By / Jul 11

Your wife feels lonely after two years of COVID-induced isolation. Your husband was recently laid off and feels rejected and insecure. Your wife struggles with depression and is having a particularly rough day. Your husband just lost his father, and his heart is bleeding. Your spouse is emotionally suffering. What do you do? 

In a broken world that only seems to be breaking more with each passing day, the question is important. How do you minister to a suffering spouse who is riddled with heartache, hopelessness, anxiety, angst, disappointment, doubt, or despair? A spouse who is overwhelmed, overworked, or overstressed? A spouse who is battling fear, guilt, shame, exhaustion, grief, or a plethora of other soul-testing emotions? 

What do you do when your spouse is suffering on the inside?

What not to do

First, let me share three things not to do:

1. Fix. Don’t put on your relational tool belt and offer quick fixes. It makes your spouse feel like a problem to be solved, not a person to be loved. It’s dehumanizing. It certainly doesn’t mirror the way that God treats us in our emotional distress. He rarely gives us quick fixes. He meets us in our pain, links arms with us, and walks with us through our suffering. Do the same for your spouse. 

2. Make it about you. It’s easy to make your spouse’s emotional pain about you. How does the pain make you feel? What impact is the pain having on your life? How did you possibly contribute to the pain? STOP. Stop making your spouse’s suffering about you. It’s impossible to love your spouse well when your eyes are fixated on yourself. Adjust your lenses, and focus on your spouse. Not on you. 

3. Make it not about you. It’s also easy to check out when your spouse is hurting inside. Why do we check out? We don’t know what to say. We don’t know what to do. We don’t know how to help. So we walk away. Don’t. Stay connected. You are one flesh with your spouse (Gen. 2:24). Just like shedding a hurting body part is not an option, abandoning your hurting spouse is not an option.

What you should do: BLESS  

So what should you do when your spouse is in emotional distress? Allow me to provide a step-by-step framework. I call it BLESS. It stands for Be, Listen, Empathize, Speak, Solve. Before I explain, I want to share three disclaimers:

First, this is a framework—a rule of thumb. It isn’t a one-size-fits-all formula. Every spouse is different. Every situation is different. People are complex. Life is complex. It won’t work for everybody—just most people in most situations.

Second, order is important. If you go out of order, you may frustrate your spouse at best or cause additional emotional damage at worst. 

Finally, you might only do the first one, two, three, or four steps. That’s okay. Not every situation calls for all five steps. Be prepared to stop at any point in the process.

Be: Sometimes all your spouse needs is your presence. Not your listening ear. Not your words. Not your actions. Your spouse only needs to know that you are there. You are not going anywhere. Your shoulder is there to cry on. Your hand is there to hold. You are there to hug and be hugged if necessary. You. Are. There. 

I suspect this might be tough—to simply be present without saying or doing anything. It is. It requires self-control. It requires patience. It requires you to relinquish control and know that God is God (Ps. 46:10); that his love and sovereignty are ruling and reigning over your spouse in that moment. It requires you to surrender your spouse into Christ’s hands, which are far more capable hands than yours.  

Listen: If your spouse speaks, close your mouth and listen (James 1:19). Concentrate on what is being said; not only the words but also the body language. Don’t think about what you are going to say. Don’t think about how your spouse should feel. Don’t think about how to make the pain go away. Don’t think about anything except what your spouse is saying. Just. Listen.

Empathize: If, and only if, you’ve thoroughly listened to your spouse, you may now open your mouth. What should you say? Precisely what your spouse said—in your own words. In other words, empathize with your spouse. Speak what you heard back in a way that makes your spouse say, “Yes, you get me.” If you aren’t sure what your spouse just said, ask questions to gain clarity. 

Why is empathy important? It makes your spouse feel known—the first half of the core human desire to be fully known and fully loved. It lets your spouse know that you are tracking, that you care, and that you are, once again, 100% present. It’s healing. It’s restorative. It says, “I know you, and you are worthy to be known.”

Speak: If, and only if, you’ve been present, listened, and empathized with your spouse, it may be time to speak words of life into your spouse’s heart (Prov. 18:21). You might share a passage of Scripture. You might offer a nugget of theological truth. You might give a word of encouragement. You might even (and tread lightly here) tell a joke! The point is that your words should be specifically calculated to build up your spouse (Eph. 4:29). They should infuse life. They should revive, refresh, and restore. They should heal your spouse’s heart.

Solve: If, and only if, you’ve been present, listened, empathized, and spoken life-giving words, it may be time to offer advice. Perhaps you suggest a list of action items that will assuage your spouse’s pain. Perhaps you point out ways that your spouse is unknowingly and unintentionally exacerbating the pain. Perhaps you offer a gentle admonishment if you see sin in your spouse’s life. Again, be careful. You don’t want to unintentionally wound your spouse with an ill-timed solution. One helpful tip is to ask if your spouse wants a solution. If the answer is yes, then proceed. If not, put your tool belt back in the closet. 

Conclusion

Be. Listen. Empathize. Speak. Solve. In that order. It’s hard. It’s unnatural. It takes discipline. You might not see immediate results. But that’s okay. It isn’t about results. It’s about love. It’s about incarnating the love of Christ and about being a blessing to your suffering spouse. 

Questions for reflection

  1. Why is it so hard to enter your spouse’s emotional pain without offering solutions? Why is it so hard for you to listen without speaking? What in your heart prevents you from following the sequential steps of BLESS?
  2. Have you ever been in a state of emotional turmoil, and somebody offered you a trite platitude or a quick fix? How did that make you feel? 
  3. Psalm 139 tells us that we are fully known and fully loved by God. He sees and understands us and still loves us. Why is this so healing? What can you do to make your suffering spouse feel this way?
By / Feb 10

A happy and healthy marriage is one of God’s sweetest gifts to us. And one of the best ways to nurture your marriage is through the power of prayer. In their new book, 5 Things to Pray for Your Spouse, Michael and Melissa Kruger help you to pray bold and biblical prayers for your husband or wife that will strengthen and enrich your marriage. As Nancy Guthrie says in her forward:

There is a great deal we can do for our spouses. But there is so much that only God can do, so much that only he can develop, and so much that only he can provide. So we pray. And as we pray instead of worry, pray instead of complain, pray instead of strategize, we find that God is not only doing a work in our spouse, he’s doing a work in us too.

The book makes a great wedding, anniversary, or Valentine’s Day gift. It covers 21 prayer themes, and each one includes five prayer prompts from a particular passage of Scripture. You’ll be equipped to pray deep and effective prayers for your spouse’s character and spiritual walk, for your life together as a couple, and through challenging seasons.

Below is a sample passage from the book — five prayer prompts for handling conflict in your marriage based on Ephesians 4:25–32:

Father, if we have conflict with one another let us . . . 

1. Speak truthfully.

“ Each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully.” (v. 25)

In every quarrel there is always the temptation to exaggerate the other person’s sins and downplay our own. Pray that God would allow each of you to speak truthfully in the midst of conflict. Also, ask the Lord to give you the courage to speak the truth, even if it’s difficult or awkward, knowing that it’s better to be honest than to suppress the truth and let bitterness grow.

2. Reconcile quickly.

“Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” (v. 26)

When conflict is left unresolved sometimes it can become entrenched. As a result, some conflicts can last days, weeks, and even years. Pray that any conflict you face would be resolved as quickly as possible. Ask for grace to be the first to apologize, the first to forgive, and the first to move toward the other person.

3. Put away bitterness.

“Get rid of all bitterness.” (v. 31)

If conflict occurs over the course of many years, bitterness has a way of setting in. Spouses can begin to resent one another if they have been hurt over and over again. Pray that the Lord would prevent a root of bitterness from taking hold in your marriage. Ask the Lord to reveal in what ways you might need to apologize to your spouse for past wrongs.

4. Be kind.

“ Be kind . . .  to one another.” (v. 32)

Praise God today for his kindness to you — even though you did nothing to deserve it. Ask God to give you a heart that is tender and affectionate toward your spouse, demonstrated in simple acts of kindness toward them each day. Pray also that the Lord would show you tangible ways to do good to your spouse, even if they are not always good to you in return.

5. Forgive one another.

“Forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (v 32)

It’s hard to truly forgive those who wrong us. Sometimes we may even want to withhold forgiveness. Rejoice that Christ forgave you when you were undeserving. Pray that God would give both you and your spouse a heart that recognizes how much you’ve been forgiven so that you can, in turn, freely and readily forgive one another. 

By / Oct 6

Singleness is a long hike up a steep hill. Chances are, you’re either on the hike yourself or you know someone who is. Most single people have some stories to tell — about the breathtaking views and the arduous climb. Singleness is just that kind of hike, that kind of hill.

I’m so grateful for my 34-year ascent up that beautiful, arduous path. It was harder than I could hope to describe, and I’m left with some hardy callouses, a few long-term injuries, and a smidge of PTSD. But I look back at the climb as one of the greatest experiences God has entrusted to me.

I’ve been married for over a decade now. I didn’t hike nearly as far as some, and yet I still smell strongly of the earth and pine of that trail. Contrary to popular opinion, I didn’t arrive when I finally married; life didn’t begin when I got a ring on my finger and a baby in my womb. Yes, the path altered significantly, but the goal and the Guide remained the same.

I often think about my single years, even occasionally dream about them. In a crowd of people, I find myself drawn to the woman who also knows the ways of the hill. In fact, my own story has become inextricably woven into the stories of many single women who I’ve met over the years. I’ve learned that we each shoulder a unique load; we each view the hill through different eyes. Truth is, you could talk to a hundred different single women and get a hundred different versions of the hike.

We’re not meant to walk alone 

But all of us have agreed on one thing in particular: We’re not meant to go it alone. We’re meant for joyful relationships with Christ and his people. Our one great good is God himself, and one of the best ways we can experience him is by being in relationship with each other.

The psalmist David put it this way: 

I said to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have nothing good besides you.” As for the holy people who are in the land, they are the noble ones. All my delight is in them (Psa. 16:2–3, emphasis mine). 

These two things can sound contrary, but in fact, they perfectly coexist: God is our only good, and his people are all our delight.

An uphill climb requires gargantuan good and strong doses of delight. This relational joy we share with each other and our God enables us to do feats otherwise impossible. And, at least in my own experience, singleness sometimes felt like an impossible feat. I knew it was part of God’s good plan for me. It was the conduit of incredible blessings in my life, but it wasn’t what I had prepared for, and it definitely wasn’t the norm in my social circles — hence the uphill feeling.

To every grief there is a gift 

The problem was actually a good one: as a single woman who loved Jesus and his church, I held a high view of marriage, sex, and childbearing. I was convinced God is the Creator and sustainer of these beautiful gifts — gifts he chooses to give most women.

I also understood that marriage would not be the answer to all of my problems. And I wasn’t duped by the notion that a man (or children) would fulfill my deepest desires. Only Christ could do that.

But when nearly every friend of mine had made it to the altar, and I was still standing on the sidelines with half a dozen bridesmaid dresses in hand, I felt somewhat disoriented — even occasionally distressed — as I figured out how to function outside the natural order of things. I deeply wanted what God wanted for me, and on those days when I didn’t want it, I asked him to help me want it. But I was a square peg in a round hole. I didn’t know how to fit into a world made for couples and families.

It wasn’t that I lacked friends. I had an ever-expanding social circle and more relationships than I knew what to do with. But for all practical purposes, I was flying solo. I paid my own bills, made my own meals, haggled with the repairman at the car shop, held down high-pressure jobs, cleaned, and calendared, and dealt with conflict all by myself. (Day after day, year after year.) Even though I was blessed with friends and family and roommates who shared in some of my life tasks, I bore a tremendous amount of responsibility alone.

One of my former roommates, Sarah, expressed my feelings perfectly: “The hardest part of being single,” she said, “is knowing I’m no one’s first priority.” Sarah was not one to view singleness as suffering, but she grieved the reality that there wasn’t one main person to do life with and for. I’ve had many single friends echo this sentiment. I felt it keenly myself. What a bizarre experience it was to spend my days in the company of so many wonderful people, to be busy and fulfilled doing work that mattered — yet all the while feel so . . . on my own.

But to every grief there is a gift, and the absence of a first-priority relationship afforded me the time and motivation to seek Christ in focused ways. While some of my married friends confessed they were struggling to perceive God’s presence, I was experiencing his nearness in almost palpable ways. He was my first love, and I felt like his beloved. As much as I didn’t like the Apostle Paul’s enthusiasm for singleness, I had to admit he was right: I was enjoying a unique and beautiful devotion to Christ (1 Cor. 7:32–35).

Where our maturity comes from 

Over the years, I came to be known as a strong, self-sufficient woman (an identity not without its own issues), but still there was this underlying tone in many people’s comments to me — an unintentional message that I was not as complete or mature as my married and mommied friends. We’ve all been guilty of spouting folly in our eagerness to help a friend, yes? (In my 20s, I practically buried people alive with my zealous advice.) But ignorant counsel is a lot like a knife in the hand of a drunkard (Prov. 26:9), and many a single woman has been slain by comments such as:

Motherhood is the most sanctifying thing in the world! I was so selfish and immature before I had kids!

Marriage is so hard. Don’t get your hopes up.

You’re so lucky to be single! I’d give anything to have a day all to myself!

As soon as you’re perfectly content, God will bring along your husband.

Maybe you should try online dating/wear more makeup/’put yourself out there more.’

Singleness is easily misunderstood. It takes time to truly listen to someone’s heart and pursue knowing them past our own limited experiences. For this reason, the single woman is often treated as a problem to solve or as a lesser citizen instead of as an example to emulate and an integral part of the community.

My single friends who are lovers of Jesus and his Word are wellsprings of wisdom and maturity. They live out their faith in secular workplaces and high-profile ministries; they know how to do life with multiple roommates and in transitory housing. They have diversified skill sets and life experiences that offer invaluable perspective to the one who has ears to hear and eyes to see.

The Psalmist understood it is the power of Scripture, not a particular status in life, that forms wisdom and maturity in us:

I have more insight than all my teachers because your decrees are my meditation. I understand more than the elders because I obey your precepts (Psa. 119:99–100).

Yes, marriage and motherhood mature us in big ways. We could even say they are the normative plan for life maturity. But when God chooses to work outside the norm, does he leave his beloved daughter stuck in a lower life cycle? Should we automatically assume the 40-year-old single woman has less wisdom than the 40-year-old wife married for two decades? Of course not. God desires all of his daughters to grow up into his fullness — and he shows them the way to complete maturity:

Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing (James 1:2–4).

It takes joyful endurance to stay married.
It takes joyful endurance to parent children.
It takes joyful endurance to be single.

So all of us, in every season of life, have the same shot at maturity — as we remain in the Word and in relationship with each other, and we endure with joy.

Pursuing purity in a sexually-crazed culture 

Endurance in singleness can come in a variety of forms, one of which is the pursuit of purity in a sexually-crazed and confused culture. For the woman who believes sex is a sacred gift from God kept for marriage — regardless of her background and experiences — she faces the Sisyphean task of purity over years and even decades. (Although, unlike Sisyphus, her task is ultimately fruitful, not futile.)

What’s more, as intense as this war is, single women do most of their battling alone, and isolation can feel more grueling than a bout with the Grim Reaper.

For example, when I was diagnosed with cancer two years ago, I began sending out regular email updates with specific ways people could pray for our family. To a certain extent, people understand cancer; they know what’s at stake and comprehend the vocabulary. Words like invasive, aggressive, and chemotherapy clearly communicated our family’s grave reality, and as a result, we received an outpouring of love and support.

In stark contrast, I felt incredibly isolated and without a vocabulary for my sexual reality in singleness. How could I describe what it was like to daily deny the strong impulses of my flesh without sounding disturbing, inappropriate, or desperate? How could I share my struggle just enough to not feel so alone?

But again, grief is accompanied by gift, and when God called me to something as difficult (i.e., humanly impossible) as abstinence into my mid-30s, he gave me such a breathtaking experience of his presence that I enjoyed soul intimacy with him even more than I longed for physical intimacy with a man. During those years, I knew that Isaiah 62 had been written just for me:

You will no longer be called Deserted,
And your land will not be called Desolate;
Instead, you will be called My Delight Is in Her . . .
As a groom rejoices over his bride, so your God will rejoice over you (vv. 4, 5 CSB).

Community. Maturity. Sexuality. These are just a few snapshots of the Beautiful Arduous Hill. And while many wiser women have said much about this hike, I add my own small voice in celebration of the incredible women in my life who daily wield mighty weapons, endure with joy, and model what it is to love Jesus more than husband, children, and home. To them I say, “All my delight is in you.”

This article originally appeared here