A message to Presidents of theological seminaries
It is a very great honor for me to speak to you today, because of who you are – respected Christian leaders in a position to influence so many men and women around the world. It has been my privilege to get to know many of you personally and to see your dedication to advancing the Kingdom of God, not just as seminary presidents but in many other ways as well.
It is also a privilege to speak to you because of what I do. I speak and teach on teen sexuality and sex education to adults who work with young people – to seminary students, pastors, youth leaders, and parents – and I know that you are in a position to greatly influence attitudes toward sexuality among members of your faculty, administration, and students – and, through them, the church. In a culture in which marriage is taken so lightly and intimate relationships are so fragile, theological education must begin to deal more intentionally with marital relationships.
Your relationship with your wife is a key to the influence you exert upon those around you. If others see in your marriage a reflection of Christ’s love for his church, they will have a godly standard for their own present or future marriages. If not, you will have missed a crucial opportunity to influence both their Christian witness and their marital happiness.
I have studied and spoken on this topic. Perhaps even more importantly in this setting, I am the wife of an international leader and speaker (one you all know!), and therefore I probably have much in common with your wives. So I am grateful for the invitation to speak on their behalf and to share some insights on what men need to know about their wives. It is my heartfelt prayer that if your wives could hear what I say today they would respond with “Yes! That’s what I need! That’s how I feel!”
And those of you who are women can use this opportunity to further help your male colleagues here to understand a woman’s point of view.
The question I’ve been asked to address in these few minutes is: “From a woman’s perspective, what can men do that will most build a strong marriage and communicate love to their wives?”
In answer to this question, I would like to suggest:
- one truth you need to grasp
- six habits you need to develop, and
- three obstacles you may face.
- The truth you need to grasp
Because you and your wife became one in marriage, there is a place in her life that no one but you can fill. If she doesn’t feel your love she will feel unloved, no matter how many others love her. If she doesn’t have enough time with you, she will feel lonely, no matter how many other people are in her life. If she doesn’t feel valued by you, the praise of others will feel empty. No other human being can satisfy the longings in her that you were meant to fulfill. No one.
The one truth you need to grasp is this:
Your wife wants to feel that you love her. She wants emotional intimacy with you moment by moment, day by day, month after month and year after year.
God created women with this need, and He tells husbands to nourish and cherish their wives (Eph. 5:28-29):
Husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he nourishes (ἐκτρέφει) and cherishes (θάλπει) it, just as Christ does the church.
It isn’t enough to say “I love you” or “I miss you when we’re not together.” It is important to say those things, and to say them often, but words aren’t enough if they aren’t demonstrated by actions.
How can you communicate your love in such a way that your wife will know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you delight in her? That she has a unique place in your heart and your life, far above any other human being?
- Six habits you need to develop
Dr. Tracy has reminded us that fighting sexual temptation must be a conscious priority. Building a strong marriage and communicating love to your wife must also be a conscious priority. It doesn’t just happen. A relationship is either dynamic and maturing, or it is stagnant and dying. If it is not constantly becoming more intimate it will stagnate, and intimacy will gradually be replaced by a feeling of distance – a feeling experienced especially keenly by your wife.
What is intimacy? It is not just proximity (being together in one place) and physical intimacy (sex). Your wife can be lonely even when you are physically there. One definition of intimacy is “a knowing that leads to caring, understanding, communication, and communion.” In a large survey of what women wished their husbands knew about them, many wives echoed these words of one wife, “I don’t think my husband understands how desperately I want to be known. I really want him to be more interested in who I really am.”
How can you have this kind of intimacy with your wife?
I’d like to suggest that there are six habits you need to develop, if you haven’t already done so.
(i) Making time for your wife
You can’t love your wife adequately if you don’t know her, and you can’t know her if you don’t spend time together, one on one. Most women fall in love with men who have set aside time for conversation and the expression of affection. They stay in love with men who continue to meet those needs. Love dies when partners spend little time together and stop sharing activities that are mutually enjoyable.
The reason you spend time with your colleagues and with supporters of your institutions is that spending time with them in person gives you insights and a sense of rapport that you can’t get in any other way. Quality time comes out of quantity time together. Do you spend adequate time with your wife to allow the significant to emerge naturally from the casual? Do you do things as a couple that will build a sense of togetherness?
Willard Harley, a counselor and author of the well known book His Needs Her Needs, says that married couples need to spend fifteen hours a week alone together giving each other their undivided attention.
(ii) Seeing her
Do you really see your wife? Do you regularly stop whatever you are doing and focus on her? Do you look into her eyes and smile at her? I have on my desk at home a greeting card with a picture of a little girl lifting a curtain to look out the window. The caption is, “A smile is like a light in the window, indicating that the heart is at home and waiting.” Do you regularly show your wife that your heart is at home and waiting for emotional intimacy with her? Do you notice when she is happy, or sad? Do you notice what she is wearing? Do you praise her? When you and she are with others, do your glances or smile or touch show her that you are still aware of her presence and happy that she is with you? She needs to know that you find her beautiful and have eyes only for her.
(iii) Conversing with her
Do you spend time in conversation with your wife? Do you listen to her? Are you totally present as she speaks, or are you thinking about something else? Do you listen for understanding? Or as she talks are you thinking of what you will say in return? Or how you will defend your point of view? Are you “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry”(James 1:19)? Does your wife feel totally safe to share her thoughts, her concerns, and her needs with you without fear that you will become defensive, or withdraw?
Are you patient in helping her solve problems? Someone has described a woman’s mind as a computer screen on which many windows are open simultaneously – always. When we wake up in the morning they are already there. Until a problem is satisfactorily resolved it will be constantly on our mind; we can’t not think about it. We solve problems by discussing them.
Do you talk with your wife as well as listening to her? At what level do you communicate with her – do you merely impart information or tell her your opinion, or do you share your emotions with her – your love, hurt, joy, sadness, affection, anger? Emotional connection comes from the honest expression of thoughts and emotions.
Do your facial expression and your body language invite interaction? Is your tone of voice gentle and loving? A 4-year-old boy who was asked “What is love?” answered, “When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You just know that your name is safe in their mouth.”
(iv) Affectionate touching
Do you often touch your wife without intending the touch to end in sex? Do you always greet her with a kiss and an embrace when you return home at the end of the day, or from a trip? Do you hold her hand, caress her face, put your arm around her shoulders, sit close together?
(v) Talking about sex
Do you communicate with your wife about how you can best fulfill each other’s sexual needs and desires? While you are being sexually intimate you can guide through touch and brief words, but it is also essential to take time to talk about your sexual relationship so you can evaluate how each is feeling and what may need changing. This is biblical! For God’s perspective on talking about sex, read the Song of Songs.
(vi) Having fun
You and your wife need to plan fun times together, with each other and with other couples. You should have some friends who are not ministry colleagues, with whom you can more easily leave work issues behind.
- Three obstacles you may face in building a strong marriage
What obstacles might make it difficult for you to spend enough time with your wife and to communicate with her in ways that constantly reassure her that she has a special place in your heart and your life?
(i) Your schedule
I’m sure that the first obstacle that comes to your mind is your schedule. You have far more to do than you can possibly get done. The key is to realize just that: for someone with your passion for theological education and for the Kingdom there is always more to do than can be done. The question is, what does God expect you to do? Do you ask Him what needs to be changed so that there will be not only enough time for your wife but also enough emotional energy to relate intimately to her. If your wife really is your top priority – next to God – then you will make time for her.
(ii) You think that all is well in your relationship
You may think that your wife knows inherently that she is first in your life, regardless of the amount and quality of the time you spend together. Does she? Is she? Because she loves you, and because she realizes the importance of the work you are doing – as well as the inherent stress involved – she may not feel free to share her unhappiness or her unfulfilled longings for a deeper relationship with you. She may feel that her needs and desires are insignificant when compared with the importance of your ministry activities.
It is all too possible to see ourselves other than as we really are. That is why we need others to whom we give the freedom to point out things we don’t see about ourselves.
(iii) Discomfort with the idea of emotional intimacy
Maybe you are personally uncomfortable with the idea of emotional intimacy. The missionary and counselor Walter Trobisch said that a man often “locks his feelings in the basement because he doesn’t want them to show.” Maybe in your culture it is unacceptable for men to share their feelings. Or perhaps you would like to have this kind of intimacy with your wife but you just don’t know how to begin.
For you, as a man, entering into deeper emotional intimacy may be the hardest thing you’ve ever done – and the easiest to avoid doing. How can you overcome the obstacles and begin regularly communicating your delight in your wife in ways that affirm her importance to you?
You could start by discussing your notes on this talk with her.
The greatest erogenous zone of a woman’s body is her heart. Words, smiles, touch, time spent alone together – these things are so important to a woman that if she doesn’t have them it will be hard for her to recognize and appreciate all the other wonderful things her husband does for her.
The Word of God to you, through the Apostle Paul, is: “Love your wife. Nourish and cherish her.”
As you do this, you will be reflecting Christ’s loving care for his bride, the Church.
I gave this talk at an Overseas Council International “Institute of Excellence” held in 2007 in Frankfurt, Germany for presidents of theological seminaries in the non-Western world. Approximately 100 presidents, almost all of them male, were in attendance. My talk was part of a presentation by Dr. Steven Tracy, Professor of Theology and Ethics at Phoenix Seminary, USA. His talk was entitled “Developing Healthy Sexuality in Leaders.” My husband was at that time a Vice-President of Overseas Council International.
 Nourisheth (ἐκτρέφει [ektrephei]). Old compound with perfective sense of ἐκ [ek] (to nourish up to maturity and on). In the New Testament only here and in Eph 6:4. Cherisheth (θάλπει [thalpei]). Late and rare word, once in a marriage contract in a papyrus. In New Testament only here and 1 Thess. 2:7. Primarily it means to warm (Latin foveo), then to foster with tender care as here. A. Robertson 1997. Word Pictures in the New Testament. Vol. V c1932, Vol. VI c1933 by Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. Logos Research Systems: Oak Harbor.
 Jack O. Balswick and Judith K. Balswick, The Family: A Christian Perspective on the Contemporary Home (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 2007), p. 33.
 Willard F. Harley, Jr., His Needs Her Needs (Grand Rapids: Fleming H. Revell, 1986).
 Balswick, p. 234.
 Walter Trobisch, The Misunderstood Man: Why Men Suffer and What Can Be Done about It. (Downers Grove, IL.: InterVarsity Press, 1983).