By Gary Chapman
1. How can I get him to really talk to me?
Take “baby steps”. Don’t overwhelm him by saying, “I wish you’d talk more.” He can’t respond positively to that. It comes across as condemnation. Begin by asking questions, little questions, and be content to get little answers. He has to walk before he can crawl. When he gets used to hearing his own voice, then he can talk more.
Become a good listener. When he talks, give him your undivided attention. Don’t respond to his ideas with condemnation. Rather, say, “That’s an interesting idea, how do you think that would work if we applied it to our lives?” Give him your opinion, only if he asks for it. If he finds that he gets a sermon every time he shares an idea, he will stop sharing his ideas.
After a few weeks, try the following: 1. Ask if he would be willing to have a daily “sharing time” in which each of you shared two things that happened in your lives today and how you feel about them. If he complains that these times are taking too long, then set time limits, such as no more than ten minutes each. 2. Try sharing a book. Find a book that you think would be of interest to him and ask if he would be willing to read a chapter each week and you will read the same chapter. At the end of the week, each of you will share with the other one thing you liked or learned from the chapter.
Above all, don’t condemn him for not talking. Create a climate where it is safe for him to talk. For further help see Desperate marriages, chapter seven “The Uncommunicative Spouse”.
2. When do I address my spouse’s irritating habits, and when do I “let it go”? Because we are human, we are different. Some of these differences can be terribly annoying. I believe you should find a way to address these and ask for change. But begin with yourself. I suggest that once a week, you ask your spouse “What one thing could I change in my life that would make life better for you?” Then to the best of your ability work on making that change. After a few weeks of this, your spouse will likely begin asking you the same question. Now you have a chance to ask for change, but never more than once a week.
Remember, you cannot make your spouse change. However, you can create a climate where change is a way of life. Arguing, demanding, and manipulating are not positive ways to seek change.
3. How do I nurture a spiritual relationship with my spouse when I don’t feel comfortable praying out loud?
Pray together silently. It’s simple: You hold hands, close your eyes, pray silently and say “Amen” aloud so your spouse will know you are through. Continue to hold your spouse’s hand until he/she says “Amen”. If you will do this for six months, one night one of you will slip up and pray out loud. You will have broken the sound barrier and from then on you will pray out loud. But even if you never pray out loud, it will help your marriage to pray silently. If you sit together in church you can also hold hands and pray silently as the pastor leads in prayer.
4. We are both working full time and when I get home, I start dinner but my husband comes in and sits on the couch. How do I encourage him to participate in household chores?
Set fire to the couch! Then hand him the fire extinguisher. Do this every two days for one week. He will no longer sit on the couch. Well, that’s one approach, but not one that I recommend. Nor do I recommend yelling at him and calling him a lazy slob.
All of us have patterns of behavior, which we have developed through the years. Some of these are helpful to the marriage (for example your starting dinner), and some are detrimental to the marriage. The problem is, we are not always aware of what these are, until they are brought to our attention. But how you bring them to your spouse’s attention is the important thing.
I suggest you initiate a “marriage improvement month.” Say to your spouse, “I’ve been thinking about us, and I don’t want us to drift into a dead marriage. I don’t want to just be an ordinary wife. I want to be an exceptional wife. Would you be open to giving me one suggestion each week for the next month on how I could be a better wife? I would give you one suggestion on how you could be a better husband, and both of us could grow. Would you be open to this?” If he is, then you are on the road to positive change. One of those weeks, you can share with him what you would like him to do when he arrives home. He will not take it as nagging, because you have made it a part of your month of improvement.
If your husband agrees to give you a suggestion each week, but is not willing to take a suggestion from you. I would encourage you to go for it. Before the month is over, I think you will see a change in his attitude.
5. My spouse is not a believer, but I am. How do I cope with this? Here, we have clear biblical teaching. In I Peter 3:1-6 wives are encouraged to win their unbelieving husbands to the Lord not by preaching to them, but by demonstrating the Christian life of love and service. Ask God to help you be the best possible wife. Learn your husband’s “love language.” Find out what makes him feel respected and appreciated. Minister to him as though he were Jesus. (See Colossians 3:23). In due time, he will ask why you treat him so well. Be honest, don’t take credit for being such a nice person. Give God the glory and say to your husband, “I must be honest, I don’t see myself as a loving person. By nature I am selfish, but every day I ask God to fill me with His spirit of love. You are the most important person in my life, so I figure the place to start is by loving you. Does that make sense to you?”
Listen to his response and you may be into a genuine conversation about spiritual things. Don’t push your husband, but let him know that your greatest desire is that he will come to know Christ as his Savior. Your godly example, coupled with your daily prayers, is the best way to influence your husband.
6. My spouse professes to be a believer, but I see no fruit in his/her life. What should I do?
Two possibilities exist: your spouse is not a true believer, or your spouse is an immature believer. In either case, you may be God’s chief agent in helping your spouse. If your spouse is not a true believer, then my answer to question five may be helpful. If your spouse is an immature believer, then the one thing you don’t want to do is condemn him/her for being a spiritual infant. In the physical realm, we don’t criticize babies for being babies. The same is true in the spiritual realm. We expect baby Christians, to be baby Christians. What we try to do is to help them grow little by little. Don’t expect too much too soon. Babies must drink milk before solid food.
If you were trying to help someone else grow from an immature Christian to a mature Christian, what would you do? I think you would begin by praying for them daily. Then I think you would expose them to simple Bible study materials. You would invite them to study groups designed for young believers. You would not force them, but you would make “spiritual food” available to them. If there is spiritual life, there will be spiritual hunger. When food is offered, some of it will be accepted. If your spouse continues to show no interest in spiritual matters, then I would treat him/her as an unbeliever, and seek to demonstrate the Christian life, while praying for his/her salvation.
7. I found out my husband is addicted to pornography. Where do I turn?
Pornography can be very destructive to the marriage relationship. It is not acceptable behavior, and must not be condoned by the wife. I suggest you let your husband know that you are very disturbed by his involvement in pornography. Tell him you are willing to go to counseling with him in order to deal with the problem. If he indicates that he will not go for counseling, then inform him that you will go alone, because you love him too much to do nothing about this problem. Then find a Christian counselor and let him or her help you take steps to encourage your husband to deal with the issue. Your husband is not likely to break this addictive pattern without the help of a pastor or counselor. He may not go to a counselor without steps of tough love on your part. A pastor or counselor can help you take these steps.
8. I have tried, but I really don’t enjoy sex. I am just doing it to be obedient. What can I do?
Lack of interest and enjoyment in the sexual part of marriage is a common problem. Usually such lack of enjoyment is rooted in one of several factors. Sometimes it is rooted in sexual abuse as a child. Adults who were abused as children almost always struggle with sexual fulfillment. Sometimes it is rooted in the way the couple handled sex before marriage. For example, individuals who felt taken advantage of sexually before marriage, or felt forced into a marriage because of pregnancy, will often struggle with sex after married. Sometimes it is rooted in the way the spouse handles sex. Crude words or behavior with little attention to the spouse’s concerns may emotionally turn the other person off to any interest in sex.
The best thing you could do is to find a Christian counselor with expertise in this area of counseling and begin to identify the problems and look for solutions. Sex is an important part of marriage, and must not be ignored. I would also recommend the book, The Gift of Sex by Clifford and Joyce Penner, published by Word Publishing.
9. We got married because I was pregnant and now I feel like I have made a big mistake. Can I get a divorce or do I have to stick it out? If so, where do I start? Your assumption seems to be that you have only two alternatives: stay in the marriage and be miserable the rest of your life, or divorce and be happy. I suggest that there is a third alternative, which offers far more hope: work to build a successful marriage. Many people get into marriage in less than ideal circumstances, yours was pregnancy. For others it was drug dependency, emotional dependency, dreams of getting out of a bad home situation, mis-guided romantic feelings, and any number of other factors. Getting off to a rocky start, or getting married for the wrong reasons, does not mean that we cannot have a good marriage.
Any couple can build a successful marriage if they will seek God’s help. God will bring healing to past failures, and supply hope for the future. The Scriptures lay down the principles for building a godly marriage. Christian books based on Scripture can be extremely helpful. Christian pastors and counselors are also available. Use the resources God has provided and yours can become the marriage you always wanted. See The Five Love Languages for practical help in learning how to love each other.
10. How can I get her/him to have sex more often and make sure we both enjoy it?
Finding mutual sexual fulfillment is a process. It does not happen automatically. God told ancient Israel to take the first year of marriage and learn to pleasure each other (Deut. 24:5). One of the best ways to learn is to expose yourself to good information. I suggest that the two of you read one chapter per week in the book: The Gift of Sex, by Clifford and Joyce Penner. At the end of the week, discuss the ideas presented in the chapter. The goal is to understand male and female sexuality, and to discover how to pleasure each other sexually.
Your attitude should always be one of love, looking out for each other’s pleasure. Share your desires with each other, but never force any sexual expression on your spouse. How often your spouse desires sex will be influenced by how you treat him/her. Open communication in an atmosphere of love will lead to mutual sexual fulfillment.
11. After being married one year, I’m not sure I’m “in love” anymore. Where could we have gone wrong?
This is the same question I was asking the first year of my marriage. I had been told that if you are really “in love” it will last forever. I was misinformed. The fact is that the emotional obsession, which we commonly call “falling in love”, is a temporary experience. Research indicates that the average live span of this “in love” phase is two years. Since we fall in love before we get married, most couples are coming down off the high within the first year of their marriage. We no longer feel those warm bubbly feelings, and we no longer think that our spouse is perfect. In fact we are realizing that we are so different, and we are wondering, “how did we ever get together?”
Then begins the second and more important phase of love: learning how to speak each other’s “love language”. My book, The Five Love Languages, has helped thousands of couples make this transition. The basic idea is that each of us has a primary love language. Almost never does a husband and wife have the same love language. In order to keep emotional love alive after we come down off the “in love” high, we must learn to speak each other’s language. The five love languages are: Words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service, quality time, and physical touch. Once you make this transition, you will each feel loved, and you will hardly even miss the “in love” high. Your emotional love tank will be filled by your spouse’s regular expressions of love. To discover your primary love language, see The Five Love Languages, chapter nine.
12. I recently got married, but have been on my own for many years. How do we build a life together? How do I submit to my spouse’s decisions after making my own decisions for so long?
In this question, you have hit upon one of the big differences between being married and being single. As a single, you do what you want to do when you want to do it. As a married, that is impossible. Why? Because “two have become one”. It is no longer “your business” and “my business”, but rather “our business.” Now you must consider how your actions will affect your spouse. Now you are ready to learn what the Biblical concept of love is all about. Love is looking out for the other person’s interest.
This doesn’t mean that you must spend every waking hour together, but it does mean that you must keep each other informed. You are now a team, and team members must work together. It is not a matter of one making all the decisions. Rather, it is making decisions together, so that each of you feels good about what is happening. If all of this seems costly to your independence, you are correct. Intimacy and independence are mutually exclusive.
13. My husband is in a position of authority within the church. I feel uncomfortable sharing my struggles with anyone at church and feel so alone. Then go for help outside the church. Christian counseling centers are available in most cities. Even if you have to drive an hour or so, it is time well invested. A counselor can help you assess your situation and decide what steps can be taken. It may eventually involve your husband and perhaps the church leadership, depending on what is involved, but you need not start there. It is often easier to begin with a counselor outside your church. Don’t allow your fear of embarrassing your husband to keep you from getting the help you need.
If your problem is not a serious problem involving your husband, then perhaps you can develop a friendship with some wife in another church. She can serve as a lay counselor and help you assess your situation. Many churches have lay counseling programs and could link you up with such a person.
14. My husband/wife is emotionally abusive. My friends are all telling me not to stay. When is it okay to leave?
Emotional abuse, which is often the result of verbal abuse, seldom goes away with the passing of time. Neither is the problem solved by simply leaving your spouse. You need a plan and support system to help you take constructive steps of tough love. My book, Desperate Marriages, is written for people who are in difficult marriages. The theme is helping you to be a positive change agent in such a marriage. Tough love may eventually require a temporary separation, but this should be done as a therapeutic move, not as an act of abandonment. Such a step should never be taken without the guidance of a Christian counselor or pastor. Don’t try to do this on your own. Reach out for the help of those who are professionally trained and have had experience in helping others in such marriages.