"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." Luke 2: 14

"Fools mock at making amends for sin, but goodwill is found among the upright.” Proverbs 14: 9

After seventeen years of marriage, I can look back and say that it was my job to love my husband, Paul. Not to change him. It's God’s job to make him good and my responsibility to express goodwill – not condemnation.

Was I a woman of goodwill?

I was tested by this “goodwill” question when I married a Christian Nice Guy (CNG) seventeen years ago.  A CNG, you might ask?  Let me explain. I didn’t realize that the daily abuse my husband suffered as a child would affect our everyday life together. What I thought were such “nice” Christian qualities in my husband when we married turned into frustrations and fireworks because of my husband’s passive approach to life. Oh, don’t get me wrong.  My husband had amazing qualities, so that to this day I have never looked back. 

What exactly is goodwill in a marriage?

Goodwill is a tangible, practical expression of love. Helpfulness, concern, care, friendly disposition – are all related to goodwill and all lead to intimacy.  It is the willingness to act in a spirit of cooperation, instead of trying to win arguments. It is proactive, alive, and dynamic. Goodwill is not a passive attribute. Goodwill is among the most concrete ways of expressing love and fostering intimacy, yet when we think about this word, we think of used clothing. 

How do you know if you have it?

The "will to do good” toward your spouse is more than having good feelings for him (thank goodness). Though good feelings are important, goodwill also includes kindness, consideration, thoughtfulness, and practical support. This is wonderful news for CNG wives, because controlling how we feel is often harder than exerting our will to determine our good actions. 

It’s okay and even normal to have mixed feelings about your husband at times. For me, being an assertive woman, I found myself frustrated in this passive marriage. My husband lived under the radar of life. He felt that if he lived life safely, his problems would be few. And this affected the intimacy between us, though we both yearned for more depth in our relationship.

Intimacy is a choice, and you have to be available, present and vulnerable with one another. My CNG didn’t always feel safe with me, so it was easier for him to not always “show up.”  It was difficult for him to make his wants and needs known and he didn’t always come clean with how he felt.  In turn, I often found myself walking on eggshells - not a fun way to live.

How do you lose goodwill?

Goodwill, present in most marriages when vows are exchanged, can become virtually buried under the rubble of anger, resentment and dwindling respect that builds over time.  Coming to terms with these emotions is vital if you’re going to give your efforts toward helping intimacy grow.

If you lack goodwill, take up the task of becoming a worthy steward of your husband’s heart. It worked for me. I learned to be more supportive and understanding of my husband’s wacky past, and I started pulling out my secret weapon – empathy.  I became a woman of goodwill when I made an effort to understand Paul more, and I stopped the nagging, coercing, attacking and shaming which only pushed him further from me.

I came to the understanding that passive people are made (through life’s experiences), and not born.  As I  started becoming more empathetic toward Paul, my respect strengthened. I increasingly was able to see his struggles in a healthier light. My respect for him was enhanced even more once he started being more open and honest and he began to exert his will and express his feelings. 

When it comes to love and intimacy, goodwill is like silverware: Almost everyone can learn how to use it, even though we weren’t born knowing how, and even though some of us took a long time to try it. Goodwill is remarkably practical and beneficial for those who produce it and receive it.

(excerpts taken from Married but Not Engaged, Bethany House, 2006)


Sandy Coughlin is a wife and mother of 3. She loves her family and loves blessing other people's lives by entertaining in her home. Sandy’s husband, Paul, (who used to be the reluctant entertainer) has come on board, and they often offer hospitality together. Sandy and Paul co-authored a book called Married but Not Engaged(Bethany House, Aug. 2006). It's written to women who are married to "checked out" or emotionally absent men and who want to create a more satisfying, intimate relationship. This article was adapted from Sandy’s regularly updated blog “4 Reluctant Entertainers,” which you can visit at www.reluctantentertainer.com. Get more information on Married but Not Engaged by clicking here. Visit Paul's website at: http://www.paulcoughlin.net/