Sunday, July 24, 2011

Six Books That Saved My Marriage

In college my girlfriend told me “marriage is work.” While that was a new idea, it also immediately made sense. One of the ways I have worked on my marriage is by studying books about having a successful marriage. Here are the six books that have been most helpful, in the order I read them.

Point Man by Steve Farrar

This book is about as subtle as a Marine drill sergeant, but that’s exactly what a lot of us men need. A point man is a soldier assigned to be a lookout ahead of his team, which is the role Farrar wants every husband to play. We are called to be the advance scout keeping an eye out for threats to our marriage and family.

The key lesson I learned from this book was to be a “one-woman kind of man.” Farrar laments that we take marital infidelity too lightly. Society refers to it as an “affair”, which sounds like a happy place with merry-go-rounds and cotton candy, rather than an act of cheating on a promise you made to someone.

Farrar recommended the radical notion of not touching women outside the family (e.g. no hugs) and not doing things one-on-one with them either. As a touchy-feely extrovert, I realized this would be a good idea for me, especially at the start of my marriage. After all, if I didn’t touch another woman and I was never alone with one, then it would be really hard to have an affair – I mean, commit adultery.

The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman

This book opened my eyes to a phenomenon I had never imagined, yet has proven itself over and over for a decade. Chapman explains that what makes you feel loved is likely to be different from what makes your spouse feel loved. But your tendency will be to show them love your way, not their way.

So my love language is physical touch, but my wife’s is quality time. My reaction to tension between the two of us is to reassure her by giving her a hug or back rub. But that means I’m speaking my language, not hers. What she needs is for me to spend some time with her, not with the computer or errands or phone calls.

Having a common vocabulary becomes hugely powerful as well. We can talk about why one of us is not feeling like we’ve been getting loving attention and what to do about it.

If Only He Knew by Gary Smalley

I studied this book with a group of men from my church after I’d only been married a year or two. The key message I took away was this: if a marriage relationship is suffering, it is the husband’s duty to do something about it. He’s not allowed to pretend it doesn't exist and hope it goes away. He’s not allowed to get defensive if his wife points out a problem area. He doesn't get to blame her if the relationship is not working. He has ultimate responsibility for taking every action possible to heal whatever is wounded in the marriage.

This can be a controversial idea if you believe that marriage is a 50-50 proposition. You might say that both spouses are responsible for fixing problems, and that’s true to an extent. But if both are hurting too much to do something about it, it’s the man’s job to overcome his pain and initiate efforts to repair the marriage.

There is a book of the Bible after Psalms and Ecclesiastes (“To everything…there is a season”) called Song of Songs (or Song of Solomon). It’s a book about sex. In the bible. In ancient, poetic, sensual language it describes the love-making between a husband and wife, both physical and emotional. Basically, God created sex and wants husbands and wives to experience it in abundance in a healthy way where they focus on each other's enjoyment. And pastors almost never preach from it.

In the New Testament, Paul offers sound advice in his letters to various churches. In 1st Corinthians he describes how husbands and wives belong to each other and should not use sex as a bargaining chip. He also reminds us how true love does not boast and does not keep a record of someone’s failures. In the last section of Ephesians 5 he boils it down as “husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but feeds and cares for it.”

Leman is a hilarious author and speaker, so this is a fun read. Guys, the message here is that you have to take care of your wife and be her partner. Yes, you’re tired from work. So is she. You can still do your fair share of the evening’s chores, like cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the kids (as a leader, you can even do *more* than what’s fair, and treat your wife like a princess). On the other hand, if your wife is exhausted because she did all that by herself, where is she going to get the energy for lovemaking?

For Men Only by Jeff Feldhahn

Society says that women are complicated, and that dumb guys can never figure them out. The truth is that they’re not so complicated, just different. (And we’re not so dumb, either.) After his wife surveyed a bunch of men and wrote a book about what men need, Feldhahn surveyed women. He was shocked by what he found out. He was also glad, because it explained a lot of the frustration he had.

In particular, I learned that listening to my wife describe a problem is the only thing she needs. She doesn’t need me to tell her how I think she should solve it. Also, she is always, always, going to worry that we’ll be separated. And when she’s sad, she doesn’t need to be cheered up. She just needs a chance to be sad for a while.

As the son of an English instructor and a librarian (both with Ph.D.s) it’s not surprising that I’ve turned to books for advice. Maybe books aren’t your thing, but it wouldn’t hurt to read one of the ones above. Discuss it with your wife. If her love language is quality time, you’ll be a hit. Or talk about it with some of your guy friends. The ones who care about their marriages, not the macho or goofy ones. Because it’s kind of silly to have all this rich information at your fingertips and not use it to invest in a marriage that will last a lifetime.

What, or who, has taught you the most about marriage or relationships?


  1. Great timing on this post. I've heard of two different marriages in a rough patch this weekend and several of your books (that I wasn't previously familiar with) will be perfect recommendations for them. Point Man and Sex begins in the Kitchen may be on my list too...if a wife can read these books too. We miss you guys.

  2. I'm sorry to hear about the marriages in trouble. I hope it's early enough that they're open to your recommendations. As far as wives reading these, you just have to be careful that you don't let them tempt you to try changing your husband. Guys need to be accepted despite their imperfections. That gives them room to try growing on their own.