dan’s life and said, “You are an idiot!”

Then he took out his cell phone and said, “You’re going to call this woman right now and cancel that date.”

Dan did exactly that. He told the woman he was happily married and that it was not appropriate for him to continue any sort of relationship or communication with her. He apologized for his improper attitude toward her and asked for forgiveness.

When Dan hung up, a truckload of pressure fell off of his shoulders. Then that true and faithful friend said the one thing that Dan didn’t want to hear. “Next, you need to tell Kathie all about this. And if you don’t tell her by Friday, I’m going to tell her.”

Dan did tell Kathie the whole story. Kathie’s response was what every man needs from his wife when he admits a weakness or temptation. She said she was disappointed that he didn’t trust her earlier with the story. She admitted that she knew that this woman had deeper intentions than just talking about old times.

Kathie knew that Dan was struggling, but just knowing that his sparring partner was committed to help surface and conquer those struggles gave her security in their marriage relationship. She was proud to be married to someone who was man enough to be accountable to others.

The power of temptation

Dan almost took the bait. That’s what temptation is, you know. It is a “lure” toward sin. Satan is a master angler who knows exactly where your weaknesses are. He is an expert at presenting you with bait that is designed perfectly for you.

Temptation isn’t sin; it’s when we swallow it and act on it that it becomes sin. And it can destroy our lives.

You may not think it takes much courage to face your temptations, but it does. Accountability is a proactive step toward never underestimating the power of temptation. Manhood requires us to resolutely “flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22). We have to put the lure of adolescent behavior behind us, face upward, and step up to our responsibilities as men.

Temptation never ceases as we grow older. One friend approached me after listening to me speak on this topic and admitted, “I can’t believe I’m 60 and still struggling with these issues.”

I can.

One foolish choice made in a moment of weakness can wipe out years of integrity.

You and I can become idiots very quickly!


Adapted by permission from Dennis Rainey’s book, Stepping Up: A Call to Courageous Manhood, FamilyLife Publishing.

My mate is not my enemy

I have a confession to make.

I act like a spoiled baby when I’m sick. I whine and moan. I check my temperature every 30 minutes. I park myself in front of the television and expect my wife, Merry, to wait on me hand and foot. Never mind what plans she has for the evening — when I’m sick, her job is to take care of me.

But what happens when the roles are reversed, and she’s stuck in bed with nausea, or vertigo, or a sinus infection?

I act like a spoiled baby. I whine and pout. I glare at her. How dare she get sick? Doesn’t she know what plans I have? Doesn’t she realize the pressure she’s placing on me?

At some point during the evening, God convicts me of my selfishness, and I realize that I need to make a choice: Am I going to see Merry as my enemy? Or will I recognize again that God has given her to me as a gift … and stop moaning just because that gift has a fever and can’t cook dinner?

You may not realize it, but you make the same choice on a regular basis. The choice confronts you when you argue … or when your spouse doesn’t respond to your romantic overtures … or when you must decide who puts the kids to bed at night … or when you want to bake a batch of cookies and your spouse makes you feel guilty about your weight. Is my mate my enemy? Or a gift from God?

A life-changing perspective

If you’ve been to a Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway, you probably recognized the phrase I’ve been using: “My mate is not my enemy.” It’s one of the key concepts from the conference, and I’ve always been intrigued by the number of people who mention this statement on their evaluation forms after the event is over.

One person commented, “We were able to see each other differently. … We were able to recommit our lives together to God. We were able to address a long-time unresolved, silent, stuffed conflict with the hope of continued work on forgiveness and growth in our marriage together. I learned that my mate is not my enemy.”

And then there was the husband who wrote, “Wow! My wife is not my enemy after all! I am actually made complete in her — she is God’s manifestation of His idea of what is absent from my life. I cannot question anything about her because she was custom built just for me. God loved me so much that He gave … me Joanna.”

My mate is not my enemy. It’s a perspective that will change the way you look at your marriage. And it’s a choice spoiled babies like me face in some form nearly every day.

Copyright © 2006 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved. 

This article originally appeared in Marriage Memo, a weekly e-newsletter.


Leaving and cleaving: How to leave your parents well

During the first year of marriage and for long afterward, it’s not easy to leave your parents while also honoring them.

Leave your parents - Stepping Up | FamilyLife | Dennis Rainey

A few weeks after their wedding, a young man came home to find his wife in tears. She told him that his father had called her and said, “I cannot believe you forgot my wife’s birthday.”  In the father’s mind, it was her responsibility to keep up with occasions like these — even birthdays for her in-laws.

The young man knew what he had to do. First he got on the phone with his mother and said, “Mom, I want to apologize for not sending you a birthday card or present.  I’m really sorry about that.” Then he asked to talk with his father.

“Dad, this is the only time I want to have this conversation with you,” the young man said.  “I never want you to do that to my wife again.  My loyalty now is to her, and if you have a problem with something I have done, then you need to talk to me.”

I wonder how many young husbands would have stepped up with that type of courage in similar circumstances?   What impresses me is that he honored his mother through his apology, but he also did not hesitate to let his father know he had overstepped his boundaries. And in the process, he let his new bride know that she was the new priority in his life.

Honor … and forsake

When we marry, we face a difficult balancing act with our parents.  On one hand, the fifth of the Ten Commandments tells us to “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12).  No matter what your age, you should honor your parents by spending time with them, thanking them for what they’ve done well, caring for them as necessary … and, yes, remembering their birthdays!

But then we look at Genesis 2:24, part of the narrative where God creates the institution of marriage.  This verse tells us, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”  The Hebrew word for “leave” means to forsake, to leave behind, to literally let go.  As difficult as it may be, when you marry, you declare to the world, “No other person on earth is more important to me than my spouse.”  Your spouse becomes a higher priority than your parents.

So how do you balance leaving your parents while also honoring them?  Here are a few suggestions:

1. When you marry, determine to set up your own home and family.

This means more than physically living apart from your parents; it also involves setting your own schedule, creating your own family traditions, and establishing your own values and priorities.

Early in marriage, one of the most common points of conflict with in-laws is holidays.  Where will you spend Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, or other occasions?  It is difficult for many to accept the fact that those holidays will never be the same as they were.  Talk with your parents well ahead of these occasions about possibilities.  Be creative and flexible, and urge your parents to do the same.  And in the future, when you have children of your own, there may come a time when you ask your parents to begin coming to your home for these holidays.

2. Pull away from dependence upon your parents.  

One of the most common problems you will face as a newly married couple will be the temptation to allow parents to bail you out of financial difficulty.  I know of one couple that kept turning to the wife’s parents to bail them out after poor financial choices.  As a result, the husband was not forced to step up to his responsibility to provide for his family and to live with the consequences of poor choices.  It undermined his self-respect as a man, and his wife was losing her respect for him as well.

It’s also important to pull away from emotional dependence.  Some couples are so accustomed to consulting their parents, for example, that they feel uncomfortable making decisions on their own.  There’s nothing wrong with getting advice — the problem comes when they doubt their ability to make good decisions independently.  This also means being willing for you or your spouse to make bad decisions and learning from your mistakes … just like your parents did when they were young.

3. Look for opportunities to spend time with your parents.

Remember how difficult it is for them to let you go.  And for single parents, the loss can be even more wrenching. Leaving does not mean withdrawing from them; that’s abandonment, not leaving.

If you live far away from your parents, you will need to make a special effort to visit them on a regular basis during weekends, vacations, etc.  This will involve flexibility and sometimes sacrifice, but that’s part of the commitment you make when you join another family.

4. Don’t allow them to manipulate you.

This is one of the most difficult issues to address.  Your parents know you well, and they know what buttons to push so you will do what they want.  And sometimes they don’t even realize how they are being manipulative.  At times you will need to lovingly confront them to establish your independence.

5.  Protect each other.

Don’t criticize your spouse to your parents, and defend your spouse when your parents are critical.  If you are having a conflict, don’t get advice from them.

I once made the mistake of making a negative comment about Barbara to my mother. It was not a major issue, and I soon forgot it — but she didn’t.  For years she brought up that comment occasionally, and I realized I had not protected Barbara as I should have.

For many of you, the act of leaving your parents will be one of the most difficult steps of your life.  But it’s a vital step in the process of growing up and establishing your own home.

Copyright ©2013 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

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