Marriage Upkeep (Part 2 of 3)
Updated: Dec 2, 2019
Guest Writer: Shannon Soto
Note: This article is written with alternating perspectives and is written in three parts.
As we mentioned in our previous post, this will be divided into three parts. If you have not read the first part yet, you can find it here. In our first post, we briefly explored the importance of prioritizing your walk (and your spouse’s) walk with the Lord. For these next two parts, we are building off this assumption: a healthy walk with the Lord will result in a healthy relationship with your spouse. Because of this, we are going to focus on some of the “practical applications” of growing in love for Christ.
2. Seek to love and respect each other well!
Will: Husbands, this is where “the rubber meets the road” in our marriages. We know what Jesus has said about loving our wife (See Ephesians 5:22-33); but our struggle is less in what He said, and more in how to do what He said (at least for me it is)! We communicate love in words and actions—what we say, and what we do. This means we have repeated opportunities to communicate love for our wife—in fact, I think there’s a never-ending supply of opportunities. But, if we’re not attentive they’ll pass us by, leaving frustration in their wake.
Men, show love to your wife in the simple, ordinary, “everyday” aspects of life. I’ll drive the point home with some rhetorical questions—do you tell her you love her? Does she know you only have eyes for her? Are your words seasoned with kindness and gentleness? Do you value her thoughts, opinions, and wisdom? If you’re like me, there are times when you do these things well and other times when you do them poorly, if at all. Something I strive for each day is to tell my wife that I love her—sometimes I use those exact words; but other times, I’ll say something like “You’re my favorite”. It’s a reminder to her that she has a place in my heart and life that no other person has, including our kids. Words of affirmation and acceptance rooted in gentleness and kindness go a long way towards strengthening your relationship.
Husbands, show love to your wife in your actions. Even though men/husbands have a unique responsibility to lead their homes, this leadership is NOT abusive, coercive, or dictatorial (read that again and again, if needed). Godly leadership is rooted in humility, resulting in selflessness and a willingness to be sacrificial (see John 15:13)—it is one thing to pledge “I would die for my wife” and another thing to actually lay down my life for her. I’ve learned (often the hard way) that sacrificial leadership requires me to “tune in” to how Shannon is feeling, join with her in conversation, hold her when words fall short, pray with her AND for her, and honor her inside and outside of our home.
Side note: If you are reading this and your/your husband’s leadership in the home is abusive, coercive, or dictatorial—seek out counseling. There is no reason for these behaviors (which are rooted in a sinful heart) to continue. Reach out to a trusted friend, counselor, or pastor—someone who can bring the darkness into the light, shoulder the burden, and offer help.
Hear me when I say this: I don’t love my wife perfectly—I wish I did. But there are some simple ways that I show my love for her—things like making coffee in the morning (because I am a morning person and she is absolutely, 100% NOT!), taking care of dishes, purposely setting aside time each day to talk about how she’s doing/feeling and then validating her. Husbands, you cannot love someone you don’t know—exchanging vows does not automatically lead to a healthy marriage. Put your vows into action— know your Love and then show her love.
Shannon: There are a number of ways to express love to one another. God uses His Word to speak to us, and He sets a high value on spoken and written language. We ought to use it to communicate love towards one another. This stands as the foundation from which growth and taking action stem from. We do our best to speak words of affirmation to one another--We say "I love you", but the words that mean the most to me are “You’re my favorite” and “You’re my only”- these are “I choose you” statements. Will says this to me every single day. He says it while I’m standing in the kitchen, packing lunches with our kids, when I’m just walking out of the bathroom first thing in the am and have not brushed my teeth. He says words to me that lift my heart after a weary day. He makes sure I feel seen--stops me in my tracks, makes eye contact and connects with me several times throughout our very busy day. He will even do this when we are in a crowd to help ground me because he knows I deal with social anxiety (we even have code words and code sign language that help us communicate secretly in a crowd as needed). He intentionally keeps a connection with me to help keep me steady. This servant leadership sets the foundation for me to be able to love my husband through respecting him and looking to his intentional care for me and our family without questioning that he will show up and lead in the ways the Lord has called him.
I respect Will and have a strong initial reaction in my heart when I hear of him not being respected by others. Men are leaders of the household and take the brunt of the pressures from this world; being a leader is hard work with a lot of burdens (part of the curse in Genesis 3). As a Pastor’s wife, I have a unique view of this as he is called to lead several others in their walk with the Lord and this is not without backlash a lot of the time. As wives, if we’re honest, occasionally we desire to overtake this leadership (also part of the curse), but I'm reminded of the fact if we did that, we would have to carry the load and take the heat that our husbands do on a regular basis and that's just not my jam. We don’t need both of us wounded in the trench. I'm so thankful for his protection and strength in striving to follow the Lord without wavering. The stress I can bring with my nagging, disapproving, non-stop questioning and flat-out dismissive attitude of his direction is not God-honoring. I also experience this among sisters in Christ through observing it or hearing about it often. It doesn’t help any of us to get together and complain, but we can figure out ways to respect and love our husbands to help them with fulfilling their role. After all, isn’t that our name, “Helpmate”? It's a privilege to respect the man God has given you... It's like wind in his sails. He needs your help and respect to grow and forge the pathway forward. It's done wonders for our marriage for me to listen to him, ask questions, offer my input and ultimately trust him as He trusts the Lord. Just being honest here, it goes against my natural instincts but it’s worth it. I tell Will I love him by saying “I trust you to follow the Lord in this”. For me, trust does not come lightly as I have experienced men who would abuse it or carry a dismissive and domineering attitude. That’s not what I’m standing for right now. I’m talking about respecting a God-fearing man who is not leading you in or towards sin. With this in place, trust your husband as he is trustworthy and respect his calling in the Lord. I am thankful Will understands the concept that his servant leadership will precede and spur on my respecting him and when it’s hard for me to respect his decisions in something, there is safety to talk through it and then following him. We stay connected and communicate. Respecting Will is an honor and privilege. I know this is how he receives love too... Ladies, our men need this from us.
3. Maintain appropriate boundaries and guardrails!
Will: Man, oh, man—where to even begin?! There’s no shortage of angles to take on this; but I’ll try my best. There are two main areas where we try to keep boundaries and guardrails in place—our time and our relationship. All of us have the same number of hours in a day, days in a week, and weeks in a year— this is the constant, we know. The variable is what we do with the time we have. Husbands, we have to guard our time carefully, and in a sense consider it a resource that we properly budget. We know there are a multitude of “things” pulling for our attention; but, we cannot emphasize the lesser things at the expense of the greater.
Now, this will look different from marriage to marriage; but, minimally, we must set aside time to spend with our wives. Depending on the season of life, we have either done this in the morning before the kids get up, or later in the evening after the kids have gone to bed—and we do this every day. At times, we throw on a pot of coffee, play a game, and just spend time with each other. At other times, we are simply talking about different things, and there are times when we are just enjoying each other’s company. Regardless of what we’re doing, we are doing it together. Make purposeful time with your wife—take her out on a date, run with her to the store or to get a quick cup of coffee, or just take a few, uninterrupted minutes to let her know that you see her, love her, and are thinking about her. Guard your wife by guarding your time and use the time you have to love her well!
Finally, and equally important, are setting up boundaries in your relationships with other people. More specifically, husbands need to establish boundaries in their relationships with other women. Temptation and sin are deceptive and can convince us that something is harmless, when realistically it can (and will!) have devastating consequences. Guardrails exist to keep us on safe, solid ground and it is God’s intention for us to have a healthy, fulfilling marriage.
As a general rule, I do not meet with women one-on-one without another person present or in the immediate vicinity. As a pastor, there are unique challenges when it comes to counseling; however, my rule of thumb in counseling women is to listen initially, and then reach out to a mature woman who can counsel and disciple. Frankly, this is a Biblical concept (see Titus 2) and helps ensure that I am “above reproach” in my interactions with the opposite sex. Let me be blunt—there is no situation where it is appropriate for a married man to provide emotional, spiritual, or physical support for another woman. Likewise, you do not need to seek out the attention of someone else. They are not your shoulder to cry on, they are not your sounding board to vent frustrations, and the same is true for you. Affairs do not begin in the bedroom—they begin in the heart. Husbands, do you have relationships with other women that are too close? Do you look for the attention and/or affection of other women? Are you dismissive of your wife but attentive to someone else? If so, seek the Lord in repentance and reach out to a Godly, mature man who can help you establish boundaries; or meet with a pastor and/or counselor. But, please do not jump the guardrails that the Lord has established for us!
Shannon: Boundaries are a big deal to the Lord. Throughout Scripture He offers wisdom with regards to protection and guardrails for wise living. If I can say this as a cheer and declaration over our marriages I would say “guard this precious gift at all costs” (reference Nehemiah when he’s restoring the wall and you get the idea). Safety in marriage is so important. Insulation, protection, privacy, trust and all-around unconditional love is crucial. There is no relationship like marriage with so much vulnerability, and there should be no safer place. However, the enemy is after the representation of Christ and His church. Friends, please be mindful—wise as serpents and gentle as doves. Protect your time, hearts, minds and trust from the damages that sin can do. This may include examining toxic relationships with others, family members who overstep, mindsets that do not align with scripture speaking into your marriage, or just plain distortion in personal priorities. We must dispel temptations and sins that would try to creep in and destroy the vineyards like little foxes (Song of Solomon 2:15). We do this by being alert, mindful, communicating through anything that may be damaging to the most intimate physical relationship here on earth. Guarding this most precious gift is critical to the health and life it can have in Christ. Saving this relationship from what threatens it, preemptively, can allow for the pulling of weeds so that this relationship will flourish. That’s our hope for all of us as we have these conversations and determine to seek the Lord and follow His design in our marriages with the one our heart loves- that we will flourish!
Examine your marriage with the Lord. If there is sin, confess it to one another- providing it is safe to do so. If you need a mediator or pastor or friend and even counseling- GO! God has provided skilled and gifted marriage counselors who will speak His truth and help with healing when damage from sin has been done. You’re committed to walk this person through so much and by the grace of the gospel lived out in marriage, you can! Jesus gave us this power in His Spirit living to overcome and let love cover a multitude of sins. If those sins are overwhelming, let someone else walk alongside in a professional and healthy Christian counseling setting to navigate the “what’s next” and offer hope. We’ve seen God do mighty things in marriage. We’ve seen Him restore in powerful ways from affairs, extramarital children, alcoholism, drug addiction, and plain “scales over the eyes selfishness”. God is in the business of working miracles. He created marriage and He will bless is when it is turned over to Him. Abide and Flourish, friends. Psalm115:1