Perhaps this is an odd topic for me to tackle. But I promise I’ll get to marital intimacy in a bit.
In the recent past, I’ve been exposed to several optimistic statements about good marriages. While I’m generally optimistic about marriage myself, I’ve always bristled a little when I hear certain insights that should be inspirational, but discourage me instead. Let me share what I mean.
We’ve never had a single fight in our marriage. Now and then, a happily married couple suggests that the key to their buoyant joy is a lack of conflict in their relationship. It sounds marvelous, right? Except that it’s so unrealistic for the average marriage.
If a lack of conflict is necessary for a great marriage, many of us would have waved a white surrender flag and walked away years ago. The truth is that happy couples vary in their level of arguments, and the important issue is that they treat one another fairly and respectfully throughout (see The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work). Moreover, some couples who never fight may merely be stonewalling each other or, as Sheila Gregoire has said, peacekeeping rather than peacemaking.
If you and your spouse come from very different backgrounds and/or arrive with some degree of brokenness, you may have more to work out in your marriage. You may have some conflict. Don’t lose hope if you’re not like that cute old couple at church who swears they’ve never raised their voice a single time. Good for them! But good for you too. You can still have a wonderful marriage.
Marriage isn’t supposed to be work. For me, marriage has included a truckload of work! At times, it’s been grueling, frustrating, and exhausting. But I’d work this marriage twelve times over to have what I have.
Some of that work was harder than it needed to be, because I was working hard not smart. But some couples just have more issues, more rough edges, maybe even more selfishness to tamp down and humility to build up. If marriage currently feels like work, that might be okay. This might well be the season you need to invest some real effort into the relationship to gain the health and happiness you can have.
It is, however, true that a happy, mature marriage won’t feel like nearly so much work. I think it’s a bit like a house. Some marriages start like brand-new homes, with two happy individuals joined in a healthy relationship, but they still need have to take care of that home with regular maintenance or things will go awry. But it’s not back-breaking work, unless something breaks.
Other marriages feel like fixer-uppers, with two floundering individuals who desire a healthy relationship, and they need to put in some extra effort to make their marriage a home. A lot of work is needed from the get-go, but once the home is renovated, only that regular maintenance — which is far less work — is required.
Wherever your marriage is, it is. Put forth the effort, make the investment, do the work, or simply do the regular maintenance. And you can have a great marriage.
Marriage is wonderful when you find your soul mate. Let me be clear: I don’t believe in soul mates, because there is nothing biblical or logical about that concept. In the Bible, marriages came together through various means — including family arrangement, political alliance, and romantic attraction. Yet, God seems to believe that our marriages can be successful if we both attend to his godly principles (you know, like kindness, gentleness, patience, love…).
What disturbs me about this concept of soul mates is that it can lead to believing you may have married the wrong person and then fantasizing about another life — instead of getting down to the business of investing in your own marriage. Assuming your husband is not abusive or adulterous in nature, you can likely make this marriage work and become a blessing.
Stop worrying that this guy isn’t the right one. He’s the guy you fell in love with, chose to marry, and you’re still with. Take today and make it the best you can, then do that with tomorrow, and so on and so on. Maybe he’s not your soul mate, but he is your sole mate, so focus your efforts on making your marriage the best it can be.
Just spice things up in the bedroom and your sexual intimacy will be good. Hey, I’m not opposed to spicing things up. I wrote a whole book, Hot, Holy, and Humorous: Sex in Marriage by God’s Design, with lots of ideas on spicing things up. But the idea that this is a one-size-fits-all, easy fix for marriages struggling with sexual intimacy? It just doesn’t take into account how complex we human beings are.
Some marriages are struggling with sexual baggage, others are plagued with porn, certain wives experience pain or an abnormally low sex drive, and plenty of women have poor body image that makes getting naked a real challenge. And none of those issues will be solved with 10 Ways to Unleash Your Inner Sex Kitten!
Real problems call for real solutions. Which is why I try to share as much as I can about what God’s Word says about sex, because the Creator of sex knows more about this gift than anyone else. He‘s got answers. (Which I also share in Hot, Holy, and Humorous.)
But, of course, God’s answers as standard and as varied as the many ways in which Jesus dealt with people. Jesus pointed everyone to His Heavenly Father, but not all traveled the same exact path to get there. Don’t give up hope for your sexual intimacy if a bid to “spice things up” didn’t resolve your issues. Sometimes that’s exactly what your marriage needs, but it’s no cure-all. It’s a piece of the puzzle, but not the whole thing. Look at your own situation and reason out what’s going on. This is also why I devote one day a week to answer reader questions, so that you can see how to approach specific situations.
Am I an optimist about marriage? Yes, of course I am! I’ve seen too many redeemed situations to not believe that marriages can become happy and marriage beds a place of great pleasure and intimacy. I just want to provide real answers, rather than platitudes. Be optimistic about what you can achieve, and realistic about how to get there.