My wife is nearly perfect…FOR ME. And she feels the same way about me (for some reason that escapes me). But this is very specific to who we are. Some women would think me to be a horrible husband, and some men wouldn’t feel about my wife as I do.
Part of this “good fit” is because we talked and considered if we would be a good fit before we got married. Another part, I’d say a bigger part after 33 years, is that we’ve grown together and grown in much the same way. To some degree living together does that, but we’ve also made it a very intentional thing. There are certain things I don’t pursue as much as I would on my own because Lori’s not into them. There are other things I pursue more than I would on my own because Lori is very much into them. This is not about me denying myself of something I really want or forcing myself to do things I hate; it’s about focusing more or less on things I am okay to start with. It’s shifting myself to be a better match for her. Because Lori does the same for me (and even more so I think) we have developed a great deal of commonly enjoyed activities and preferences.
How do you bend to be more what your wife would like? Do you do that enough? Do you do it too much, perhaps because she does it too little?
Do something your wife likes a bit more often. Do it one additional time a day, or week, or month depending on what it is and how often you already do it.
Don’t think one more would make a difference? What if your wife decided to have sex one more time a week, would that make a difference?
I told you last Sunday I was going to do some posts on what the Bible says about marriage. Of course, that is really going to be what I think the Bible says. I work hard to see what is there and separate it from my biases, but being human I’m sure I fail. So today I want to give you my history with this issue and how I have come to see and understand it.
I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s in a Presbyterian church in Austin, Texas. Austin was (and is) a very liberal place, surrounded by a very conservative state. In the 70’s Austin was known to be more gay-friendly than San Francisco and more green than Portland.
Our church didn’t talk about marriage (or sex), so I didn’t get any teaching on this until I changed churches at 20. Looking back I would guess most of the couples were somewhere middle of the road in terms of how they went about their marriage. Most would have given lip service to the husband as the head, but I don’t know how much it was lived. My parents tended to default to egalitarian, but there were times when my dad took a stand. When that happened mom followed along, but I suspect it cost him when he did it. (And I am deeply grateful for the times he did that on my behalf.)
At twenty I moved to a much more Bible-based church. They were certainly complementarian. A few years later I joined a pastor who was forming a new church. This group was legalistic, and I’d say they were close to patriarchal in their approach to marriage. I met Lori at that church, but I left it shortly after that because I was seeing significant problems both in terms of how the teachings failed to line up with the Bible and some issues of integrity. When Lori left that church later we started to date. We attended a variety of churches as we dated and when we were first married. These churches were complementarian, but not as far over as the one where I met Lori.
So early in our marriage, we were pretty hard complementarian – usually, more so than most of the folks in our church. Then I made the mistake of starting to compare what I believed to what the Bible says. I did this with most of my theology, one issue at a time. But the time I got to marriage I was well used to finding out that what I believed and or had been taught was less than 100% compatible with the Bible. Some was close, some was skewed, some was not to be found at all in the Bible.
What I found as I looked at marriage in the Bible didn’t line up well with that I thought, with what I had been taught the last few years, or with what I was living. It wasn’t horribly out of line, but it didn’t fit right either. I saw, and still see, headship as a truth shown throughout the Bible. However, much of what I was taught about headship was at best added to what is in the Bible. Some of it seemed right, some did not, but most of it went beyond what is actually written.
I’ve studied this for 25 years now, and I still feel I’ve only scratched the surface. I have learned that much of what we teach is based on poor or iffy translations and a total lack of understanding of the audience to whom it was written. Often it makes sense when taken out of context, but doesn’t work when held up against the Bible as a whole.
As a non-marriage example of this consider Matthew 25:31-46. If we had read only those verses and knew nothing else of the Bible, we would logically conclude that salvation is based solely on our works. It’s the only conclusion we could reach from just that bit of scripture. If we know the Bible as a whole we know that interpretation can’t be right, and we can then dig to find the truth that is there for us.
Some of the most common passages about marriage are the same way; what some claim they say makes sense if all you look at is the passage. However, if you know the Bible as a whole some of those claims don’t fit. A few are contrary what the Bible says, and many are contrary to the tenor of scripture as a whole.
So what do I believe today? I haven’t found a label that fits. I believe that headship is a valid principle, but I don’t think God intends us to have a total top-down hierarchy. I think Scott Means put it very well in his The Problem With Roles in Marriage post when he said of marriage passages “you will find that these scriptures describe attitudes of the heart, not some kind of organizational chart or list of tasks for him and her“. It’s about the heart, not who’s in charge. If we ask the wrong question we can never learn what God has for us. The question I now ask myself is “Lord, how do you want me to treat my wife?” Then I look to the Bible for the answer to that question.
Current TMB Survey:
Premarital Sexual Experience Before you were married what did you do with your spouse? What about with others?
Great tweet of the week:
Never use the faults of others as an excuse to turn negative.@Leadershipfreak
Links to blog posts that stood out to me this last week:
Featured Post – A must read article I saw this week:
Kevin A Tompson postedThe Question No One Asks…But Should ◄ Best thing I have read in a very long time.
Protect Your Kids From Porn Start Talking About Sex ◄ Telling them porn is wrong is not enough!
4 Reasons People Don’t Connect During Sex ◄ Connecting makes sex way better.
10 Ways to Prepare Before You Confess Porn ◄ Solid advice from a woman who has talked to a lot of women about this.
Blessed Are The Pure Of Heart
Your Dying Spouse 457 – I Shall Be Released, But Not Yet ◄ The power of love.
The Curmudgeonly Librarian
Of Marriages and Splinters ◄ Your spouse is not perfect, and neither are you!
Fierce Marriage ◄ This blog has moved to podcasts. Due to very limited bandwidth I am unable to listen. But they do great stuff, please check them out!
The Generous Wife
Heaven Made Marriage
Who Goes First? ◄ The part of headship no man wants to hear.
Hot, Holy and Humorous
The Biggest Challenge to My Sex Life (That I Never Told You About) ◄ When health issues interferer with sex.
Q&A with J: Doesn’t She Really Want a Bigger Penis? ◄ No, and maybe NO WAY! (Read the comments)
5 Ways to Get Your Church to Address Sex ◄ Because we desperately need to talk about it.
Intimacy in Marriage
Wives Who Fake It. But Really WANT to Come ◄ Far more common than you think it is.
4 Phrases That Make You Your Wife’s Hero ◄ Don’t just memorize these, understand what they mean to her.
A few days ago I wrote Dedication, Constraint and Staying Married and The Goal Should Be More Dedication talking about how dedication and constraint prevent divorce. The basic idea was that dedication is things that keep us married because we enjoy the relationship, while constraint is things that keep us married because leaving would cost too much.
Today I want to apply the ideas of dedication and constraint to our sex lives.
If sex rocks your wife’s world, then she will be dedicated to having sex. She is drawn to it because she enjoys it (and because she is a woman that enjoyment might be as much or more emotional than physical). The constraint side would be the wife who has sex so her husband will stop asking, or because if he goes more than a few days he becomes a real bear to live with.
Constraint works for a lot of men… more or less. It does get them sex, but it’s not the kind of sex they want. It’s mercy sex or “let me know when you are done” sex. It’s certainly not sex she is enjoying, so it’s not adding any dedication on her part. It works for a while, but it eats away at her desire and willingness to have sex. More constraint than dedication is a sure way to have less and less sex year after year. It’s a death spiral that will never lead to more or better sex.
So how do you make sex something she wants to do? I realise a lot of you feel that will never happen. Some of that is on her, but odds are some of it is on you. Without knowing it you have said and done things that made sex unenjoyable for her. Chances are some of what you thought would being dedication were not seen that way by her.
If sex is a struggle in your marriage, I suggest you start thinking in terms of dedication and constraint. Reject constraint knowing it’s selling away the future of your sex life for a hand-out now. Take the long view; sacrifice today so it’s better in the future.
One simple change is to not be grumpy over a lack of sex. I’m not saying don’t ask, I’m saying don’t gripe when she says no and don’t be rude or distant until she says yes. On the other side, when sex does happen, be extra loving and helpful. So from her perspective not having sex doesn’t make you mean, while having sex makes you much nicer.
When it’s been a while and you’re desperately horny, don’t give in to using constraint to get sex. Even if it works, it’s not taking you where you really want to go.
What do you do if you’re no longer “in love” with your wife?
Not feeling love is no excuse to end a marriage or to stop doing what is right. The good news is not feeling love can be reversed. I’m a firm believer that love is a choice, not a feeling. The feeling, which is wonderful and which we all desire, can flow from the choice, from a commitment to love.
It’s informative to look at India where there are two kinds of marriage – “arranged marriages” and “love marriages”. Not surprisingly, love marriages start with much higher levels of love and happiness. However, as the years go by, the love of those in arranged marriages surpasses that of those in love marriages. One study found that at ten years, those in arranged marriages were twice as in love as those who married for love (story here). My point is that couples who started without love, who sometimes don’t even know each other before marriage, manage to develop love which is stronger than that of couples who start out feeling “in love”. Those couples grew love where it didn’t exist, and if they can do it, any couple that has “fallen out of love” can do it too.
I think “Fake it till you make it” is valid here. Our feelings can follow our actions. If we do the things that love would do, loving feelings will follow. This is especially true if we expect the feelings to follow our actions.
[This post first appeared June 8, 2010.]
Yesterday I introduced the idea of dedication and constraint as the things that keep a marriage together. I suggested that constraint could change as a result of a change in one’s social circle. This has been happening on the societal level the last 60+ years. Divorce was once seen as a horrible thing by most people and that kept some couples together even though one or both would really have liked to have to end the marriage. Today divorce is much less of a stigma.
Other cultural changes are also a factor. At one time a divorced woman, and even more so divorced mothers, had little hope of earning enough income to have a decent life. Some women stayed in their marriage not because they wanted to, but because they had no other good option.
I hear some bemoan the loss of these cultural constraints on divorce and blame them for the state of marriage today. But while those changes are no doubt a part of why we see so many divorces, they have not changed the state of marriages. Cultural constraints didn’t make marriages better, they just kept people in bad marriages. I don’t see keeping people in bad marriages as a worthy goal! I’d much rather work at making marriages better so no one wants to get divorced.
I’m not suggesting that we stop caring about divorce. I think some level of social constraint on divorce is a good thing. It can keep a marriage together long enough for the couple to work through things on their own or to get help. As a stop gap, social constraint is a great thing. As the primary thing keeping a marriage together long-term it’s not so great. Rather than trying to rebuild cultural constraints I think we need to put our energy into making marriages better. Increase the dedication factors and divorce stops being a consideration.
BTW, this is especially true in our own marriages. There is little you can do to increase the constraints keeping your wife in the marriage, and even if you can any constraints placed by you are going to result in a great deal of resentment. However, there is plenty you can do to increase dedication. If being with you is really great, if being with your wife blesses and enriches her, she’s not going anywhere!
I recently ran across the idea of commitment theory being applied to romantic relationships. Commitment theory has long been applied to groups, and especially to employment situations, but it works very well for marriage too.
Commitment theory breaks down why people stay married between dedication and constraint. Dedication is the things that cause one to want to stay married. Constraint is things that cause someone to stay because the cost of ending the marriage is too high.
Dedication comes from things like love, companionship, pleasure, security, and one’s partner being a good parent. Constraint comes from things like fear of being alone, possible financial problems, cultural standards, and morality.
If there are enough dedication factors for both spouses, the marriage is solid. If one spouse feels too few or no dedication factors then constraint comes into play. If the combination of dedication and constraint are not sufficient, divorce starts to look like a good idea.
While it might seem dedication and constraint are the same in this “equation” I don’t think they are. At a certain level of frustration (or pain, or fear) many of the constraints fall apart. I’ve heard wives who thought “divorce is never right,” say, “I don’t care what anyone thinks” when it got so bad they felt they had to get out.
I’ve also seen men and women change social groups from one that frowns on divorce to one more accepting of it. In some cases, I think this change was intentional so they can feel freer to divorce. In other cases, the change was not done to make divorce possible, but the person was barely staying in their marriage and the decrease in social constraint was enough to result in divorce becoming an option. I would say constraint is less reliable than dedication because things outside the marriage can cause it to change.
Our son and his family live on the same ten acres we’re on. We tend to share vehicles and do a few things together, but for the most part, our daily lives are separate. And yet, our son connects with us almost every day to let us know about his activities and schedule. He’s not asking permission or getting clearance, he’s just letting us know because our lives connect enough that it sometimes matters. It’s basic courtesy.
I would say you need to be doing the same thing with your wife, but more so. Telling her what you’re up to and where you’ll be isn’t asking permission or getting clearance; it’s practical and courteous. If what you have planned is not set in stone it would be nice to say something like “Is it a problem if I _____?” Again this is not asking permission, it’s recognising what you do can affect your wife. Telling her what you’re going to do and expecting her to fit her life around that would be rude.