We continue a several-week series called Topical Tuesdays, where you pick the topic and I make up answers. You can add your topic / question to the list by commenting on this post. Today’s question comes from Adam Hoffman, my buddy from the Left Coast:
What is your marriage advice for those newly married (under 2 years)?
Adam, I’m going to hijack your question and change it for my own purposes, like a televangelist with the Bible. (Ouch. That was harsh. True, but harsh.)
Nearly three years ago I wrote a letter to every guy whose wedding I’d ever officiated. I’ve reprinted it below with just a few minor edits. While this is advice strictly for husbands, I believe the principles will improve any marriage. Buckle your seat belt, this is a long letter and a tough ride…
August 22, 2007
It’s 11:00 PM as I begin this letter. My mind is racing too fast to sleep, and I’m too burdened to put this off until tomorrow. The letter you’re about to read is just one copy of many. I’m sending it to every guy that I’ve had the privilege of walking with as they said their “I do’s” to their bride. Whether I officiated your wedding four weeks ago (how was that honeymoon, Damon?) or nine years ago (long time, no see, Ken!), I can’t go to bed until I’ve put a few things in print.
In the past two months, Merriem and I have been on an emotional roller coaster. We have had a front row seat to watch no fewer than four marriages hit rock bottom. In two situations, we’ve spent hours on the phone and face-to-face with the couple, doing whatever we can to try to salvage what’s left. In the other two, we are simply praying that God will give us the opportunity to speak into their lives. It seems that not a week goes by that I don’t hear of yet another marriage in our church or our circle of friends that is not just struggling…but on the very brink of divorce. I’ll be honest with you – we are weary. We’re weary of talking and talking and talking and feeling like we’re not making a difference. We’re weary of trying to get through thick skulls to get people to see what they are doing to themselves. We’re weary of watching innocent kids caught in the crossfire and really smart people act really stupid. We’re weary of seeing what this does to each couple’s testimony, and how Satan is using this as the perfect setup to destroy the faith of others.
A few weeks ago, I stormed into the office of our counselor on staff at our church. Cynthia has been a good friend to me and Merriem, and we’ve worked with her as advocates for various couples, both before the wedding ceremony and after. One thing you should know about Cynthia is that she counsels dozens of couples each year, and often by the time they get to her office they are already as far gone as they can be without being divorced.
So anyway, I stormed into her office after hearing of yet another marriage gone bad, and just unloaded my frustration. I asked her, “What is it? What is the deal with all of these marriages falling apart? If you had to identify one common thread that is destroying these couples, what would it be?”
Her answer came quickly, and it was so obvious that I had completely missed it. That’s where you come in, and that’s the purpose of this letter. Cynthia’s answer was this: “The number one cause of marriages falling apart is because the husbands are not stepping up to the plate.” Simple as that. When she said it, everything was clear. I thought back to each marriage that I knew was having trouble, either currently or in the past. In every single case, I could trace it to the fact that the husband displayed one of the following characteristics: (a) he wasn’t leading his wife and kids spiritually; (b) he was physically or emotionally absent far more than he should be; (c) he was abdicating his leadership of the home and thereby forcing his wife to take the lead; or (d) he was putting something else ahead of his love for his wife.
Guys, the bottom line is that things have to change. I’m writing this letter to encourage you (is “plead” too strong of a word?) to take an honest assessment of where you are in your relationship with your bride. There’s one thing I know that is true of every guy: once we’ve won the woman of our dreams, we forget that we have to win her over and over again. Here’s what I mean: when you were trying to catch the eye of your wife…back during the days you were dating…you had a “whatever it takes” mentality. Flowers? No problem. Shower and shave? You bet. Vacuum the car before picking her up for a date? Of course. You changed habits and hang ups and got rid of addictions and relationships that would hold you back from winning her over…and it worked.
But now, a few weeks or almost a decade into your marriage, chances are you’ve forgotten what it means to win her. You have taken for granted the fact that you “have her” and assume that your wedding vows were enough to get you through the rest of your life. Maybe you’ve let your career or your hobby or your friends creep into the spot that only she should have. If that’s the case, you may not notice the fallout right now, but I assure you: it is coming
I know that it’s coming, because here’s another common characteristic in each one of these marriages: by the time the guy realizes what’s happening, it’s usually too late for a “change” to mean anything. What I’ve witnessed in the last couple of months is one of the most incredible phenomenons I’ve ever seen. It is almost as if each of these couples is following a script. The wife declares to her husband that she doesn’t love him anymore, and hasn’t for several years. In all cases, the wife has already emotionally detached herself from the marriage. In most cases, an affair – either physical or emotional – is already well underway. Any amount of pleading or begging from her husband only pushes her farther away, and she refuses to listen to counsel from godly people who only want the best for her. (A very ugly side note to each of these situations is that the wife ends up in a spiritual tailspin that almost destroys her walk with God.)
It would be easy enough to pin the blame on the wife, but here’s what I see: way before the detachment or the affair began, the wife was crying out for her husband’s attention. The problem is, he was too blind or too preoccupied or too lazy to realize it. And now that she’s too tired to ask for his attention anymore, he’s willing to do “whatever it takes” to win her back. Only now, it may very well be too late.
It does not have to be too late for you. Maybe this letter is hitting you at a God-ordained moment…you see these very circumstances playing out in your life right now. Maybe things are just ducky in your marriage and this is just another piece of mail that ranks right up there with your cell phone bill. Regardless, may I give you some practical advice? (I’m going to anyway…)
Put your wife first. She should come before your kids, if you have them. I don’t care what your job pays, she’s worth more than your paycheck and no amount of overtime is worth the time it takes away from her. If you are in the ministry, you have my permission to tell your deacons to take a hike if they are demanding that you put in an extra two or three nights a week doing hospital visitation. Your bride is infinitely more important than old lady Johnson’s infected toe.
Serve your wife regularly. I don’t care if she’s home all day, it’s not her responsibility to single-handedly manage the house! You need to get your rear end off the couch and load the dishwasher. Turn off Sports Center and change your kid’s diaper. Put down that frikkin’ PlayStation (how old are you, anyway?) and vacuum the living room.
Romance your wife constantly. Here’s where we all mess up. We’re great at romance when we’re expecting something later that night (yes, I just said that). A real man knows how to romance his wife when he expects nothing in return. Bring her flowers. Wash her car. Take her to the expensive restaurant. Leave a note on her pillow. And do it all with the full belief that you deserve nothing in return.
Get a spine. All of you reading this letter know me well enough to know that I’m no tough dude. I hate confrontation, I’ve been in one fist fight my entire life, and I’d rather eat shaved glass than inconvenience somebody in some way. But dude, your wife deserves to have someone she can call her hero. That may mean that you have to stand up for her. It may mean that you have to make an executive decision. It may mean that you have to adapt your personality so you can lead her the way Jesus intended for you to.
Guys, bottom line…I’m hurting. I hurt for these eight friends that are flushing great marriages down the toilet. I hurt for countless others who I see making the same mistakes. I don’t have the right or authority to speak into every marriage, but since my name is on your marriage license, I’d like to think I have the right to speak into yours. I may have to hurt for these other people, but I don’t want to find myself hurting for you.
I’m a reader, so I’d like to point you to three resources that have revolutionized my life. The first one you already have access to, the last two you can purchase on Amazon or at your local bookstore:
Ephesians 5. If I did your pre marital counseling, the chances are very good I used this passage extensively. Verses 25-33 are especially applicable to you as the man. If you can get your brain around the truth that you hold the key to the harmony of your entire marriage, you’ve already won.
Choosing to Cheat. This short little book by Andy Stanley completely changed the way that I look at my marriage when I read it three years ago. If you have a problem balancing your job and your family, this is a must read.
For Men Only. Jeff & Shaunti Feldhahn’s best seller will give you a better insight into the female mind than you ever thought possible. If you want extra points, pick up a copy of For Women Only and suggest to your wife that you go through the books together.
Gentlemen, I do not claim to have all the answers. God Himself knows that I have made hundreds (thousands?!?) of ridiculously bone-headed mistakes in my almost fifteen years of marriage…some of which should have probably had Merriem packing her bags. But what I do know is that God is graciously beginning to show me what it means to go all out in love for my wife. I look at my marriage like this: for the first ten years, I was in it for myself. Merriem was here to serve me, to love me, to take care of me. That attitude almost destroyed both of us. Somewhere around year ten, God had to drop me to my knees to get me to realize what Ephesians 5 was really saying…I had to put myself to death in order to bring my marriage to life. I’m nowhere close to where I need to be, but I have to tell you that passage made all the difference. I hope that something in this letter will be the catalyst to make that kind of difference in your marriage. Your beautiful bride is worth it!
Thank you for reading what has become a 53 minute rant. I am praying for you, for your marriage, and for whatever it will take to stop this hellish epidemic that I am seeing unfold around me. I’d love to hear your thoughts about this letter and also just hear what’s going on in your life since we last talked! You can e-mail me at [email address] anytime.
In Christ Free,