Category Archives: Marriage – General

How Sex Can Help Us Cope

My background is only relevant inasmuch as it has a bearing on my mission and ability to fulfill it. Which is why I’m totally transparent about my past sexual baggage and how God redeemed my marriage.

I’m also authentic about struggles I’ve had and the minor frustrations of life. Because I want people to recognize that a happy marriage doesn’t mean a perfect marriage. After all, we’re all sinners (Romans 3:23, 1 John 1:8), and that includes both husband and wife. We will let each other down, but we can continue to strive for the best and show agape love that covers over our sins when we fail (1 Peter 4:8).

But I’ve wrangled with whether to say anything about what I’ve been going through lately, because it doesn’t directly impact this ministry. Except I concluded there’s something worth learning from it.

A Foundation Shaken

Long story short: I recently learned that my mother perpetuated a 16-year deception on an issue of significance. Whatever trust we’d built before shattered, and the fallout has been difficult for my family of origin.

As a consequence, I’ve been distracted and distraught. Like someone grieving, I have good days and bad days. On good days, I cross off the to-dos on my list and interact with others with a genuine smile. On bad days, I end up on an hour-long phone call with a sibling, escape into writing fiction where the real world doesn’t exist, or simply cry a lot.

A Strange Way to Cope

Oddly enough, I’ve been having more sex in my marriage. Or perhaps it’s not odd at all, because that is also a way of providing balm to a weary soul. Those moments of connection with my husband and intense pleasure for myself have taken me away from the heaviness of my heart and allowed me to reset my mind and heart, even if for a short while.

There is a beautiful verse in the last chapter of Song of Songs, almost a summary of the marital love portrayed in the book: “Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot sweep it away.”

When other parts of our life seem to have been swept away by a raging river, the covenant love between husband and wife—expressed in the sanctity of the marriage bed—can make us feel grounded, safe, solid.

When other parts of our life seem to have been swept away by a raging river, the covenant love between husband and wife—expressed in the sanctity of the #marriage bed—can make us feel grounded, safe, solid. @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet

Sex That Soothes

Not all sexual encounters necessarily have this effect. Rather, you may need to cultivate the atmosphere or specifics that result in sex that soothes. And your emotional needs are specific to you.

Let’s look at what I mean with some examples:

  • Spouse A may desire slow, deliberate caresses that calm their nerves and comfort their soul.
  • Spouse B may want sex that’s hot, heavy, and even fast, thus taking their mind from what’s happening and engaging it in solely in passion.
  • Spouse C may want to focus on giving their mate sexual pleasure, as that provides them some sense of control when the rest of life feels out of control.
  • Spouse D may want to try something new, giving them the reminder that they can choose a new direction and find positivity from it.

Sex is not just sex, but often reflects where we are in life and/or reminds us what we can do and be in life. Many spouses, especially husbands, say that a satisfying sex life makes them feel like they can take on the world. When that world has been particularly shaken, sexual intimacy with your beloved can soothe your tender places and infuse you with courage to take on the struggles you’re facing.

When your world has been shaken, sexual intimacy with your beloved can soothe your tender places and infuse you with courage to take on the struggles you're facing. #marriage @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet

Getting What You Need

I do not have the magic formula to get you the sex you need/want for your whole life or marriage. That’s a process which my ministry certainly helps with, but it isn’t a quick fix. Moreover, this section presumes two good-willed spouses—imperfect, sure, but good-willed.

But let’s say you’re in the midst of a foundation-shaking life event, and you desire sex that could soothe your soul, how do you go about getting the specific kind of sex that would accomplish that goal? How can you communicate to your spouse what you desire in a way most likely to result in you getting just that?

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Well, you have a few choices, and you can pick which one you think will work.

  • Talk about it outside the bedroom. Tell him/her how you’re feeling, what sexual experience you believe would help, and then invite them to have that kind of intimacy with you.
  • As you’re starting a lovemaking session, be specific about your desires. Explain that you’d like to try X, Y, or Z because you long for the comfort that provides you in the midst of your current challenge.
  • Give ongoing feedback to guide your spouse. Using verbal encouragement or moving either your or their hands, mouth, body, etc. to where/how you want it, and then give positive reinforcement when it’s going the way you need/want.
  • Take charge and make it happen. Go directly for what you want, inviting him/her with your actions to go along with the lovemaking you desire.

If you’re both going through the same earth-shattering event, you may be on the same page with what you want, or you may need to take turns getting what you each need. Be willing to minister—yes, minister—to one another through sexual intimacy.

You’re Not Alone

One of the most beautiful aspects of sex in the midst of emotional pain is the sense that you are not alone. God created human sex such that it involves the penetration of one’s body part into the other’s body part—a physical connection that meets the “one flesh” description in the Bible. In that moment of intercourse, husband and wife are not separate, but joined…literally and relationally.

When life is not just giving you lemons but lobbing them at you like a game of fruit dodgeball, you can feel very alone. Sexual intimacy can remind us that we’re not alone. Not only is God in our corner, always beside us, but He has provided a partner in life who will be there too.

It’s true: sex can help you cope.

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What Does It Take To Change Your Marriage…and the World?

Feeling Exhausted

A lot of stuff has been happening around me lately that has charged my environment with an intensity it didn’t have a year ago this time. The details of events don’t matter—well, they matter to me, but not for this post. Suffice it to say: I’m exhausted by outrage culture.

Now righteous outrage can be a good thing. Societies have made real progress when good people become angry enough about an injustice to work for important change.

However, in our technology dominated world, we don’t work together so much as rage together. That is, we tend to equate saying something online with doing something. We get angry, spout our views, and congratulate ourselves for being involved or activist.

Being Part of the Club

Let’s say you get on Twitter and say something passionate and/or controversial. You might get flak, but I guarantee you someone, somewhere will applaud you for your courage. Perhaps several someones.

You may even be 100% right, and the question I still have is: How did you make a difference? Did you convince the people who didn’t agree with you before? Or just rally an audience to similarly express their outrage?

We see this with marriage websites too.

  • Wanna believe feminism is to blame for you not getting sex in your marriage?
  • Wanna believe all men are pigs who’ll objectify and harass anything in a skirt?
  • Wanna believe a man’s lusting is the fault of how women dress?
  • Wanna believe that this teaching, or that teaching, or this one is the reason why Christian marriages are struggling?

We tend to seek out exactly those resources that tell us what we already believe or want to believe. You can find a website that will cater to your outrage and make you feel part of the club.

What we often need, however, is something that challenges us to reconsider our beliefs. We might well come right back to a tried-and-true perspective, but even then at least we better understand the other side. As a result, we can better speak with people who disagree with us and perhaps persuade them to our side.

There is a limit to this, of course! We should not open ourselves to toxic theology or sinful practices. I’m talking about challenging ourselves to get outside our comfort zone, not into the danger zone.

Making the Long-Term Effort

Plenty of spouses express outrage about how their marriage is going or their lack of sexual intimacy. But outrage is easy. Long-term effort to effect real change is hard.

Outrage is easy. Long-term effort to effect real change is hard. #marriage @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet

Outrage often demands burning down what exists to build something new in its stead — and sometimes that is only option. You don’t negotiate with Hitler; you topple his regime. But most of the time we’re not fighting that kind of evil, and let’s hope you don’t want to topple your whole marriage!

In many most situations, changes comes through incrementalism. Though we’d all like to have the magic bullet, it’s reasonable goals, compromise, and persistence that make the difference. Over time, baby steps turn into big strides.

Thus, you may need to put forth a lot of time and effort:

  • to help your spouse feel safe enough to open up to you about their struggles
  • to address the sexual baggage you each entered marriage with
  • to resolve the obstacles you face
  • to introduce better sexual perspectives and activities
  • to demonstrate consistent and committed love

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

Galatians 6:9

Becoming the Solution

Of course, putting a lot of effort into the wrong things will not yield the results you want. Which is why we should dig deep into Scripture, pray for wisdom and guidance, and check in with our spouse about what they long for in your marriage.

But we’ve got to stop telling ourselves that we’ve done something just because we talked about it. Declaring what you think to the world, to your Facebook friends, to a blog’s comment thread, even to your spouse or to your therapist isn’t enough. In fact, sometimes you’d be better off to shut up and just do something.

It’s an unpopular opinion in the marriage ministry world, but I don’t believe communication solves everything. Or even most things. Love in action solves things.

It's an unpopular opinion in the #marriage ministry world, but I don't believe communication solves everything. Or even most things. Love in action solves things. @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet

Communicating with your spouse helps you know what love in action looks like for them! But it’s not enough. Your actions have to speak louder than your words.

Perhaps this is why all of my books suggest actions to put into practice what you learn. Even my conversation guide for couples, Pillow Talk, addresses what you can do and specific sexual activities you can try.

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Changing the World

These lessons go beyond our own marriage. Think also about your broader life:

  • Are you opposed to a marriage course your church has taught? Research alternatives, suggest a better one, and even offer to teach it or recruit facilitators.
  • Are you heartbroken by the breadth and depth of abuse and mistreatment? Volunteer your time or donate to organizations that help victims.
  • Are you appalled by the level of divorce in our society? Encourage your church to add premarital and marriage counseling to its resources, perhaps in concert with area churches. Recommend marriage classes and/or mentor other couples.
  • Are you unhappy about the messages your church teaches about sex, or their lack of teaching on it? Suggest a marriage event and invite a speaker who can address the issue well (e.g., Juli Slattery or yours truly). Offer to facilitate a class on the subject. Start a small group study that goes through a marriage book.

Let’s save some of the outrage and channel that energy into the effort required to make a real difference in our lives and for others. We may not see results tomorrow, but in the course of a lifetime, we will reap the harvest. And gain the greatest reward.

Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done.

Revelation 22:12

When Doing the Right Thing Is Hard

I have about 20 draft posts right now, some with a bunch of words, some only a few, but none ready to publish. You might think I should go work on one of those and post about that. But something else has been weighing heavily on me this week. Integrity.

When I looked up the meaning of integrity, I most liked what Etymology Online says about the word’s origin:

“innocence, blamelessness; chastity, purity,” from Old French integrité or directly from Latin integritatem (nominative integritas) “soundness, wholeness, completeness,” figuratively “purity, correctness, blamelessness,” from integer “whole.”

https://www.etymonline.com/word/integrity

Integrity is about consistency and completeness of character. It’s a core principle I tried to teach my sons, explaining it to them as “doing the right thing even when no one is watching.”

Integrity Takes a Hit

The first half of 2019 was quite lovely and culminated with the marriage of my impressive son to a beautiful daughter-in-law, an event that was nearly perfect in every way. But then, as life does, there were quite a few disappointments in the second half of 2019 — instances in which people acted in ways that I didn’t expect.

From public politics to personal connections, I’ve witnessed rifts that make my chest ache. The details don’t matter, but suffice it to say that I could list a number of times when I’ve wondered about people’s integrity.

Why were people turning their back on principles they’d previously espoused as important? Did they ever believe what they’d proclaimed? Had they changed their minds? Lost their way?

Had I failed too? Did I need to guard better against losing my integrity?

Integrity in Marriage

How are we doing with integrity in our marriage? Are we consistent in doing what is right? What is loving? What we say we believe is important?

When no one is looking — or when at least your spouse isn’t looking — how do you treat your marriage and your sexuality?

Consider whether you could say any of the following:

  • “I know porn is wrong, but I still watch it in secret.”
  • “My spouse doesn’t know how much I masturbate on my own.”
  • “I believe that sex is important, but I haven’t made time for it.”
  • “I said I would initiate sex more, but I haven’t.”
  • “Given how I treat him/her, my spouse might not even say I’m much of a Christian.”
  • “I complain and/or blame my spouse on blogs and social media, knowing s/he won’t see it.”
  • “I had an affair, and my spouse doesn’t know.”
  • “I believe I should meet my spouse’s emotional needs, but I haven’t tried much.”
  • “I’ve been faking my orgasm.”
  • “I’ve lied to my spouse about ____________.”
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A long time ago, Spock and I had a bad marriage. During that time, I believed myself to be a good person, committed to fixing my marriage. But the way I behaved around him and out in the world were two different things.

On one hand, I touted my Christian faithfulness while treating my husband quite poorly at times. On the other hand, I spoke ill of my husband to others while not sharing my own contributions to our problems.

Once I got real and decided to put into practice what I claimed to believe, that’s when my marriage began to improve.

Once I got real and decided to put into practice what I claimed to believe, that's when my #marriage began to improve. @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet

Doing the Right Thing Is Hard

It wasn’t easy changing my habits. It’s still not easy when I decide to ditch a bad habit and pick up a new one. Like right at this moment, I’m hungry because I had a salad for lunch instead of my usual sandwich, chips, and salsa — though my last cholesterol test tells me a salad is the right thing to do.

But a touch of a hunger is nothing compared to other personal pain we could invite by following through with integrity. We might encounter:

  • Relational conflict
  • Guilt or shame
  • Loss of respect from someone we care about
  • Criticism
  • Financial expense
  • Emotional discomfort
  • Reduced sexual intimacy

Some of those sacrifices may be temporary, and some may be long-term. We cannot always anticipate how our changes will impact others’ choices. And others have their own choices to make about integrity.

But we can control our own pursuit of integrity. Is it worth it?

God Calls Us to Integrity

  • “The Lord judges the peoples; judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness and according to the integrity that is in me” (Psalm 7:8).
  • “But you have upheld me because of my integrity, and set me in your presence forever” (Psalm 41:12).
  • “Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out” (Proverbs 10:9).
  • “The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity” (Proverbs 11:3).
  • “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us” (Titus 2:7-8).

Those are just a few of the verses that have the word integrity in them. There are more, and other scriptures highlight the principle of walking in integrity.

What does that look like? Well, what do you say you believe about marriage? About how one should treat others? Are you living up to that?

None of us will get this perfect. If we could, we wouldn’t need a savior! But we do need a savior, and we have one in Jesus Christ. What God calls us to is the ongoing pursuit of integrity — the commitment to do the right thing, even when no one’s looking, or when everyone’s looking and wanting something different, and when it’s just plain hard.

Where do you need to have greater integrity for your life, your marriage, and your sexual intimacy? Pursue that.

Resolution Week: Not "You" or "Me" But "Us"

It’s resolution week on Hot, Holy & Humorous! Meaning I’ve been covering goals we should make in 2020—for ourselves, our marriages, and our sex lives. Today, let’s talk about a common pitfall we want to avoid going forward.

A Personal Story

My husband has been rearranging in the kitchen lately. For years, I’ve been the one mostly deciding where and how things belong in our drawers and cabinets. If someone in the family didn’t follow my plan, no worries—I was the one home far more than they were, so I’d just fix the error while they were gone and move on.

Cue a change in my husband’s employment, and now he’s home a lot and moving things around. Of course I’ve handled this all beautifully…

Okay, FINE. I’ve huffed, eye-rolled, and lodged several complaints about the equilibrium of my kitchen being upended!

Spock has his reasons for wanting the changes, and now he was finally around enough to make those changes happen. Meanwhile, I have my reasons for wanting things to stay the same, and I’d already established a system! At some point, it seemed to come down to a silent battle over how a particular set of glasses would be placed in the cabinet. He’d put a glass away and change their positioning to his way (“the wrong way”), and later I’d see them and change them all back to my way (“the right way”).

Yeah, because that’s not causing any tension in our marriage. #sarcasm

But a day or two ago, I was staring at that cabinet of glasses and thinking: I should just let him have his way. Wouldn’t that be the nice thing to do? Then I had an even better thought: What if there’s some way to address each of our reasonable concerns about these glasses with an entirely different approach?

Turns out, there is. I mentioned my idea to my husband, we talked about that alternative, and it will be implemented.

Choosing Win/Win

Before you go thinking I have no business ever writing about marriage because I nearly declared World War III over the storage of drinking glasses, the actual amount of time and emotion expended on our kitchen issue was probably mere minutes. And hey, we did resolve it!

I’m only telling this story to illustrate a pitfall we often have in marriage. A husband and wife engage in back-and-forth debate, argument, or even stalemate when the resolution doesn’t have to be you or me—it could be us.

Too often in #marriage, a husband and wife engage in back-and-forth debate, argument, or even stalemate when the resolution doesn't have to be YOU or ME—it could be US. @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet

In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey labels this principle “Think Win/Win.” He talks about how Lose/Win or Win/Lose outcomes are appropriate at times:

If you value a relationship and the issue isn’t really that important, you may want to go for Lose/Win in some circumstances to genuinely affirm the other person. “What I want isn’t as important to me as my relationship with you. Let’s do it your way this time.” …

There are circumstances in which you would want to Win, and you wouldn’t be highly concerned with the relationship of that win to others. If your child’s life were in danger, for example, you might be peripherally concerned about other people and circumstances. But saving that life would be supremely important.

Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

But in most situations, Lose/Win or Win/Lose creates more conflict or feelings of resentment or trust issues in a relationship. It’s much better to look for a Win/Win.

While Covey’s book is aimed at business leaders, he notes how much more important this principle is in marriage: “‘Who’s winning in our marriage?’ is a ridiculous question. If both people aren’t winning, both are losing.”

"'Who's winning in our #marriage?' is a ridiculous question. If both people aren't winning, both are losing." ~ Stephen R. Covey (via @hotholyhumorous) Click To Tweet

Who’s Winning in Your Marriage?

My father used to tell the joke that married couples promise to become one—and then spent the rest of their marriage figuring out which one to become. That joke’s funny because of how ridiculous it sounds. And yet, how often do a spouse’s actions convey that’s what they secretly believe?

In the realm of sexual intimacy, spouses can end up playing tug-of-war over frequency, repertoire, etc. The mindset becomes “if you get what you want, I don’t get what I want. But if I get what I want, you don’t get what you want.” If those are the only two options, one spouse will become the Win/Lose mate and the other will be the Lose/Win mate. But then nobody’s really winning.

If you’re always or often winning your way, or if you’re always or often giving in, you’re likely losing the intimacy of marriage. Much better for both of you to get a win.

“Let No One Separate”

This is even more apparent when we look at it all biblically. As Jesus says:

‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Mark 10:7-9

Now, of course we are individuals. We don’t get married and fuse into one Frankensteinian creature. Moreover, God still judges us individually. Romans 2:5 says, ‘God “will repay each person according to what they have done'” (citing Psalm 62:12).

Yet throughout our lives, we are united, one flesh, joined together by God. If you try to win your way against your spouse while they lose, you’re taking both of you down. You’re too intertwined for one’s views, emotions, and actions not to affect the other.

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Moving from You or Me to Us

Excluding my kitchen fail story, I mostly view issues in my marriage not in terms of what’s good for me or for him, but rather us. It’s a perspective I’ve had to cultivate. Actually, I’m still cultivating it and will be until I die, or he dies, or we die together (Win/Win).

Sometimes, I give in because Spock’s way matters more to him than my way matters to me or when I simply choose to bless him in a particular moment. Sometimes, he gives in because the roles are reversed. But most of the time, we’re looking for a third alternative that gives us both a Win/Win.

With sex in marriage, Win/Win could mean:

  • Compromising about frequency
  • Taking turns with which sexual activities you each like most
  • Finding a new activity that meets the underlying desire (rather than the activity under contention)
  • Seeking counseling to work out what seems irresolvable

The Win/Win for your marriage depends on your specific scenario. But we should resolve to stop viewing problems as you or me and instead see them as an us thing.

Look, even if the problem really is your spouse, get on board with making it an us issue. It’s hurting both of you, so marshal your forces to work together on resolving it! Ecclesiastes 4:9 says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor.” So already, just by being married, you should have double the power to fix a situation.

Even if the problem really is your spouse, get on board with making it an US issue. It's hurting both of you, so marshal your forces to work together on resolving it! #marriage Click To Tweet

Add God into the mix, and you definitely have a winning team! “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12).

That us mindset might be just what you need to face the future and move forward with your spouse. It won’t resolve everything tomorrow, but you won’t be tugging in different directions. You’ll be on the same path taking the journey together.

How have you struggled with you or me instead of us? When have you been able to come up with a Win/Win for your marriage?

Resolution Week: Are Toxic People Damaging Your Marriage?

As part of Resolution Week here on Hot, Hot & Humorous, let’s talk today about the toxic people damaging your marriage.

Gary Thomas, author of Sacred Marriage and Cherish, recently released a book titled When to Walk Away: Finding Freedom from Toxic People. He sent me an advanced review copy with no strings attached, but it’s always nice when that happens and you end up loving the book!

What is a toxic person?

Anyone who’s reached adulthood has interacted with someone who is not merely difficult or frustrating, but genuinely toxic. In When to Walk Away, Thomas defines three characteristics of a toxic person: a murderous spirit, control mongering, and loving hate. Without going through those specifics, see if you recognize this general description:

There are certain people who drain us, demean us, and distract us from other healthy relationships. Long after they’re gone, we’re still fighting with them in our minds and trying to get them out of our hearts. They keep us awake. They steal our joy. They demolish our peace. They make us (if we’re honest with ourselves) weaker spiritually. They even invade times of worship and pervert them into seasons of fretting.

Now before we start labeling people as toxic, recognize that our tendency to diagnose others as the problem before looking at ourselves. The Bible says that we have to look at our own flaws, our own contribution to the problem, and our own sin before we accuse someone else (see Matthew 7:1-5, Romans 2:1-3). Some will read the above paragraph and immediately begin blaming others, when the truth is that they are the toxic one in the relationship.

But others, too many Christians, have spend countless hours trying to figure out what they’re doing wrong or how they could do better or what magic formula might work to get along with someone in their life—when the truth is that they can’t. You can’t appease, reason with, or find peace with a genuinely toxic person. The fault lies with them.

You can't appease, reason with, or find peace with a genuinely toxic person. The fault lies with them. @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet

But should you walk away?

I’m personally not in love with the phrase What would Jesus do? because oftentimes Jesus would do something that only Jesus can do. I don’t have the divinity or authority of Jesus, so performing miracles and speaking directly for God are off my to-do list. That said, we are commanded to be Christlike! (See 1 Peter 2:21, 1 Corinthians 11:1, John 13:14-15, Philippians 2:5.) 1 John 2:6 puts it most succinctly: “Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.” Our attitude, mindset, and heart should be like Jesus.

That’s the example Gary Thomas uses in determining how we deal with toxic people. He goes into great detail well worth reading, but essentially we set boundaries and see if the toxic behavior will stop or be put into check. If it continues, we do as Jesus did: we walk away.

In fact, Thomas has a whole chapter titled “Walkaway Jesus,” covering Christ’s tendency to walk away from people who couldn’t be convinced and were thus wasting His precious time. Time better spent on people He could, and did, save.

If the Lord and Savior of our world thought it was a waste of time to try to placate, argue, or persuade toxic people, what makes us think we are going to make it happen?

Who is toxic to your marriage?

Since I write about sexual intimacy in marriage, let’s tailor the book’s points to toxicity that affects your marriage and your sex life.

Not everything or everyone that gets in the way of healthy marital intimacy is toxic. Some are simply challenges that come with living in a broken world. Some are due to personality conflicts and character flaws we can work on. Some are busyness, fatigue, or physical obstacles present in certain seasons of life.

But some of you write me about your marriage or your sex life, and it becomes clear pretty quickly that you’ve got a toxic person negatively impacting your emotional, spiritual, and/or sexual wholeness.

Parents

In a chapter titled “Toxic Parents,” Thomas covers a situation I’ve seen as well:

I’ve seen several young women from dysfunctional homes fall into a common spiritual trap. In spite of the negative imprinting of their childhood homes, they end up making a very wise choice for marriage….It’s a delight to see God bring two godly people together out of less than ideal backgrounds and watch a healthy family begin to form.

Then the common temptation follows. It’s a clever spiritual distraction. The woman has escaped a dysfunctional family and is now settled in a functional one. It was be too long (mere months) until she thinks she is supposed to return to the dysfunctional family and try to fix it.

Some don’t even get those few months of healthy family-building, but rather the toxicity of their family of origin follows them into the marriage. Parents who should be helping their grown children settle into a new life do nearly all they can to frustrate it.

They demand your time and emotional energy, deride your spouse, speak ill of marriage and/or sex, force you to choose them or your husband and then become furious if you choose correctly (your spouse), and make it seem that you’ll never break free of the dysfunction they carry around like a badge of honor. You’re exhausted trying to balance your longing to keep them happy or help them get healthy and your need to be present in your marriage and/or godly sexual intimacy.

Thankfully, most of us don’t need to entirely walk away, but rather set boundaries. (Thomas also covers this well.) But sometimes, you do have to walk away. Honoring your mother and father does not involve allowing them to destroy your marriage.

Honoring your mother and father does not involve allowing them to destroy your #marriage. @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet

As Thomas says, “Trying to fix an unfixable relationship is doomed to failure and simply robs [you] of the time [you] need to grow [your] functional family.”

Grown Children

The chapter on “Toxic Children” discusses adult children who suck the life out of a family. As a mother, it hurts to think there could be a time when you have to walk away from your own son or daughter. But with parent-child, it’s really a matter of them walking away from you.

Again, Thomas looks at Jesus and what He taught:

You would take any repentant prodigal son or daughter back the moment they turn their face toward home. But that’s different from chasing after an unrepentant sinner who despises your weakness and preys on you by taking advantage of it. Remember, the prodigal son’s father threw his arms around his son when the son returned, not when he left. Like Jesus, the father of the prodigal son was willing to watch his prodigal son walk away.

Is your adult child destroying your marriage? Making it impossible to find time or energy for sexual intimacy with your spouse? Painful as it is, you have the recognize if their heart has already walked away.

Church

Church can be provide solace, support, and sound teaching that helps us lead the godly life our Lord desires. Yet, some individual churches have treated a marriage or its sexual intimacy in a way that can only be described as toxic. As Thomas points out, “Toxic people exist inside and outside the church and are those trying to take you down.”

If your church is feeding toxicity into your marriage, it’s time to walk away. The Church is larger than your one congregation. Find a different place to worship that believes in marriage, honors both men and women, values all forms of marital intimacy, and helps you pursue Christ together.


Others may be toxic to your marriage, but these three—parents, grown children, church—struck me in particular, because I’ve heard the stories.

What if the toxic person is your spouse?

I’m about as pro-marriage as one can get and experienced my own marriage coming back from the brink of divorce to a beautiful marriage today. But a few of you married someone who is toxic, and unless and until they allow God to work in their life, nothing will change.

Thankfully, When to Walk Away addresses both “Toxic Marriages” and “Leaving the Toxicity Instead of the Marriage.” If the latter can happen, hallelujah! As Thomas notes:

We don’t always have to lave a marriage at the first sign of toxicity. If both partners are repentant and surrendered to God, we can leave the toxicity instead of the marriage.

Spouses can exhibit toxic behaviors at times, but if they’re committed to climbing out of that pit, they can find redemption and restoration. Yet, some of you are in abusive or destructive marriages, and it’s past time to recognize where are and what needs to happen next. Again, from Gary Thomas:

To be explicit and clear, if a husband or wife keeps acting out in sexually inappropriate ways, he or she needs to know they will lose you. If the abuse they heap on you is shrinking your soul, it’s okay to admit you can’t live with them anymore. If they insist that you lie to cover up their toxic acts, you aren’t just allowed but commanded to resist them.

Let me add that if your spouse belittles or degrades you in the bedroom or rapes you (yes, marital rape can happen, to both genders), that is toxic behavior that must be opposed. You cannot allow yourself, God’s child, to be treated that way, nor are you helping to permit your spouse’s sin to continue.

Get an outside perspective—though not that toxic church, please—and support. Find a way to leave. A healthy, godly marriage will never come of a toxic, unrepentant spouse being given more opportunities to harm their mate. As Thomas so well states, “God loves marriage and he loves people, but do we think he loves people or the institutions more?”

Should you read the book?

Didn’t I just tell you all you need to know from When to Walk Away? Not by a long shot. I simply pointed out issues that struck me intensely. Gary Thomas’s book has a lot more information and insight about how toxic people, unchecked, can damage us.

You may read and decide someone in your life isn’t toxic so much as difficult or that you can manage the situation by setting proper boundaries. Or you might realize that, like Jesus sometimes did, you need to walk away.

But wouldn’t you rather face the new year with new resolve to focus on God’s calling for you? Wouldn’t you rather spend your time building the marriage and/or the life God wants you to have?