Don’t Be a Jerk

Think about the last time you and your spouse had sex. How have you treated each other since? Did you affirm, build up, and act in a loving way, or were you selfish and lazy?

God designed you to live with integrity, courage, honor, joy, and kindness. If you strive to live that way, you will be romantic. Think about it. You love the person you’re with. Be trustworthy. Be thoughtful. Be silly. Show the love.

God delights in you when you live this way with him and with our spouse. When you improve your relationship with God, your spousal relationship also improves, and vice versa. Work on one relationship is work on the other.

Think of foreplay as everything that has happened between you and your spouse from the last time you had sex. Strive to always be in a time of sex or romance. Sleeping in bed next to each other and reaching over to touch your spouse when you wake for a moment can be a gentle romantic element of living foreplay. All the little interactions that build love also build romance.

Even when tough times come, being conscious of our attitude can help grow our romantic relationship.  Our 30-year-old daughter told her a boyfriend, “You know; I am a really difficult girlfriend.”

He said, “No you’re not.”

“Yes I am,” she said. “You don’t know.”

He said, “I do know. I’m just going to find you charming.”

When I heard that story, I realized that I almost always find Debby charming, even when I’m mad at her, and she almost always respects me even when I act dopey. In the end, we all want to know we are loved and respected.

So how do you build your relationship with your spouse? Start by not being a jerk. A jerk is selfish; he or she wants his or her own way and doesn’t care about the desires of others. As children, we are naturally selfish. We mature into giving and loving people, but the inner jerk remains in all of us. We need to fight our entire lives against our inner jerk.

Romantic gestures, like sending flowers or giving a compliment, do not counteract day-to-day jerkiness. Think of your relationship like a bank account. Every jerk activity withdraws capital. Every kind, loving, Fruit of the Spirit activity deposits capital. To have a strong relationship, you need to be conscious of that ledger.

Agape Love

You know about Agape love. Christ modeled the unconditional, generous, and kind love that no one deserves but everyone enjoys. In order to build and strengthen your relationship with your spouse, strive for agape love. Work to build it as often as you can.

Remember that agape love doesn’t take two. You can decide to love your spouse unconditionally and intensely, regardless of his or her behavior. You can love through anything if you choose to. But remember, don’t use agape love as a strategy to change your spouse’s behavior. If you do that, it’s not agape love; it’s manipulation behind a Christian mask.  Don’t do that.

Do you really believe Christ loves and accepts you, completely and unconditionally? Do you understand that nothing you do could make Christ love you any more or any less? The more you can believe that truth, the more you can live joyfully in the moment.

Believing in Christ’s Agape love helps us let go of worries about the past or future, and as we more fully accept God’s Agape love, we learn to love our spouse, our kids, our friends, and maybe even some of our enemies. As far as I can tell, that’s why we’re on this spinning rock.

Be Creative

Since I’m a planner, I often show my love to Debby by planning surprise vacations. It was sometimes just a quick overnight trip to a spa hotel or maybe a few days in the Caribbean. After her brother died in an accident, I took her on a surprise trip to Paris in attempt to ease her sadness. She didn’t find out where we were going until the airport security agent told her. Being creative with grand acts of love is one way I work to build my relationship with Debby.

You don’t have to copy what I did (though I am showing off a little). I want to encourage you to figure out what you could do to show your own unique love to your spouse in a creative and fun way. It starts with caring enough to make an effort. Remember, the opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s indifference.

Take time to think about what you love to do. Then think about what your spouse loves to do. Pray on it and God will lead you toward ways to show your love to your spouse.

One of God’s attributes is creativity. He made us in his image, so don’t try to claim you aren’t creative. You may be afraid of looking stupid; that’s not being uncreative, that’s being prideful. That’s the big sin to avoid. Making some mistakes while having fun seems more acceptable to God than sitting sour-faced and judging everyone else’s fun.[1]

Your life may have a routine, but it doesn’t need to be boring. Do some crazy stuff. Have fun. Get out of your comfort zone. Try new things and work to build up your marriage relationship.

[1] Luke 6:37-42 and John 8:1-8

Choose Your Response

If you aren’t in love with your spouse, you’re missing lots of joy. The thrill of romantic love brings out the best in us. It helps us become who we’re capable of being.

But sometimes I’m in a crabby or judgmental mood and wonder why I don’t have a spouse who treats me the way I deserve (which makes God either laugh or wince). Then I need to come up with strategies to change my stinking thinking.

For example,

1.     Strive to understand that we get to choose how we respond. If you haven’t read Man’s Search for Meaning lately, please do. [1] It will get your mind right.

2.     Remember your history. Remember how you fell in love. Recall the details and feelings you experienced. Let those history lessons inspire you to see your spouse with the old adoration.

3.     Understand that your current struggle can make your marriage stronger. View it as a test to pass rather than a punishment to endure.

Make the choice every day to love and respect your spouse, no matter the situation.

[1] Victor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning (Boston, MA, Beacon Press, 1992).

Don't Badmouth Your Spouse...Ever.

Don’t speak badly about your spouse. Off-handed remarks you make to others in attempt to be funny are often hurtful. Try to avoid even thinking badly about your spouse. What’s going on in your head will come out in your attitude, even if you don’t say the words. Remember most human communication is in body language and tone of voice, not actual spoken words.


Don’t let others (friends, siblings, parents) speak badly about your spouse either; don’t let them make you the martyr and your spouse the jerk. Be more courteous to your spouse than to any other human. Those little acts of kindness build substantial trust. The comfortable familiarity that follows is a great asset to your partnership. Protect it and expand upon it.

Lose Your Entitlements and Attachments

Nagging kills romance, so don’t do it. Learn to accept more and live more in the moment. Don’t get stuck in that unholy place of thinking you deserve better than what you have. If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll realize you are way more blessed than you deserve.

When that entitled feeling creeps into your mind, take a moment to think. Ask yourself, “Why do I feel like I deserve more?” Sometimes you’ll conclude that you are upset about how your spouse behaved in a particular situation. Other times, though, you’ll run right into unrealistic expectations. Name those entitlements so you can defeat them. The same goes for the attachment to the need to get your own way.

As we let go of our entitlements and attachments, we make ourselves more loving and lovable. Strive to become the best friend of your lover. What a powerful combination that can be! Think about whether or not you and your spouse are good friends. If you aren’t, why not? What do you need to accept and what do you need to change in yourself in order to become better friends? Work on the things that keep you from being good friends.

Don’t settle for less with your spouse. Don’t be content with simply staying married. Shoot for thrilling, romantic love. Nobody has it all the time, but strive for it always.  

When the Baggage Comes Undone

We all bring childhood or early life difficulties into our marriages. Recognizing the deep love your spouse has for you can go far in helping us resolve those struggles. On the other hand, we may get to a place in which our past traumas become overwhelming or terrifying.

Don’t expect your spouse to fix your past problems and issues for you. Seek professional counseling if you think it could help. View it as an investment in yourself and your marriage. Strive to understand and then move on.

If your spouse is struggling with past trauma, do what you can to support your spouse, but don’t try to take on the burden for your spouse. Encourage him or her to seek professional help and offer to participate if your presence would fortify him or her in that situation.

Working on your own issues with the support of your spouse can build and enhance your relationship.

When You Can't Compromise

As we strive to live and exemplify the Fruits of the Spirit, we become more generous to one another. This often means making compromises, but there are times when meeting halfway doesn’t work. We can’t have half a child or buy one and a half a car (well, maybe if the one’s a Mini-Cooper).

When compromise is impossible, we get the chance to live in the spirit of generosity. One of us will be happier than the other once the conflict is resolved. The happier partner should appreciate the gift and remember to live into the spirit of generosity in other uncompromising situations.

Tame the Tongue

Solomon warns us in Proverbs about the power of our words.[1] James makes it clear as well, and so does Jesus.[2] It comes down to a simple rule: “Don’t say that mean thing that every part of you wants to say, even if you believe with your entire being that what you want to say is true.”

If I want to say something critical, I don’t. If I’ve thought about the issue in depth and really don’t want to say the critical thing, then maybe I should, but even then, I try to avoid saying it. I don’t need to say it if I know, deep down, my spouse already knows it. Criticism kills intimacy. Recognize the power of your words and avoid criticizing whenever you can.

[1] Proverbs 21:23, Proverbs 15:1, Proverbs 12:18, Proverbs 18:21, Proverbs 15:4, Proverbs 10:19, and so many more.

[2] James 3:2-10 and James 1:26; Matthew 12:33-37

Learn the Love Languages

Do you ever think about all the ways you can show your love to your spouse? In his book, The Five Love Languages, Gary Chapman examines that concept and illustrates five different ways to show your love:

●      Words of Affirmation

●      Quality Time

●      Gifts

●      Acts of Service

●      Physical Touch[1]

When we learn our Love Languages, we gain a useful tool for understanding ourselves and others.

Gary Chapman spent years working with couples who were trying to save or improve their marriages. As he struggled to help, he discovered, again and again, the deep emotional need for love we all have. As couples shared their secret pain, he would hear things like, “Our love is gone; our relationship is dead,” and “We used to feel close, but not now,” and “We no longer enjoy being with each other,” and “We don’t meet each other’s needs.” Husbands and wives had often tried to meet each other’s emotional needs, but they were not very successful. It sometimes seemed as though one spouse spoke Greek and the other spoke Russian.

Chapman then developed the concept of the five Love Languages. Stated simply, most of us tend to show our love and seek love in one or more of the five ways listed above. One of those ways will be most significant to us—our primary Love Language. Our most intimate relationships (with our spouse, parents, children, close friends, etc.) will be greatly improved if we understand our own and our loved one’s primary love language.

A person whose primary love language is Words of Affirmation seeks verbal affirmation. They need to be told they are appreciated. They need to hear things like, “Thanks for cleaning up the dinner dishes,” or “I really am glad you took the time to come to my ball game.” Complimentary, kind, and loving words matter to a person whose primary Love Language is Words of Affirmation. These words really register and make an impact. Conversely, someone whose lowest Love Language is Words of Affirmation will often disregard such statements or assume the words are said in order to manipulate them. As you can imagine, saying hurtful things to Words of Affirmation people hurts them more than you can imagine.

Quality Time is the primary Love Language of those who measure love in time spent. A person whose primary Love Language is Quality Time simply needs to spend good, focused time with the people they love. The cry for help from these people will sound like, “We never do anything together,” or “You are always too busy with the kids (or your work) to pay attention to me.” A Quality Time person will appreciate a date night sitting together in front of the fireplace. On the other hand, someone for whom Quality Time is their lowest Love Language will think of such an evening as, “Well we didn’t really do anything; we just sat around.”

We all know someone who has giving and receiving Gifts as their primary Love Language. These people are the ones who show up with a present and never miss a gift-giving opportunity. The person with Gifts as their primary Love Language feels special when he or she gives or receives gifts. It is not the size of the gift that matters; the sentiment behind the gift illustrates the love. A person for whom Gifts is the lowest Love Language tends to see gifts as manipulation.

The Love Language of Acts of Service involves doing things for others. Washing the dishes, changing the baby’s diaper or a burned out light bulb, mowing the lawn, or making a special meal are all examples of Acts of Service. Someone with this primary Love Language, feels truly loved when his or her spouse puts forth the effort to perform helpful tasks. On the other hand, a person for whom Acts of Service is the lowest Love Language may tend to see all that activity as avoidance of the real issues.

 Having Physical Touch as your main Love Language means you desire physical contact with a loved one. A Physical Touch person will value holding hands, hugs, playful punches on the arm, and other physical contact. A handshake is significant to this person, as is sexual intercourse (an amped up version of the handshake?). A Physical Touch person will place high value on any type of touch and physical contact. Those for whom Physical Touch as one of their lowest Love Languages tend to see physical contact as insignificant. A Physical Touch person who has suffered past abuse or rape will struggle to trust anyone due to this heightened violation. As I stated before, a skilled counselor can help here.

To illustrate the usefulness of knowing your Love Language, imagine a husband (Bill) and wife (Naomi) who are struggling in their marriage. Bill feels like he puts forth the bulk of the effort to keep the marriage going and resents Naomi for not trying harder. Naomi also believes she puts most of the energy into their relationship and is angry at Bill for not noticing. Bill works all day at a telephone company and then comes home to mow the lawn, pull weeds, pick up the kids’ toys, do the laundry, wash the dishes, and coach a softball team. At the end of one of these busy days, when he feels a little frisky, Naomi rebuffs his romantic advances. Bill lies in bed and seethes, wondering why Naomi appreciates him so little and has become such a selfish witch (or sentiments to that effect).

Naomi, on the other hand, stays home with the three children in the mornings and works as a waitress during lunch and dinner. She tries to be a good mother by reading to each child and spending time with them; she does the bulk of the housework and she waitresses to bring in extra money. Naomi enjoys the waitressing because her regular customers tell her how wonderful she is, which she rarely hears at home any more. She falls into bed at night, physically and emotionally exhausted, and then Bill pouts when she does not feel like having sex. She wonders how she married such an insensitive dolt.

Do you see the Love Language clues in this scenario? They are right out there in the open, just as they are in most relationships. Bill’s primary Love Language is Acts of Service with Physical Touch a close second. Gifts is in third place, while Words of Affirmation and Quality Time are last. Bill does things other women complain their husbands never do. Bill feels that he puts forth so much effort and is not appreciated by Naomi, and he feels particularly upset about this issue at bedtime.

Naomi’s primary Love Languages are Quality Time and Words of Affirmation. Physical Touch, Acts of Service, and Gifts are not especially important to Naomi. When Bill comes home from work and rushes right out to mow the lawn or throws in a load of laundry, Naomi wishes he would just sit down with her and talk about the day. Naomi knows she should appreciate all the work Bill does, but instead she finds herself resenting the work and Bill. Then she feels guilty. She knows they are growing apart, and it scares her.

Like many married couples, Bill and Naomi have different Love Languages. If they don’t address the issue, they will probably continue to drift apart. Perhaps Bill will find temporary comfort in the arms of a co-worker or a softball team mom, and their marriage will go down in flames. Perhaps nothing dramatic will happen, but their sense of love and closeness will just fizzle away to nothing. However, Bill and Naomi could decide to take action and turn their marriage around.

When Bill realizes that time and encouraging words truly matter to Naomi, he will begin to see that sitting and talking with her or giving her a compliment is an act of service and not as a waste of precious time. These efforts on Bill’s part will be emotionally rewarding for both of them. Naomi will hear the Love Language she understands, and Bill will see the effort as an act of service, a Love Language he relates to.

Naomi will strive to do little extra things for Bill that she knows he appreciates. She may still get more compliments as a waitress than she gets at home, but she knows Bill is trying, and that helps her feel loved. Their love-making will improve as their love grows and this aspect of their marriage will motivate Bill more than Naomi can ever imagine. Understanding and using the Love Language concept can help produce strong, happy, enduring relationships.

In reviewing this concept, our niece Wendy became intrigued with the Love Languages and decided to try it. Her husband had a week of vacation during which he planned to get some things done around their house. Wendy correctly guessed that Words of Affirmation was her husband’s primary Love Language, though they were not that important to her. Wendy spoke encouraging words to Steve each day when opportunities presented themselves.

After only a few days, Steve told her how much he appreciated Wendy’s encouraging words. As a couple, they had nourished their love. A strong marriage just grew a little stronger.      

If you want to learn to use the love languages, sit down with the list above and think about what your own Love Languages might be. Write them in order and do the same for your spouse. Try listing the Love Languages of a few other folks as well—kids, parents, siblings, etc. Keep that list. Over the next few days, try to see those people through the lens of Love Languages. Learn to spot instances of high value and low value Love Languages. Try to put this knowledge into action. Keep trying.

Use the Love Languages to continue growing in your marriage.

[1] Gary Chapman, The Five Love Languages (Chicago: Northfield Pub., 2010).