Every Dinner Needs a Side Dish (reflections on being a trailing spouse)

by Rebecca

Every hero needs a sidekick
Every captain needs a mate
Every dinner needs a side dish
(On a slightly smaller plate)

And now we’re seeing eye to eye
It’s so great, we can agree
That Heavenly Father has chosen you and me
Just mostly me

My husband and I joke that this song from the Broadway Musical The Book of Mormon is the anthem of the trailing spouse – the person who has followed their spouse around the world without a defined role of their own. We sing this song to each other with smirks, and we laugh because there are days when it feels like it really hits the nail on the head.

While many organizations have tried to eliminate the role of the ‘trailing spouse’ by making sure that both individuals within a couple share a call and a passion for overseas work, it’s impossible to completely eradicate it. Someone within a couple will always have a more prominent or defined role.

By virtue of marrying a doctor, I often feel like the trailing spouse regardless of where I’m living. Part of that is thanks to our current family dynamic: we have two young children, and someone needs to stay home to care for them. It only makes sense that the doctor be the one to work outside the home.

Someday our kids will be older and will spend a good portion of their day in school, and the slivers of time I have now between naps and meals and housekeeping will grow into larger chunks, and I’ll be able to carve out a role for myself, using my education and giftings too. But for now, for this season, I feel very much like the trailing spouse, and here are some realizations I’ve had that will hopefully encourage you too.

Even though I moved with my family around the world to make disciples of all nations and I have yet to make one friend with someone of the majority faith here, I am daily discipling two little humans who have the potential to be kingdom builders. That’s not an insignificant role. In fact, it is a role that I need to take very seriously and throw myself into whole-heartedly. Raising these children may be the biggest kingdom contribution I will make in my lifetime.

I also remind myself this is a season. It too shall pass – and there may be days when I wish for this season back. And so, I will cherish this season, enjoy the slower pace, and spend my slivers of time alone with God and taking care of myself physically, spiritually, and emotionally. In this season, I can build a safe haven for my family and make space to be their sounding board as they process their new surroundings. I can be the steady in the storm.

Focusing on what I can do, rather than what I can’t do, also helps me to find peace in this season. I can be the encourager of the community in which I live. I can be a welcoming face and resource to new workers who arrive. I can exercise my gift of hospitality and be a peacemaker and unity builder. I can communicate well with our supporters back home. I can be faithful in the language learning I am able to do, even if it doesn’t feel like much. I can be kind and friendly to everyone I meet while running my weekly errands. When I consider all that I can do, I realize there is a lot of potential in this season of trailing.

But I also want to encourage the other trailing spouses out there to remember that just because you have the time and the skills to do something, you don’t need to do it just to fill up your calendar and tell yourself that at least you’re doing something. You’re allowed to be discerning in what you fill your days with.

I’ve been offered several opportunities of things to do. Most recently I was asked to teach French to some of the doctors’ children. Can I speak French? Yes. Would I enjoy teaching this age group? Probably not. Is this a gift I can give to members of my community? Yes. Is this how I want to spend my time? I’m not sure. It’s still a possibility that I’m considering and which boundaries I would need to put around it if I say yes to the request.

So don’t be afraid to ask for time to consider a request, and don’t feel like you can’t say ‘no.’ Busy-ness is not a virtue to be upheld. Be wise in how you fill your time.

Lastly, remember that even if you moved around the world because of your spouse’s job and you don’t have a specific job description, God brought you to this place for a purpose. Your presence isn’t just a bonus. He does have something here for you. He sees you, and He has a purpose for you

Let’s face it – the side dish is what makes the meal. We don’t eat a turkey dinner for the turkey. We eat it for the stuffing, the sweet potato casserole, the mashed potatoes, the gravy and — if you’re from the American south – the green bean casserole!


A wife. Mother. Wordsmith. Coffee dependent. Simultaneously a world traveller and a homebody. Both an Adult TCK and an International Worker. Rebecca has a heart for the nations and to see the global community thrive wherever God has planted them.

Watching what I invest in evaporate

On of my favorite things to look for in Chinese parks are the men (it’s almost always men) who write poetry on the sidewalk using a large sponge calligraphy brush:

It’s beautiful, living art.

It’s social with people hanging around and chatting about the stroke order, the ability of the writer, the words written.

It’s also fleeting. Writing with water is a different kind of creative endeavor than working with ink. You know from the beginning it will not last.

Isn’t that an apt summary of life: beautiful, social, fleeting.

As much as I don’t like it, it turns out that most of what I pour my time and energy into is fleeting, at least on the surface. Laundry? Sure it’s done, only to be done again. A great lesson plan leads to mixed feelings of pride, joy, fun, and a bit of a let down (now I need to start on the next one). Whether you are a foodie or live on peanut butter toast, food and dishes are on going. I’ll hit publish on this post and  as I do an internal happy dance, I’ll also be thinking about future posts.

In this season I wonder what I have done with this time that won’t evaporate? What has been built on rock and not sand?

It is right and good to reflect on the ways we invest our lives, time, and money. But it is also right and good to turn to each other and say:

“Just because something looks to be fleeting, that is not the full picture.”

What you do—the conversations you have, the games you play, the emails you write, the projects you work on, the loads of laundry you do—are the strands of life that when woven together build into something larger than the fleeting moments they represent.

So I turn to you and say, “Just because something looks to be fleeting or eternal, that’s not the full picture.”

Yes, I create with water, you create with water; but we need to remember the truth that it is not mere water. And your life story contains far more than you are I can see right now.

(P.S. This Global Trellis workshop this month is presented by Jonathan and Elizabeth Trotter! Want to learn from them about Marriage Abroad? Now you can! )

A version of this first appeared at The Messy Middle

Nine Ways to Save a Marriage

If there is one place where your marriage will suffer, it’s probably on the mission field.

My husband and I waltzed into marriage crazy in love and stupidly naïve. After knowing each other only 4 months, we eloped on a white sand beach in Zanzibar, Tanzania. Then we spent the next five years running a ministry in a war zone in Uganda. Yeah, smart. We thought that love and sex would save us, and it worked for a while. But the reality is, while marriage is an intimate union of two souls growing together, it’s also hard work, and it leaves the soul rubbed raw.

When we left Uganda, I wasn’t quite sure if we should even stay together. It seemed like we’d done a lot of damage, and like a house on fire, we weren’t sure what charred remains to salvage. Like most things in our life, we had to learn it the hard way, but we’ve finally figured out some gems.


Ever since Prince Charming kissed Snow White, we’ve imagined there is only one perfect person in the world for us, and they will complete us. If they don’t, we assume it’s the other person’s fault. Unfortunately, the Christian world does nothing to mitigate this lie. We perpetuate it through Christian romance novels, erroneous prophecy, and the crazy idea that God forces us into things that will be “better for the Kingdom.”

While I do believe God brings people together, we all have a choice. Your person is right because you love them and chose them, and just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s wrong. I had to get over this lie early on in my marriage when I thought that because my husband wasn’t this identical picture of the “perfect man” I had jotted down on my list after reading “I Kissed Dating Goodbye,” he was somehow wrong for me. I’d made a mistake.

Sometimes God brings two very different people together because he knows you need each other and because you will actually be more amazing together than apart. Once I started accepting him for who he was and focusing on his strengths rather than his flaws, I began to see that while he wasn’t “perfect,” he was perfect for me. Part of loving well is this “iron sharpening iron” process we must surrender to.


Unless you married a complete, narcissistic jerk, (not just your perception, in real life), most things that make us angry in our marriages are actually wounds that are triggered from our past. It’s basic psychology that we seek out what is familiar to us based on our family of origin, and we repeat patterns until we feel we’ve gained mastery.

Most of us don’t genuinely love ourselves, and it is this self-hatred that creates unhealthy cycles. We blame, because we are hesitant to admit fault lest our darker selves be revealed. Most of the things I blamed my husband for were actually areas I felt insecure or vulnerable, or was anticipating rejection.

I expected that marriage would make me happy; therefore it was his job to make me happy, and any “failure” was held over his head. I had to learn I was the only person responsible for my happiness. I can’t give my power away to others by expecting them to save me or do what I want, and then be disappointed when they can’t meet my expectations.

Love is a verb, and one that does not equate with control. Like Iggy Azalea raps, I started “work, work, work, work, working” on my stuff: I got a therapist I could trust to unload my history. Most of all, I learned to love myself as God loves me, and that is the greatest key to being able to receive love and give love away.


I believe one of the most crucial foundations for a healthy marriage is the capacity for self-awareness and growth. My husband may not write me poetry every day, but he is willing to explore the ways he reacts to situations and is open to change.

People who say, “This is just the way I am,” are doomed for failure. Denial is just another word for pride, and humility is the only way this marriage thing works.

Every moment we have a choice towards connection or disconnection. We can move closer or we can push farther away and try to punish by withholding our love. It’s amazing the relief that can come from the magic words, ”I’m sorry,” whether you are 100% wrong or only 5% wrong.

If your partner is interested in something, try to learn about it and join with them. My husband is really into zombie TV shows like The Walking Dead, and trail running. At first, I was nervous to really get into both because I was scared. It was outside my comfort zone. But I tried them because I wanted to be together with him doing the things he loves, and now those are some of our favorite moments we share. And he’s even joined me on a poetry reading or two.


This is probably one of the biggest mistakes I made the first two years of our marriage. I had my identity wrapped up in my dream and I thought it couldn’t be bad because I was working for God and performing good deeds. But the truth was my workaholism was attached to the belief that I only had value and significance if I had the world’s approval. I performed for the pat on the back that said I was worthy. Because I had to work so hard, I was constantly responding to late night phone calls and emergencies and I exhausted myself so I had only leftovers to give to my marriage.

I gained significance from being “needed.” It was easier to love people in my ministry because they loved me back and I didn’t have to go home with them. I could put on the role of the “perfect Sarita,” and they wouldn’t be disappointed in the “real me” like a husband could. They didn’t have to see my flaws, nor I theirs, and in this way I could hide from true intimacy.

At home I felt like a failure, but out there I was a “hero,” and that was a much easier hat to wear. I wanted to be a counselor, a dispenser of wisdom, but I didn’t want to look at myself because that meant having to face the me I didn’t like.

It took a lot of healing to realize I was already worthy. I had to learn to set boundaries with the ministry, to prioritize self care, date nights, and getaways, so I had something to give to my husband instead of expecting him to take care of me when I wasn’t doing a good job myself.


People are not mind readers (men, especially). Communication isn’t just about talking, it’s about being vulnerable enough to clearly acknowledge and articulate your feelings and needs.

Building a relationship and a community where you can practice this skill is incredibly important. Early on, I assumed because Tyson loved me, he would also know what I needed. If he didn’t somehow deduce that when I said, “I’m so exhausted, I don’t feel like cooking tonight,” that translated to, “You need to make a plan for dinner,” it meant he didn’t really love me. It sounds crazy, I know, but being a Type 2 on the Enneagram means I’m not good at asking for what I need because I’m always thinking about what other people need.

Saying I need help means admitting I can’t do it all, and that felt like weakness to me. It was also scary to admit to what I needed, because what if I didn’t get what I wanted? That would leave me exposed. Learning I needed to grow in honesty and authenticity (Brene Brown is a hero for me on this) was a pivotal turning point for our relationship. My husband was patient with my false starts and stutters.


All marriages will inevitably require some kind of compromise. We cannot coexist and both get what we want at the same time, all the time. My husband and I are both dreamers and we are both pioneers, which means neither of us are very good at backing down. In the end, we realized we could either resent each other for holding one another back, or take turns being each other’s biggest cheerleader.

Tyson moved to Africa because that’s where I was already building my ministry and accomplishing my dreams. He knew how important it was to me and was unwilling for me to give it up (I was too stubborn to anyway). He spent five years championing me and letting me run ahead while his dreams took a backseat. I didn’t ask him to this, but it was an organic outcome of where we were in life.

When we moved back to the United States, I was pretty close to burnout, in major transition, and needed to pull back. I made it a point to encourage him to pursue the development of the business that was on his heart while I took over the responsibilities of our home. It also made sense due to our financial needs coming off the field. These were conscious choices we both made as a team to pass the baton to each other, so the other could soar.

Especially when children are involved, it becomes even more difficult to negotiate who will take more responsibility for the home so the other can pour into work. It’s important to have deep conversations exploring the pros and cons of each choice and ultimately hear from God about whose turn it is to run. Wholehearted agreement on a plan is imperative to balancing power dynamics and promoting harmony in the relationship.


As you get deeper into your marriage, you might have to redefine the definition of romance. It might be less of the longingly staring into each other’s eyes on a beach, and more the way your husband washes the dishes. If we look hard enough, we can always see the good again in our partner, no matter how far we’ve gotten away from those initial reasons.

I started focusing on the things I loved about Tyson instead of his flaws. I loved his sense of humor and sense of adventure. I started laughing more at his jokes, and planning little trips to get out of the ordinary. I praised the way he worked so hard for our family and held back from criticizing him for things that bothered me. I planned dates if he forgot to plan them. I stopped always thinking the worst of him, and that he was deliberately trying to hurt me, and started giving him the benefit of the doubt.  I started seeing the gold in him and calling it out.

And slowly, my heart began to change. I started to remember the reasons why I loved him and why he was good for me. And because he was less afraid to fail or disappoint me, he began doing many of the things I longed for in the first place.


It is so easy to let resentment build up in our marriages, and like that greasy gunk on the inside of our oven, it gets harder and harder to wipe clean. So often we think we’ve forgiven, but they are just words. We will bring up an old wound, mistake, or fault at the first chance. We’ll say things like, “You always do ____” or “You never do ____.”  What we’re really saying is, “I haven’t let that go.”

It takes a big person to be authentic, to tune into your inner truth and say, “I’m angry right now, but what that really means is, I’m scared.”

When we returned to California from Uganda we signed up for a Love After Marriage course at our church. And I truly believe it saved our marriage. While the whole thing is amazing, the part that impacted me most was when we had to write each other letters. The goal was to spend time asking God to reveal the areas where you’d been hurt by your partner then allow God to convict you for the ways you had been complicit in hurting your marriage. We then wrote each other letters and what poured out of me was so surprising. I saw the ways I had been selfish and demanding. I saw how I had been critical and set unrealistic expectations.

Then it was as though I could see Tyson’s heart and how much he truly longed to love me, but often didn’t know how. I had such compassion for him. We both apologized genuinely from our hearts for the individual ways we had harmed one another. Ways that had been long buried over, poisoning us in ways we hadn’t realized. For the first time, I felt like he really heard me, he could really see what I’d been saying and there was genuine acknowledgement and empathy for the areas he had failed me, and I him. When we read each other our letters, in between the flood of tears, there was breakthrough.


Being in missions or ministry means everyone is looking at you and you feel the need to project the idea that everything is fine. Because many people will judge you it’s hard to find safe places to process your true feelings and fears about your marriage. It’s also incredibly difficult because you are often isolated, without community, in remote regions, and that is why it’s so imperative you choose a person or a couple to mentor you and check in on you throughout your missions assignment.

I know some of you are facing some very real hurts in your marriage that you think you might not be able to overcome. And I’m not trying to trivialize those. Seek help through marriage counseling or Love After Marriage. It is so worth it, I promise. Pain has a way of carving out room for joy.

And if you think you are in a situation where you might be being abused either verbally or emotionally be willing to put yourself first and set boundaries with an unhealthy person. Read books like Keep your Love On, and pray about a possible time of separation. While I’m not a proponent of divorce, I recognize in some situations people’s choices make this fact inevitable. It’s not the end of the world and it’s not the unpardonable sin. God will still love you. But make sure you’ve done everything in your power to save your marriage before you think about throwing in the towel. You might be surprised by the redemption that could come out of it. I know I was.


photo credit: Pixabay

profile photo blog2Sarita Hartz is a writer, speaker, former missionary, and non-profit director, who tackles issues of missions, infertility, travel, and how to live wholehearted, in her blog Whole, found at www.saritahartz.com. She just finished her first book, Whole, and lives in California with her husband Tyson, and fur baby, Rosie. You can find her on Facebook as Sarita Hartz.

Open letter to trailing spouses (and the people they’re married to)

“Feeling so fearful and alone since moving as a trailing spouse”

Last month someone found my blog because they did an internet search for that phrase. It reminded me how much pain a trailing spouse endures. I remember the struggle; I remember the suffering. And while whoever typed those search terms is actually not alone, I can attest to the fact that it very much feels that way. I remember how dark it felt, how black the future seemed. I remember how much pressure I was placing on myself not to ruin my husband’s dreams. I remember being afraid that nothing would ever be OK again and that it would all be my fault.

Telling my trailing spouse story has opened up conversations with women all over the world, both before and after they reach the field. (A trailing spouse doesn’t have to be a woman, but women are the ones who have reached out to me.) So with that in mind, I’m going to share parts of emails I’ve sent to women who have asked for more of my story. I’ve deleted identifying details to protect their privacy. These are the things I would say to any marriage dealing with a trailing spouse issue.

But first I want to clarify what I mean by the “call.” It’s confusing when Christians talk about “call”; different people have different definitions of “call,” and they tell very different stories. So what I’m generally referring to when I say “call” is a strong feeling or desire to be where you are (or where you’ll soon be going). It feels like a peace and a settledness about your current (or future) location.


It was about a year and a half from my husband’s initial “Let’s move overseas!!” to hearing a call of my own. I know that might not seem like long in retrospect, but it felt like forever at the time. These times can be so dark that they seem to stretch out forever and ever, no bend in the road, to borrow a phrase from Anne of Avonlea. I know you and your husband might be on such different pages regarding your life right now, and it’s hard to understand each other’s point of view. But it’s important to “hear” each other’s hearts in this. You are different, and both of your perspectives are valid, because they are true for each of you.

I’m going to take a deep breath here and say some hard stuff. I hope and pray it comes out right, because I only ever want to point people to God and do for others what my mentor did for me when I was still trailing — provide hope without pressure. In an ideal world, both you and your husband would feel called to your work where you are. But we don’t live in an ideal world, and you are not the only wife who at this very moment does not feel called to where she is. A call is very important, true, but it’s also true that you can’t force it.

There are so many moving parts in a marriage. It’s hard to predict what one or the other will feel or do many years from now. And so I need to say this: it is not the end of the world if this does not work out. I think it’s very important to internalize that. Your vows are to each other, not to overseas work. You are both separately committed to following God, but now that you are husband and wife, you are a team and have to make decisions as a team. I know that does not sound like a traditional explanation of marriage where the husband makes the decisions and the wife follows, but in overseas work especially, having unity is essential.

Please don’t hear what I’m not saying. I’m not saying this overseas thing will never work out. I don’t believe that! I’m also not saying you should just grin and bear it. And I’m not saying you can just pretend to hear a call from God and that acting like you have one will convince your heart you have one. I’m just saying this issue is important and worth investing in. And here’s how I would suggest you approach it, based off the advice I received several years ago when I was in your shoes. . . .

Now this is going to sound scary, but I promise, in the end, it’s not. What you and your husband have to do — both of you — is open up your future to God. Both of you have to be able to say, if I have to give up this life abroad business, it’s not the end of the world. You can’t just decide you know what God needs to change in your heart. You even have to give that expectation up. Now that won’t sound as scary to you as it will to your husband. When he has a long standing dream, it’s going to be hard to say, “God, can I give this up?”

During all this time that I didn’t have a call, it was so stressful for my husband that he got an ulcer. An ulcer. Major stomach pain. “Not going” felt like the end of his life, and “going” felt like the end of my life. But ideally, you would both be able to say those things to God. And then, you would talk to Him and ask Him where He wants you, and what He wants to do in you, and all those things. But first you both have to surrender your preferred futures.

It’s trickier to find your call if you’re already overseas, because if you don’t find it, you feel stuck and unhappy where you are. This is another reason seeking God is so scary. What if He doesn’t come through? What if He disappoints me and doesn’t talk to me? What if I’m still in the dark? Or worse, what if He actually tells me to stay here?? (I think that was part of my fear, that if I really opened up, He would tell me to go, and I did not want to go.) But I just don’t think you can actually hear from God unless you put it all on the line — living overseas or living back home — you’ve got to put them all on the table, and your husband has to, too.

Incidentally, when we did this, when both my husband and I put it all on the line and simultaneously opened up our future to God, my husband came back to me saying we didn’t have to move overseas. He was willing to stay in America. I say this to explain that it wasn’t just me and my problem; my husband was talking to God too, asking Him questions and trying to listen for answers. And that openness to change on both our parts is very significant for our story.

I remember my mentor telling me some things that really freed me up to hear from God. “If you go, and you really, really hate it, you can always come home.” That was brand spanking new to me. I thought it was a lifelong commitment. I thought you went and never came back. Just knowing there was an escape valve allowed me to be able to say yes. I don’t think I could have heard a call otherwise.

The other thing my mentor said that really helped was to say to both of us, “No matter what you decide, one person can’t ever come back and blame the other person for the decision” (or something to that effect). She meant that if we stayed in the United States, my husband couldn’t blame me for ruining his ministry, and if we left, I couldn’t ever blame him for ruining my life. Getting rid of potential blame is a huge part of being able and free to hear from God. It’s hard to hear from Him when we put all these pressures on ourselves.

So what I would recommend is seeking God all over again for living overseas, and both of you laying your plans and dreams down and being open to God either taking you back home or keeping you overseas. I really believe He is with you, no matter what you choose. I also do not believe it’s a failure either way, whether you stay overseas, or whether you leave (but especially if you leave, since human beings tend to attach more significance to that choice).

You have promised each other your lives, and I believe that promise is more important than any one decision about where to live. That is what our church leadership told us, and I believe they were speaking truth; I believe your marriage covenant is that important. I remember being disappointed not to hear a “go or no go for launch” from our church leaders, but only counsel to honor the marriage covenant. Focusing on our marital unity, however, ended up being one of the best helps in overcoming our difficulties.

I hope I made sense with as little pressure as possible. I never mean to push! And truly, I have no vested interest in your staying or going. I simply want you and your husband to be united in whatever and however you serve. I did want to give you some practical steps to take though, and I hope those made sense. Sending you love and praying you will find God when you seek Him, and that even in the confusion and chaos and grief, you will experience the peace that passes all understanding.

The Purpose of Marriage is Not to Make You Holy

Before we moved abroad, we did some marriage counseling. What I mean is, we sat in an old guy’s office for fifteen hours and cried. It was amazing.

He told us our marriage could be a safe-haven on the field. Or not.

He said we could strengthen and encourage each other on the field. Or not.

He said that our marriage could bring peace and stamina and even joy to the mission field. Or not.

He was right.


Some Questions

If you and I were chatting at a local coffee shop and I asked you, “Hey, I’m curious, how would you describe marriage?” In general, what words would you use?

Would you say, “Marriage is…




&#^$? [that could mean good things or bad things, I suppose]

How do you describe your own marriage? Often, the first word I hear people say is “hard.” And after they say “hard,” they quickly follow up with, “but it’s good.”

Now, think about your relationship with your best friend. How would you describe that relationship?

Would you say, “Our friendship is…





Would you call it “hard, but good”? Honestly, what would you think of someone who spoke of their closest friendship, first and foremost, as hard? Um, weird.

What about your relationship with God? Is it, first and foremost, hard?

Is that really what we’re going for? Is our chief end to endure the hard, with God and our spouses?

On a gut level, I think we know there’s more. There has to be more.


A Dangerous Idea

“The purpose of marriage is to make us holy.”

“Marriage is hard, but it’s ok, because it makes us holy.”

“My marriage is really difficult. But that’s good, because marriage is supposed to make me holy.”

Have you ever heard a variation on this theme? Often, people don’t say it so explicitly, but I’ve heard this a bunch, and I think it’s dangerous. It’s almost like we looked around and said, “Well, marriage is really difficult, and a lot of folks never experience intimacy or joy or happiness in their marriages, so let’s just tell them marriage is supposed to make them holy instead.”

We sound so spiritual when we talk like this, and we think we’re elevating the institution of marriage, when in fact, we’re simplifying it and cheapening it. We’re robbing it of beauty. And, we’re insulting people.

We’re insulting the people who aren’t married. How are they made holy? Are they doomed to a life of less holiness due to their marital status? Are they holiness-deficient? Are we implying that our single brothers and sisters, widows and widowers, or folks who’ve dealt with the trauma of divorce, don’t have access to the thing that can make them holy? Namely, a spouse?

Can marriage make you holy? Sure. Any relationship with another human has the potential to wear off rough edges, point out selfishness, expose our sin, and through the work of the Holy Spirit and the sacrifice of Jesus, make us holy. (See: Parenthood.) But saying “marriage can make you holy” is very different than saying “the purpose of marriage is to make you holy.”

The real-life implications of this belief are what scare me the most. If marriage is to make me holy, and if what I really mean by that is that the hard parts of marriage make me holy, then I’m actually completely justified in staying in the hard parts, without any hope of or desire to change. There is no impetus to seek deeper intimacy with the one I’ve promised to be with forever.

You know, sometimes marriage is hard because we’ve got issues that need to be worked on. But instead of acknowledging the emotional pain, or the fear of intimacy, or the past offenses, we deflect and avoid, consoling ourselves, “Well, at least it’s making me holy.”

This is not God’s plan for marriage.

Instead of hitting conflict or hardships and deflecting to “holy,” we need to start asking the tough questions, like “Why are we having this conflict?” or “Is there deeper emotional pain that’s making this so hard?” Can we stop using the idea of holiness as an excuse to avoid the hard questions?

And more to the theological core, I think we believe marriage can’t be pleasurable and enjoyable, because then it wouldn’t be as spiritual. This is an ancient discussion. Pause and analyze for a second if any of these fallacies have crept in to your thoughts on marriage:

Marriage can’t feel good.

Marriage can’t be good unless it’s purely spiritual.

Spiritual intimacy is the most important part of marriage.

Physical and emotional intimacy in marriage is inherently “less than” spiritual intimacy.

Again, we don’t really talk like this, but it is often our meta-message.

Marriages are not meant to be endured.


Marriage is for intimacy.

The sharing of souls and dreams and flesh.

The first taste of summer.

Marriage, the joining together of two unique persons, predates sin and exists beyond it. Marriage satisfied Adam. It excites Jesus.

The first marriage was designed by a loving Father, for joy and companionship. Closeness. It was good. The last marriage, a proclamation of Love’s victory that echoes in eternal joy and companionship and glory. A celebration such as the cosmos has never seen.

Marriage is the mysterious coming together of two people; the blending of heart and vessel and marrow. The tearing of the veil. Intimate. At least, that’s what it’s supposed to be.

But intimacy can be a scary thing. It’s vulnerable and exposed and leaves us naked. It’s also amazing.

The opposite of intimacy is withdrawal. Distance. Disconnection. Ask yourself, ask your spouse, “Are we close? Are our hearts even in the same room, communicating easily? Have we settled for a dull disconnect?” It’s worth talking about. And for the record, if one spouse feels like there’s distance and disconnection but the other spouse thinks everything’s great, the first one’s right, and the marriage needs help. If you’re the spouse that’s denying distance, I beg you to stop. Now. Listen to the heart-cry of your husband or wife.

Every relationship will have seasons. Seasons of grandeur and awe and warmth, and seasons of darkness and winter. But there’s a big difference between a season of winter and an ice age. If you’re living in an ice age, please get help. It doesn’t have to be that way.


A Blessed Arrangement

Intimacy with your spouse is a gift, a fountain of youth. Treasure it, protect it, and fight for it. Here are some ideas:

Explore the relationship between Christ and the Church. Study Ephesians 5. Read the Song of Solomon. Slowly. Find a marriage counselor, even if you don’t have any “issues.” Pursue emotional healing.

Say no to good stuff so you can say yes to better stuff. Do not embrace your mission so much that you lose your marriage. Keep porn far, far away. Porn will destroy intimacy faster than you can click “delete browser history.”

Read good books about marriage. Trade babysitting. If at all possible, when someone comes to visit you on the field, let them get over jet lag and then leave the kids with them so you and your spouse can get away overnight. When you’ve got little munchkins at home, even 26 hours away (our last getaway) can be awesome. (And someone please tell me I’m not the only one who counts those getaways in hours!)

You may be in a place where getting away is impossible, or unsafe, or just really stupid. So, change your definition of “a date.” Putting the kids to bed early and catching up with your spouse over coffee (or tea, I guess) can be romantic, if you want it to be.


Regarding Sex [a word for my brothers]

Sex and intimacy are not synonyms. But still, a marriage characterized by emotional intimacy will include some form of healthy physical intimacy.

Men, we think we know a whole lot more about sex than we actually know. And that’s a problem, because we think we don’t need to learn, or even worse, we think that we’ve learned about sex already, you know, because we watched some porn once or listened to guys in the locker room. Yikes. Our wives deserve better than that.

Having sex doesn’t take much skill or special knowledge, but really making love to your wife’s heart and body, now that takes some practice. And research.

I think you should research sex. I know you think about it a lot, so why not study it from a healthy source? Have your wife do some research, and read whatever she thinks you need to read. And if she thinks you need to read something, then you need to read it. However, if she doesn’t want you reading about sex, she’s probably got a very good reason, and you should look into that before you start calling her names. For example, if you’ve violated her trust, or pressured her in the past, she’s probably not going to be too excited about this paragraph. And she’s probably right.

That being said, a pretty basic book that might be a good place to start your research is A Celebration of Sex, by Dr. Douglas Rosenau.

A longtime missionary and medical doctor once told me something interesting about sex. (And I always listen when someone tells me something interesting about sex.) He said, “Often, the sex life of a missionary couple is a barometer for the health of their marriage in general.”

Sex doesn’t create intimacy, and you can’t fix an unhealthy marriage by having more sex. That wasn’t his point. He was just saying that emotional distance, or a lack of emotional intimacy, will show up early in a couples’ sex life. It’s a warning sign. And if the emotional intimacy between a husband and wife begins to diminish, it should be addressed sooner rather than later.

It should be noted here that a healthy sexual relationship has nothing to do with frequency. It has to do with intimacy. Do you, as husband and wife, regularly connect with each other both physically and emotionally?

Husbands and wives, enjoying each other physically and emotionally, is very pleasing to God.


When One Partner Doesn’t Care

Maybe you hate this article. Maybe you’re already gearing up for the comments section. Please, hear me out.

For most of this article, I’m assuming that both husband and wife want to grow closer. I’m assuming you both want a healthy marriage characterized by deepening intimacy.

However, I realize that many people live in marriages that aren’t like that. Maybe that’s you. Maybe you’re in a marriage that’s missing something and you already know it and it’s breaking you. Maybe you wish things would change, but they haven’t, and you don’t think they ever will. If that’s you, I want you to know that I totally believe you. I see you, and I’m so very sorry.

It is not good to be alone. But being married to someone and still alone, now that might be worse still.

If that’s you, you may find yourself in a valley of grief, and that might be right where you need to be for a time. Grieving the loss of dreams. Grieving for the broken places, and the broken things.

If you’re in that hurting place, may the Lord of Peace surround you with his love. May you find friends and confidants who will walk beside you, encourage you, and strengthen you. May you find the Church to be a welcome and warm place, full of people who care about you, about seeing you. Not you, the part of the “bad marriage” or the “failed marriage,” but you, the child of the King, who is worth so much. May you know intimacy, with your God and with his people. And may he bring you safely home.



Marriage is a great gift, and we honor the Giver when we accept the gift with joy and excitement. We honor him when we treasure each other, respect each other, know each other.

We miss the Father’s heart when we think he gave us marriage “to make us holy.”

Yes, marriage is sometimes hard, and life is not all peaches and cream, but if your default description of marriage is “hard,” I’m telling you, there’s more. Look for that. Pray for that.


A Marriage Blessing

May your marriage be beautiful. May it remind you often that God gives good gifts. Very good gifts.

May people look at your love and see that there is a God and he is awesome.

May you show the world – and the Church – that it’s not about submission or obedience or “who’s in charge.” That in your love and mutual submission, you will race each other to the bottom. And when you get to the bottom, may you find love, wholeness, joy, peace, and life. In other words, Jesus.

May you laugh often. At each other, with each other, because of each other. And if and when God fills your home with children, may you sit around the table and laugh and laugh and laugh.

May you taste heaven when you taste each other.

And when you walk through the shadowlands, and you will walk through the shadowlands, may the One who led you together continue to lead you together. He is the Creator of the soaring mountaintops and the scary valleys. May he sustain you and remind you.

May 2015 be the best year of your marriage. Until 2016. And may 2016 be the best year of your marriage. Until 2017. May you experience the intense joy of being known, deeply, and the great honor of knowing another.

May your love, promised and given, echo into eternity.

May people hear your stories, witness your love, and say from now until forever, “Look at what the Lord has done!”


*photo credit