June 18, 2014

June 2, 2014

Who is the Mature One?

I often challenge couples by saying, “The mature one goes first.” 

It is much easier to sit back and say, “Well Emerson, I would be more loving if my wife was more respectful!” Or, “Why should I show my husband respect when he is treating me in an unloving way?”  

Of course it is easier to be obedient to God in our marriage when our husband or wife is also being obedient. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.

So who goes first?

My answer:  the mature one.

How do you know if you are the mature one? Let me put it this way.  I can tell you if you are the immature one.

The immature person uses this information not to change themselves, but to try to change their spouse. Their whole mindset is to get their spouse to be more loving or respectful rather than trying to be more loving or respectful themselves. They do not believe that they have the power to influence their spouse, but instead see their spouse as having all the power to influence them. Therefore they must change their spouse in order to be happy.

The immature person lacks obedience to God's commands. Instead their mission is to get their spouse to obey God's command toward them. Bottom line, the Lord will not honor that and a spouse is not going to respond to that any more than if the roles were reversed.

The mature person, on the other hand, will do their part to improve the marriage, even if it means putting their own feelings aside. They will choose obedience to God’s commands over their own feelings and over their circumstances.  That’s because they understand the nature of God:  He is a good God, whose commands are given to help us, not to harm us.

Let me also add that the mature one does not tell their disobedient spouse that they are immature. Nor do they throw it around that they are doing all of these loving or respectful things because of their maturity. That would be immature – and counterproductive! Shaming or condemning your spouse for their immaturity is really a reflection of your own immaturity. The mature spouse displays their loving or respectful actions with a humble heart.

Which are you in your relationship?  The mature one – or the immature one?
If you have hesitated to step out in faith and honor God in your marriage, trust His word and His character. Trust that He would not ask you to do something foolish. He is too wise for that. Be the mature one and make the first loving or respectful move. It could change everything!

May 26, 2014


Photo Credit: Branden Harvey
We don’t hear too much about submission anymore. And if we do, it’s usually a command to the wife, to submit to her husband. Still, this is considered a bit archaic in today’s modern culture.

Submit to one another.

But what does the Bible say? Before the section on marriage in Ephesians 5, we read in verse 21, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

So should a husband submit to his wife? Yes. He submits to his wife’s need to feel loved. I take this position by combining God’s command in Ephesians 5:21 to mutually submit, with God’s command in Ephesians 5:25-31 to a husband to love his wife.

Juxtaposition, a wife submits to her husband's need to feel respected. I take this position by combining God's command in Ephesians 5:22-24 to a wife submitting to her husband, with God's command in Ephesians 5:33 to a wife to respect her husband.

Submit during conflict…really?!

Research reveals that during marital conflict a husband most often reacts when feeling disrespected and a wife reacts when feeling unloved.

We asked 7,000 people this question: When you are in a conflict with your spouse or significant other, do you feel unloved or disrespected? 83% of the men said "disrespected." 72% of the women said "unloved."

Though we all need love and respect equally, the felt need differs during conflict.

What might happen if we submitted to one another’s “felt need” during a heated argument? What would that even look like?

I think we know what it wouldn’t look like.

It wouldn’t look like name-calling or yelling derogatory insults. It wouldn’t look like letting our anger get out of control at the expense of our spouse. And it wouldn’t look like “winning at all cost”!

Keeping in mind our survey, if 83% of the men are feeling disrespected during conflict with their wives, then a wife submitting to his felt need during conflict would mean getting her point across respectfully, rather than with contempt and insults.

And if 72% of the wives are feeling unloved during conflict with their husbands, then a husband submitting to his wife’s need to feel loved during the conflict would mean communicating his points lovingly, not with harshness and anger.

Don’t submit when…

But let me also be clear about when not to submit. The Bible never instructs us to submit to sin. When there is sin and disobedience, a spouse must respectfully and lovingly confront the sin. To look the other way or to ignore the sin in the name of “submission” is wrong, and actually condones and enables the sin to continue. Ephesians5:11 says we are to have nothing to do with deeds of darkness, but must expose them.

The key is to confront lovingly and respectfully rather than with anger and contempt.

Does God really call a husband to submit to his wife?

Yes. Peter says in 3:1, “In the same way, you wives, be submissive." Then, and this is the clincher, he writes in 3:7, “You husbands in the same way.”

To what does he refer when writing “you husbands in the same way?” In the same way that wives submit, you husbands submit. Specifically, in this text a husband submits to his wife’s need to be understood and honored.

It gets even better. When a husband submits this way, God answers the man’s prayers (3:7). Talk about favor!

Husbands, he favors you when you submit to your wife’s need for love, understanding, and honor. Don’t let this frighten you. Instead, try this and watch God show up. You do not lose power but experience power!

You will not lose power.

In the same way, wives will not lose power when they submit to their husband’s need for respect. In fact, unconditional respect is a wife’s secret to power and influence in her marriage.

Thus, submission is defined as respect from the wife to the husband (especially when she's feeling unloved) and love from the husband to the wife (especially when he is feeling disrespected). We submit to God and to our spouse in a way that is contrary to our nature but which empowers us with benevolent influence.

Husband and wife, will you submit to one another out of reverence for Christ?

The marriage that is based on mutual submission will experience God’s power!


May 19, 2014

What To Do When Your Marriage Doesn't Work

Photo Credit: Brook Mosser
I hear often from discouraged husbands and wives who say their marriage simply does not work. They feel they have tried everything – even love and respect – and it didn't work. They are ready to give up.

If this describes you, are you willing to try a new approach

But my spouse doesn't respond!

What is your worst fear in marriage? Is it that you will do all you can to love and respect unconditionally but your spouse will not respond? If so, you are not alone in that fear. After all, it takes two, right? And if your spouse has already given up, there is nothing left to do.

Technically, that may be true. If one partner has determined in their heart that nothing…NOTHING…is going to change his/her mind and they are hell-bent on pursuing their own selfish ends, such a marriage might not be saved. People do betray, like Judas betrayed Jesus. That’s why adultery is so destructive. Infidelity betrays.

On the other hand, who truly knows a person’s heart but God? An angry, hurt person may do things they truly don’t want to do in their deepest heart. Though the person appears hardened, they may be protecting their real feelings. Thus, what seems hopeless is not hopeless to God. The Lord sees underneath. He sees this person’s feelings of insecurity and insignificance.

So what can you do?

First of all, if you feel fear and hopelessness taking over, pray against this fear. 1 Peter 3:6 tells us to do what is right without being frightened by any fear. If you aren’t sure how to pray about this, go to a Pastor of a Bible believing church and ask him to pray with you.

Secondly, don’t give up! Things don’t change overnight. Don’t think that when you try a new approach, such as unconditional love and respect, that your spouse will respond immediately. For example, if trust has been broken, it will take time to rebuild the trust.

Let me add, I am not saying that you should stay in an abusive situation where you or your children are in danger! That is another issue entirely. I am also not telling you to roll over and ignore sin. To read what I have to say about abuse and sinful behavior, click here.

Things may get worse before they get better.

In some cases things appear to get worse when love and respect is applied. The receiving spouse is skeptical and even angry that his/her spouse is switching behavior and then expecting immediate forgiveness for all the past pain. Or he/she is afraid to believe in the change for fear of being let down and hurt even more.

Be honest. If your spouse has hurt you for 5, 10, 15 years and then suddenly changes his/her behavior, would you trust that he/she has changed overnight? Or even in a month? Probably not.

May I challenge you even further? In those cases when you feel unconditional love or unconditional respect has failed to impact your spouse, can you honestly say you were consistent in your behavior? I am not suggesting perfection…none of us can do this perfectly! But think of it this way: are you consistently making more loving and respectful deposits than unloving and disrespectful withdrawals?

Admit when you fail.

Learning new ways of responding (and not reacting) is hard work. Old habits die hard, and they often flare up when we least expect them to…like rolling the eyes or mumbling “whatever” under our breath. But these old habits can be the death blow to your spouse who may use it as proof that you haven’t changed at all. So when you fail...and you will fail...admit it to your spouse, and try, try again. Make some more deposits. Over the long haul, your spouse will recognize your efforts but you must stay the course.

There is no IF.

When you love or respect unconditionally, you are following God and His will for you. Ultimately, your spouse and your marriage have nothing to do with that decision.

I know that sounds crazy! But hear me out. The command in Ephesians 5:33 does not say “Love your wife IF she respects you.” Nor does it say, “Respect your husband IF he loves you.” When you obey the command in Ephesians 5:33 to love your wife or respect your husband, you are simply demonstrating your obedience and trust in the face of an unlovable wife or a disrespectable husband.

Jesus said, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?” (Matthew 5:46). Jesus could have had your troubled marriage in mind when He said that.

Everything you do counts.

I believe Paul also had your marriage in mind when he penned Ephesians 6:7-8: “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free” (NIV). Paul is saying that whatever we do as to the Lord we will receive back from the Lord. In marriage, everything you do counts, even if your spouse ignores you or does not love and respect you in return.

Live the Rewarded Cycle.

Unconditional love and unconditional respect will be rewarded. I call this the Rewarded Cycle. His Love Blesses Regardless of Her Respect; Her Respect Blesses Regardless of His Love.

If you are feeling alone in your marriage, and your spouse is not responding to your efforts, will you allow this to encourage you? You are not alone. Your efforts to love and respect unconditionally are not going unnoticed by God! He is for you and He WILL honor you for your obedience.

Will you begin to live in the Rewarded Cycle starting today?


May 12, 2014

How to Energize Your Marriage

Photo Credit: Daniel White
Are you looking for some new ways to energize your marriage?

If you are on board with love and respect as the two essential ingredients in your marriage, you may still be asking how it works.

So let’s get practical.

How do we show love and respect in practical ways?

Following are several real-life examples that I hope will bring more clarity to how these principles play out practically.

He was crushing his wife’s spirit.

One husband related to me that his marriage was breaking down and he did not even see it. Both powerful firstborns and successful career people, they could not communicate without one trying to force his or her will on the other. The conference helped the husband see that every time he insisted on his own opinion or wishes, he was crushing his wife’s spirit. He decided to stop coming across in an authoritarian manner, and now peace reigns in their home. He writes:

When I come home or talk with her during the day, I talk to her in a loving way. I communicate that I love her and respect her opinion. If things get out of hand – which they sometimes do – I reflect after the fact and approach her in a loving way. We talk back over the incident and move forward, usually in agreement. Even if one of us has to give in, we are both comfortable with the outcome.

She was waiting for him to “get a clue.”

When another wife stopped communicating to her husband that he was an idiot with no insights worth sharing, then he started to be more responsive. She also sees a real improvement in her ability to express her needs to him instead of “becoming so hurt he just can’t figure me out.” Her email continues:

If I need something from him like time or attention or specific encouragement, I have the confidence to bring those requests to him because I know his greatest desire is to be my knight in shining armor. This seems like such a simple principle, yet it has freed me from the huffing and puffing and waiting for him to get a clue. Now I have the freedom to respectfully request  things I need and not set him up for failure (mind reading...).

Learn to ask...then listen.

Sometimes spouses may think they are making all the right energizing moves, but they are overlooking one simple thing. One husband admits:

I asked my wife if she felt loved. (We have been married thirty-seven years, and I have even done some teaching on marriage relationships.) Because I do so many things to demonstrate my love for her, I expected to hear a hearty “Of course, Jim!” so I was shocked when she was just silent. I reminded her of all the things I do to show her love, and I told her I couldn’t understand why she wasn’t giving me an answer. When she finally did answer, it changed my entire approach to demonstrating love to my wife. She said, “I do appreciate all the things you do for me, but the way I feel loved is…by the way you talk to me. When you talk to me the way you do to your men friends, I don’t feel love.” Wow! What an eye-opener that was!

Take the first step to energize your marriage.

What will you do this week to improve your communication style so that you can stay on the Energizing Cycle? 
  • Stop and listen to your tone.
  • Ask your spouse what he/she needs from you.
  •  Communicate your own needs more lovingly and respectfully to your spouse.

Love and respect will interact and flow back and forth on both sides in order for a marriage to stay energized. But someone has to make the first move. Will you be first?


May 6, 2014

The Best Mother's Day Gift...That You Can Give Your Family!

Photo Credit: Laurennicolelove
Maybe you’re thinking, “Hey this is about me. It’s my day. Why should I be giving them a gift?”

We honor Moms.

I was reflecting on the fact that after years of pastoring, Emerson realized that on Mother’s Day he used to affirm the mothers while on Father’s Day he exhorted the men.

So I decided to reverse it.

I know there will be much honor given to women this Mother’s Day, but what if we as Moms took this special day and asked what we could give to the fam?

Maybe you’re saying, “What? I give and give and give! Why can’t I just receive for one day?”

And I hope you do receive lots of love this Mother’s Day! I hope many of you will get cards, flowers, and maybe even a nice brunch out. And I hope that these gifts are given out of a true desire of your loved ones to celebrate you.

I didn’t like Emerson and I didn’t like my kids.

But maybe some of you are like I was as a busy Mom. One day Emerson said, “Sarah I know you love me, but I don’t think you like me.” It felt like a knife in the gut.

But he was right. I didn’t like him and I didn’t like the three kids God had given us.

Upon reflection, I was reminded that we didn’t get married because I said, “I hate you and you hate me so let’s get married.” Who gets married saying that? Not anyone!!

I was unfriendly in my home.

We decided to marry because we were first friends. But I had become unfriendly in our home. I was complaining about every shoe from the front to the back door, every candy wrapper, every crumb, every wet towel left wherever. I was trying to change everyone to be like me. Because I thought if they did it my way we would all be happy!

No one was happy.

But no one was happy - not even me! This became a challenge to me to regroup; to re-frame my thinking, to be the friend that Emerson had married, and to be friendly in my home like I am outside of my home.

I know how easy it is to let fatigue and the burdens inside and outside the family weigh us down. But why is it we can control our friendliness when with our friends or complete strangers, but become downright unfriendly in our home?

Moms are called to be friendly.

Titus 2:4 says that we are to love our husbands and children. This word love is phileo which is a friendship love. Perhaps we as women are commanded to “phileo” our husbands and children because we become unfriendly in the home.

This week in preparation for Mother’s Day, why not give your family the gift of friendliness? Make a conscious effort to be the friendly person your husband married and let it spill over to your children. This can be as simple as smiling more often, greeting them with a more pleasant tone instead of a list of instructions, or just softening those facial expressions. 

Give them the best Mother’s Day gift and a reason to celebrate…a friendlier YOU!

From my heart,


April 29, 2014

The Number One Problem in Marriage

Photo Credit - Sarah Oskay
It's communication, right?

As we study letters and emails from thousands of spouses, the common thread that runs through almost all of them is that, in one way or another, the number one problem in marriage is communication …or the lack thereof!

I disagree.

It would be easy to deduce that communication is the key to marriage, but I don’t agree. To say that communication is the key to marriage is to assume that both spouses speak the same language.

We speak different languages.

After more than three decades of pastoring, counseling married couples, and conducting marriage conferences, I have learned that the wife speaks a “love language” and the husband speaks a “respect language.” They don’t realize this, of course, but because he is speaking one kind of language (respect) and she is speaking another (love), there is little or no understanding and little or no communication.

My wife Sarah and I learned that we speak different languages through practical personal experience. While we had a good marriage, we still struggled with irritation, anger, and plenty of hurt feelings. Often we just couldn’t communicate, but we didn’t know why.

A lot of the time it seemed that indeed we were speaking different languages, but we had no idea what to do about it. It was frustrating - and embarrassing. After all, I was a pastor and should have had the answer to something like this!

A command, not a suggestion.

Fortunately, I finally found the answer - or, more correctly, God revealed it to me - in a single passage of Scripture. Ephesians 5:33 says, “each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband” (NIV).

As I pondered God’s clear command (not suggestion) in Ephesians 5:33, I uncovered what I came to call the Love and Respect Connection.” I am commanded to love Sarah because she needs love; in fact, she “speaks love.” Love is the language she understands.

But when I speak to her in unloving ways, her tendency is to react with disrespectful words.

Sarah is commanded to respect me because I need respect; in fact, I “speak respect.” Respect is the language I understand.

But when she speaks to me in disrespectful ways, my tendency is to react with unloving words.

Round and round we would go in a Crazy Cycle, each saying things that were the exact opposite of what was needed!

The love and respect connection.

I finally figured out that the opposite would also be true: if I would speak loving words to Sarah, she would usually respond with words of respect. And if she spoke words of respect to me, I would usually respond more lovingly to her!

Bingo! Communication problems solved, right? Well, sort of.

We had a major breakthrough.

These changes were not easy or automatic. We took baby steps at first, but soon we were making progress, and eventually we had a major breakthrough.

As I spoke Sarah’s mother tongue of love and Sarah spoke my mother tongue of respect, we became friends who shared mutual understanding. For years we had been like a Russian and an Israeli, speaking our different languages. All we did was get louder as we tried to get our respective points across!

But as we began to learn each other’s vocabulary – as I learned some of her love language, and she learned some of my respect language – amazing things happened. Not only did we start understanding each other (in many ways for the first time), but our communication improved dramatically.

Women need respect and men need love.

Let me interject here…because I talk about a woman’s deepest need for love, and a man’s deepest need for respect, I sometimes get the comment from women, Well, I need respect too!” To which I reply, “Absolutely!” 

Just because a woman most often speaks a love language, does not mean she doesn’t desire respect. And just because a man most often speaks the language of respect, does not mean he has no need for love. Love and respect will interact and flow back and forth on both sides in order for a marriage to stay energized.

Mutual understanding leads to good communication.

So if you want to work on the number one problem in your marriage, you need to work on understanding one another. It is the mutual understanding that leads to good communication.  

Does this mean your marriage will be completely free of stress, disagreement, and tension? Of course not.

We are human just like you.

Sarah and I still argue over some of the same old things; we still get irritated with each other for certain habits and practices. We are human and often fail, just like you! But now we know how to communicate with each other and deal with our problems. We don’t know it all, but we know a great deal more than we did before we discovered the connection between love and respect.

If you’re like most couples, your communication can improve. Are you willing to learn your spouse’s language?

Let’s get started!

Husbands: Choose one thing you know speaks love to your wife, and do it today.

Wives: Think of one thing you respect about your husband and tell him today.

Love for her…respect for him. That’s mutual understanding!


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