Category Archives: Marriage – General

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?

Resolution Week: What's Your "One Word" for Your Marriage?

I’m declaring it Resolution Week here on Hot, Holy & Humorous, and after a bit of break over the holidays, I’ll be churning five posts this week! All on making resolutions, goals, or attitude shifts—however you want to look at it—to improve your marriage and the sexual intimacy within it.

A few years back, someone concocted the idea of choosing a single word as your “word of the year” that would guide your goals and attitude. For the past few years, I’ve selected a word of the year. This practice has yielded varied results, with me sometimes feeling very focused by the word and other times forgetting what word I chose altogether.

My One Word for 2020

After mulling for a while about my one word for 2020, I’ve chosen PROMISE.

Frankly, I had a couple of other words floated around in my head until yesterday morning when I was at church. I saw the word promise somewhere, and it jumped out at me. Maybe that’s a God-thing—I like to think it is—or maybe the word just appeals to me. Yet promise conveys my desire to be a person who keeps my word, who relies on God’s promises to me, and who feels hopeful about the future, believing it is indeed filled with promise.

Of course, the word PROMISE has extensive implications for my marriage. I made a promise to my husband 27 years ago, or rather a bundle of promises. We call that wedding script our marriage “vows” for a reason. How have I done fulfilling them? What can I do better?

Regarding our sexual intimacy, doesn’t marriage involve the promise of physical exclusivity, connection, intentionality, desire, and even passion? Whether we know it all at the time, when we say, “I do,” we’re also saying, “I do you.” How’s that going in my marriage?

Whether we know it all at the time, when we say, "I do," we're also saying, "I do you." How's that going in my #marriage? @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet

Promises to Keep

Maybe I’ve got you thinking about how well you’ve kept your promises in your marriage and whether you need to make some new promises for the sexual intimacy with your spouse. For example, do you need to make any of these vows to your beloved?

  • I promise to visit the doctor to see why my sexual interest and/or sexual function isn’t what it should be.
  • I promise to seek help for my porn habit and knock this out of my life once and for all.
  • I promise to give you a rain check if I’m not feeling up to having sex when you initiate. (And I promise not renege on the rain check.)
  • I promise to try something new in the bedroom, to stretch my comfort zone just a little.
  • I promise to prioritize my health so we can be more active in our sex life.
  • I promise to turn on the lights, at least low lighting, so you can see my body.
  • I promise to stop pressuring you about sex.
  • I promise to initiate sex more often.
  • I promise to go through a book about sex in marriage with you.

Of course, promises aren’t worth much unless you keep them.

I once did an extensively study of the Bible, looking for scriptures about trusting others, and you can’t find much on that. God is very concerned that we trust Him, but as for one another, most verses don’t focus on trusting others but rather being trustworthy. Trustworthy people keep their promises.

Or at least do their best. We will let one another down, since we’re not perfect like our Heavenly Father, but we can try to be trustworthy. We can try to be a person of our word.

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My Word Isn’t Your Word

But speaking of words, my word of the year likely isn’t your word. Don’t just copy mine. Rather, figure out where you need to focus right now in your life.

If you hate New Year’s resolutions, don’t think of it as coordinating with this moment in time, but rather this spot in your spiritual and/or relational journey. Where are you in your marriage and with your sexual intimacy? What areas need your attention?

Here are some of the words I’ve recently heard from others. Perhaps something here will strike you.

Healing
Restoration
Forgiveness
Hope
Persevere

Encourage
Joyful
Compassion
Trust
Change

Passion
Prioritize
Margin
Closer
Growth

You can also find numerous blog posts and sites with one-word ideas, such as this one, this one, this one, or even this quiz from DaySpring.

Personal One Word vs. Marriage One Word

But even if you choose a word for yourself, is that the same word you should have for your marriage? Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.

Whether aligned with the New Year or not, it’s a good practice to periodically sit with your spouse, preferably away from the stresses of work or home, and discuss where your relationship is and where you want it to go. What do each of you see as positives? And where do you see areas for improvement?

What one word sums up what you both want for your marriage bed? Here are a few ideas to get you brainstorming the answer to that question:

Priorities
Purity
Prayer
Unity

Health
Wholeness
Renewal
Peace

Passion
Spice
Selflessness
Trust

Promises Kept

And now I’m back to my word for the year! Because if you do talk this out and come up with a word, don’t just make it a nice exercise you did around January. Rather, make it more like a vow to one another. For instance:

  • “This year, we will mutually pursue PURITY, by making our home porn and erotica-free, by focusing our thoughts solely on one another, by embracing that sex in marriage is a pure act of love blessed by God.”
  • “This year, we will mutually prioritize PRAYER, by making a goal of praying together at least once each day, by praying for one another, and by praying before, during, or after sex to invite God into our one-flesh relationship.””This year, we will foster TRUST, by confessing where we have failed one another, extending forgiveness and working on repentance, being open and vulnerable, and by treating one another’s bodies with gentleness and respect.”

What area of your marriage and sexuality needs your attention right now? What’s your marriage’s one word?

10 Takeaways from the Spark Marriage Conference

Whether your marriage is on the brink of divorce or humming along pretty well, it’s worth reading books, taking classes, or attending conferences and retreats on marriage. In the years when things were terrible in my marriage, such resources kept my head above water and my commitment firm. Now, they help us fine-tune our marriage machine.

Last Friday evening and Saturday, Spock and I attended the Spark Marriage Conference hosted by Lakewood Church.* I was particularly interested in this one because Emerson Eggerichs was a keynote speaker, and I had recently reviewed and written about his Love & Respect book.

Since I doubt you were there, here are my top ten takeaways from the Spark Marriage Conference.

1. People are hungry for marriage education and encouragement.

Lakewood’s a big church, so a large attendance isn’t surprising. But as I looked over the crowd, I realized I’ve never been to a poorly attended marriage class or event, as long it was publicized enough for couples to know about it. Marriage books do well in bookstores, marriage ministries are popular, and online marriage advice is voraciously consumed.

People want to know how make their marriages stay together and be better. But instead of letting them wander around grasping at advice here and there, let’s introduce all those hungering people to God, the ultimate relationship expert. And those of us who know Him, let’s learn His design, study His ways, ask for His guidance.

People want to know how make their marriages stay together and be better. Christians, let's introduce all those hungering people to God, the ultimate relationship expert. @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet

2. Yes, Christians can publicly talk about sex.

Of course, if I didn’t believe that, my ministry would be over tomorrow. But I’ve heard from a lot of people through the years saying church leaders never mention sex. Yet with all those people in attendance, author and speaker DeVon Franklin addressed conflict over sexual intimacy in marriage: “In my experience, sometimes there’s a difference in sex drive.” No one freaked out; in fact, they clearly agreed.

Then DeVon shared what he learned about how his behavior contributed to the mismatch of desire in his marriage. As he said, “if I’m not transparent, we can’t get transformed.” That’s what I believe so many Christian couples ache for: transparency about sexual intimacy challenges and how we can best address them in godly and realistic ways.

So many Christian couples ache for transparency about sexual intimacy challenges and how we can best address them in godly and realistic ways. @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet

3. Our marriages don’t always turn out as expected.

Sometimes I think I’m a strong person, and then I come across people like Jay and Katherine Wolf. They told their compelling story of heartache, loss, and struggle, as well as God’s presence in their darkest moments. Here’s just a snippet of what they went through:

Katherine Wolf’s vivacity was palpable, despite telling her story from a wheelchair that her husband had pushed onto the stage. But she was authentic in reminding us that our marriages can face trials we never anticipated and can only get through with the strength of Christ.

4. Let’s get real: Lots of us screwed up.

It was refreshing to hear comedy team Richard and Sheri Bright talk about their sordid past and coming to Christ. They did so in a humorous way, like admitting they’d been married for 40 years…if you count all their marriages together. The Brights were not Christians when they met and married, but came to Jesus two years after “shacking up” and fighting so much that he once screwed the front door shut so she couldn’t get in. They showed courage in sharing their past sin and what they went through to build a better relationship.

Likewise, a few years ago, I started to raise my hand in Bible class and confess that sometimes this Christian life ain’t so easy-peasy. Rather than getting flak for admitting I’m not a squeaky-clean church member, others acknowledged their own baggage and current struggles. We’ve got to let people in our midst confess we haven’t arrived, we all need a Savior, and sometimes our marriages are a mess.

5. God can reshape our lives into something beautiful.

Piggybacking on the last two points, my marriage and my life took detours from where I should have been or wanted to be. But I was reminded that whatever we go through, wherever we are, God can bring goodness into our lives…if we surrender to the Potter’s hands.

Illustrating this point, DeVon Franklin referenced Jeremiah 18:1-6, which reads:

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.

Then the word of the Lord came to me. He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.

So your marriage didn’t turn out like you thought. God can still mold it into something beautiful. How is God wanting to reshape your marriage? How is He longing to reshape you as a spouse?

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6. We’re all still a work in progress.

Speaking of confessions, Spock and I argued…on the way to a marriage conference. Oh, the irony! Saturday morning, we drove from our side of town through busy Houston traffic to reach the event’s location. For most of the way, Google Maps was our guide. But the app didn’t tell us where the right parking garage was. I instructed my husband to turn right, he turned at the wrong right, and the next thing I knew we were blaming each other for the mistake. *facepalm*

If you’ve got marriage all figured out and never have any conflict, fantastic for you! And also, why are you here reading my blog? Or any marriage blog? Why aren’t writing The Definitive Marriage Guide, or How I Got My Spouse to Accept How Perfect I Am? For the rest of us, yeah, we’re going to mess up. We know it, our Father knows it. We just have to be willing to admit it when it happens. Sure enough, Spock and I apologized to one another and made up. It’s all good now.

7. Repentance and forgiveness go hand in hand.

Spock and I were both sorry for the spat we had on the way to the marriage conference. So it was easy to forgive. But something did happen at the conference that bugged me, and my disagreement with it is one of the takeaways. During one prayer, the leader prayed for those who had experienced affairs. I didn’t record what was said, but this is a loose rendering: “For those in marriages impacted by adultery, we pray that the spouse who did not participate in the affair will forgive. Help them, Father, to forgive and not let that fester in their marriage.”

Look, I’m in favor of forgiveness! But too often, we have shifted the burden of an affair or other betrayal in marriage to the other spouse needing to forgive. As if that is The Thing that creates a barrier to healing. Why wasn’t more time dedicated to praying the adulterer would come completely clean, ask for forgiveness, seek reconciliation, avoid temptation, find accountability? When we own where we’ve gone wrong in our marriage, that paves the way for forgiveness and restoration. Let’s pray for that.

8. Check generalizations about marriage with your own spouse.

I’ve talked about the trouble of stereotypes in marriage books, and I was thrilled to hear Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn, the authors of For Women Only and For Men Only, begin their talk with a caveat: Whenever they report what men and women said, you should ask your own spouse, “Is this true?” The Feldhahns pointed out if they say 75% of men feel X, by definition that means 25% of men didn’t feel X. And the same for their research on women.

We’ve found this to be so true in our own marriage. For instance, we fit some stereotypes—like I’m more auditory, he’s more visual; I’m more emotional, he’s more logical; I’m more talkative, he’s on a restrictive word diet. But we go against generalizations in other ways, like I’m the higher-drive spouse and, if I had to choose, I’d rather be respected than loved. Whatever you learn about gender and marriage, even here on my blog, don’t just assume it represents your spouse perfectly. Ask if it’s true for them.

Whatever you learn about gender and marriage, even here on my blog, don't just assume it represents your spouse perfectly. Ask if it's true for them. @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet

9. Marriage insight should never be used to force your way.

Yep, one of the reasons I attended the Spark Marriage Conference was to hear what Emerson Eggerichs is saying in person these days. While I still have a couple of issues with things he said, it was rather balanced in addressing both men and women (reinforcing my belief that Eggerichs should update Love & Respect with a new edition). It was particularly refreshing, however, to hear him state very clearly that the perspective he shares about men and women should never be used as a club against your spouse.

Eggerichs reiterated that if you stomp all over your spouse’s need (love or respect) to get your need met (respect or love), you’ve missed the whole point. The goal should be not getting what you deserve from your spouse but discovering what you can give them—how you can meet your mate’s emotional need. Yes, you can explain yourself, but demands and abuse are not in line with God’s view of marriage.

Side note: I cringe when a husband writes me and says he keeps forwarding my articles to his wife in a forceful attempt to get more sex. Please don’t use my materials as a cattle prod to push your spouse into giving you what you want. Invite them into the conversation and then listen and love.

10. Shaunti Feldhahn agreed to be on our podcast!

I really enjoyed hearing from Jeff and Shaunti Feldhahn, who presented their research findings and marriage insight with authenticity and encouragement. What they shared was great for launching Is this true for you? conversations with your mate. But before yesterday, I was already a fan, having read many of Shaunti’s books. In fact, the book table only had one book I hadn’t read, so I bought it to be signed by her.

And while I had the chance, I mentioned our podcast, Sex Chat for Christian Wives, and she joyously agreed to come on sometime! I don’t know when that will be, but make sure you’re subscribed to us on iTunes, Stitcher, or whatever podcast app you use (I use Pocket Casts) and/or follow our blog.

Got any questions for me about the conference?

*Lakewood Church is the home of Joel Osteen ministries. I’m not a fan of Osteen and disagree with his prosperity gospel, but I was impressed by how much Scripture and prayer were shared during the conference and the church seems to have an active marriage ministry.