While my marriage was struggling—okay, okay, when it was bad—I was really religious. I studied my Bible, listened to Christian music, visited Lifeway stores and picked up bestsellers, prayed often, and talked about how much God meant to me.
Anyone looking in from the outside would say I was a devoted Christian wife in every way.
My husband probably wouldn’t have agreed. Even if/when I was correct in sharing my feelings, diagnosing problems, and suggesting solutions, I messed up royally in how I treated him. I’d grown frustrated, resentful, even angry, and it showed. In my efforts to meet my calling as a wife, I failed to meet my calling in Christ.
I might have been right, but I wasn’t righteous.
Finding Our Way Back
When asked what made the difference between then and now, my short answer is God. He took our mess, cleaned it and us up, and replaced our contentiousness with ever-increasing intimacy. Of course, that didn’t happen overnight, but without Him on our journey, we wouldn’t have reached the place where we are.
The longer answer is that I finally realized how I was sabotaging my own goals for my marriage through un-Christlike behavior and needed to actually live out what I said I believed. It wasn’t enough to talk about love or read about love or even pray for more love; I had to actually love. In practice. Day in and day out.
I finally read 1 Corinthians 13 and realized that, no matter what issues my husband needed to address, I had a long way to go to become a truly loving wife.
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
So Right, Yet So Wrong
In 1 Corinthians 13, the Apostle Paul points out that it doesn’t matter how right you are if you’re rude about it.
Let’s take this epiphany into the bedroom with a few examples. Because frankly, some of y’all are doing what I did and sadly sabotaging the very intimacy you long to have; I’m begging you to start the New Year resolved to something different and better.
“You owe me sex.”
Yep, you’re right. When we get married, we assume an obligation, duty, debt—call it what you will—to have sex with our spouse. That principle’s all over the Bible, not just in 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 (a passage many sexually frustrated spouses like to quote).
But as I recently pointed out in a post on our newly launched KHS Ministry site for husbands, you don’t get to use the Bible as a cudgel to pressure or demand anything, including sex, from your spouse. Jesus didn’t come so you could get your own way.Jesus didn't come so you could get your own way. @hotholyhumorous #Christiansex #marriage Click To Tweet
“I need sex.”
Again, might be true. Sex can be labeled an emotional or relational need in marriage. Yet, talking up a storm about your needs, while ignoring your spouse’s reasons for not cooperating, can become a pursuit of your own selfish ends.
In the name of something good, you end up treating your spouse like your own sexual drive-thru: Take my order, fulfill my need, and leave me satisfied. I don’t see that approach in 1 Corinthians 13 love either—do you?
“You don’t expect me to do it when I’m not in the mood, do you?”
Well, of course you shouldn’t be forced into your own marriage bed against your will. Nor should you be expected to offer up your body any time your spouse feels a quiver in their nether regions!
But as right as that is, too many spouses end up blocking reasonable attempts to address sexual problems or prioritize intimacy with the effectiveness of an NFL tackle. They cite their low libido as their right to not even try.
Me pointing out this problem doesn’t resolve barriers—I have a whole blog and several books that address them—but I’m only trying to show that you can have a great point, be right about something, and yet act in a way that doesn’t comport with “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking.”
Practice Makes Permanent
Although we often hear “practice makes perfect,” the truth is that practicing something doesn’t make your action perfect—it just forms a habit. What you practice becomes permanent. (Kudos to my former pastor, Danny Mercer, for teaching me this one.)
Too often, we’ve built up a practice of treating our spouse in a way inconsistent with how husbands and wives are commanded to treat one another. Until we not only pray for something new but pursue it diligently with a new practice, we’ll hang on to methods that don’t work and make our spouse feel unloved.
That’s where some of your marriages are right now, today. You’re in what seems like a permanent rut, having adopted practices that undermine love and intimacy in your marriage.
But what now? What do you need to resolve to practice instead?
Jesus replied, “But even more blessed are all who hear the word of God and put it into practice.”Luke 11:28
Resolve to Be More Like Christ
Christian simply means follower of Christ. If you follow someone, they take the lead and you go where they go.
Even now, I want to shake my head at that wife I was who thought she could cite Christian principles when it suited her desires for marriage but ignore all the rest. As if I could follow behind Christ for a while, leave the path when I saw a better way to go, and catch up to Him later. Jesus was probably shaking his head back then too and even mumbling, “Oh my daughter, follow me the whole way.”
Of course not all sex issues in your marriage can be resolved by saying, “Take two More-Like-Christ pills in the morning, and call me in the morning to say how great it was!” There are legitimate challenges that require more understanding and effort.
But many of us could vastly improve our marriage and sexual intimacy if we treated our beloved with genuine, Christlike love. If we at least began to practice His commands, embrace His prescription for love, and leave space for Him to fulfill His promises. If our spouse really knew, with no wavering whatsoever, that we’re a Christian. Not just to the world out there, but especially to the one we vowed to love.
For me, the practice I adopted was referring back to 1 Corinthians 13 love in my head, often. I’d feel tempted to complain to my husband about our relationships, bite my tongue, and recite, “Love is patient, love is kind…” etc. To be honest, at first it was spoken through clenched teeth, with an unspoken dang it at the beginning of the recitation.
But after a while, practice was becoming permanent. Christlike love was easier. Not perfect, but easier. And that, my dear friends, is how my marriage began to make its way back.
Have you struggled with displaying Christlike love to your spouse? What scripture(s) could you recite to focus on becoming more like Christ?