Q. My husband spends most of his time on our computer and stays there until late into the night, usually coming to bed between 2 and 3 A.M. I feel as if he prefers the computer to spending time with me! Am I being overly sensitive or expecting too much that he come to bed at a decent hour?
A. You aren't being too sensitive and you have some good reasons to be concerned. At best your husband has an unhealthy habit and at worst he may be involved with unhealthy "chat rooms" and/or becoming addicted to Internet pornography. Our experience has taught us that in the vast majority of cases when a man consistently stays up late with his computer he's involved in either of those two things.
Your first step is to "speak the truth in love" and directly express your concerns to him with clarity and compassion. Prayerfully consider what might be the most effective time, place, and way for you to talk with him. What are some ways you've approached him in the past that weren't effective? Do you have any communication habits that put him on the defensive? Did you start by being accusatory or critical of him? Did your frustration and fear get the best of you and cause you to come across as attacking? Did you over-generalize and use all-or-nothing statements such as "you always" or "you never"?
Begin the conversation by communicating your love for him, your desire to have a strong, healthy, and mutually satisfying marriage, and then be specific in addressing your concerns. You might tell him, "My perception is that we're moving further apart and I'm afraid for you, for me, for our marriage, and for our family." Make sure you use "I" statements to help him understand how this is a problem for you.
In addition to this more "problem-focused" approach we encourage you to initiate "growth-focused" communication. Ask yourself the following questions to provide new insights on how to re-engage your spouse:
How long has this been a problem? What was different about your relationship before it became a problem? Did you do anything different in your interactions with him? Did you spend more time together? Did you laugh more? Did you pray more? Did you do more with friends? Were you more involved with church activities?
Your husband may be totally blind as to how his "affair" is a problem for him, for you, or for the marriage. If that's the case, check out Tom Whiteman's new book, Your Marriage and the Internet. If your husband doesn't respond to any of these suggestions, you may need to talk with your pastor. We've seen some cases where these suggestions were enough and other cases where it took the pastor and some male friends initiating an "intervention" for the problem to be solved.
He Can't Forgive Me
Q. My husband and I were both sexually active before we were married. When we became Christians, we asked God to forgive our sexual pasts. But my husband hasn't been so forgiving, which has brought tremendous stress to our marriage. We just want to get through this and feel God's blessing. We can't afford a counselor and my husband isn't comfortable discussing this with our new pastor. Any advice?
A. One of the great things about an electronic calculator is that if you make a mistake, you can just push the "clear" button, which automatically eliminates all the information. Then you can begin again. You don't have to try to sort out the previous mistake. In fact, there's no record of the previous mistake. It's lost forever.
That's what happens to our sins when God forgives us. Some of the pain and the sorrow may remain. Some of the consequences may remain. But the guilt—the legal condemnation for the offense—is gone! Our God is in the cleansing business, not the whitewashing business.
In Philippians 3:13-14, the apostle Paul writes: "Forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (NASB). For some people that's easier said than done.
Agree with your husband to start each day by thanking God for what he accomplished for you on the cross and for forgiving your sins. Also put the following verses on 3x5 cards with the reference on one side and the text on the other:
- "Praise the Lord who forgives all your sins who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us" (Psalm 103:2-4, 12).
- "There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death" (Romans 8:1-2).
- "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us" (1 John 1:9).
Only God can forgive and forget. We can forgive but it's harder for us to forget. Thank God that as far as he's concerned your sin is not only forgiven but also forgotten.
While you can't afford counseling and your husband doesn't want to talk to your new pastor, we believe getting outside help is critical. Many churches have lay counseling programs and some counseling centers provide low-cost counseling. Getting counseling now for your marriage may be something you can't not afford to do.
We Attend Separate Churches
Q. My wife attends the church from her childhood where most of her friends and her sister and mother are members. While that church is fine, it's not my worship style and I prefer the church I attend. Hers is more contemporary, while mine is more liturgical. Is it wrong for us not to go to the same church?
A.The question isn't as much whether it's wrong or right but rather what's best for your marriage relationship? What's going to increase the possibility of, in the words of the Apostle Paul, "your hearts [being] knit together in love" (Colossians 2:2, NASB)?
Not going to the same church is like being married and not living in the same house. If you don't like the same food, do you go to different restaurants? Do you take different vacations? What's going to increase the probability of you becoming one?
Attending the same church is vital both for your spiritual lives as well as your relationships. As a couple you can ride to church together, have the same friends who know you as individuals and as a couple, hear the same message you can then share together and discuss throughout the week. Your shared church experience provides a powerful backdrop for your spiritual relationship together.
Many newlyweds who have strong ties to their pre-couple church find it helpful to seek a new church together in which they become known for who they are as a couple, rather than who they were before they were married. This tends to strengthen their new identity and give each of them a fresh "pathway" to growing in Christ.
How you solve this may be more important than what you decide. How much time have you spent talking about the kinds of things you have to bring to a church and the kinds of things you hope a church can give you?
She's Too Friendly with Guys
Q. My wife is touchy-feely with several of my guy friends. She hugs them, holds hands with them briefly, touches their arms or legs. While I trust her completely—and the guys too for that matter—I'm uneasy about this. Should I be?
A. You have good reason to be uneasy. Your wife is either unaware of or ignoring some basic male/female differences and massively underestimating the power of touch to ignite even the smallest amount of testosterone. Men and women interpret and are affected differently by touch. Holding hands or touching arms and legs may seem to be an innocent expression of friendship. Unfortunately, innocence or the best of intentions offer no protection against actions that can easily be misinterpreted and can quickly arouse sexual desires in someone else.
The core issue isn't about whether you trust your wife and your guy friends. The reality is that we're all fallen human beings living in a sensually-saturated culture. And while what she's doing isn't sin, it is throwing the door wide open for the possibility. If sin is represented by crossing the 50-yard line, then the wise thing is not to go past the 40. The kinds of touching you describe are going way past the 40-yard line. They are at best inappropriate and at worst dangerous.
It sounds as though your wife's an affectionate woman. Be grateful for that. Are you doing all you can to meet her needs? Do you initiate frequent non-sexual touch with her? Do you hug and kiss her before leaving for work? Do you initiate holding hands with her while you're walking or in a movie?
You and your wife need to talk about this issue, clarify some basic male/female differences, and intentionally cultivate new levels of intimacy in your marriage.
Carrie Oliver, M.A., is a marriage and family counselor. Gary J. Oliver is executive director of The Center for Marriage & Family Studies at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. The Olivers have co-authored Raising Sons and Loving It! (Zondervan). Visit Carrie and Gary at www.liferelationships.com.
Copyright © 2003 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.