This Week’s Sermon- 15 Tips for a Stronger Marriage (Part 5)

This Day's Thought from The Ranch

(Part 5.  Click here for Part 1Part 2Part 3 and Part 4)

by Eric Elder

My Friends' Wedding (photo by <a href="">Dani Ford</a>)

My Friends’ Wedding (photo by Dani Ford)

Today I’m sharing the final 2 of these 15 tips for a stronger marriage.  Next week I’ll conclude with 3 words that will tie all the other tips together.

Before we get started today, though, I wanted to let you know that Tip #15 is perhaps the most significant tip I ever received before getting married, but it’s also one of the most delicate to talk about because it has to do with physical intimacy.

For the sake of modesty, and for the sake of getting this message through any spam filters that might try to block it from getting to you, I’ve simply used the phrase “physical intimacy” to describe the physical union between a husband and wife, and I’ve used the term “self pleasure” to describe the act of touching yourself in a way that brings you physical pleasure when you are alone.  (Now you can see why this tip is so delicate!  But I assure you, what you’re going to read today could significantly alter the way you interact with your spouse from this day forward!)

With that preface in mind, here are Tips #14 and #15.

14) Commit to doing something to delight your spouse on a regular basis.  Before I married Lana, I promised to give her a back rub every night, which was something that she absolutely loved.  It worked out well for both of us, because she loved being touched, and I loved touching her!  For 23 years I kept that commitment, and it was one of the best things I ever promised to do, both for her and for myself.

Those back rubs also led to other kinds of intimacy, setting the tone for our bedtime conversations and often culminating in physical passion.  By blessing Lana in this one way, I received all kinds of blessings back.

I also committed to making her breakfast every morning, something which she loved at the time we got married, too.  But as time and the changing seasons of life moved on, she began to prefer other things instead, like sleeping in a little longer while I made breakfast for the kids after she had spent the night nursing a baby!  I say this to say that some of our commitments may change over time, but the point is to intentionally commit to doing something to delight your spouse on a regular basis.  It smooths out the ebbs and flows of life and ensures there’s joy in the midst of anything else that might be going on.

For her part, Lana made a commitment before we got married, too, but one that she didn’t tell me about until many years into our marriage.  She just did it.  She committed to herself that she would go to bed every night at the same time that I went to bed.  She had watched other couples live their lives in separate bedrooms for years, and she saw the devastating effects that this had on their relationships.  So she told herself she was going to do whatever she could to try to ensure this didn’t happen in her marriage.

Of course, this ensured she got her nightly back rub!  But even more, it meant that we had time to talk and pray together every night; it meant that we were available for physical intimacy on a regular basis; and it definitely increased the likelihood of having a big family like she always wanted!

You and your spouse may have a different set of things you could do to delight one other.  If you’re not sure what would delight them, just ask them!  Then make a commitment to doing something to delight them in the way they’d love to be delighted on a regular basis.  As the Bible says:

“…love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22b).

15) Make physical intimacy with your spouse the best that it can be.  After I was engaged to Lana, I set up an appointment to meet with a man who had counseled many, many people through marital issues regarding their physical intimacy.  I met with him specifically because I wanted to ensure that I did everything possible to safeguard our physical relationship and to make it the best that it could possibly be.

One of the most important tips he shared with me was to consider making a commitment to myself and to Lana that I would not engage in self pleasure, but that I would only experience physical pleasure when I was with her.  Many men, he said, go into marriage thinking that they’ll be able to be intimate with their wife any time they want.  But the reality is that it just doesn’t work that way!  And because of that, many spouses decide to simply please themselves whenever they want.

This man told me that he had met with numerous groups of women to discuss issues like this, and asked them what they would think if they knew their husbands were pleasing themselves when they weren’t together.  Nearly every woman in every group said they would feel hurt by this, or they would wonder what they were doing wrong that their husbands would do this, or they would wonder what else their husbands might be doing physically when they weren’t together.

Then this man went on to tell me about the blessings couples experienced who had committed to enjoying physical pleasure only when they were together.  He said it wasn’t necessary that they engage in full physical intimacy every time, but that they were at least to be with each other and enjoy the closeness of their bodies.  Couples who made this commitment built up trust, lowered barriers to intimacy and brought about a lifetime of fulfillment for each other, both inside and outside of the bedroom.

Since I had never even considered how this might play out in marriage, I didn’t know what to think.  But this man had thrown down a gauntlet, a challenge, and I had to decide whether or not I was going to pick it up.  After talking some more about this with another friend and then with Lana, I decided it was worth a try.  So before Lana and I were married, I committed to her that I would not engage in self pleasure, but reserve all physical pleasure only for when I was with her.  If for any reason I fell down in this commitment, I committed to confessing it to her before the day was out.

I can attest to the fact that this one tip alone helped me perhaps more than any of the others.  Why?  Because each of these tips are interrelated and physical intimacy is at the core of what makes marriage unique among all other relationships.  So when there’s a breakdown in one area of our relationship, it often affects our physical intimacy as well.  In order to ensure I would be able to enjoy the physical pleasures of marriage, I knew I would have to nurture the other areas of my marriage, too.  As the saying goes:

“The grass ain’t always greener on the other side; it’s greener where you water it.”

Here’s how some of the tips I’ve mentioned already helped to water our physical intimacy.   For instance, by putting our TV in the closet for our first year, it freed up all kinds of time to have meaningful conversations and enjoy soothing back rubs, which often led to physical intimacy.  By going to bed every night at the same time as each other and by praying together before we fell asleep, we were able to draw closer spiritually and that drew us closer physically.  By confessing our sins quickly to each other, we built up trust between us and kept guilt and shame at bay.  By inviting Jesus to use our hands and eyes and words as if they were His very own, we were able to keep our touches and kisses as tender and life-giving as possible.

This isn’t to say that it was easy for me to keep this challenge.  Even though my physical intimacy with Lana was incredible from day one, there were still a few times in our first year of marriage when I fell back into old habits of pleasing myself when I was alone or away from home.  It seemed like a quick and easy way to release some of the tension in other areas of my life.

Yet I still wanted to give this idea an honest try, and because of my promise to Lana, I followed through with the rest of it and confessed it to Lana each time before the day was out.  The first time I had to confess it to her it was more difficult and embarrassing than I imagined.  The second time was even more difficult.  So after just a few confessions like this, I was able to break the habit and keep my commitment for the rest of our 23 years of marriage.

I’m not telling you this out of some kind of prudish purity, but simply to let you know that it’s possible!  And believe me, my passions and temptations are just as strong as any other man’s!  But until my conversation with this marriage counselor, I had never even thought about the idea.

I also tell you this because I can’t describe the multitude of ways this one commitment helped our marriage.  Here are just a few:

1) This gave us both confidence that I had control over my body, rather than my body having control over me.  This helped Lana to trust me to not cross the line of having physical pleasure with someone else, because I wouldn’t even cross it with myself.

2) This kept me from turning on the TV in a hotel room when I was away from home, or from buying a magazine that I shouldn’t have bought, or from downloading a video that I shouldn’t have downloaded.  Even though these things certainly crossed my mind and were ever-present opportunities, there was never any point to engaging in these activities since I knew that they would never culminate in physical pleasure.

3) This ensured that the physical side of our marital relationship was fully alive and vibrant throughout our entire marriage.  Roger Staubach was a famous quarterback who was once asked how he felt when one of his teammates always seemed to have a different woman on his arm every night.  Roger said, “I’m sure I’m just as sexually active as he is. The difference is that all of mine is with one woman.”  Touchdown, Roger!  The joy of my physical intimacy with Lana, and the trust that we built into our relationship because of this one commitment, was worth anything it might have cost me in terms of giving up fleeting pleasures on my own.

While I can’t say if this commitment is something that you should make, or that it will have the same impact on your marriage, I do want to encourage you to do whatever you can to nurture this aspect of your marriage.

As I mentioned in my book What God Says About Sex, physical intimacy with Lana was the most consistently exhilarating, off-the-charts experience of my life!  So whether or not you choose to follow the path I chose, I pray you’ll make a commitment to do something to protect your physical intimacy, keeping it alive and active as long as you both shall live.  As the Bible says:

“Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure…” (Hebrews 13:4a)

Honor your marriage and keep your marriage bed pure.  Don’t look for other ways to find physical pleasure.  Look to your spouse, and then do whatever you can to nurture your relationship with them.

Next week, I’ll conclude this series with 3 words that will tie all the other tips together!

As a thank you for your donation of any size to our ministry, we’d be glad to send you a paperback copy of another book I’ve written on marriage that focuses specifically on intimacy.  If you’d like a copy, just visit The Ranch Bookstore online to make a donation of any size, and we’ll ship a copy to you anywhere in the world.  Your gifts help us to keep sharing about Christ with others, and we’re happy to send you a gift in return!

Cover of Eric's book on marriage

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