For “my” 174th act of love, I interviewed Tom and Debi Walter from The Romantic Vineyard about marriage. The thoughtfulness, sincerity, and downright usefulness of their answers really amazed me. Thanks, Tom and Debi! You’ve given my wife and me a tremendous gift. And keep up the great work on your blog.
(1) How important to your marriage is your relationship with God?
Our relationship with God is primary. He is the only reason our marriage works, because we are only able to love because He first loved us.
(2) What do you do to grow in God together?
We talk about our church’s sermons each week. We have our personal devotions each morning separately, but we’re reading the same Bible-reading plan. We’ve done this for the past few years, and what a difference it has made in our spiritual intimacy. We can talk about what we’re currently reading and we’re working to apply it to our life.
(3) What does commitment look like in your marriage?
Commitment is doing what you know you ought to do whether you feel like it or not. Commitment is loving your spouse when they aren’t so lovable. Commitment is outdoing one another in showing acts of kindness to each other. Commitment is living your marriage vows with no option of divorce. Tom told me when we first were married that divorce would never be an option for us. We would have to work on any problems we faced—that’s commitment!
(4) What’s the key to a happy marriage? A loving marriage? A lifelong marriage?
A happy marriage comes and goes. Happiness is measured by our feelings. Joy is something we have regardless of how we feel. A marriage is loving when it is walking in light of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. As far as the lifelong marriage goes . . . we’re not there yet, but we’re on our way. We celebrated our 33rd anniversary on Feb. 24th. We’ve had our trials and conflicts, but the commitment we made “for better or for worse,” always kept us moving forward, even if it was an inch at a time.
(5) What marriage resources (e.g., books, conferences, blogs, etc.) do you recommend?
Our favorite marriage book right now is by Paul David Tripp, and it’s titled, What Did You Expect? As far as conferences go, we love CCEF and all the conferences and materials they provide. CCEF stands for Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation. They use the Bible as their primary counseling book, and the effects are quite successful. There are many great marriage blogs available as well. We would recommend going to the newly formed Christian Marriage Bloggers Association in order to see the list of other like-minded marriage ministries who host blogs for the upbuilding of strong and lasting marriages.
(6) Do you recommend that we find another married couple who can mentor us?
Yes, yes, and YES! Tom has led us from day one to find other couples who you admire for their marriage and pursue them. Ask them questions. Seek their advice on difficulties or decisions you’re considering. Invite them into your lives for their support and help.
(7) What advice can you give me for 365 Acts of Love?
It has been a joy to watch you grow in your sincere love for your wife. When you first began it was obvious this was something way out of your comfort zone. But you stayed the course, and in the process the Lord is changing you to love your wife more like Christ loves the church. We would encourage you to pray more for God to be glorified in how you love your wife. This isn’t just about you, but it’s about the glory God receives as you learn to love your wife the way He demonstrated for us. We believe God is pleased with your efforts. Keep it up. There is a saying that goes something like this: it’s not about the destination but about who we become in the process. Your goal for 365 Acts of Love is changing you and the way you love your wife. May there be more than 365 . . . an entire lifetime.
(8) What are some ways that you show love for each other?
We pay attention to little requests and seek to do them. Something we’ve practiced for years. We also have a weekly date night, one night a week where we have each other’s undivided attention. It doesn’t have to be out on the town either. Some of our best dates have been sitting on our back porch talking and listening.
(9) What sorts of loving acts do you think are most effective in showing your spouse you love him or her? Least effective?
It’s best to show your spouse you love them based on things that bless them. For instance, Tom loves a clean and neat bedroom. So I purpose to keep our room this way as often as possible. If he’s had a rough day, I’ll even make him a before-dinner snack, walk him from the garage to our room, sit him down with soft music playing, and close the door. This gives him time to relax before dinner. He loves it when I do that! He has cleaned the entire kitchen for me when I was exhausted, or discouraged. He will often clean our shower too, because he knows I don’t like to. Little things tend to mean the most as the years pass. Don’t neglect the little, everyday moments. The least effective ways to show your love would be doing things that really aren’t important to your spouse. If your spouse isn’t one to like gifts, then don’t buy gifts for them for they won’t be as meaningful as you hoped. The 5 Love Languages is a great resource for determining how your spouse likes to be loved.
(10) What should someone do when he or she doesn’t feel like loving his or her spouse?
Love them anyway and pray. Love is not a feeling . . . feelings are fickle and can’t be trusted. All relationships go through dry seasons. What you become on the other side of staying committed through the dryness is worth it all. The feelings will return. Just keep doing what you know you should do, whether you feel it or not. This is only possible by the power God supplies. He is the only One who can sustain this kind of love. Without His help, we would be powerless to love in this way. But with God all things are possible.
(11) How important is romance for a marriage? What do you do to keep the romance going in your relationship?
As we mentioned before, we have a regular date night. We also celebrate every anniversary, i.e., our first date, the day he proposed, and our wedding date. I, Debi, also like to plan special surprises for Tom when he least expects it. Our blog, The Romantic Vineyard, is full of some of the ideas I’ve come up with.
(12) What do you do to foster closeness in your relationship?
We are best friends. There is no one else we would rather spend time with. We each have guys friends and girl friends, but when we do things with them we’re usually together. There are times when Tom plays golf with the guys and I go shopping with the girls. But I’m an avid golfer too, and Tom enjoys shopping with me. We take an interest in what the other loves to do. In fact, I had to take golf lessons for 3 years in order to get good enough to play with Tom. I didn’t want him to think I was no fun to play golf with. As it turns out, he loves taking me on the course with him.
(13) How important is sexual intimacy in marriage?
Tom has always said that sex is a barometer of how healthy our marriage is. Now we realize there are some issues one spouse may have to overcome that has nothing to do with the other spouse, i.e., previous abusive relationships, poor self-image, etc. But we’re talking about a couple who is doing well in most areas, their sex life will be healthy as well. The sexual relationship is the closest the two of you can become in this life. It is more than a physical act; there is a spiritual oneness which glorifies God. We are celebrating the one flesh aspect of our marriage, which we do with no one else. It is special and it should be treated as such. It should never be withheld as a means of punishment.
(14) How do you deal with conflict in your marriage?
A lot differently than we did when we first got married. We used to give each other the silent treatment . . . for days. It was so immature and not helpful at all. Now, we usually communicate our need to talk about something. Then, when we do we say it not assuming we know the motive behind the action. Rather than say, “you always . . . or you never!” we say, “it seems that lately you’ve been distant to me. Is there something wrong?” See the difference? It’s not coming to them as a judge ready to catch them in their error. No, it’s coming alongside your spouse to love them enough to talk over the reason you feel the way you do. We have found this way to be the absolute best way to love your spouse through conflict. A picture came to me one time of two oxen who were yoked together. Imagine one sitting down and refusing to take another step? Or what if one wanted to go one way and one another? That wouldn’t work. The oxen would go nowhere. In marriage we are yoked together. We are on the same team. And we have a common enemy. Together we face our enemy and stand strong together against his attacks. And when we’re in disagreement, we stop, talk, and then continue forward.
(15) Have you ever had a crisis point in your marriage? How did you get through it?
Oh, yes. Many! We got through them by Godly counsel and God’s grace. It takes a willingness to humble yourself, confess your sin, and repent. Only then is growth possible. Remember God gives grace to the humble, but He resists the proud. If I am digging my heels in, demanding my way, I’m not only resisting my spouse, but God is resisting me. That’s a scary place to be. Being a humble spouse is key to having a healthy marriage.
(16) Do you have any advice for communicating well in marriage?
The best advice is to become a good listener. You’ve heard it said we have one mouth and two ears, which means we should listen twice as much as we speak. When our spouse says something and we’re tempted to react, it’s always good to make sure you’ve heard them correctly. We use this question often: Now, what did you hear me say? Asking this simple question has averted many conflicts.
(17) What one piece of advice has had the biggest impact on your marriage?
Be completely honest with your spouse and hold no secrets. This one piece of advice changed our marriage in a powerful way. It was hard telling each other things we never thought we would, but this is what is needed in a healthy marriage–vulnerability. And it must go both ways. If there is anything you would never want your spouse to know about you, then you most likely need to tell them. Our spouse should know us better than anyone else. And when they love us still, there is a deep intimacy which takes place. I believe following this advice took our marriage from a superficial love to a deep, God-honoring type of love. It was sacrificial because it cost us something to keep on loving even when we were hurt.
(18) Do you have any other advice for my wife or me?
Enjoy the process. Celebrate the good times. Extend forgiveness for the bad. And pursue God as individuals. As you grow closer to Him you will inevitably grow closer to each other. Look out for your spouse’s interests over your own, and you will succeed. Learn to ask good questions, hard questions, fun questions. Questions open up new possibilities and help clarify the right direction when change is needed. Never stop dreaming together.
Thank you for the opportunity to answer these questions. It’s seems fitting our last piece of advice was about asking good questions, because you’re doing this well. Thank you for your humility in asking us our thoughts. We pray they’ve been helpful.