Today my wife and I celebrate ten years of marriage. It’s been said that the first twenty years of marriage are the warm up. Since I haven’t been married twenty years, I can’t comment on that point. What I will say is I’ve learned a tremendous amount about marriage from experience. My wife often tells me that I learn the best lessons from experience and she’s right. The lessons that I’ve gone through in my life that I most remember weren’t one’s I learned from being in Bible college or Seminary for five years. They weren’t from reading thousands upon thousands of books as I have either. Instead, they were learned from experience. Now surely my experience has been informed by the growth of my knowledge of Christianity. Doctrine takes precedence over experience and informs our experience of life. In this post, I’d like to share a few key lessons I’ve learned in ten years of marriage to my beautiful wife.

The first few years of marriage were rough for my wife and I. I was a big idiot and often not nice or godly for that matter. During these years I said I’m sorry and apologized often. What changed for me was the realization of what repentance is. I was saying sorry for many things over and over again. Sure I meant them to a degree, but they weren’t as heartfelt as they should have been. Truly I hadn’t repented before God for what I had said many times. Real repentance isn’t just saying we’re sorry for our sin; instead, it’s by grace turning from our sin, mortifying (putting to death), and turning to Jesus.

As I continued to grow in my marriage with my wife, I noticed that the more I prayed for her and with her the better our marriage got. Our love grew deeper together not only as we prayed but as we discussed theological issues. In Bible College and Seminary, I was extremely fortunate to have my wife. She not only supported me in every way possible throughout my education but she also edited all my papers. My wife is a tremendous editor and now serves as the copy editor for our magazine Theology for Life. She also was the Knowledge Management editor for technical documents for NASA (yes the NASA!).

Part of being a godly man is owning up to your failings. I had to learn to not point the finger at my wife for sins that she did because those were most of the time the same sins that I was committing in my marriage. I had to learn to take a more grace-centered approach towards my wife. For someone who can be pretty stubborn (okay very stubborn!) at times, this wasn’t easy. I wish I could say that I’ve grown out of my stubbornness, but I’d be lying. I’m still very much a work in progress. The things is by owning up to my failings I’m able to overlook my wife’s.

This is where things in my experience can get tricky. Whenever I counsel men to overlook their wife’s failures, I have to be clear about what I’m saying. By overlooking our wife’s failings, I’m not saying that we never speak to them about their issues. I’m also not saying we don’t ever speak the truth in love. But many men treat their wives like they are another guy. That’s wrong. Our wives are not “one of the guys,” and we shouldn’t treat them like it. Many of our wives are very sensitive, caring, and compassionate women. They deserve to be treated with great care and with the most utmost respect.

When we address our wives men and their issues what they need to hear first is how we’ve failed. They need an acknowledgment of our struggles in the area and to hear how we are working on the area we are talking to them about. They see us as we are. When we play pretense with our wives, you are likely to see them shut down or get agitated by your perceived moral superiority. They don’t want to hear about our superiority. Instead, our wives want to see us be humble, graceful, and godly men who own up to our issues and lead them towards Christ. True leadership is about dying to self and making of Jesus.

When we address our wives about their issues, we do so from a posture of servanthood. We do so with a view to talk to them about their issue in a grace-filled way. It has only been in the past few years where I’ve been able to do this successfully without my wife thinking that I have some agenda or mean something else. If you’ve been harsh with your wife or overly domineering, it is going to take time for her to allow you to speak into her life. It is going to take you asking the hard questions about your own sin and being willing to hear the hard words about how you’ve treated her. It is going to take humility for you to acknowledge how you’ve sinned and by God’s grace continue to repent of how you’ve treated her and to continue to work on your marriage.

When two Christians love the Lord and one another there is no object in a marriage that they cannot overcome. Love from the Lord and for the Lord truly can overcome any and all issues. It also requires sacrifice. It requires one to acknowledge their error and to apologize, repent, and mortify sin.

When we apologize, we don’t just say, “Sorry” either. Sorry doesn’t often cut it. If we’ve said a mean word or done a sinful action towards our spouses, we need to get specific. Instead of saying, “I’m sorry” we should say, “Dear ______, I’m sorry for the ______ I’ve done. I know when I did ____ I hurt you a lot. I’m sincerely sorry for sinning against you in this way. Will you please forgive me?” By owning up to our sin, we are acknowledging we need God’s grace. Over time and perhaps even immediately your spouse may forgive you. They may also request time to be by themselves. Give them the space they need.

While I’m on the subject of space, let me give you some advice men. If your wife is anything like mine, she needs space. She also needs friends. Allow her some breathing room. Don’t close off communication with other people and smother your wife. When your wife says she loves you, she means it. Trust that. Allow her the room if she wants to read to read. If she says, she doesn’t want to do anything don’t get insecure and then react. Instead, give her the room she needs and let her have some space.

I learned this past lesson the hard way in my early years of marriage. I would often smother Sarah. She would be out with friends, and I would call and call until she would pick up. I would then get a very unhappy wife on the phone. That’s not good! You do NOT WANT an unhappy wife. Trust me! When your wife says she loves you, she means it. Take her at her word. Rest in the knowledge of her love for you.

Lastly, I want to urge you as men to grow in your understanding of God’s grace. You need to be opening your Bible reading, meditating on it, and studying it daily. You need to develop a daily habit of regular prayer. You also need a godly older man whose been married for awhile to talk to about life and your marriage. All of this will help you to grow in God’s grace.

Marriage will over time even out the rough edges of your life. It will cause you to deal with sin in your life that you don’t want to deal with. Having a godly marriage is very difficult. It’s not easy. Even by sharing these few points I have in this article, I’m not saying that I have it all figured out or that I’ve arrived in these areas. I still sin, and I still have to apologize, repent, and mortify my sin on a daily basis. Where I’ve grown and where you need to grow as well is in being honest, transparent, not being afraid of weakness, but instead by God’s grace embracing it.

The prideful man does none of what I’ve mentioned in this article. Instead, they continue as if nothing is wrong with them. If you do that over time, your wife will shut down. You will kill the most beautiful thing about your wife that caused you to fall in love with her- her amazing heart, and her love for Jesus. As men, our responsibility is to shepherd our wives, to cultivate the garden of her heart by continuing to point her to the finished work of Jesus.

Wherever you are at in your marriage today, there are things to learn and do. The only reason we can do any of it is because of God’s grace. God has taken our hearts of stone and replaced it with a new heart, with new desires, and new affections, all for His glory. Whether you’ve failed in the past or not that’s not the issue. Will you now by God’s grace pick yourself up out of the pit, acknowledge your sin and failings to God and your wife, and by God’s grace begin again? If so you can have a successful marriage. In fact, I might add you need to do that every day to have a successful marriage that glorifies God.

These lessons I’ve shared with you were hard won. I continue to need to be reminded of them. I continue to have a great need of Christ and a great Christ for my need. I also continue to have a great need of other godly men to help me navigate the challenges of life and marriage. I’m thankful the Lord has provided these men and great friends to help me along my walk with God. I owe much to them and supremely to God’s grace.