When I met Cindy in 1969 I was a “hormone Happy” 19 year old who thought he had truly met the “girl of his dreams.” She made such an impression on me, that to this day, I can tell you how Cindy wore her hair, the clothes she was wearing and even how she smelled. I fell instantly in love.
Of course, I didn’t realize then what I do now after 44+ years of marriage. But with the help of Webster’s Dictionary I know now that infatuation means “to be carried away by unreasoning passion or attraction; to cause to lose sound judgment.” Boy, did I ever fit that definition.
So, when we were married in 1972 I was about as prepared for marriage as I was to wrestle alligators. The irony is that about two years into our marriage I would have gladly wrestled alligators if it would have meant an end to the constant conflict between Cindy and me.
This is one of the reasons Cindy and I have such a passion to help engaged and newlywed couples learn how to resolve conflict in healthy ways —preferably before marriage or as soon as possible after the wedding.
Even after I accepted Christ and asked Him to change my life I still struggled with certain areas of my life:
• My methods of dealing with conflict were still the same —run from it or avoid it at all costs.
• My diabetes was still out of control causing a lot of emotional and physical hardships on Cindy and me. (Anyone who’s had to deal with chronic illness in their marriage knows the stress this can create in a relationship.)
I wanted to grow and be the kind of husband Cindy needed and the father our sons needed. But it felt uncomfortable to take the steps forward that needed to be made. And, for a long time I convinced myself that if it didn’t “feel good,” then I didn’t need to do it.
Fortunately for me, I have a wife who (while feeling frustrated over my lack of growth) prayed for and encouraged me to apply myself to grow spiritually and relationally. She employed a practice of submission author Cynthia Heald calls, “ducking low enough so God could deal with me.” And He did deal with me.
I’m grateful for all the opportunities He has given me to grow. Unfortunately, I had to learn so many lessons the “hard way.” I’m hopeful by sharing some of the lessons I’ve learned about marriage, it may help you avoid some of the pain I inflicted on my wife and caused myself. These lessons have made a tremendous difference in the quality of our marriage.
• Nurture your relationship with Christ so you can nurture your relationship with your wife.
This should be first and foremost. If we’re going to nurture our marriage relationship according to what God wants for our marriage (see Ephesians 5), then we need to nurture our relationship with Christ.
I’ve found that there’s a direct correlation between the times I’m not being the kind of husband Cindy needs (I put my wants and needs above hers) and the amount of time I devote to prayer and being in the Bible. Bible teacher Jan Schrader once said, “So many men want a Godly wife but they do very little to facilitate it.”
I believe many men (at least, I did) try to find shortcuts to “Christ likeness.” The reality is —there are none! If our goal is to be Christ like, so that we can have a Godly wife, we will have to make it our lifelong passion and pursuit to be “imitators of God.and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us.” (Ephesians 5:1-2)
• Learn to listen —really listen —to your wife and place high value on what she has to say.
God gave me a great gift through my wife, Cindy. She has tremendous insight and sensitivity in so many areas that I’m clueless. I could site so many examples of how Cindy had counseled me in certain areas and I ignored her. The result of my “not listening” almost always had a bad outcome where either one or both of us was hurt.
Really listening also means, as author Ken Nair says in his book, Discovering The Mind Of A Woman (which I feel is a must read for all men), “To stop placing little or no value on her words. Concentrate on what she’s saying. Learn to hear what her feelings are saying —not only what her mouth is saying.”
Again, if we want to show we really show love to our wives the way they want it, we have to become active listeners.
• Protect your marriage from every form of infidelity.
If my marriage is going to be strong, it means that I’m going to protect myself from not only physical adultery but also “mental adultery.” Today there are many resources to help us men have victory in this area. The one I highly recommend is Every Man’s Battle: Winning the War on Sexual Temptation One Victory at a Time, written by Steve Arterburn and Fred Stoeker.
This not only means avoiding pornography, it’s also not taking a second or third look at an attractive woman; it’s consciously avoiding Victoria’s Secrets catalogues and lingerie sections in the store ads that come to our homes.
And it’s disciplining ourselves with the Remote Control. When a “suggestive” ad or TV show comes on the screen, we need to “click away” from it instantly. We must not even allow the image to register in our brain. All of these actions are summed up in 2 Corinthians 10:5, “Take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ.” I’ve also placed 3 x 5 placards on top of our TV’s to remind me, “I will set before my eyes no vile thing.” (Psalm 101:3)
It’s one thing to do all of these things when your wife is in the room with you. But, if you’re going to be serious about being faithful to her in word and deed, you’ll employ the same safeguards when you’re alone in a hotel room where no one else will ever know what you do —except you and God.
• Learn to resolve conflicts in healthy ways.
Remember how I told you my way to “resolve” conflict was to “run from it or avoid it at all costs?” Well, I’m still not perfect at it but I’ve learned some tools that help Cindy and me face problems.
Fortunately, after all these years of marriage we’ve pretty much exhausted just about everything there is to have a fight over. Some of these concern Money, Raising the kids, My Driving, Her Driving, Sex, The Dog, etc.
There are many books, CDs, articles and seminars available today to help couples learn how to resolve conflicts rather than “bury them” only to have them resurrected in the future to be argued over and over again. God’s word says, “as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.“ (Romans 12:18) Men, I interpret this to mean that it’s my/our responsibility as the husband to see that this is done in our marriages.
• Don’t settle for a mediocre marriage.
To avoid “marital mediocrity” means having to be committed to certain principles and values. A few years ago, Detroit Free Press Sports Columnist, Mitch Albom, wrote a best seller called, Tuesday’s With Morrie. The book chronicled the wisdom Albom gained from the time he spent with his former college professor Morrie Schwartz. I was challenged in my own marriage by what Morrie called, “The Rules I Know to Be True About Love and Marriage.” They are:
• If you don’t respect the other person, you’re gonna have a lot of trouble.
• If you can’t talk openly (communicate) about what goes on between you, you’re gonna have a lot of trouble.
— Plus —
• If you don’t know how to compromise, you’re gonna have a lot of trouble.
• And if you don’t have a set of common values, you’re gonna have a lot of trouble. Your values must be alike.
I found these weren’t only “good values”, they are Godly values. I challenge you to get into God’s word and see for yourself. Here are just a few:
1. Respect (See: 1 Peter 3:7)
2. Communication (See: Proverbs 31:26)
Well, these are a few things I’ve learned along the way that have helped me. I believe they can help you love your wife the way God wants you to. I believe what Dr. David Ferguson of Intimate Life ministries says in his book, Never Alone,
“I sensed Christ saying to me, ‘when you love your wife, you love me. When you care for your wife, you care for me. When you bless your wife, you bless me.'”
My prayer is that we’ll all live these principles out every day in our marriages.
May God bless your marriage abundantly,
I Pray For You
“And this is my prayer:
that your love may abound more and more
in knowledge and depth of insight,
so that you may be able to discern what is best
and may be pure and blameless
until the day of Christ,
filled with the fruit of righteousness
that comes through Jesus Christ
-to the glory and praise of God.”