Later this year, my wife and I will celebrate our 27th year of marriage. I’ll turn 47 that month as well. It won’t take you long to figure out that we were quite young when we tied the knot. After so many years, and that number is different for everyone, complacency can take root. But what’s most important, men, my wife knows I still love her.
We’re often asked, “How did you do it?” All of the chips were stacked against us and statistics cursed us before we even got started. There was even close family members waging against us making it to 5 years. It seems right that 26 years on, it’s time to start answering the question, how did we do it?
Well, we did it painfully, desperately, and blindly at times. Other times we lived joyfully, excited for the future. We’ve also had to reboot as individuals and collectively more than once.
That can be incredibly awful.
It’s been a journey, to say the least, but our story is one of hope because nothing is impossible with God.
And I want to share that story of hope with you.
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For the Guys First, and then the Ladies
Men, I’m writing this post to you…for the most part. Certainly you ladies will take some of the things from here and apply it, but guys, I really want you to pay attention here.
Because if anything comes before God in your life, that’s your idol. And if anything but God comes before your wife, then you may very well love that thing more than your wife.
And she will know it.
Understand that I am not preaching this message, I’m sharing from 26 years of experience that has come with a decent share of sometimes stupid and often avoidable mistakes! And remember…I’m usually my own first audience.
Don’t Wait Until It’s Impossible
Remember when I said our story is one of hope? The flip side of the nothing is impossible with God coin, of course, is that without God, nothing is possible. Jesus said as much in John 15:5,
“Apart from me, you can do nothing.”
I actually love the original language of that verse, which says, Apart from me, you can do no thing.” I mean, come on, that’s pretty plain, isn’t it?
That verse is the story of our early marriage. Sure, we had an awareness of God, but not a true recognition of Him. Certainly not a confession of Him, and especially not of our dire need of His presence in our lives and in our marriage.
After all, we were young, tough, and stubborn. Weren’t we in charge of our destinies? Wasn’t it up to us and our best efforts if we were to make it? We had these people betting against us, didn’t we have to really show them up?
My friend, I look back on that with enormous regret. I deeply regret not surrendering to God sooner because much pain, turmoil, and brokenness within our marriage and in my own life may have well been avoided. And I even more deeply regret ever having put anything before God and my wife.
So if I were to offer you one first piece of advice, it would be this:
Then build anything and everything else around and on Him. If you’re a follower of Christ and you truly love your wife, then you will humble yourself before God in every area of your life.
Don’t Let Stubbornness Lead to Regret
Even after the Lord became a present power and focus in our lives and in our marriage, we still insisted on having our own way most of the time. Like many Christians, we called God into the picture when we wanted Him, or when we really needed something.
Looking back on that season, it’s as if I’m seeing it from a higher point on a hill. I can see how stubborn, immature, and selfish I was. I see how many things took a priority, came before, and then was placed above not only my wife, but also God.
Here’s an example. There are a lot of people in Western culture that are virtually divorced 8, 10, or even 12 hours a day and justify that as providing for the family. If their wife calls, it’s an intrusion into their precious workday.
Your job should never come before your spouse. I’ll admit that occasionally, things get out of control at work and you simply must put the extra time in. I’ve been there and have done that. But that should not be the norm.
Allow me to illustrate that. I left my daughter’s 2nd birthday early, probably not even half way through the party. It’s a day that is still etched into my mind’s eye 24 years later, a clear memory where I can see myself and a co-worker driving away. I could have gotten off of work for that.
There’s a big fat regret.
Some great tools for healthy marriages:
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Don’t Hate the Man Cave
If there is one thing I adamantly dislike in our American male culture, it’s the mentality that goes along with the man cave. Oh, I’m not opposed to a man having some space. I sure don’t mind being able to blast my music and play an occasional video game without bothering everyone else around me.
I just hate the cost to a family, and especially a marriage at which the man cave sometimes comes.Tweet this: Don't hate the man cave, hate the man cave mentality.Click To Tweet
The mentality of the man cave can get out of hand, can’t it? I’ve seen good men sequester themselves right into a mountain of stumbling blocks, like complete laziness or even porn, by creating a space that’s quite frankly, a little too private for any married man. You love your wife, so don’t lock her out of any area of your life.
To illustrate the point a little deeper, Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in Life Together,
Sin demands to have a man by himself. It withdraws him from the community. The more isolated a person is, the more extractive will be the power of sin over him, and the more deeply he becomes involved in it, the more disastrous is his isolation.
Sorry guys. If it feels like I’m on to you just a little bit, it’s because I’m just like you. If I allow it, I too can be lazy, get distracted with meaningless entertainment, and completely disengage from everyone around me, even my wife.
Speaking of entertainment, some time with the guys is not at all a bad thing. But when your family is surprised that you’re actually not going out without them for once, that’s kind of an indicator of a big problem.
Which brings my second bit of advice:
The Most Valuable Lesson was Learned Early
I say this lesson was learned early, and it was. Ok, admittedly, it was heard early on in my marriage. It was in my mid 20’s when I heard someone much older and wiser say this, but it took me at least 10 hard headed years to grasp and apply it:
“I didn’t marry my wife to be apart from her. And I’m not married to my buddy Joe Schmoe down at the club.”
That’s my third piece of advice.
Because you love your wife, the best hours of the best days that you have should be spent with her. She shouldn’t get the leftovers of your time.
And you know what, guys? Even if you say that she’s a nagging pain in the backside, you are still joined to her and it’s up to you to find out what’s behind the misery!
Maybe it isn’t your fault, or maybe it is. But what matters far more than blame is that as men, we really need to take these vows seriously and understand what it means to be united in marriage, in covenant with God.
You’re Breathing My Air
Believe me, I’m still not preaching this message and I’m not looking through rose colored glasses as I’m writing this.
No, my lenses are far more painful than that.
There was a time in my marriage when my wife and I were at such odds that we couldn’t even be in the same room together. We look from where we’re at today and half-jokingly point out that if we were too close, we’d get angry at one another as if we were stealing each other’s air.
Notice I said half-jokingly.
Remember when I said we were stubborn? Well, this was the end of the road for both of us. We were done and were still too stubborn to admit it.
And then God showed up.
No, He didn’t appear all of a sudden in some weird mist or something. But I can recall as if it were yesterday how broken, helpless, and lost I was in this mess that I helped create.
So I did what any thinking man in a foxhole surrounded by enemy fire does. I prayed.
Don’t miss it: for one of the first times, I really prayed. I remember calling out to God and asking, begging, and then finally daring in utter desperation for Him to show up in this marriage if He had ever been there at all.
This is a truth that’s well worth coming back to.
Christ must be your center.
He has got to be the head that leads you together and individually, and He must also be the neck that turns and steers you.
My further advice is this:
Now It’s Your Turn. Men, Love Your Wife
Maybe you’ve been through the worse seasons of life and marriage that this world can chuck at a person. Perhaps it was so bad you’re not married anymore. I don’t know your story, I certainly don’t know the depths of some of your pain. Maybe you’re in that painful season right now.
What I do know is that despite where you’ve been or where you’re at, how bad it is or has been, or even if you’ve had to throw in the towel and walk away from it all, God fiercely loves you.
Married men, how does your wife know that she’s number one in your life after the Lord? How does the fierce love that God has for you reflect in your marriage?