My Biggest Problem with “Pray for Your Marriage”

It’s October, and I’m still talking about prayer! That’s because my goal this year has been to pray more, especially for marriage.

I’ve encouraged you to be praying for your marriage and your marriage bed as well, including unity with your spouse, sexual temptation, and perspective. And I’ve been encouraged by you sharing your prayer habits and thoughts. But today I want to tackle one of the problems I see with the ongoing appeal to “pray for your marriage.”

blog post title + black-and-white image of woman praying (close-up)

Sometimes prayer is touted as the cure-all to every ill in marriage and life. You’re arguing with your husband? Pray for unity. You’re struggling with your sex drive? Pray for its awakening. You’re battling a porn habit? Pray for release. You’re two steps away from divorce? Pray for restoration of your marriage.

And all of that is great. You definitely should “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests” (Ephesians 6:18). The problem is when we stop there and make it sound like prayer will resolve all of your issues.

But prayer is communication with God, and we have to also listen to what He says in those moments and in His Word and then apply it to our lives.

I know this from experience, because in the pit-dwelling years of my marriage, I prayed. A LOT. Everything from quiet reflection with God, to Scripture-focused prayer, to yelling and crying at Him for help. It felt like He wasn’t answering my prayer, because hadn’t He promised to deliver me? Psalm 91:14 says it this way:

“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him;
I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
He will call on me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation” (Psalm 91:14-16).

I was acknowledging His name regularly, loudly, desperately, yet my marriage slipped further and further into a black hole of despair.

Ah, the power of hindsight! It frankly makes me want to kick that younger me who expected God to fix everything while I continued to hold on to my mistaken viewpoints, my poor habits, and my selfish plans.

Let’s flip a couple of pages further in Psalms and learn more the character of God:

Blessed is the one you discipline, Lord,
  the one you teach from your law;
you grant them relief from days of trouble,
  till a pit is dug for the wicked (Psalm 94:12-13).

Wow, that doesn’t sound nearly as awesome as Superhero God swooping in to rescue me with little effort on my part — just holding on to His caped person while He flies me away from trouble. But that ignores that God wants us to be a part of the plan.

Or rather, that IS the plan. Our Lord longs to rescue us, but He won’t swoop in when He knows that we need to grow more through the experience.

Hot, Holy & Humorous book ad

Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Christianbook.com & Kobo

Imagine God like a father with a toddler learning to walk. If the dad grabs his daughter every time it looks like she might fall, she won’t ever take those first steps. Instead, He’s there the whole time, listening to us, teaching us, scooping us up and comforting us when we stumble, and helping us learn to walk and then to run.

Prayer is inviting God into that experience. It’s reaching out your arms, looking directly at your Father, and walking toward Him. And then, applying what you’ve learned to the life you lead.

You have to act. What actions you need to take depend on your situation. But let’s take the issues I mentioned above:

  • You’re arguing with your husband? Pray for unity. And take an in-depth look at what changes you need to make, speak candidly and calmly with your husband, and consider attending a marriage course or getting marriage counseling.
  • You’re struggling with your sex drive? Pray for its awakening. And see your doctor to determine if there are health issues involved, check out a low libido resource like the online course from Sheila Gregoire or the devotional study from Bonny Burns, and listen to our podcast for regular tips on improving sexual intimacy.
  • You’re battling a porn habit? Pray for release. And confess your struggle to your spouse and a trusted mentor in your church, install filters on your computer or get rid of devices that tempt you, and seek out ministries that can help you break free like XXX Church.
  • You’re two steps away from divorce? Pray for restoration of your marriage. And see a counselor, either with your husband or without, to figure out what you can do to actively work toward reconciliation, and tell a church leader what’s going on and invite their intervention.

Also, let me add that the times when this advice to “just pray for your marriage” make me crazy are when:

  1. A spouse is serially unfaithful. If your spouse doesn’t give a hoot about the damage they’re doing to your marriage with their infidelity, you don’t cower in your closet and simply pray. Yes, you pray mightily, but you also set boundaries and leave if they don’t change their behavior.
  2. A spouse is abusive. You can’t just pray that a spouse will stop smacking you or calling you every name in the book. Jesus Himself said that He was sent here in part “to set the oppressed free” (Luke 4:18). Get out, and if he wants to stop being abusive, he can change, win your heart back, and renew the marriage covenant.

Should you pray for your marriage? Absolutely! Just don’t stop there. Also actively work toward resolving the problems you face.

Should you pray for your marriage? Absolutely! Just don't stop there. Click To Tweet

This shift started me on the path to healing and happiness in my own marriage: I stopped expecting God to swoop down and fix it all and started applying Scripture and the insights He showed me to my daily life. I continued to pray, but I also got off my butt and put real effort toward making our marriage better. Or rather, making me better, since I was the only one I could change.

Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:12-13).

blog post title + black-and-white image of woman praying (close-up) - sized for Pinterest

Q&A with J: “My Husband Had a Kissing Affair”

I’ve talked about marital infidelity on my blog before (like here and here), but what if your husband didn’t go all the way? What if it was kissing? Check out today’s reader question:

Please help! my husband had a “kissing affair” with a bar tramp over two years ago. I know it didn’t go any further because of everything I know now. he said she was just some cheap easy tramp who paid attention to him at the time. he’s never had contact again and I know he still lives with the guilt. he’s done everything right, I just can’t stand the thought of him kissing me now! … I gag at the thought of letting him stick his tongue down my throat now and I want to move on! HOW can I do this?

blog post title + man's neck and shirt collar with lipstick stain

First off, referring to this woman as a “cheap easy tramp” is total rationalization. Maybe that’s exactly what she was, but it sounds to me like he was easy in that moment too. And it’s all too common for men to claim they were seduced by a loose woman and thus blame her.

It doesn’t matter whether the woman was a dignified colleague he met on a business trip or a woman playing kissing roulette with a bar full of men, your husband needs to own that he decided what to do with his own lips.

“Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy” (Proverbs 28:13).

You can’t make him change his tune, but you can change yours. Stop referring to that woman as a “bar tramp.” Not only do you not know her, and any terrible backstory she might have that made her walk into a bar and kiss a stranger that night, you shouldn’t enable his efforts to transfer blame to someone else.

Is that harsh? I don’t think so. Because while I can honestly say that some guys I dated in my premarital promiscuous past took advantage of me, my sin is entirely my own. I choose to participate, and that’s wholly on me. Until we accept responsibility for our sin, we cannot confess it all and receive full forgiveness available through Christ.

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst”  (1 Timothy 1:15).

Now to the primary issue: He cheated on you.

And if someone is reading this and saying, “It’s just kissing,” you’re apparently not alone. In a survey of 5000 people across the United Kingdom, 14% of people didn’t consider passionately kissing someone other than your partner to be infidelity. Although that included 9% of women and a whopping 19% of men.

Now these weren’t specifically married people, but those percentages are astounding. Would you really feel it wasn’t cheating if you came home to find your beloved lip-locked with someone else on your couch? Even if you didn’t consider it adultery per se, it’s clearly a betrayal and on the road to Nothing Good.

But if you turn those stats around, four out of five men and nine out of ten women — not necessarily married — think kissing is cheating. I believe God agrees.

Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death” (James 1:14-15, NLT).

However, the husband here recognizes his guilt and “he’s done everything right.” What would those right things be? Here’s a noncomprehensive list:

  • Confess the betrayal
  • Take full responsibility for your choices and sin
  • Apologize for the hurt you’ve caused
  • Take steps to keep it from ever happening again
  • Answer your spouse’s questions
  • Reassure your mate daily of your commitment
  • Give your spouse space and time to return to intimacy with you

So now what? He’s done what he should, and it’s your turn. How do you get past your husband tangling tongues with anyone but you?!

I sat here for a moment thinking how I’d feel if Spock kissed someone else. My teeth clenched, my throat tightened, and I had a sick feeling in my stomach. Shock, sadness, and anger rose up in me. And that’s just from imagining a betrayal that’s never happened.

So my heart goes out to you, reader. I can only imagine, but it is a painful thought.

That said, marriage is far too important to toss out or tear down because of this one confessed, forgiven sin. Beyond forgiveness is reconciliation, and that’s where the struggle is now. So let’s talk about actions to help you move beyond what happened and into deeper intimacy with your husband.

 1. Talk through the event.

Sometimes for closure, we need to understand what happened, why it happened, and what we can do to prevent it from happening again. Ask your husband to join you in calm conversations about why he felt tempted, how his actions make you feel, what you can both do to be there more fully for one another. Discuss practical ways to prevent this temptation from arising again. Does he need to swear off bars? Do you need to go on business trips with him? Should he have a male accountability partner?

Remember as you ask him questions about what happened that he cannot un-tell you what he tells you. You likely don’t need those details that would merely give you a clearer picture to run through your mind. Make sure you what you ask about relates to the goal of getting you past this event and building a stronger marriage.

These discussions will go far better if you keep your cool while still expressing your emotions, concerns, and needs. And be willing to listen to his end and see what you can do to help him avoid any such temptation in the future.

2. Take charge of the kissing.

When you reintroduce physical intimacy after an affair, it’s important to let the betrayed spouse set the pace. You may need to take a break from time to time, breathe through the anxiety, and regather your thoughts before continuing. Having you initiate the kissing can also help you view this as something you want as well as determining how you want it.

Moreover, letting you be in charge shows that your husband respects your feelings — he understands this is difficult and he’s willing to do what it takes to be with you. Will this slower pace be difficult for your husband? Yeah. But it’s worthwhile.

You can start with kissing him in other places besides his mouth, like his hands or his jaw line. As you kiss, remember what you enjoy about being with him, touching him, feeling close to him. Take time to explore, as if you’re there again for the first time. When you feel more comfortable, move to his lips, kissing him in the way you most enjoy. If you need to pause, do so. But then try to get back to it and push past the discomfort. Which brings me to my next point.

3. Train your thoughts.

This is what is really comes down to. Because every time you kiss him now, you can’t get that other woman and what he did with her out of your mind. It’s hovering there in your brain, in your gut, in your heart. But somehow, you’ve got to stop thinking about that night and focus instead on your love for your husband, his love for you, and the kissing you’re doing.

First, recognize that you’re not on opposite sides. Yes, your husband betrayed you, but since he confessed and recommitted to you, your position going forward is a united team fighting against any enemy that wants to attack your marriage. You are one flesh, and “therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Mark 10:9).

Second, use self-talk while you’re kissing to alter your perspective in real-time. Remind yourself that your husband is here with you, that he is committed to your relationship, that you enjoy kissing him. Memorize some scriptures you can use as mantras in your head to fight back when thoughts of the kissing affair pop into your head. For example:

  • [Love] does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Corinthians 13:5).
  • We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5b).
  • I belong to my beloved, and his desire is for me” (Song of Songs 7:10).
  • Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).

Recognize that it won’t be smooth the first make-out session you have. But what tends to happen over time is new thoughts and new experiences replace old ones and the bad memory loses its foothold in your mind. As that scripture says above, love indeed covers a multitude of sins.

4. Remember how God treats you.

Here’s one last thing that has helped me get over a lot of stuff: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). When I struggle with forgiveness or reconciliation, I think about all the ways I’ve hurt my Heavenly Father, and yet He takes me back every time. Yes, I must be repentant, but He is always faithful to show me grace. That perspective helps me give grace to others.

So how do you over your husband’s kissing affair? Slowly, intentionally, prayerfully. But it will happen, if you both commit to reviving your physical affection and intimacy.

Same pic as above, sized for Pinterest

5 Ways to Make the Holidays Good for Your Marriage

It was about a month ago that a fellow marriage blogger reminded me that this was the time to start writing Christmas posts. She followed up by saying that October would be fine too. My response? “October?! Who are these heathens?”

Blog post title + couple in winter clothes sitting on park bench with a present

Personally, I like to focus on Thanksgiving before moving on to Christmas, and I’m also known to be a last-minute gal in many areas of my life, including holiday shopping. I barely know what I’m doing tomorrow, much less exactly what’s happening in December 25.

And all the pressure of the holidays feels more stressful than delightful at times. I admit to having a few Grinch moments even, when I walk through a crowded store in December and think, “Oh the noise! Oh the noise, noise, noise, noise!

But the holidays present an opportunity to be particularly generous, to spend special time with family, and to focus on people in need and ones we love. All of those apply to our marriage. So, whether you’re as excited about Christmas as Rudolph or a little Grinch-like at times, how about five ways to make the holidays really good this year? For you and for your marriage.

1. Talk about what Christmas means to you.

I originally wrote talk about your expectations, but that’s only part of the equation. Yes, you should talk about where you two should spend Christmas Day, what kind of presents you want to give and get, and what traditions you want to establish or leave behind. But what really makes a difference in what you and your spouse decide to do for Christmas is what these choices mean to you.

Let’s pretend my family had a tradition of opening all the presents on Christmas morning, but my husband’s family opened one on Christmas Eve. We could negotiate that on the face of it and decide Christmas morning makes the most sense after all. But if he explains that one year, his uncle had an early morning Christmas accident and gifts were postponed until the following day, and so the only gift he had on Christmas Day was the one he opened the evening before … suddenly, I get it. I know what meaning that Christmas Eve present has and why we should continue that tradition.

It needn’t be anything that drastic, but discuss what meaning you ascribe to the decorations, events, and traditions you desire for the holidays. Talk about your deeper beliefs and feelings and then bless each other by embracing what gives your spouse special joy this time of year.

2. Know your mood triggers.

Despite Andy Williams singing, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” the Christmas season isn’t all joy and happiness for everyone. Rather, the holiday season can cause negative emotions and moods. It’s important to recognize what your triggers are and then do something to manage them.

Perhaps you know this season will stir up grief about the absence of a loved one, or you struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder, a type of depression that most often occurs in wintertime, or the sheer amount of to-dos overwhelm you with stress. Once you become aware of your triggers, you can take steps to deal with those issues. Maybe you need to simply clear some time to visit the grave of a lost loved one or make freezable meals in advance to get you through a calendar of work overtime.

Just as important is considering what your spouse’s triggers are. How can you help them deal with any negative emotions or moods that might visit this holiday season? Where can you be a balance and a blessing for your beloved? Consider how you can be his ezer kenegdo (Genesis 2:18), and then be that strong helper.

3. Say no so that you can yes.

I had an epiphany a few years back: I didn’t have to go to every Christmas event to which I was invited. This is hardly an earthshaking revelation, but to me it was a big deal. We came to realize that we had to say no to some things in order to say yes to having enough time with each other and our sons.

Likewise, you don’t have to bring cookies or cupcakes to every holiday activity that wants them, be it your kids’ school, your workplace, or a church activity. You don’t have to volunteer for every Christmas service project. You don’t even have to buy presents for every single person you did before. I’m not saying to shirk off the whole holiday season, but rather be intentional together in picking and choosing what you can and will do.

Make sure your choices align with what’s good for your own family and your marriage, not to mention your marriage bed. Too often, we get wrapped up in saying yes to everyone else that we’re out of energy altogether when our spouse would love to hear a yes to sexual intimacy. Think carefully about which yeses really matter and in which areas you can just say “no, thanks” this year.

4. Consider your love languages.

My top two love languages are Quality Time and Physical Affection, while my bottom two are Acts of Service and Gifts. Unfortunately, too many Christmases have focused on those bottom ones — with me running around doing things for people and agonizingly trying to find the right gift for each recipient. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Take stock of the love languages both you and your husband use. Then choose holiday activities that speak to those love-tank fillers. If one of you (or both) is a Quality Time person, schedule a time to attend a Christmas concert or the Nutcracker, take a drive and look at holiday lights, or head to a Walk Through Bethlehem event. If you’re about Acts of Service, work together on a service project like serving in a soup kitchen or putting together a Samaritan’s Box and look for ways to serve one another throughout the season.

I could go through more ideas for the other love languages, but you get the idea. Paying attention to the ways you express love and feel loved will keep your love tank filled during the holiday season.

Keep your love tank filled during the holiday season... Click To Tweet

5. Remember you still need romance and sex.

I put romance and sex together because they feed off each other, don’t they? And they both often get a backseat at holiday time. Consumed with to-dos, family gatherings, holiday events, and preparing meals that would make Ina Garten applaud, we can forget to pay attention to our Mistletoe Mister. But you can’t put your intimacy on a back burner for 4-8 weeks a year and expect a good result.

You can't put your intimacy on a back burner for 4-8 weeks a year and expect a good result. Click To Tweet

The word “Christmas” shouldn’t be synonymous in your spouse’s mind with “not getting laid for a month.” Nor should you skip investing in affection, flirtation, and romance that makes you both feel more linked and loved. Set aside time and make the effort to reconnect regularly with both romantic interludes and sexual intimacy.

If you want inspiration, check out the many dating your spouse posts from The Romantic Vineyard. And here’s my post on 10 Intimate Things to Enjoy for Christmas. Or hey, grab a copy of my book, Hot, Holy, and Humorous, this holiday season and read it together for some spicy ideas for your marriage bed.

I’ll be back soon with some practical Christmas ideas, but I wanted us to start with thinking about how to make the season as a whole something we look forward to, embrace with joy, and treasure for the good it does for our marriage as well as others.

Praying for Perspective in Your Marriage Bed

Blog post title + redhead woman bowing and praying

This past week, Chris Taylor of The Forgiven Wife posted this question on our Sex Chat for Christian Wives Facebook page:

Image with "What advice would you give a new wife about having a good marriage?"

My answer? “Don’t assume thoughts, feelings, and motives; ask, and listen.”

My marriage experienced some truly terrible years, and one of the reasons we came out of that fog into the sunlight is because I changed my perspective. I realized I was making assumptions about my husband that weren’t true. Things like:

  • If I said/did that, it would mean X. But it didn’t mean that for my husband, because he’s a different person.
  • If he loved me, he would X. Except that his love language is not mine, so he didn’t always express love the way I expected him to.
  • If he does something I don’t like, it’s personal. Except that his irritating habits would exist no matter who he married, so it’s not personal.
  • If he says or does something hurtful, it shows he doesn’t care. Yet a lot of times, it was about the bad day he’d had, the stress he was experiencing, or not feeling physically good.
  • If he doesn’t do the things I long for when we make love, he’s selfish. But when that happened, it was about him not knowing what would feel good for me and what I needed.

When I dropped those assumptions — when I changed my perspective of my husband and our interactions — several problems went away and I knew better how to tackle the ones that remained.

However, the light bulb didn’t just go on one day and stay lit. Rather, I prayed quite a bit for God to alter my thinking. I needed His help to clearly see who my husband really was and how our relationship needed to change.

That’s why I think it’s important to pray for perspective regarding your marriage and your marriage bed.

Too often, readers ask questions or make comments about the sex in the marriage that shows they’re making assumptions about how their spouse thinks and feels. Maybe you’re right, but maybe you’re wrong. Do you know for sure that your perspective is accurate?

I guarantee God knows what the truth is. You can ask Him.

And the reason I start with God, rather than your spouse, is because some of the issues just dissipated once I saw them more clearly. That is, things I thought were problems with my husband were really problems with how I saw him, and once my vision cleared, I didn’t need to address that issue with him because it was resolved.

But with the problems that remain, it’s still worth praying for perspective so that your conversations with your spouse will go well. Ask God to help you see your husband accurately and to respond with a longing to understand him better.

Let’s try this out with a common scenario: You believe that your husband (or wife) says no to sex because they don’t love you like you love them. But as you pray for God’s perspective, you realize that sex is the primary way you express love, but it isn’t the primary way they express love. So you now recognize the problem isn’t a matter of their love for you. Of course, the problem still remains that you’re getting rejected in the marriage bed. But now that you have a clearer diagnosis, you can tackle the underlying issue.

So then you pray for an accurate perspective as you go to your spouse to talk about your feelings on this topic. You find yourself more willing to ask questions and listen to the reasons why your beloved isn’t up for sex. Maybe they don’t even give you clear reasons, but you make a positive impression on the subject (a first step) by simply being there and listening. Instead of arguing to get your point across, you find yourself listening with a calm that could only be provided by God and a willingness to sort through the information to discover the real problem.

Does the epiphany come right then? Are the problems solved by next Tuesday?

Nope. Not in my experience. But do you know how you climb a mountain? You don’t stand at the bottom grousing about how steep the incline is. You take the first step, then the next, and the next.

But if your perspective is all wrong, your path will be off, and you’ll end up on another mountain, screaming over at your spouse standing on the one you should be on.

Pray for perspective. Start today. Take the first step. Let God work in your marriage.

“[Love] does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6).

Q&A with J: Resources for Spicing Things Up in the Marriage Bed

Let’s get right to our reader question today. Here it is:

Happily married 30 years. Both came into the marriage as virgins. Desiring to spice things up, but the purity of our past doesn’t help my husband. There is concern if he researches, he will come across websites that we’ll regret. Any direction you can send us?

Why, yes! Yes, I do have a direction to send you. Have you heard of this book?

Hot, Holy, and Humorous book cover

I wrote that book specifically to answer your question! How do you make the sex in your marriage bed more exciting, intimate, and loving?

How do you make the sex in your marriage bed more exciting, intimate, and loving? Click To Tweet

It has chapters like Considering Sexual Positions, Oral Sex, The Hands-On Experience, and Using Your Body Parts. I give specific, practical tips for romance, arousal, and orgasm.

And you know what? I just saw my latest royalty statement, and I know a bunch of you haven’t bought my book yet! I don’t mean to be pushy, but seriously, y’all, WHY NOT?!

I’m really proud of this book and how it has helped couples spice things up in their marriage bed. It covers a lot of ground in a short time and can help you and your spouse start some important conversations about what sexual intimacy should look like in your marriage.

Mind you, that won’t look the same in various healthy, holy marriages. You have to figure out your own sexual repertoire. But my book can help you do that.

And it’s $10 for the ebook, less than $13 for the paperback. Jeez, y ‘all spent that the last time you drove through the hamburger joint and upsized your fries. C’mon, buy this book for your marriage!

Okay, I’m off my soapbox for a moment and will share a few other resources … since you asked.

Christian Friendly Sex Positions provides both tasteful illustrations and thorough descriptions for you to try new positions and angles. This information is also available in a recently release app, Ultimate Intimacy, which I’m still checking out and will review later.

The Marriage Bed has quite a few articles with ideas for adding spice to your bedroom. You might notice that the Byerlys and I disagree on a few sexual activities, but that’s okay. We’re foundationally in sync, and good Christians can disagree about particulars. Their overall advice is excellent. And I love this article on orgasmic massage from Paul Byerly’s other website, The Generous Husband.

Awaken Love also has articles on spicing things up, as well as an online video class for women. I’ve reviewed her curriculum and found it to be solid.

If you’re looking for spicy stuff, i.e., marital aids, you can check out Married Spice, for which my podcast, Sex Chat for Christian Wives, is an affiliate. This company impressed me greatly when they responded directly to a concern I had about one of their products. It was clear that they desire to promote holy and healthy sex through their online store.

Other blogs I follow that give both general and specific advice for the marriage bed:

There are other blogs that cater more toward husbands, but my own blog feed is populated primarily with sites intended for wives.

Now I’m staring at my screen knowing I’ve forgotten some fabulous resource that I should have mentioned. If I remember more later, I’ll add them.

But in summary, BUY THIS BOOK, because I wrote it and it’s awesome, and then check out the sites above. Some of these sites will also link to other resources that could be worth checking out. That’s how I often find others as well — just the old-fashioned, can’t-beat-it word of mouth. Albeit that word is text on a trusted website.

And don’t discount one of the best ways to add spice to your marriage bed: talk and try. Discuss ideas you have, try them out, and see what you think. You might discover something truly awesome that way.