Marriage counseling historically has been the most common type of counseling I have done. It makes sense because the marriage relationship is unique in that there is not supposed to be an escape clause. Marriage is for life. This makes marriage the perfect context for observing behavior between fallen people.
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If your marriage is bad, you more than likely are doing some of the following things. These are some of the most oft-repeated mistakes I have seen in poor marriages. They are in no particular order. If the bad practices characterize your marriage, I have ten tips at the end that can help you have a wonderful marriage. I’ve also added some helpful diagnostic questions to help you and your spouse change.
Tip #1 – Always have the last word
I know James talked about being quick to listen and slow to speak, but if you want to win, you must have the last word (James 1:19). One of the most effective ways to accomplish this is to not listen to your spouse.
What you do while she is talking is formulate what you want to say next. You let her wax on while you’re figuring out how to trump her droning. If she likes to talk a lot a lot and if you’re a little slow on the uptake, you will have more time to come back at her.
Tip #2 – Get her with a cheap shot
Corrupting speech, like criticism and sarcasm, are effective here. This is counter to Paul’s appeal in Ephesians 4:29 about building up the other person, but we’re talking about winning. Don’t let humility or Gospel-centered posturing get in the way here.
Sarcasm literally means to cut the flesh. It’s like a meat cutter who cuts away non-valued parts. When you use sarcasm on your spouse, it’s a way to devalue her. No doubt this will put her in her place as you get a leg up on the marriage competition.
Tip #3 – Twist her words to tie her up
This tip is for the more advanced pugilist. It requires a certain amount of mental dexterity to twist up your wife, but if she is truly the weaker vessel and if you’re any kind of man, you should be able to win this battle too.
One of the keys here is to harden your conscience (Hebrews 3:7). Perchance the Spirit of God tries to illuminate you, then you can go into rationalization or excuse mode. This will effectively mute your inner voice (Romans 2:14-15). A little self-deception goes a long way.
Tip #4 – Push the “it’s not my job” worldview
A man’s work is outside the home and the woman’s work is inside the home. Make this Scripture-twisting agenda your own by being the comatose husband: Grab the remote and surf the 900+ channels or bury yourself in the Internet.
You can also guilt-trip her by making a few well-placed criticisms about how she keeps the home. The home is your castle and she’s the keeper of it.
Most women want to please their husbands so if you keep the carrot dangled in front of her, she will always be trying hard to please you.
Tip #5 – Never be wrong
Admitting your mistakes is weakness. Though John wants you to confess your sins (1 John 1:7-10), the strong man never has sins to confess. This will require more self-deception on your part, but if you have any game at all, you can pull this off (Hebrews 4:7).
Justification is your best friend. To justify is to declare yourself not guilty. Now, you know only the LORD can justify you, but we’re talking about winning, right?
If you continually declare yourself not guilty, your wife will soon get the message and give up trying to convince you of anything. You will win, and she will be sufficiently beaten down.
Okay, ladies. Here are a few tips to get the ball rolling on your side. With a little practice, you could be a primary source of discouragement to your husband. BTW, the previous five tips can work with either gender.
Tip #6 – Withhold encouragement
Paul talked about how kindness is the ingredient the LORD uses to motivate a person to change (Romans 2:4). To be kind is to build up. It’s a way to motivate by grace. Always looking for evidence of God’s kindness in your husband’s life is what I’m talking about. Don’t do that.
If you withhold encouragement, he will become demoralized. This is what I call the “whupped pup syndrome.” If you’re not kind to him, he will begin to shut down. Your once strong and confident guy will fold like cheap laundry.
Tip #7 – Nag him to death
The last tip was about withholding something. This tip is about giving him something. Become the dripping faucet Solomon talked about in Proverbs 27:15. Your critical words will be like little sharp daggers in his heart.
Eventually, he will die by a thousand paper cuts. To withhold encouragement while being critical of him is the perfect one-two punch that will end in a knockout every time. You will quickly have him waving the white flag, if not seeking encouragement from someone else.
Tip #8 – Be over-sensitive
The key for this tip is to put him on eggshells. This is a counter-intuitive move: The way to win is to be weak. It’s kinda like the Bible (2 Corinthians 4:7). Kinda. But if you pervert the fragile vase Peter talked about (1 Peter 3:7), by being emotional and irrational, he may acquiesce and give up on the marriage.
You will have him so paranoid that he’ll be afraid to say or do anything. Keep him guessing. This is your rope-a-dope move. He’ll never know how you will respond. At that point, you will own him.
Tip #9 – Over-commit so you’re always tired
Over-scheduling your life will kill any marriage. Your goal is to always be on the go. Be busy during the day and tired at night. This will motivate him to find other things to do. Just pray the “other things” are not another woman or porn.
If you have children, this will be easy for you. Get them signed up into as many extra-curricular activities as possible. Kill marriage time and crank up the van. Worship the sports gods. The key here is to be busy and tired.
Tip #10 – Bring up past wrongs
Never ever let go of the past. You will not have to worry about his current screw-ups if you keep prancing the past in front of him. If you guys had sex before marriage, it’s a done deal. He will never be able to overcome that mistake.
God has wired him to be a leader. The more you remind him of his personal failures the more you will be able to cut out what the LORD has put into him. Eventually, he will lose heart and accept your assessment: he is a loser.
A final thought on losing
Jesus was a loser according to many people. Even His closest friends were tripped up by His leadership style (Mark 8:32). It got so bad that at the end of His life, they all left Him (Matthew 26:56). They could not accept losing as the way to winning. After all His teaching, they still did not understand the backwardness of the Gospel (1 Corinthians 1:18-25).
But many who are first will be last, and the last first. – Matthew 19:30 (ESV)
So the last will be first, and the first last.” – Matthew 20:16 (ESV)
They did not want to be last and they did not want to lose. They were like us: winning was all that mattered, even if someone had to cut off a person’s ear (John 18:10). To actually grab a towel and basin of water was beneath them (John 13:1-17).
To give your life in exchange for someone else was a bridge too far for their selfish minds to grasp (John 15:13; Mark 10:45; Ephesians 5:25). They were myopic in their vision of God’s plan for others (Hebrews 12:2).
An ironic twist: If you can’t embrace losing, as in being second in your marriage, you will be the biggest loser of all (Ephesians 5:21). Not only will you go down swinging, but you will take your marriage down with you.
To win at all costs creates an unbiblical competition between two people. This can be at its most acute within the marriage covenant. When a couple becomes competitors, the marriage is lost. When winning or losing are the most important things in that relationship, the marriage is fast-tracking toward dysfunction.
If any of the ten previous tips describe you, I appeal for you to change. You will not win at marriage or any other relationship if you refuse to humble yourself by taking on the counter-intuitive life of Jesus.
This is why I’m leaving you with ten positive tips, plus a few assessment questions to discuss with your spouse. If you can’t discuss these things without getting into an argument, please find help now.
Tip #1 – Seek to listen, not speak
- How active do you listen?
- Is your goal to help your spouse be clear or get your points made?
- Do you know how to draw out your spouse so he/she can be a more effective communicator?
Tip #2 – Uplift with your words
- Would your spouse characterize you as an encourager? Why or why not?
- Do you actively seek to find ways to say “thank you” to your spouse?
- Are you regularly thanking God for your spouse? If not, why not?
Tip #3 – Give her space and grace to speak
- Do you create contexts of grace that frees your spouse to express all her thoughts?
- Do you give your spouse room to make communication mistakes, because it’s not about saying it perfectly? It’s about understanding each other.
- Are you regularly thinking about your spouse, seeking to understand her more effectively? What does that look like in your marriage?
Tip #4 – Your job continues after you arrive home
- Do you proactively plan time with your spouse?
- Are you regularly asking your spouse how you can be a more effective servant?
- How do you need to change in these areas?
Tip #5 – You are not entirely sanctified
- Do you have a biblical self-suspicion about yourself?
- Are you quicker to admit your wrongs than your spouse’s wrongs?
- What is it about you that makes it hard to confess your sins to your spouse?
Tip #6 – The kindness of God leads to change
- Is it impossible for you to keep from saying kind things to your spouse?
- What does your spouse receive the most from you: your displeasure or your encouragement?
- What needs to change regarding your communication?
Tip #7 – Contentment is a beautiful jewel
- How does your spouse experience your discontentment? How do you need to change?
- Do you regularly identify your grumbling and biblically repent of it? If not, why not?
- In what ways has your spouse become an idol?
Tip #8 – God is your strength
- How does the grace of God help you take every thought captive? See 2 Corinthians 10:3-6.
- In what ways are you over-sensitive and how does that speak to the idols of your heart?
- What do you fear regarding your marriage or what are you afraid of in your marriage?
Tip #9 – Calendar planning is a stewardship issue
- How do you need to change your calendar to change your marriage?
- Does your spouse get your best time or your leftover time?
- How do you both need to change to make each other a “calendar time” priority?
Tip #10 – The Gospel neutralizes all sin
- Are there past sins you guys have not resolved? If not, why not?
- If past sins are neutralized by and delivered to God, do you still bring them up for marital review in a punishing way? Why?
- How does your self-righteousness play out in your marriage? Self-righteousness is a “greater than/better than” attitude.
Will you please talk to your spouse about these things? If that is not possible, will you appeal to your local church leaders to speak into your marriage? If that is not possible, will you reach out to our supporting member community?
Also published on Medium.