Preachers and teachers on marriage (and I have been among them) often warn young moms about being moms first and wives second. It’s certainly a dangerous and ever-present temptation that deserves attention. But this post is for the young husbands who have their own temptation—expecting their wives to be more than any one woman could possibly be while raising their kids.
One August morning in Houston I waited just a little too long to go out for a run. The sun was unmerciful, and all the shade was gone. My pace slowed, and I even had to walk. I thought I could power through the run as planned but it was stupid not to shorten it before turning around, and I paid the price for my stubbornness.
About a mile and a half from home, I noticed the distinctive bounce of my wife as she pedaled her bike my way. She had a towel and a bottle of electrolyte-laced water. “They said on the news that it was dangerously hot and humid today and I thought you should have been home by now so I figured I better go find you.”
I fell in love with my wife all over again. She is the best.
But she’s also an empty nester.
When she was a homeschooling mom of three, I don’t think, number one, she would have had time to watch the news in the morning. Number two, I don’t think it’s likely she would have noticed I had left, as she would be trying to keep child number one from ripping up her assignment, child number two from throwing a ball through the window, and child number three from having a diaper accident. Not to mention keeping our dog Amber from eating somebody’s shoe.
I suspect, fifteen years ago, had we lived in Houston and I had gone out for a run, I’d limp home, my wife would see me dripping sweat on the floor, and she might say, “You went for a run? In this? Are you crazy?”
As an empty nester, I now get all her care. There’s a lot of it, but it’s just…different when it’s not divided among four people. There’s just me now. We don’t even have a dog anymore.
Young husbands, please give your wives a break. Try to understand. She wants to be a world class wife—most women do. But when she’s got a job, kids, a pet, and a house, never forget that there’s only one of her and about ten of them (if you add everything together).
Yes, she should be a wife first. But you’ve got to do your part with understanding. I wish I had been more empathetic as a younger husband. Back then, I could occasionally be resentful. Lisa would freely admit there were seasons when she was definitely a mom first. I thought the problem was her, but now I’d tell my younger self that the problem was really her situation. “Give it time, Gary,” I’d say. “Let her work this out. By the way, some amazing years are coming.”
If your wife really cares for your kids, she’s a caring person. When the kids are gone, all that care will be poured out on you. If you leave her now, she’s likely to end up with someone else and then her care will be poured out on that person. You’ll have endured the years in which she was stretched the most, only to miss the years when she could focus on you and love you the most.
It’s not a coincidence that I wrote Sacred Marriage about embracing the difficulties and challenges of marriage when I was in my late thirties, and now, in my fifties, I’m writing about building a marriage based on cherishing each other.
Same wife, but a different life.
So, young husband, be gentle with your wife while she figures all this out. Don’t let a very exhausting decade or two define your marriage or her.
I’ve been in a number of running groups. We meet Saturday, Tuesday, and Thursday mornings in our running gear, and leave looking sweaty and hot and tired. Every now and then there will be a “social.” And the most common comment you hear runners say to each other is “Wow, that’s what you look like all showered and clean!”
Defining your wife’s love and care by how she acts when she’s raising small children is like defining a woman’s beauty by how she looks in the middle of a marathon.
It’s not fair.
Give your wife a thankful hug. Even more, give her truckloads of understanding. And remind yourself whenever you feel neglected: it might not be her. It might just be her situation.
“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” (Prov. 17:17)
You’d be miserable indeed if you trained to become a fireman and resented it every time there was a fire. Not that you want there to be a fire, but putting out fires is what you’re trained to do. It’s what you signed up for. You don’t run from the fire—you move toward it.
In the same way, when we get married, we sign up to be there in times of adversity. If it is true that a brother is “born for adversity,” it is doubly true that a husband or wife is “married for adversity” for when I marry my wife, I become her closest friend in addition to being her brother in Christ. We’re thus signing up to be there during our spouses’ worst moments, most trying seasons, and even most irritating personal challenges.
What if we took Proverbs 17:17 seriously and thus considered ourselves “married for adversity?” Rather than resenting adversity, or feeling sorry for ourselves (instead of empathy for our spouse) that we have to deal with adversity, we would see adversity as a call to action, to closeness, to encouragement and support.
Imagine wives facing down social embarrassment with their husbands, but working with him instead of laughing at him: “This is one of the reasons I married him, to help him through this.” Imagine wives suffering a husband’s long bout of unemployment, thinking, “We got married so I could keep supplying the confidence and hope he needs.” Imagine the same attitude if he’s fighting an addiction, depression, or discouragement—a strong woman of faith realizing how dire things are but saying to herself, “I was born for this! I can love my man in the midst of this!”
Imagine husbands married to women who are gravely ill, doubling down on their affection and assurance: “I was born to help my wife get well (or even, sadly, to help her face her death).” What if a man discovers he married a sexually wounded wife who needs special care and understanding and he becomes more concerned about his wife’s healing and health than his own satisfaction? Imagine a husband who is married to a gifted woman who wants to start a business, but whose dad always told her she’d never amount to much. That husband provides the support, encouragement, and confidence she needs to become who God created her to be: “I was born to help my wife achieve her full glory!” Whatever the challenge, imagine Christian husbands taking up this biblical truth and instead of feeling sorry for themselves that they have to deal with adversity, loudly proclaim, “I can do this! With God’s empowering Spirit, I can love this woman! I was born to do this!”
Instead of seeing a weakness or limitation as a point of frustration, Proverbs 17:17 calls us to let adversity define our commitment, call out the best in us, and depend on God’s love working through us.
We live in a broken world where broken realities break our hearts. Knowing this to be so, God created marriage to confront this reality, not to be crushed by it. Marriage doesn’t remove us from the brokenness of the world but it does help us confront it together, and even to overcome it. Proverbs 17:17 is a rallying cry to let marriage be a castle against confusion. Rather than allow the brokenness of this world to cause us to question our marriage, Proverbs 17:17 says brokenness should remind us of why we got married.
The truth is, most of us marry for selfish reasons,but the Bible describes love as being showcased most clearly when we’re called to serve in the face of difficulty. A biblical friend doesn’t love only in wealth, health, social success, and sunny days. A biblical friend loves at all times. So, instead of feeling sorry for ourselves when our spouse hits a dry spell, or when he or she is going through a difficult time, let’s lace up our shoes a little tighter and remind ourselves, “I was born for this, to love my spouse at all times, especially in adversity.”
Single women, your boyfriend’s brain is very different than yours. If you try to evaluate him like you’d evaluate a girlfriend or sister, you’re going to fail. You’ll miss cues. The male brain and the female brain diverge immediately upon conception. So, if you want to make a wise marital match, spend a little time getting to understand a bit about the male brain.
Dr. Louann Brizendine studied at UC Berkeley, Yale, and Harvard and is now on the faculty of UCSF Medical Center. She states, “The vast new body of brain science together with the work I’ve done with my male patients has convinced me that through every phase of life, the unique brain structures and hormones of boys and men create a male reality that is fundamentally different from the female one and all too frequently oversimplified and misunderstood.”
Her book, The Male Brain, can help young (or middle-aged) women understand what’s going on in a suitor’s brain.
Let’s look at some highlights to help single women while they are dating. There are also many applications for within marriage.
Some men’s brains are more neurologically inclined toward monogamous behavior than others.
A study of lizards provides a “three types of men” analogy. There are “orange throat” lizards who basically guard a harem of females and mate with all of them. The males with yellow throats are called “sneakers” because they hang around the orange throat’s harem and mate with any of the willing females when the orange throat lizard isn’t looking. The “blue throat” lizards mate with one lizard for life and guard her 24/7.
This activity is partly guided by the vasopression receptor in the male’s brain, which is true in the human brain as well as the lizard’s brain. The longer the receptor, the more likely he is to be a “mate with one for life” kind of guy (the “blue throat”). As Dr. Brizendine puts it, “When it comes to fidelity, the joke among female scientists is that ‘longer is better,’ at least when it comes to the length of the vasopression receptor gene.”
If you’re not a scientist this isn’t something you can observe, but you can observe behavior. If your boyfriend has cheated on others before, it’s more likely he’ll cheat on you.If he left his former girlfriend to cheat with you, the time will almost certainly come when he will leave you to cheat with someone else. You’ve got to let his actions demonstrate the way his brain is wired. If you forgive him once for cheating on you, it’s far more likely you’ll have to become a “serial forgiver” if you want to stay with him. Some guys are just more wired for monogamy than others.
This isn’t to say biology is destiny. When you date a man surrendering to the work of the Holy Spirit and submitting to the truth of Scripture, he won’t be a powerless victim to his natural urges. But it will be more difficult for an orange throat to act like a blue throat. If you want a faithful mate, look for a “blue throat.”
Sex takes up a bigger part of the male brain and guys are more comfortable than are women about lying to get sex.
Dr. Brizendine’s research has found that “Men have two and a half times the brain space devoted to sexual drive in their hypothalamus. Sexual thoughts flicker in the background of a man’s visual cortex all day and night, making him always at the ready for seizing sexual opportunity.”
The ongoing level of interest in sex between a male brain and female brain are widely different. Dr. Brizendine explains, “Women are surprised that the penis can operate on autopilot and even more surprised that men don’t always know when they’re getting an erection. The autopilot penis is part of a man’s daily reality for most of his life, though it happens less as he gets older.”
Further complicating this increased interest, and making it more dangerous, is that deception can be a big part of a guy’s mating strategy. Dr. Brizendine says, “Researchers found that three out of four men said they were willing to lie or ‘modify the truth’ to persuade women to have sex with them…Men exaggerate their wealth, status, and business and social connections.”
I heard a man once speak about the trick of collecting ATM receipts at the bank, which are often left lying around. He said to find one that had a balance of over $20,000 on it. When a young woman asks for your phone number you casually take out the receipt from your wallet, acting as if it’s yours, and write your phone number on it. You can bet she’ll turn it over. “When it comes to verbal deception, researchers have found that men are biologically more comfortable with it than women.”
Since women tend (not always, but tend) to be looking for a relationship, they may not understand why a guy would blatantly lie to get sex when he’ll inevitably be found out. The reason he’ll lie is because he may want a one-time sexual encounter more than he cares about a long-term relationship, so he’ll jeopardize the long-term for the short term.
If you’re looking for something long-term, be faithful to save sex for marriage. And don’t believe everything you hear. As they say in journalism school, if a guy says his mother loves him, look for a second source.
Distinguish between a guy who is interested in you and a guy who is interested in having sex with you.
One thing that was universal about men and women was that in the first flush of infatuation followed by sexual activity, the relationship becomes literally intoxicating—but because men generally have lower levels of oxytocin, it can hit a male brain with more force. “In one study, men and women said they spent up to 85 percent of their waking moments daydreaming about their lover.”
As soon as the relationship becomes physical, you unleash neurological ingredients that are almost impossible to control. If the release comes during a honeymoon, you’re serving a lifelong love. If it comes before that, you risk becoming obsessed with someone who could make you very miserable as a spouse. You simply cannot properly evaluate someone you are infatuated with and sleeping with at the same time.
Women, this is so important: during this phase you may mistakenly think that he wants you, that he’s enthralled with you and intoxicated by you. In fact, it’s the sexual pursuit and the chemicals that come from such frequent sexual activity (which is also affecting your brain, by the way) that makes him seem so devoted. The frequency of sex will die down—it always does. And when it does, the chemicals making this man interested in you will evaporatebecause they are largely based on the sexual activity. In a very real sense, a boyfriend will “put up” with the romantic stuff to get to the sex. Once the sex goes, so goes the romance. Put this together with the male propensity to lie and the fact is that he is primed to promise you a lifetime just to buy another hour in bed.
According to Dr. Brizendine, “Researchers have reported that men want an average of fourteen sexual partners in their lifetime, while the women said they wanted an average of one or two.” This discrepancy alone tells you that when women and men are considering “dating” each other, they may have two wildly different agendas.
Men are actually neurologically wired to misbehave more than women.
I am not calling sinful misbehavior a biological necessity; the only perfect person in the history of the world (Jesus) lived with a male brain. The apostle Paul, who also lived with a male brain, claimed to be “flawless” in terms of human righteousness and keeping the law. Maleness thus cannot be an excuse for sin.
But men are biologically less in tune with the consequences of bad behavior. The anterior cingulate cortex is “the “fear-of-punishment” area of the brain and is smaller in men than in women. Furthermore, “testosterone decreases worries about punishment.” The prefrontal cortex, which Dr. Brizendine calls the “CEO” of the brain, focuses on good judgments and “works as an inhibiting system to put the brakes on impulses” and is “larger in women and matures faster in females than in males.”
Put all this together and you are dating a person whose biological ability to process negative consequences arising from bad decisions is less than yours; whose fear of being punished is less than yours; whose processing area of the brain devoted to making good judgements is more limited than yours; and whose inhibitions are naturally less than yours.
Men are always accountable for not controlling their urges. But an analogy may be helpful here. Your boyfriend is more likely to be able to bench-press 250 pounds than you are, but girlfriends are more likely to make better decisions based on consequences, punishments, and reasonable inhibitions. Now, a woman can lift a lot of weight and end up pressing much more weight than many men ever could. And in the same way, a man can surrender to the work of the Holy Spirit and fill his mind with Scripture and learn to walk with wisdom and discretion. But biologically, a case can be made that it actually is easier for women to “behave.” While dating, be prepared to be the one who wants to think through the possible negative consequences of becoming physical right away, getting married right away, or doing something romantic but foolish.
Older men become more like women neurologically
Because older male brains produce less testosterone and vasopressin, the ratio of estrogen to testosterone increases in the male brain, which means “hormonally the mature male brain is becoming more like the mature female brain.”
A man is gradually growing into a person who will likely be more in tune with your emotions, more capable of making sound judgments, and more relational overall. If you divorce a man in his forties, you’ve likely lived with him through his most difficult relational years and may miss his most in-tuned empathetic years.
This isn’t a promise—again, biology isn’t destiny, and stereotypes tend to be true but aren’t absolutely true.
This explains in part, but of course doesn’t excuse, why older men are often able to date much younger women. It’s not just the money. A younger woman may well be tired of a twenty or thirty-something male brain with its hyper-competitive, territorial, and sexually predatory nature and find it refreshing to have an older man who is more relationally aware. God’s ideal plan is that this man’s new awareness should be a gift to his wife who has been with him for three or four decades. When a man leaves his wife at this stage it’s a double-hit: she suffered while putting up with him in his more insensitive years and then she misses out on what could be his most relational years.
The younger woman’s devotion may be confusing to the original wife. The ex-wife may remember what this man was and thus not understand the new wife’s affection, while the new wife appreciates what he is and not understand the ex-wife’s rejection. This is terribly sad and goes against God’s creational design.
For the married women still reading this, if you value relational connectedness and understand the slow evolution of the male brain, it really is true that things are “getting better all the time.” A gentler, kinder, more relationally aware husband may be on the way.
Christians can become uncomfortable focusing too much on biology, as if it undercuts moral responsibility. I think most of you know I would never do that. Understanding a little science, however, can help single women be more aware of the issues they need to watch out for while dating. Every one of these issues are best addressed by living life the way God calls us to. In this case, modern neuroscience simply proves what we’ve known all along: God’s way is always best.
If you’re new to this blog and want more insight on making a wise marital choice, check The Sacred Search: What if It’s Not About Who You Marry, but Why? Link….
Singles seeking to marry well can learn so much from a man who got married four hundred years ago. He made a supremely wise choice for all the right reasons and benefitted immensely because of it.
Don’t be freaked out that he was a Puritan.
Richard Baxter (1615-1691) lived half his life as a single man because he believed a zealous clergyman was “married to his congregation” and didn’t have time for a wife. When his church fired him and he was forced to make his living as a writer (he became the most popular writer of his day, sort of a Max Lucado and Tim Keller rolled into one person), he thought having a wife would be a very good thing indeed, and he soon entered into a very happy and fulfilling marriage to a young woman named Margaret.
They had an incredible marriage.
In making his choice, Richard was already a wise man who, as a pastor, had seen the folly so many others had fallen into to. Thus he was determined to “avoid the foolish passion which the world calls love.”
He didn’t eschew love, but sought a higher love: “I know you must have love for those [you marry],” he wrote, but he was insistent that it be a “rational” love that discerns “worth and fitness” in the loved, not “blind…lust or fancy.”[i]
Richard had seen how “blind lust and fancy” (sex appeal and romantic infatuation) could make seemingly wise people curiously blind to a person’s poor worth and low character so he determined early on that he would not be guided by those things.
Instead, he was determined to find a “worthy” spouse, and a “fit” spouse.
If you find yourself crazy with infatuation, and your highest desperate desire is to hear that they feel the same way about you, force yourself to ask two rational questions: “Is this a worthy person? Are they fit for marriage?”
Let’s look at each in turn.
First, are they worthy of you having such interest in them? Force yourself to look at them objectively. If you didn’t have such strong feelings for them, would you still like them, admire them, and respect them? If you can’t answer “yes” to all three questions you’re falling prey to “blind fancy.”
If you’re at all embarrassed by them, or constantly finding yourself having to explain away and excuse the faults and character flaws that everyone else sees and points out to you, you’re in the midst of “blind fancy.” They’re not truly worthy of you; you shouldn’t be afraid that they don’t feel the same way about you; you should be afraid of why you’re feeling that way about them.
Next, ask yourself, “Are they fit?” That is, do they have the necessary relational, emotional, and spiritual skills to be a superlative spouse? Can they handle conflict? Are they humble and gentle and patient? Are they a giver or a taker? Is God the center of their life? Do they pray and do they seek to grow in righteousness? Would they be a good parent and a true friend? Can you trust them in every way?
If the answer is no, they’re not “fit” for marriage.
Feelings are loud and strong, and they come and go. Asking questions about “worthiness” and “fitness” will help you to be objective and make a wise choice.
Dr. J.I. Packer summarizes the best of Puritan thought on making a wise marital choice by stressing that Christians were urged not to look for someone one does love romantically but rather for one whom one can love “with steady affection on a permanent basis.”
Because marriage is all about the future and feelings are only about the present, it makes the most sense to choose someone you can love in the future because they are worthy of your love and fit for marriage. Those things usually last; feelings never do.
Among the most stupid things said on a stupid reality television program is when the Bachelor or the Bachelorette keep saying, “I’ve just got to explore my feelings; I don’t know if I feel the right way about him/her.”
No, you don’t. That’s a stupid way to evaluate a relationship. It’s being guided by “blind lust or fancy” (and explains why that show has such a pathetic “success” rate for couples who get together).
Find out first if the person you are interested in is worthy and fit. Then ask yourself, “Is this someone I’d enjoy spending time with? Is this someone I’m attracted to physically enough so that I’d desire to be with them sexually?”
Sexual desire and “fancy” aren’t enemies—they can be delightful “spices” in life. If you make them the main course, however, you’ll end up relationally hungry, as they can’t satisfy on their own. I sprinkle cinnamon in my chai tea every morning, but I don’t take a spoonful as a substitute for breakfast. That’s what you’re trying to do when you let “blind lust and fancy” be the main factors in determining who to date and, ultimately, who to marry.
Worthy and fit.
That’s what you want to look for. That’s what you should evaluate.
[i] I’m taking these quotes from J.I. Packer’s A Grief Sanctified, pg. 25.
When I was writing Cherish, I’d ask wives how they wanted to be cherished. If you poured a cup of coffee right away, it would be room temperature by the time most of them stopped talking. When I’d ask men how they like to be cherished, the most common answer was, “Do you want the PG version or the real answer?”
The reality is that many husbands won’t feel cherished if they are not sexually pursued. Sometimes, the husband needs to change a few things so the wife can safely pursue him—but sometimes, wives can address ways to build their own libidos. No man feels cherished with mere “duty sex.” He wants to see in his wife’s eyes and even sexual hunger, “He is altogether desirable. This is my beloved and this is my friend.” Song of Songs 5:16
My friend Sheila Wray Gregoire writes a marvelous blog primarily directed toward women, though I have steered many a husband her way. I’m delighted that she has released an online video course that will help wives who want practical advice for boosting their libido. Sheila has been talking and writing about this for years, and her husband is a doctor. She mixes the medical with the practical in a fun and inspiring way. Talks are already underway about Sheila and I touring together, speaking about sexual intimacy in marriage—that’s the confidence I have in her, her marriage, and the content of her message.
Here’s Sheila’s story, and what she’s offering:
Are you Settling for Something that God Never Meant for You to Settle for?
Every night when I was a little girl, I would drift off to sleep dreaming of one day being married to a man who would make me feel safe. An only child of an amazing single mother, I still desperately needed to know that I was loved and that my life wouldn’t be uprooted again.
I wanted stability. I wanted, in Gary’s words, to be cherished.
I’ve been married for twenty-five years now, and I can attest with every fiber of my being that I am, indeed, very safe.
But I’ve also learned that safe isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The reason that I’m happy with my husband today is not because I’m safe; the reason I’m happy with my husband is that together, we’re living an adventure.
Sometimes in our quest for safe we forget to live. We’re trying so hard to avoid anything bad that we forget to let the good in, too.
We know there’s such a thing as holy contentment–the sentiment that the Apostle Paul conveyed in Philippians 4:12:
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.
I believe, though, that there’s also a thing called holy discontentment, even in our marriage. It doesn’t mean that we’re unhappy with our mate. It’s that we feel that we’re missing something important that God had for us. We know that He created us for more, and we’ve been settling. And we have a thirst for God’s passion to be more real in our lives, so that we stop playing it safe and start really living.
Nowhere do I see this as much in women’s experiences as in the area of sexual intimacy. Many of us are content to put sex on the back burner, every now and then consenting in order to give our husbands a break, but not truly experiencing passion ourselves. Maybe we figure we weren’t made for it. Maybe we figure it will never feel that good anyway. Maybe we figure we have too many other things on our minds and it’s too much work to make sex feel awesome.
Now, I know many of you are throwing yourselves into anything but sex because you’re the one with the higher sex drive. In 30% of marriages, it is the woman who wants sex more, not the husband, and your biggest question is why doesn’t your husband want to make love? Others have been so wounded because of your husband’s pornography use that sex has become ugly. For you, I am sincerely sorry, and I pray that you will be able to get others around you to hold him accountable and to help you both restore what has been broken.
But for those of us who have just given up, let me ask this Valentine’s season–are you settling for something that God never meant for you to settle for? Are you giving up too easily, and losing out on the life that God meant for you?
Before I got married I dreamt about sex. A LOT. I pictured us spending Saturday mornings in bed every week, just enjoying each other. But then we got married and I realized that sex was work. It didn’t always feel that great. I was often so tired. And for me to be able to enjoy it, I had to be able to concentrate (no one ever tells us women that!). If I had a headache, or was worried about something, or had too much on my to do list, then sex flew out the window.
Somewhere along the line, though, passion did, too. Our lives became work and housework and shuttling the kids to music lessons and to church clubs and to sitting down at night to watch Netflix and to knit my eighth pair of socks this year. Not that there’s anything wrong with knitting socks, mind you. But life became a routine.
The more content we get with normal, the less we yearn to be part of the big passion story that God is writing in our world. God is a passionate God. He’s creative to the extreme. He’s jealous. He gets angry, but also rejoices over us with singing. He is the furthest thing from mediocre or boring. As C.S. Lewis said, “He’s not a tame Lion, you know.”
When we settle for tame in our marriage we often tame God, too. Our sexuality and our spirituality are linked, because they get to the core of who we are. We have been created to know so intimately and to be known so intensely. God chose to use sex as the metaphor and vehicle by which we would partly understand His passion for us. The sexual imagery in the Bible is awfully blatant.
During those years in my marriage when I put sex on the backburner, then, it’s hardly surprising that I often ended up putting God there, too. When I couldn’t be carried away and a little out of control with Keith, it was hard to let God take control and to be overcome with His goodness, too.
Passion is of God. And passion is expressed in so many ways–in worship; in our heart for the world; in our love for our kids. But also, most definitely, in the bedroom. And when we let passion die in one area, it often dies in all.
Perhaps this Valentine’s Day it’s time to awaken passion. I’ve created a “Boost Your Libido” course for women like me who have been living very safe lives, and want more. Maybe God isn’t just calling you to more passion with Him, but also to more passion with your husband. That part of you can be reawakened, and when it is, it’s amazing to see what God can do with the rest of our lives, too!
Boost Your Libido is a super practical 10-module online course (with video!) that will help women understand what libido is, the roles our brains and bodies play in libido, and how to escape from a boring sexual rut in our marriages. The modules build on each other step-by-step, so you can start seeing immediate results! We don’t need to settle for safe.
Sheila Wray Gregoire has been married for 25 years and happily married for 20. The author of nine books, including The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, she blogs almost everyday at To Love, Honor and Vacuum!
There’s a popular joke in New England that expresses just how much affection Patriots fans have for their beloved quarterback.
A wife wakes up furious with her husband. “I had a dream last night that you had an affair with Giselle Bundchen!” she shouts and hits him with a pillow.
“That’s ridiculous!” the husband protests. “I’d never do that to Tom Brady.”
That joke expresses just how grateful Patriots fans are for the seven Super Bowl appearances in the Brady/Belichick era.
Believe it or not, there’s a powerful marital truth buried in the Patriots’ success.
You may have heard me say or write, “A good marriage isn’t something you find, it’s something you make,” and the Patriots prove that’s equally true with the game of football.
In their AFC championship game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Patriots had just one first-round pick starting on offense. Even more surprising, three undrafted free agents started. And yet New England all but wiped the field against the Steelers’ vaunted defense. The once famous steel curtain looked like a paper wafer against sixth-round draft pick Tom Brady and his cadre of receivers.
When marriage is tough, we naturally think the problem is with the personnel—usually, our spouse (though I talk to some of you who freely admit the problem is primarily with you). And the thinking goes, with such weak personnel, the only solution is to get a new team.
But what if, like the Patriots, you can develop a Super Bowl winning team with undrafted free-agent talent? What if, with some helpful coaching and practice, you can rip apart other teams—surpass other marriages—even though they may have “superior” natural talent?
What I love about pursuing a cherishing marriage is that it can be pursued. There are habits, attitudes and actions that slowly build a Super Bowl experience in marriage.
A woman stopped my wife last week after a Bible study and told her that after reading her foreword to Cherish, she wanted to tell her, “I want your life for a day because I have never felt that.” Husbands, that’s so sad. And Lisa reflected back to me, “If her husband would do just a little bit of cherishing she’d be so happy because he’s set the bar so low.”
Let’s take what we have—maybe a bunch of sixth round draft picks and even undrafted free-agents—and resolve to do something very special with it.
It begins with being true to your promise—we promised to cherish our spouse and we need to take that seriously. The reason some of us didn’t cherish our spouse before was because we thought love was enough. We need to be convicted that we promised more than mere love on the day we got married. We have to want to cherish each other and be committed to cherishing each other before it begins to happen.
Second, we need to change our mindset. We need to pursue viewing our spouse as Adam or Eve, the only man or woman in the world, accepting the “commitment of contentment” that we entered into on our wedding day.
Third, we need to begin showcasing our spouse, following the analogy of “the ballet is woman” and seeking to out-honor the person we married.
Fourth, we can then add on, as appropriate, the actions that reinforce a cherishing marriage—there isn’t enough space to mention all of them here, but this includes things like catching bids, sacrifice and saving, winning the mind games, embracing the uniqueness of your spouse, and unleashing the power of the Gospel so that you can continue to cherish an imperfect spouse.
What I’m saying is that (absent overt abuse that necessitates separation), you can begin to apply a cherishing mindset and actions to a dull or apathetic marriage and watch it take off. The testimonies are already pouring in about how merely being challenged to pursue a cherishing marriage is changing so many homes and relationships.
Guys, what do you think your wife would say, and what would be the expression on her face, if you just showed her a copy of Cherish and said, “Help me learn how to start cherishing you like you’ve never been cherished before”?Can you even imagine how your wife might respond? She’s given her life to you; she has stood beside you. Why not reward that commitment and affection by learning how to cherish her?
Wives, if you can relate to the woman who stopped Lisa after the Bible study, prayerfully print this blog out, hand it to your husband and say, “Can we talk about this? Can we really try, in 2017, to build a marriage in which we cherish each other? I want to learn how to cherish you better, too. Let’s not just play the game of marriage. Let’s learn to win at it.”
Remember, even if you’ve had a slow start, when it comes to marriage or football it’s not always about what you already have. Sometimes, it’s about what you do with it.
Are you willing to give cherishing a shot to take you to the “Super Bowl?”
Here are a few resources you can use to help spread the word about Gary’s next book:
Most marriages survive by gritting teeth and holding on. But marriages can and will not only survive but thrive when husbands and wives learn to cherish one another.
Those are the powerful words of bestselling author Gary Thomas in his newest book Cherish. And in a world desperate for marriage redemption, it is needed now more than ever.
Thomas shows that although there are a countless number of marriages consisting of two people just going through the motions, there are real ways this pattern can be reversed: when husbands and wives learn to cherish one another in proven, loving, and everyday actions and words.Through personal stories and real world examples, Thomas proves what husbands and wives can begin doing today to turn their marriage around even a marriage marred by neglect and disrespect.
So how do you cherish your spouse? Thomas will show you how going out of your way to notice them, appreciate them, honor them, encourage them, and hold them close to your heart will bring hope, light, and life into your marriage.
12 Sharable Quotes (text only)
“Cherishing calls us to go to war against contempt because it is all about protecting our spouse—their reputation, their personhood, their sense of value and worth.” – Gary Thomas, CHERISH: The One Word That Changes Everything for Your Marriage
“If marriage is about the two becoming one, then tearing down your spouse is like stabbing your hand with a fork and then resenting it when it hurts.” – Gary Thomas, CHERISH: The One Word That Changes Everything for Your Marriage
“The call to cherish is an active decision to ask ourselves on a regular basis, What do I need to do to protect my spouse?” – Gary Thomas, CHERISH: The One Word That Changes Everything for Your Marriage
“Cherishing is just as much a strategy as it is a command. The more you cherish your spouse, the more likely there will be even more to cherish in the future.” – Gary Thomas, CHERISH: The One Word That Changes Everything for Your Marriage
“Cherishing means maintaining our curiosity in our spouse by having an eager ear and a reluctant tongue.” – Gary Thomas, CHERISH: The One Word That Changes Everything for Your Marriage
“Words really matter to most spouses, and tone is a big part of it. Your spouse won’t feel cherished if you don’t learn to control your tone.” – Gary Thomas, CHERISH: The One Word That Changes Everything for Your Marriage
“You learn how to cherish your spouse by studying them, listening to them, and finding out who they are.” – Gary Thomas, CHERISH: The One Word That Changes Everything for Your Marriage
“A cherishing marriage is built on intimate understanding, not stereotypical assumptions.” – Gary Thomas, CHERISH: The One Word That Changes Everything for Your Marriage
“As life changes, so will your spouse. There is always a new person to get to know, a new person to learn how to cherish.” – Gary Thomas, CHERISH: The One Word That Changes Everything for Your Marriage
“If you want to build a marriage in which you keep cherishing each other, you have to get over the hurdle of expecting your spouse to be perfect.” – Gary Thomas, CHERISH: The One Word That Changes Everything for Your Marriage
“You can become infatuated with a boyfriend or girlfriend by accident, but you can’t accidentally cherish a spouse. Cherishing takes intention, purpose, and reflection if it’s going to last.” – Gary Thomas, CHERISH: The One Word That Changes Everything for Your Marriage
“If you want to be cherished, practice humility and admit there are some really irritating parts of you that need to be transformed—and welcome the transformation.” – Gary Thomas, CHERISH: The One Word That Changes Everything for Your Marriage
Sharable Quotes – graphic memes
12 More Sharable Quotes (text only)
“Exploring and understanding what it means to cherish each other will enrich, deepen, and spiritually strengthen our marriages.” – Gary Thomas, CHERISH: The One Word That Changes Everything for Your Marriage
“Learning to truly cherish each other turns marriage from an obligation into a delight.” – Gary Thomas, CHERISH: The One Word That Changes Everything for Your Marriage
“Cherish is the melody that makes a marriage sing.” – Gary Thomas, CHERISH: The One Word That Changes Everything for Your Marriage
“Love and cherish never compete—they complement each other and even complete each other.” – Gary Thomas, CHERISH: The One Word That Changes Everything for Your Marriage
“Cherishing your wife takes vigilance, intention, and practice. But when it arrives, you will feel like the most blessed husband alive.” – Gary Thomas, CHERISH: The One Word That Changes Everything for Your Marriage
“Your biblical call is to focus on outdoing your spouse in showing honor.” – Gary Thomas, CHERISH: The One Word That Changes Everything for Your Marriage
“The act of consistently noticing and honoring our spouses cultivates and maintains a certain kind of relationship and shapes our hearts.” – Gary Thomas, CHERISH: The One Word That Changes Everything for Your Marriage
“One of the best gifts we can give our spouses is to tell them with our words, affection, and eyes, ‘You don’t have to be anyone other than who you are. You are my Eve/Adam, the only woman/man in the world to me.'” – Gary Thomas, CHERISH: The One Word That Changes Everything for Your Marriage
“Beautiful, harmonic marriages are like the ballet and the symphony. They’re not just one dancer or one note.” – Gary Thomas, CHERISH: The One Word That Changes Everything for Your Marriage
“To cherish is to be filled with joy not because your spouse brings you joy but because you take joy in your spouse’s joy.” – Gary Thomas, CHERISH: The One Word That Changes Everything for Your Marriage
“If we want to cherish our spouses, we have to keep noticing them, which is another way of saying we have to keep honoring them.” – Gary Thomas, CHERISH: The One Word That Changes Everything for Your Marriage
“A key principle to honoring your spouse is understanding that the person being honored gets to determine how they want to be honored.” – Gary Thomas, CHERISH: The One Word That Changes Everything for Your Marriage
“Cherish is full of wisdom, practical advice, and candor on a subject so personal and sacred—how to live the marriage you want every day. Gary brings truth and reminds of Jesus in the midst of our earthly relationships. ” –Jennie Allen, Author of Nothing to Prove and founder of IF:GATHERING
Gary Thomas has given a deep understanding and application of a key biblical concept that is sure to take any marriage who applies it to the next level. A must reading for every couple who wish to grow their relationship. –Dr. Tony Evans, President, The Urban Alternative
“Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas has become a classic, must-read book. Now he has written another wonderful book, Cherish, focusing on not just loving your spouse, but cherishing – treasuring, honoring, holding dear with tenderness, protecting, nurturing, and wanting to showcase – your spouse. It is again a must-read book for married couples that will be a tremendous help and blessing to them and their marriages.” –Siang-Yang Tan, PhD, Professor of Psychology, Fuller Theological Seminary, and author of Counseling and Psychotherapy: A Christian Perspective
Many of us vowed “to love and to cherish” when we married. We hear a lot of good advice about loving our spouses, and that’s certainly important – but there’s more. Gary Thomas shows us how to put love into action through cherishing the one we love. –Jim Daly, President – Focus on the Family
Two words come to mind every time I pick up a book by Gary Thomas: Profound. Practical. I often cover relationships on my radio show, and I can say that nobody articulates God’s deepest desire for our relationships quite like Gary Thomas. He’s both convicting and encouraging, challenging and empowering. If your marriage feels dull and lackluster, read thoughtfully and prayerfully through Gary’s new book, “Cherish.” I believe you’re only pages away from a new day and a new way of relating to your spouse. –Susie Larson, Talk Radio Host, National Speaker, Author of Your Powerful Prayers
If you desire to love and cherish your spouse, this book will inspire and help you. Gary Thomas has identified a missing piece in many marriages and he has given us practical ideas for strengthening the most important human relationship in our life. – Dr. Kevin G. Harney, Pastor, Author, and Founder of Organic Outreach International.
“There is nothing more beautiful than to be in a relationship with someone who is supposed to love you … and they actually love you. Cherish helps bring that ‘sweet, happy spot’ in marriage home.” – Dr. Tim Clinton, American Association of Christian Counselors President
Get ready to be inspired! This book is sure to lift your marriage to a higher level – thats what it did for us. But Gary does more than inspire. He equips. He shows us how to lovingly care for and treasure our spouse like never before. Don’t miss out on this incredibly practical message. Your marriage will never be the same. –Drs. Les & Leslie Parrott, #1 New York Times bestselling authors of Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts
He did it again! Gary Thomas has a way of shifting my marriage paradigm to shed brilliant light on what it practically means to honor God in my marriage. By bringing to life one little word, Cherish will do the same for you. –Dr. Juli Slattery, President of Authentic Intimacy
Every couple gets married with great intentions for their marriage. Their marriage is going to be different; it’s going to be special. But for many couples they lose their purpose and life gets busy, hardships come and the marriage they have isn’t the marriage they wanted. Every couple wants to improve their marriage, but many don’t know where to start. That is what I love about Cherished. Gary Thomas gets to the heart of marriage in this book. Soak in his wisdom, apply these principles and watch God transform your marriage relationship into something you cherish. –Justin Davis, Pastor of Hope City Church, Author of Beyond Ordinary: When a Good Marriage Just Isn’t Good Enough, and Founder, RefineUs Ministries
I’ve always been a huge fan of Gary Thomas’ books but Cherish is special. Cherish shows couples how to turn a disappointing marriage into a delightful one. One chapter I especially appreciated was the one on honoring each other. Working with couples in not just disappointing marriages but destructive ones, I see dishonoring as huge. I am so grateful that Gary validated that regularly withholding cherish in one’s marriage can rise to the level emotional abuse. –Leslie Vernick, licensed counselor, relationship coach and author of the bestselling The Emotionally Destructive Relationship and The Emotionally Destructive Marriage.
Lisa and I returned home from our honeymoon and moved into a trailer in a trailer park, in the middle of nowhere. It was rent free, offered by a family friend and we had almost no money.
Lisa didn’t complain.
When we moved to go to seminary, I found a room for rent in the basement of an old house. The carpet got soaked whenever it rained hard, and this was in Bellingham, Washington, where it rains every other day and rains hard at least once a week during the winter.
Lisa had to get out of the dark basement, so we found an old apartment building where we could live on the top floor. We were “managers” (the only way we could afford it), so people knocked on our door at all hours with various complaints, including the two men who needed to go to rehab approximately every other week. The building was so old the electrical system completely blew out and it took days to rewire the building, so everybody was upset about their melting refrigerator/freezers.
We were liberated from being managers by sharing a small apartment with another married couple. The landlord thought we were crazy, saying it was too small for two couples. But both of our budgets were smaller than the inconvenience, and somehow, both couples managed to conceive our first children in that apartment.
So, for our first “house” we rented a tiny shack that had been a parsonage in 1935. The walls were so old you could literally feel the wind coming through them when it was windy (and may I remind you, this was Bellingham). Some nights, Lisa slept on the floor by the one heater with our baby daughter because the warmth only spread to about five linear feet. For those of you who have heard me preach, this was the house where the now famous Remington the Cat lived and died (or so we thought).
When we moved across the country to start a new job in Northern Virginia, Lisa put up with an apartment building for the first couple of years. I picked it out before she arrived, and didn’t think about the hassle of having the parking so far away from the front door, with steps, when you’re bringing home groceries and a toddler. And then Lisa got pregnant, almost immediately (we had been apart for five weeks, and Lisa got pregnant the first night she joined me—go figure). And then, of course, I didn’t think that when you rent an apartment right next to a major hospital you might occasionally (or not so occasionally) hear an ambulance squealing by. But it’s what we could afford.
And Lisa didn’t complain.
We then managed to buy a small townhouse a long commute away in Northern Virginia. My “office” was in our small bedroom, and with two kids (eventually three), it probably wasn’t a good idea to buy a townhouse with three levels. And the commute ended up being a problem because we didn’t have a car with air conditioning (we didn’t need it in Bellingham). Lisa brought iced towels on long trips to help the kids get through it. And never complained.
I could go on and on describing several more houses before Sacred Marriage got published, but I don’t want to lose you. Lisa put up with a lot. She bore the poverty of a ministry lifestyle without ever complaining. We did get into a heated argument when Allison was a baby and I saw her play with a chime ball in the church nursery, so I went out and bought Ally one. Lisa thought it was a ridiculous expense on a tight budget (the chime ball cost $8); Allison didn’t help my cause when she found the box more interesting than the toy. “See?!” Lisa said, and I knew she was right, and I felt humiliated that I couldn’t give my daughter something so small without it creating tension.
But Lisa didn’t complain. She never made me feel like less of a man. She never asked me to leave the ministry or stop writing in the early mornings and on weekends. If anything, she was extraordinarily grateful that we never talked about her getting a job and having to put the kids in daycare. We tried that, part-time, for about two months and were done with it forever. It didn’t fit us at all (I’m not making a judgment; I’m making a personal statement).
So, this week, when Lisa’s “home” is the Fleur de Lys, a canal cruise boat leaving Dijon France, with a crew of six for six passengers, well, I’m really happy for her.
She was grateful when a family friend offered us the mobile home to move into 30 thirty years ago, but I suspect she’s even more grateful for this gift from a different set of friends.
We’ve stayed in so many dive hotels—one with shag carpeting that Lisa was horrified to walk on. And she’s put up with so many church meals, particularly at one conference in the south, when it was fried chicken (Lisa doesn’t eat anything fried), “fruit salad” (canned fruit swimming in sugar syrup, and Lisa doesn’t eat sugar), and a “vegetable salad” with iceberg lettuce and bleu cheese dressing (“there aren’t any vegetables in that salad!” Lisa pointed out, “but about 500 calories with that dressing!”).
But you know what? She nibbled enough food at that dinner to look polite (pulling back the skin on the chicken, scraping the dressing off the lettuce) and went back to the room where she ate her nut mixture.
And never complained.
I can’t tell you how humiliated she could have made me feel, how much of a failure I might have seemed for the first twenty years of our marriage. So when Lisa gets to experience a little out-of-this-world luxury that even now we couldn’t afford, I’m so happy for her. Lisa told me, as we were packing, “We don’t need to bring a lot of Quest bars on this trip; there will be plenty of food” I felt so happy for her because she’s a foodie, and the meals on these boats are prepared by artist chefs who will cater to her healthy, gluten-free diet. The last thing she will do is go hungry.
If you’re still with me in this blog, you might wonder, “What’s the point?” And the point is this: marriage is a long journey in which it really can get better, even better than you dreamed, but sometimes it takes a whole lot longer to get better than many couples are comfortable with.
The attitude with which you move through the difficult seasons will go a long way toward helping the two of you become closer, or it will create a porcupine marriage where you can’t even talk without pushing each other away.
When Lisa and I moved back from Northern Virginia to Washington State, a lawyer told us we could easily qualify for bankruptcy. We didn’t take that option for moral reasons, but more recently we’ve been going through a Dave Ramsey class and when you have to list current non-mortgage debt ($0) and liquid cash (enough to feel comfortable) we both smiled at each other, able to appreciate it because we both knew from where we’ve come.
Some young couples may not be willing to pay the price of a couple decades of sub-standard living. I wish you young wives could learn from Lisa—I want to spend the rest of my life trying to spoil her to make up for the first twenty years. We would never romanticize financial limitations. We don’t want our children to face what we faced (visiting my parents for the weekend, who were thrilled, but feeling guilty that the reason we were visiting was partly because we were literally out of food money). But now we have the perspective to take the long picture. I’m so glad we’ve stuck together because I couldn’t have those memories with any other person. Lisa and I shared them together.
And I’m so thankful for how we shared them. Lisa has never made finances the determination of what we do (including the more recent move to Houston), and I love her all the more for it.
I’m not (of course) promising couples that if they hang in there, their finances will automatically get better and they’ll finally get to enjoy some exotic vacations (though you might). I am saying that the way you face disappointments and frustrations and limitations will go a long way toward building up your marriage. The gratitude I feel for Lisa not attacking me when I was so vulnerable to attack is expressed by my desire now to say, “Whatever you want, hon. Whatever you want.”
Lisa has let me be me (a guy who really can’t do much besides write some books and speak) and I have let Lisa be Lisa (a woman who really wanted to be home every day, all day, with her kids) and we figured out the money part second. More important than where we go on vacation is the fact that both of us want to be on vacation together.
I know that for some of you—financially, health-wise, with your kids, or personal issues—it feels really, really hard right now. Trust me—I know how hard hard can be. And I know how it adds to the frustration when you’ve been dealing with something for years and see no end in sight.
But hang in there. Marriage is a long journey. And sometimes, it really does get better, even better than you ever could have imagined. I pray for you today:
“May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.” 2 Thess. 3:5
After a Sacred Search conference in which I had laid out essential character traits to look for in a future spouse, a group of six men asked a question. Five of them were convinced by what I had said; one wasn’t, and he’s the one who asked the question in the form of several statements: “I don’t think this list matters. I think God will lead me to the right woman at the right time. I don’t need to worry about this list.”
“And where does the Bible tell you that’s how you should choose a wife?” I asked.
“Isaac and Rebekah.”
I wrote a whole chapter in my book addressing Isaac and Rebekah, but let me summarize that teaching here: basic Bible interpretation teaches us that biblical narrative isn’t always universally applicable. We don’t think we should pay our taxes by fishing and looking for coins in the fish’s stomach because that’s what Jesus did with Peter. We don’t think if someone is stricken with leprosy they should go dip in the Jordan seven times. We don’t think a woman should uncover the feet of an older man while he sleeps to signify she wants to marry him just because that’s what Ruth did with Boaz.
Nor should we think that Isaac and Rebekah’s journey teaches us how to find a spouse. Besides, if you want to be true to the account of Isaac and Rebekah, your father should hire a servant who will pick out your wife for you, and you should agree to marry whomever he chooses, sight unseen.
That’s at least an honest application.
There’s far more to this argument, but you can read The Sacred Search if you want the rest. Let’s fast forward the conversation I had with these guys: “How will you know a woman is the one God chose for you, anyway?” I asked.
“God will make it known.”
“He just will.”
Do you know how many stories of misery this faulty line of thinking has generated? People ignore biblical teaching, common sense, and obvious problems because they “feel” God has “called them” to marry a particular person and then (this is what makes me so sad) they get bitter at God for “leading” them into a miserable match.
I pray about every significant decision I make, but I also seek to apply biblical principles, and the Bible is rather clear on this one. First Corinthians 7:39 tells women, “She is free to marry anyone she wishes, only in the Lord.” You may wish God would make the choice for you, but do you also insist that God choose whether you go to the University of Texas or Texas A & M? Do you want God to choose whether you drive a Nissan or a Ford? Where is the line of where God makes the choice for you? Will He choose what night you and your future wife must have sex so that one particular baby is born according to His perfect design? Is that how He works?
God’s Word values wisdom so highly (“Make your ear attentive to wisdom” Prov. 2:2) in so many places, that wanting to replace the process of applying biblical truth in a wise manner with subjective mystical feelings is a dangerous thing to do, particularly when you’re deciding on a life-long relationship.
Of course we must make room for God to sometimes seemingly lead two people together. But trying to force this when the Bible’s teaching seems to suggest another model as the norm is flat-out dangerous.
A Bitter Tale
A man once asked to get together with me because he was bitter toward God. A decade prior, he had a good-paying and personally rewarding job, but “God asked me to quit and wait for something better,” so he did.
Something better never came along. His family has struggled financially for a decade, and what little work he could find has been even less satisfying.
“Why would God do this to us?” he asked.
“Maybe he didn’t,” I responded.
“What are you talking about?”
“Maybe you just thought God told you to quit. Why are you so certain that’s what He was saying?”
“My wife confirmed it. She felt the same thing.”
“Maybe both of you were wrong. Most people would suggest it’s unwise when you have a family to support to leave a job when you don’t have something else lined up. Yet you were driven more by mystical leanings than by wisdom.”
“God told Abraham to leave without telling him where he was going to go…”
“I’m sorry,” I continued, “But I think it’s a bit of a stretch for you to suggest that because God told Abraham to move, with all his wealth and possessions, to a land specially set aside for God to create an entirely new nation that would ultimately launch the bloodline to bring the Messiah into the world, that your direct application of that passage was to quit your job. That seems like a bit of a leap to me.”
In the midst of your pursuit of a marriage partner, God wants you to grow in character and maturity and wisdom. Part of that is learning how to make God-honoring and wise, sensible choices. I don’t know how we’ve got it into our heads that blindly following “mystical feelings” is a godlier way to live our life than studying and applying Scripture, but I’ve seen that approach result in much grief.
I believe in the work and leading of the Holy Spirit as much as anyone, and perhaps far more than most. I call upon the ministry of the Holy Spirit on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis. But the Bible doesn’t place the Holy Spirit against wisdom or direct revelation, but as a teacher who helps us apply wisdom.
How you make the choice of who you marry matters so very much. Will it be based on wisdom, or mystical leanings? Please, decide now, before you become infatuated, as it is all too easy to confuse infatuation with the Holy Spirit’s leading.
And secondly, if you go ahead and make a choice on a mystical basis and it causes you much grief, please don’t become bitter at God. Please don’t assume that God led you into a foolish choice because He just enjoys playing around with people. Accept that maybe He’s letting you face the consequences of a foolish process so you’ll learn a more appropriate way to make decisions in the future.
Revel in the freedom and embrace the excitement of God’s revealed truth that He wants you to build (co-create, if you will) a marvelous life, using His wisdom and keeping your heart open to His occasional warnings to guide you. It is a gift that we get to choose, far more than it is a burden.
Besides, what do you think would sound more romantic to a woman? “I’m asking you to marry me because God told me I had to” or “Out of all the women in the world, I’d like to spend my life with you. I choose you.”
It takes a little more work to apply wisdom, but a supremely wise marital choice pays better than Google and Microsoft salaries combined.
Plenty of research has come out about porn’s effects on men—erectile dysfunction, making your brain less attracted to your wife, distorting a man’s view of women overall, etc. One I haven’t seen listed, though, is anger.
Men who regularly give in to porn often have a lot of anger toward their wives.
I’m not a therapist or a neuro-scientist. I’m writing from the perspective of one who does pastoral counseling. And in that context I have witnessed the effects of porn leading to anger with men and couples with whom I’ve met. Plenty of other researchers are far more qualified and perhaps more interested in writing about this, but I’ve gotten so many questions from the last blog post (where I mention porn’s connection to anger casually) that I thought I should follow up with this. I need to thank the men who have shared their struggles with me as well as those who have written in with specific insights for this particular post. I had thought of one or two reasons why porn might lead to anger, but the shared personal experiences of these men has opened my eyes to several more.
As a caveat, I am fully aware that a growing number of women use porn. I’m not mentioning women in this post because I haven’t personally worked with a single woman who has struggled with porn. I’m not sure if the neurological effect is the same, and I’m not qualified to say.
First, when a man acts with anger out of proportion to the situation at hand, it might simply be a fruit of the lack of self-control. Obedience and sin both shape us. Our choices ultimately shape our character, for good or for ill. If we demonstrate a lack of control in one area, it will manifest itself in all other areas. If we can’t control lustful desires, we won’t be able to control inappropriate expressions of anger.
Second, as one man who struggles in this area described it to me, “Porn is idolatry at its core. False gods of every kind disappoint.” When we’re disappointed, we get angry. Healthy marital sex leaves us with such a satisfied soul—not just immediately, but in the hours and even days that follow. Porn does the opposite—it over-promises and under-delivers, and leaves a man depleted and unsatisfied and therefore angry that he’s been “cheated” (even though he’s the one doing the cheating). It’s one of the most confounding spiritual things you’ll ever see—men truly hate the thing they’ve just done, but then they keep going back and doing it.
Third, particularly among spiritually sensitive men who are trying to walk in obedience, porn leads to spiritual anguish. God, in his kindness, isn’t likely to let a man become numb to the offense of porn unless that man makes himself callous over repeated and unrepentant use. At first, the man feels shame, guilt, remorse, and perhaps even self-loathing. That’s for a day or so. A little later, Satan comes in to make a bad situation worse, and, as the chief accuser says, “If only your wife were a little more affectionate…” “If only your wife were a little more available…” “If only your wife were a little more understanding…”
What this temptation does is give men something to blame their wives for. Now, in this twisted version, the spiritual anguish the man feels isn’t his fault for failing, it’s the wife’s fault for setting him up to fail. When a man finds himself getting angry all out of proportion for something the wife did, it might be because he is letting off steam from the spiritual anguish of falling several days before. He hates what he has done and become, and it’s his wife’s fault. Or so he thinks.
A fourth reason is really ugly, but it’s the sad truth: your husband is angry because he has learned to enjoy porn more than real sexual intimacy, and when you’re around, he can’t indulge. He has to hide from you, which makes him resent your very presence. This is the true assault on marriage: you become an impediment to his sexual satisfaction, not an expression of it. You’re “standing in the way” and that makes him angry.
A fifth reason porn causes anger is because of jealousy, but perhaps not like you think. Most women loathe the notion of their husband being physically attracted to the women in these videos, but I don’t think it’s primarily about physical attraction. Wives, let me assure you, porn has little to do with your appearance or value. I recently finished the autobiography of a famous 70s-era singer. On one occasion, he was regularly cheating on his wife while on tour with a steady girlfriend. His wife was a former model, and his girlfriend was a current model. Then he met an actress. While his wife was at home, he left his mistress in the hotel suite, saying he had a business meeting, and proceeded to cheat on his mistress with the actress. He managed to cheat on two women at once!
At one season in his life, he admitted that his driver would drop off one young woman at the airport, drive to another terminal, and pick up a new one to bring home. These were all stunningly beautiful women (according to popular stereotype).
That’s why I tell wives this behavior isn’t about you. It was never about you. This is behavior that even the most glamorous of women couldn’t affect. When your husband is addicted to the “new,” which is what porn does to his brain (research the “Coolidge effect”) no woman in the world can be beautiful enough to keep a man faithful because once she’s familiar, she’s no longer so alluring.
I hate even typing these words, because it represents a direct assault on God’s design for marriage—cherishing and being enthralled with one woman for life. And that’s the problem with the anger that comes from jealousy. The best kind of sex in marriage is when a husband is cherishing his wife and the wife is cherishing her husband. Sex affirms each other’s beauty, worth and desirability. Neurologically, the more you have sex with each other, the more you desire each other and the less attractive other women become. This is basic brain chemistry.
The jealousy that comes from watching porn reverses this. I think men get jealous that another woman is pleasing another man—the voyeur is getting sexually excited, but he’s not the one being touched or pleasured. He’s watching another man be pleasured so he has to take care of himself. How can that not make a man a little angry? It’s like he’s being teased.
And here’s the thing: while anger can fuel lust, it empties love. The same thing that might create sexual excitement in the face of lust can make sexual performance wilt in a situation when you are called to cherish. I can’t cherish a woman I’m angry at, can I? So the continued use of porn will change what I value in sex, turning me away from cherishing and making porn seem “necessary” to get sexually excited, even if I have a willing wife, because I have to engender lust in order to sexually perform. So even when you do have sex with your wife, it’s a different kind of sex, an inferior kind, sometimes even a destructive kind. It may even seem like sex is something you’re doing to your wife rather than experiencing with your wife.
This explains why porn can temporarily seem to revive a man’s sexual interest before it eventually depletes it. It’s two entirely different kinds of sexual interest, though. And the negative kind is one that will destroy future sexual fulfillment in marriage.
So, wives, why are your porn-using husbands angry?
They are angry because they are suffering the consequences of a lack of self-control.
They are angry because they are being disappointed by a false idol.
They are angry because of the spiritual anguish they feel fighting it, and they’ve found a way to blame you for the struggle.
They are angry because your very presence inhibits acting out their preferred sexual desires.
They are angry because another woman is teasing them and they’re taking it out on you. Since you’re a woman, you’re guilty by association.
I have zero desire to become a “specialist” on this; it’s taken enough out of me just to write this post, so let me point you to Dr. Harry Schaumburg’s ministry (www.stonegateresources.org), or the well-known ministries of Covenant Eyes or XXX Church for remedial care. These ministries have far better understanding and resources to help deal with this on a more comprehensive level. I’m just adding the spiritual effects to the negative impact of porn—as if we needed any more warnings than we’re already getting.
A Quick Word to the Wives
Before I end an already long blog post, please let me say something to the wives: speaking as a pastor, most thoughtful men I know who struggle with this hate doing it and they hate themselves for giving in. I grieve for these men. Many have been targeted from an early age and lacked the spiritual sophistication to fight it when they were first confronted with it. By the time they realized what was going on, they had developed minds that will be vulnerable for perhaps the rest of their lives. If you use this post against them rather than trying to understand them, it won’t be helpful. I do believe that the habitual, frequent use of porn that obliterates sexual intimacy in marriage can be considered an affair. A man has essentially replaced his wife and is denying her the fulfillment of being sexually desired, celebrated, and fulfilled. If that’s not an affair, I don’t know what is.
But I also know some very earnest and I would say even godly men who fight this with all their might and still occasionally struggle. The brain just won’t let it go. The last thing I want this post to do is make their struggle even worse and increase their shame.
I fully understand that it’s much, much easier for me to be objective as a pastor, as I’m not the one being deprived or hurt, so I also understand if you think I’m letting your man off the hook. I just hope you’ll use this post for understanding, not to attack. Men already know a lot of reasons not to give in, and yet many still do.
Finally—angry husbands existed long before the Internet. While porn can certainly increase a man’s anger, there are many other reasons some men are angry and other issues that need to be addressed. Chip Ingram’s book Overcoming the Emotions that Destroy is a helpful primer for couples working through anger.
A Quick Word to the Husbands
If you’re struggling with this, yet another post with five additional reasons to avoid porn won’t help you on its own. But perhaps this can give you another reason to keep fighting, and to stay faithful in recovery, however imperfect that recovery might be.
It is so much better to cherish your wife than to be angry with her. A marriage in which you cherish your wife is one of the highest pleasures in life. The very highest pleasure is to have our satisfaction fulfilled by our relationship with God—to daily receive his grace, acceptance, affirmation, and love. I am a firm believer that the best defense is a good offense. If you are addicted, though, offense alone won’t be enough—you’ve got to rebuild the defense. Grow deep in your understanding of grace. Spend the time you used to spend indulging in fantasy and use it to build or rebuild a creative, intimate life with your wife. Pursue your God and your wife. Fight for the good life of joy and intimacy and truth.
If you do that, you will never be on your own. Even if your wife doesn’t understand, your God does. And if you need a little spiritual shot in the arm, just listen to this:
Gary Thomas is a bestselling author and international speaker whose ministry brings people closer to Christ and closer to others. He unites the study of Scripture, church history, and the Christian classics to foster spiritual growth and deeper relationships within the Christian community. His unique message is designed to help you embrace the unique way that you interact with God, partner in the spiritual growth and character formation of your spouse, build a closer, grace-based family, and enjoy God with a new sense of freedom and delight.