This one is for you. The man and the woman who’d die for each other but still somehow feel alone with everything. The couple gazing with adoring eyes in public and walking on eggshells at home. The two who feel so embarrassed trying to talk about what hurts because it’s not that there’s anything wrong, exactly... I mean, life is good and all... you love each other... you really are blessed. These things shouldn’t get to you. You know better. You’re both trying. He doesn’t want to hurt her feelings. She doesn’t want to make him feel bad. They’ve been through so much for each other. They’ve weathered the storms. She feels like she must be such a burden to him. And he can’t bear to see her cry.
Comparatively speaking, their marriage is so much happier and healthier and stronger than most. They see this and recognize this and rejoice in this almost every day. So why does he feel like he can’t do anything right? How come she still cries herself to sleep without letting him know? Why are you reading these words in dead silence, afraid to look at your partner in case you see the resonance in each other’s eyes?
It’s okay. These truths can exist concurrently. Admitting the one does not diminish the other. You know your husband can be a real jerk sometimes. You know there are times your wife is a huge pain in the you-know-what. Denying that reality does nothing for the sanctity of your marriage. In fact, between the two of you, acknowledging the unlovely can become a winsome new source of fondness and solidarity. Think of the affirming faithfulness behind a statement like “You are really pissing me off right now; I love you.”
That’s the kind of statement God makes to us all over Scripture. “‘For I am faithful,’ declares the Lord, ‘I will not be angry forever’” (Jeremiah 3:12b). He loves us through it. He doesn’t make any pretense about how much it hurts Him, either. In His Word, in His love letter to us, God tells us exactly how much we betray Him, ignore Him, grieve Him, neglect Him, and disappoint Him. In graphic terms, the Lord describes His people as a prostitute wife (Hosea)—a devastating contrast to the idealistic bride of purity He had envisioned (Jeremiah 2). And we get upset about our expectations being unmet?
God does not walk on eggshells or talk around the issue or change the subject. He confronts us squarely with the cost of His love for us. He tells us exactly how much it hurts Him to stay faithful to us through our transgressions. Our Almighty God is willing to make Himself vulnerable to us in order to turn our hearts to His. So can’t we bring ourselves to speak up in our most intimate human relationships? Are our egos so fragile? Are our hearts so hard?
If we’re brave, we can start to admit the answer is yes.
If you're already recoiling and saying, "That's bull$#!%!" then hey—I'm talking to you, girlfriend. "But he this and he that and he never and I always!" Yeah... I know. That's not the point. The point is we could stand to tell him less and hear him more. And I know the suggestion of letting men speak without interruption tends to incite eye-rolling or outright disgust. We women, we’re often quick to correct and first to argue. It's in our nature to teach and to influence. But all strengths become weaknesses when over-used or used improperly.
There's a reason wives are asked repeatedly in Scripture to "submit" to husbands... the reason is marriage calls us into mutual submission as an expression of our submission to Christ, and we women don't tend to do that "submission" thing very well. It makes us angry. Because we want to be in charge. And in marriage, that's a weakness.
The problem is not that men and women aren’t telling each other what they need (and no, it’s not all about sex). The problem is that we're not submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21); we're still struggling over whose needs are going to be in control of the relationship (Genesis 3:16).
In relationship advice columns, controlling behaviors are often referred to as "mistakes." Now, I think we all know what a mistake is—an accident; an involuntary mishap. Another place where the word mistake enters the vernacular is wherever we’d rather not use the word sin. That’s a pretty harsh word, after all... an offensive word. It suggests we’ve done something wrong, and we don’t like that. We’d rather shift the blame somewhere else, so someone else is doing something wrong instead. We give ourselves a free pass: “I made a mistake; I couldn’t help it.” We give in to temptation and claim we couldn’t resist, instead of confessing that we chose not to resist.
Listen, ladies and gentlemen... we’re going to stop absolving ourselves of responsibility here. We’re going to call a sin a sin. We’re going to start considering the ways the Curse continues to rear its ugly head in our relationships today. When we recognize the Curse, we can overcome in Christ.
The battle of the sexes began way back in the Garden, and we almost always skew the conversation to the plight of Eve without appreciating the loss to Adam. There is no winner in the power struggle; when either side plays the victim, it's a lose-lose. But it’s scary to let down our guard and admit we’ve been wrong. “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21) still sounds an awful lot like one of us will have to go first. In relationships scarred by sin and betrayal, allowing my husband to be a leader in my life is as risky for me as it is for him to allow me to be a partner in his.
This is not meant to be a comfortable exercise, and that’s okay. When we’re willing to be okay with feeling uncomfortable, we can learn to let go and give up control—we can do life in God’s power, instead of our own power. We can let ourselves be open and vulnerable and honest in the ways our hearts are crying out to each other.
First of all, ladies, we’re going to let our men be heard. I know that alone is enough to offend some of you—you’re already rolling your eyes and shaking your head. “Why would I listen to my husband? He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
At the same time, gentlemen, we’re going to be vulnerable with your women. I understand if you’re laughing this off and looking around for the exit door right about now. “Why bother trying to talk to my wife? She’ll just tell me I’m wrong.”
Listen... let’s stop blaming everything on each other and start taking a fair and honest look at ourselves. It’s time we get smart about prayer, humble our pride before the Lord, and ask Him to do some serious work on us.
Also time after time, in Scripture, God chides His bride for her hardened heart—the blindness and self-deception that block His perfect love from filling His people, the Church, and making us whole. Interestingly, women are more likely than men to justify and defend their behaviors, rather than concede an argument. The unfaithful Israel is characterized as a cruel and wayward bride, stubbornly oblivious of her husband's tender infatuation with her. Now, why would the inspired Word of God use that particular analogy to express His heartbreak over His unfaithful people, if the analogy weren't so immediately recognizable in our human context?
Marriage brings together fragile egos and hardened hearts. In a hundred nameless ways, we are all marked by the Curse—in marriage, in community, in leadership, in faith. In Christ, we are freed to overcome the Curse, but so many of us keep right on fighting each other like we don’t know that. In the beginning, God gave us as a gift to one another, asking us to care for each other and nurture each other in His stead, like the Garden we were meant to tend. But our fallen world treats marriage like a battlefield, instead of a training ground for holiness and grace.
Is it worth it? Are the tears and frustrations and exhaustion worth the fight? Men don’t need another woman to cut them down. Women don’t need another man to put them in their place. We’ve all been through enough of that already. What we desire—what we want and seek and crave, without often knowing how to do it ourselves—is to build each other up and edify our mutual value. Instead of criticizing, arguing, ignoring, and pulling away, let's grab on to each other, drop to our knees, and pray the power of Jesus Christ to expose our egos and soften our hearts.
Is there anything more threatening to a man’s fragile ego, more shut off by a wife’s hardened heart, than the vulnerability it takes to pray together? Ever wonder what exactly we’re so afraid we’ll hear about ourselves?
Opening up that can of vulnerabilities means admitting we can be hurt—that we do experience the longings we’ve bitterly denied, that we do disappoint each other more often than we can count. If I hear your needs, then I have to hear my inadequacies. And it burns our pride to the core of our being to admit the other half might be right—especially if we know we're just as wrong. So men keep guarding fragile egos, and women keep justifying hardened hearts.
What is it about us that recoils so defensively from our places of truth? Why was the first instinct of Adam and Eve after the Fall to cover themselves up in shame? Are we just hiding from each other those things we can’t even face with our Creator? When the Spirit of God convicts us in our sin, do we pull away or pout or blow up or accuse Him of being too sensitive? Do we hear His compassion and allow Him to work in us? Do we admit when we’re wrong and ask forgiveness, or do we build up resentments? Do we repent and reach for His grace, or do we tell Him He’s wrong for feeling that way and He should just get over it?
If God can speak the truth to us in love, in His Spirit of reconciliation, can we allow the Spirit to speak tenderly to us through our spouses in the midst of tension and distance? Can we see through His eyes to see the hurt we cause one another when we least intend to? Is his ego too fragile to see her sadness? Is her heart too hard to hear his longing? Have we hurt too many times to reach out again? Have the small, insignificant moments—the moments we thought weren’t important enough; the moments we thought we could brush aside or overlook—added up over time? Have all the little slights and disappointments and exasperations and rejections become a weight too heavy, dragging against our longing to touch and be touched, physically and emotionally and spiritually?
Can we brave to be vulnerable enough with God to let love bring us back into places of innocence? Can we find Eden in marriage beds marked by the Curse? Or are we missing the point—longing for what was lost in the Garden instead of embracing what we’ve been given in Christ?
So do it. Break the seal. Seriously. It doesn’t have to be all weird and awkward. Even if it is all weird and awkward, the right thing will still get done for the right reasons. Just turn to your spouse and say, “Hey, I’m reading this thing, and this lady wants us to read these prayers out loud for each other and our marriage. Can we take two minutes to do this and see what happens?”
More than likely, the answer will be something like a “Yeah, sure” or “Um... okay?” And if that’s the answer, then that's good enough to scoot your butt right on over, get up close to share your smartphone screen, and hear the one you love offering up these words to the Lord...
Heavenly Father, I thank you for the woman You have put here with me. I know that she is a treasure to You, made with Your hands and shaped by Your grace. I am humbled that You have entrusted her to me and that You have made me worthy of love. Please, Lord, help me to cherish her in gentleness as Your strength keeps us unbreakable. I pray, as my wife carries so many private burdens and cares through the day, that You will protect her joy and keep her pure in Your sight. You have made her a vessel for Your wisdom, and I pray that Your Word assures her of her value in a world that is constantly telling her she is not enough. Help me to be her ally, and help me to hear her heart. Let our marriage be a safe place for her to soften without fear. Please, Lord, make our marriage a sanctuary for us both, a holy refuge for us to come to You together in our wounds and weaknesses and be healed as one body. Let our faith in You become the ground upon which we stand against attack. I pray that You will grow our love for each other as an expression of our love for You, Jesus, by the grace of Your saving sacrifice. Amen.
Dear Lord, I thank You for my husband's protection and fierce loyalty and warrior's heart. I know this man sacrifices at great cost, Lord. Help me to walk alongside him, steadfast in You, and trust in his direction as a man guided by You. Let my husband be a man defined by His love for You, a man who is respected in his work, his community, and his home. Help me to be an encourager in our times of uncertainty. Soften my heart with Your compassion for our failings. Help my husband admit that he needs You. Lord, please take away from me the critical tongue or haughty eye that blocks vulnerabilities between us. I pray that You help me to be a woman of dignity, a woman of Christ, a woman whose husband has full confidence. Take away the coverings that keep us from viewing each other without shame. Help me speak truth as a partner in our life. Help me hear the longings of his heart and respond in Your grace. In our quiet moments, help us to reach to You in reverence and praise. We pray these things by Your sacrifice for us, Lord, and I pray Your sacrifice will be in us as we seek to love You by submitting to one another. Amen.