Disclaimer: I’m not an expert. I am writing these thoughts, observations and lessons first for myself and secondly as a “thank you” to those who have been open and honest about life and marriage to me. I’m passing it on to others who may have interest. I love people. I love writing. I love the synergy that comes from relationships. I’ve always been intrigued by the fact that it can appear that there is not a ton of scripture written on marriage, but I realized that there is a ton of scripture about relationships. All of these principles apply to marriage, (i.e.., kindness, restoration, and preferring one another). So, we actually have a lot to consider. I’m opening up my heart to share ideas that have helped me.
Everyone wants a happy marriage and if questioned on their wedding day, most are very sure that they have what it takes to make their marriage flourish. What happens to nearly 50% of those marriages? Why don’t they last? Why do so many good people have bad or sad marriage relationships that sometimes fail and end? What are the enemies? What are the secrets to success? I wish I had all of the answers to those questions because I love success stories, don’t you? Like the happy endings in the movie, we like resolutions, promises and clarity. We like to watch our ball teams win because victory is exhilarating. Who doesn’t want to win? Is there a way that one person can make a difference in a marriage? After all, it takes two, not one, to make a good marriage. In the book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” Stephen Covey says this:
“At one seminar where I was speaking on the concept of proactivity, a man came up and said,
“Stephen, I like what you’re saying. But every situation is so different. Look at my marriage. I’m really worried. My wife and I just don’t have the same feelings for each other we used to have. I guess I just don’t love her anymore and she doesn’t love me. What can I do?”
“The feeling isn’t there anymore?” I asked.
“That’s right,” he reaffirmed. “And we have three children we’re really concerned about. What do you suggest?”
“Love her,” I replied.
“I told you, the feeling just isn’t there anymore.”
“You don’t understand. The feeling of love just isn’t there.”
“Then love her. If the feeling isn’t there, that’s a good reason to love her.”
“But how do you love when you don’t love?”
“My friend, love is a verb. Love — the feeling — is a fruit of love the verb. So love her. Sacrifice. Listen to her. Empathize. Appreciate. Affirm her. Are you willing to do that?”
In the great literature of all progressive societies, love is a verb. Reactive people make it a feeling.
They’re driven by feelings. Hollywood has generally scripted us to believe that we are not responsible, that we are a product of our feelings. But the Hollywood script does not describe the reality. If our feelings control our actions, it is because we have abdicated our responsibility and empowered them to do so.
Proactive people make love a verb. Love is something you do: the sacrifices you make, the giving of self, like a mother bringing a newborn into the world. If you want to study love, study those who sacrifice for others, even for people who offend or do not love in return. If you are a parent, look at the love you have for the children you sacrificed for. Love is a value that is actualized through loving actions.Proactive people subordinate feelings to values. Love, the feeling, can be recaptured.”
Wow, isn’t that awesome? Love is a verb. It’s proactive. I imagine we all cheered inside as we read the advice Steven gave to the husband-the advice for him to love his wife. Why did we cheer? We know at the end of the day, marriages don’t succeed on feelings alone, quite often they will fail on feelings. Marriages thrive on values that aren’t compromised. The feeling follows the value that is lived. So, what does it mean to be proactive in marriage? What advantages come along with proactive decisions? The word “proactive” means: tending to initiate change rather than reacting to events.
For example, eating right and exercising to be healthy isproactive. Waiting until you have a heart attack to choose a healthy lifestyle is reactive.
The very nature of being proactive is choosing to be intentional. It’s making a decision to live love as a verb. Choosing to be proactive is really being wise and prudent because it strengthens marriages instead of waiting for a break that then needs a repair. Being proactive is a fertilizer on the planted seeds.
At this point, we’ll turn a corner. I’m writing this to myself and other women; women who have a relationship with God, who want to ask hard questions. A whole book could be written to men and their responsibility in marriage, but that will have to come from somewhere elseJ. I’m hoping to provoke our thoughts as women; as wives. The truth is that the end-all of this life isn’t about marriage, but it is God’s gift to us as humans. We have our own relationship with God; we have our own strengths and purposes individually, but all of these are enhanced in a great marriage. It really is a beautiful picture of Gods love to us, the union of marriage in this life.
I’ve met wonderful Christian women whose marriages are struggling. I say that because there is a dual choice involved in marriage. I know a husband has choices. But I’m hoping to present thoughts here that focus on what it looks like for us to be proactive women. Making the choice to live by Biblical principles releases us from being held hostage by our reactions. This is life-changing, let alone marriage changing. In our relationship with God, being the right person, results in doingthe right things, which gives maximum potential for a great marriage relationship. Let’s look at a few ways we tend to be reactive instead of proactive, because even in a healthy marriage where the “love and respect wheel” continue to roll effortlessly, there are bumps in the road that we sometimes need a little help navigating. So, let’s get to the nitty-gritty. Here are some practical points to consider:
One reaction women tend to choose is withholding. There are many reasons why we withhold (as a means of protecting ourselves or withdrawing), but what are the specific ways we withhold from our husband? Let’s talk about the largest elephant in the room…our love life.
Sex is not just a gift to mankind. It’s a gift to us personally. It’s powerful, yet vulnerable and comes with responsibility. We know it is a perfect picture of Christ loving the church. Do we really want to reduce this beautiful symbol to that of a bargaining chip? That is what withholding does. It reduces. We sabotage our own marital health when we withhold sex. It sometimes seems like the logical choice because we have some amount of power in this area, and we can be tempted to use this power as a sword instead of a gift. It can be a weapon if we so choose. There will be seasons in the course of a lifetime when physical barriers make it harder to meet our spouse’s sexual needs (childbirth, illness, etc…) and communication is so vital in navigating these times. This season is not what I’m referring to here. I’m talking about using the “sex-card” as a reward/punishment mechanism in the relationship rather than a gift to be given. We might as well be shooting bullets into the heart of our marriage when we withhold sex. It’s that damaging. At the least, the ‘withholding” fertilizes the ground for discontentment, mistrust and bitterness. It definitely puts a cog in the wheel (you know, that one that was rolling along effortlessly). Here is the positive, proactive approach. Freely give sex. Pretty simple…let’s just do it! J Giving speaks love, respect and commitment to our husband like no other words can. It is validation that we are willing to sacrifice for him, just as he would (hopefully) give his life and sacrifice for us. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say his sexual needs are probably different than oursJ. We can recognize that just because we aren’t in need or in the mood for sex at the moment, doesn’t mean our husband is not. Be willing to entertain the idea that this is a way bigger deal to him than it is for you.
Let’s choose to be proactive and be willing to give. We won’t be sorry.
The other way women withhold is with simple affectionate gestures. Sometimes we don’t take the necessary step to talk about our frustrations, but we will give energy and efforts to show our feelings by withdrawing our warm spirit. At the very first inkling that we want to back away physically, emotionally or otherwise,(whatever the reason), that is the most important time NOT to give in to those feelings. Reach out- hug, hold his hand, look his way. Don’t give place to a cold shoulder. Our touch says more than we realize. This proactive response creates a shield of protection around us and our marriage. Let’s take the step for our marriage instead of reacting with our feelings.
We know the common phrase that everyone must “earn respect”. I completely understand that truth, but in regards to our marriages, God has given us, as an act of obedience to Him, the choice to GIVE respect to our husbands, (drum roll please)…whether he has earned it or not. This takes the bargaining out of the relationship (you give me this, I give you that). I know this doesn’t seem fair. The “not fair” thoughts are just darts from the enemy. They are thrown into our minds to detour us from our responsibility and rob us from the privilege of obeying God. It’s an awful cycle of loss. Our enemy uses a diversion by having us focus on the merits of our husbands’ behavior. We question, does he deserve respect? Does he fulfillmy needs? Why should I respect him if he doesn’t show enough love to me? We reason that if we hold out on giving respect, he may learn his lesson and give more. Unfortunately, that is a lie. It doesn’t work. It seems the secret in all of this is that there is a reward to obedience. It’s a God thing, not a husband thing. In our obedience to God, He plants and waters the seeds that bring forth the “love flowers” that we so desperately want. It’s almost like God knew what we needed when he inspired Paul to write in Ephesians 5, “Husbands, love your wives, wives, respect your husbands”. It’s the fruit of submitting ourselves to each other, that beautiful leap of love and trust; pure selfless abandonment resulting in freedom. I’m double dog daring us to try it…be proactive and make a choice to respect our husband out of obedience to God. Respect even when we don’t feel like it, just like he is to love selflessly, regardless of feelings. We have to choose to live out our values, not our feelings. I know, it’s hard but it begins a cycle of positive energy that reaps rewards. When we love, or are loved unconditionally and respect, or are respected unconditionally, it changes us. Let’s be proactive and choose to praise him, admire him, and appreciate him. Give it a chance. I’m guessing a surprise is in store for us!
A second reaction we succumb to is that of letting our communication digress into patterns of assuming. How do we assume? What does that look like? How does it play out?
Manipulation becomes a way of life to those who assume. When we try to manipulate our husband, it looks pretty pathetic. We may think we have a gift in putting “pieces” together. We then become prosecutor, judge and jury questioning his every motive and action. It usually ends in confrontation instead of reconciliation. It reveals what we believe-that we need to fix our husband and that we know how to fix him. Ouch! We go over scenarios in our mind. We think if ‘we say this, he will say that’, and we will gain something we want. It’s a very self-focused and self-absorbed reaction. It represents a heart and care for us rather than that of our husband. At some point, our expectations about life, marriage and family meet up with reality and we are presented a choice. It feels so illusive. We think manipulating or venting onto our husband may inspire him to greatness. There is a short season of satisfaction in that. Unfortunately, it doesn’t last, and more importantly, it doesn’t work. These disappointments and unmet expectations are normal. Most couples think they are alone. They’re not. Every marriage has to navigate changes and disappointment. If we choose to meet these times with understanding and graciousness, we’ll win. See the right enemy. It’s not our husband. If we assume all the blame is our husband, we begin an ugly cycle where everything in our life begins to rest on our mate understanding us and fulfilling us. When he doesn’t understand and fulfill (and he won’t because he’s not designed to be our God) we react. We can manipulate so many ways, by pitching fits in our own grown-up way, giving the silent treatment, arguing…never realizing the next step is our husband feeling failure for something he was never designed to do. It would be like expecting a child to write a book, when he has not even learned to read. It is not possible. The missing ingredient is a faith step; the step that involves resting and trusting, not manipulating and “fixing”. It truly is a paradox. It’s a humble spirit that has the force to break ground. How can the answer be found in a faith step-that sounds like a cliché’, but the wonderful, powerful, successful marriage rests more on our relationship and dependency on God than we know. God is big enough for these misguided expectations. Why do we forget God knows us…He knows our spouse…He is FOR our marriage…He turns the heart of the king but we somehow forget he can communicate to our spouse for us, even through us, as we choose to let go and let God. We forget God’s desire for us to have a strong marriage is greater than our desire. He has our best interest at heart. Let’s be proactive. It’s a call to trust GOD.
You may wonder why this topic is even here. Is it possible to show assumptions with our appearance and dress? Hmmm…how does this play out? Well, we all want to be beautiful in our husband’s eyes. The fact that we are focused on this at all means it can be a place of attack. I hope we all make efforts to take care of ourselves, never making the assumption that because we are married, we can “let go” and not care about our appearance. I’m SO not going there. But that being said, our culture is very obsessed with looks, so it takes a great deal of intentionality to find balance. There are some obvious pursuits that are just responsible, like pursuing health, eating right and exercise. We can be proactive. We can also choose an attitude of thankfulness for what we have. Let me say that again. We can choose thankfulness for what we have! Let it sink in. Lets stop comparing to others. It’s discouraging. It gets us off track. BE THANKFUL… and then tell our face about it. Smile for your husband. Let him know he lights up your life. He will know that admiring look. It’s contagious and super-sexy. J Did you know that a smile and happy countenance ranks higher on the list of what men find attractive than everything else. I’m taking a guess that when we were dating our husband, we smiled A LOT. Go back to those places in your mind. Remember. Open up the album in your mind…go to the pictures of total bliss. Don’t let stresses in this new phase of life take away your happy, joyful spirit. Let’s be proactive…let’s laugh together again. Your proactive carefree spirit may catch your husband off guard. Give him time to get there with you. Talk about those memories together, so you can recapture it in the present. It may be a detour that you find yourself traveling. Take heart. You can get back to the main road!
Sometimes we make another assumption about dress-that dressing provocatively for everyone will bond our husbands to us. It’s a sticky subject…but this isn’t an accurate assessment. If we think our husbands are viewing pornography or looking at other women, we may be tempted to dress provocatively to re-gain attention. We think this may help him curb his wandering eye. This actually shows that we trust in ourselves-another manipulation skill. This problem is not an issue we can resolve with clothes. The truth is, dressing modestly says a lot about our self-image, and even how we think our husband views us. A confident, thoughtful woman will dress with modesty because she’s not dressing because she feels threatened. Think about it.
We can be individuals and be expressive in our clothes and still be conscientious and thoughtful. I’m not advocating an unkempt look or lack of personality. Color, design and flair don’t have to be compromised. We can take care of ourselves and exude thankfulness for our body without exploiting it. By dressing thoughtfully, we show and embrace responsibility and we show love to other women. By not dressing to please their husband or their sons, we prefer others. Ok, here’s a question… If someone else is wearing what YOU are wearing, in the WAY you are wearing it, in front of YOUR husband, would you be ok with it? Do you think he might have to look away? This may be a good question to answer before walking out the door. We are all in need a good dose of selflessness, humility and true love. J
Here’s an up-side. You can be provacative FOR YOUR HUSBAND. We can celebrate the wonder and beauty of our body…we can celebrate with our husband in our privacy. There’s no need to dress outside of the bedroom for inside the bedroom. Keep it protected for your marriage, for your husband, because it’s a treasure. It’s like sharing a secret. Don’t spoil the secret by giving it to everyone else. Make efforts to communicate to your husband that he is the priority and reason for your smile. Ask him what he likes and what he thinks. Love him with more than just your body; love him with your soul. Let’s take the high road.
There are so many deceiving lies about body image. Most start with assumptions that fighting for attention with our body is ok. Well, that’s what the harlot does-dress to get attention, just dressing to make the sale. Don’t degrade your beauty with this lie. Don’t be deceived, the end of the sale is not pretty. Be proactive and fight for your marriage, not for selfish attention.
Are we putting off love and respect with our appearance? These are the adjectives we should hope describe us, even in our dress.
My husband and I had to work on communication very early in our marriage. Didn’t we all? Aren’t we still? We had to learn to communicate thoroughly; the key word being thoroughly. The tendency is to go through half of a conversation, hit a wall, then give up and stop. This is when accusations and assumptions make their move in our mind. These thoughts can take over and finish the rest of the communication that did not happen in the conversation. When there is misunderstanding in any way, it is worth getting out the picks and shovels to excavate. Don’t give up until the gold nugget is found. (I’m not talking about nagging). That nugget is one more very foundational rock that we will build on throughout marriage. Don’t give up. One of the truths my husband taught me was how to convey my passionate points of view without using words like “always” and “never”. He had a very good point. He made a case for this-“ask, rather than accuse”…very few people would honestly be described as “always doing this, or never doing that. In our desire to communicate our passion points, we sometimes accuse with superlatives instead of speaking honestly or accurately. We lose the chance to find the truth, when we shy away from asking questions that could reveal truth about our mate. We don’t know it all. We might be surprised if we speak less and listen more. Listening for an answer is a better way to learn the truth instead of hoping our mate can articulate a great defense against our accusations. Here’s a little example. Let’s say we see our husband cleaning the kitchen. We could walk away with several thoughts-some good, some bad.
We could think, “He is so helpful”.
Or “He thinks I am a slob that needs his help”.
Or “He must be helping because he wants something from me”
The list could go on. It’s easy to see how assumptions can be destructive. From just observing, we can formulate motives based on our own bias or past grievances instead of truth. We have to choose to give the benefit of the doubt. In a way, that in itself is assuming-just in the right direction. Isn’t it true, that everybody wants to be understood? Do you want to be understood? Choose to give the benefit of the doubt…ask questions first. It’s great accountability as a couple to decide to ask questions, rather than accuse. Make a pact together. “Assuming” and “accusing” walk together. Let’s choose to let them walk out of our marriage forever. We’ll be so glad they did.
These are just a few proactive steps to consider. The ways in which we give and live in our marriage are as endless as the creativity of each person and couple. We’re all different. In our differences, we find our strengths and weakness. We can embrace the synergy that comes from marriage and be fuel for the strengths and protection from the weaknesses in each other. Isn’t that what love does? We can inspire each other to live out our beliefs, the beliefs that God has imprinted into our heart, so we can enjoy the journey in this life with our lover, friend, confidante,…
Counterproductive reactions include withholding and assuming. Let’s reject these strongholds.
Proactive steps that breathe life into marriage include what we GIVE and what we LIVE!
*Freely LIVE a life of:
-Trust in God-life without manipulating
-Thankfulness and responsibility in Appearance
-Communication without assumptions