Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family?  Dr. David will address two questions from Crosswalk readers in each weekly column. Submit your question to him at TheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com.

Dear Dr. David,

I'm 28 years old and my wife is 29. We've been dating for 11 years and been married less than 5 months. Our relation seems to have gotten very bad since we tied the knot. We argue almost once or twice a week. I've always been a very loving person to her and her only. I still show a lot of emotions towards her, not just to keep her comfortable, but because I love her deeply. I feel she doesn't show me the same in return. She's always making remarks that hurt, and makes me feel very unwanted at times.

My wife says I should know that she loves me, and shouldn't have to show it.  She doesn't understand that my insecurities come from her lack of emotion towards me. She tells me she loves me and wants to be with me when we have heart to heart talks, but later acts as if I'm not special in her life. I'm willing to try anything to make this marriage work. I know I can't change her, but I hope the Lord can and will. Please, if you could give me any advice I will gladly honor it. ~ Insecure

Dear Insecure,

It is interesting that your relationship has worsened since getting married. Preparing for marriage, and then getting married, can be very stressful. While we eagerly anticipate the wedding process, it can be especially taxing on the woman, who is often in charge of preparing for it. Is it possible that your wife has been stressed out from marriage preparation? If so, things should return to normal after the stress subsides.

You then say that your wife makes comments that hurt. I don't need to tell you that these comments, made over time, tear at the fabric of a marriage. They cause wounds to our self-esteem. Hurtful comments are, in fact, a form of abuse and cannot exist in the healthy marriage.

I am also concerned to hear that your wife feels she shouldn't have to show her love to you anymore. This is faulty thinking. There is no time when we should discontinue our loving actions toward our mate. There is no time when a partner should slip into taking love for granted. While marriage is a strong covenant made between two people and God, it can also be very fragile and susceptible to harm if not tended to carefully.

The Apostle Paul speaks to this issue at length. Perhaps you're familiar with the passage (Ephesians 5: 22-33) where we are instructed to submit to one another out of love. Paul goes so far as to compare our love for one another to the feeding and care of our own bodies—loving our mate is that important. He adds, "Each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband." (Ephesians 5: 33)

I have written on the importance of celebrating our mate in Nine Critical Mistakes Most Couples Make. In that book I note the importance of always treating our mate special, continually celebrating them and our marriage relationship. When couples quit celebrating one another, and settle into taking one another for granted in a mundane day-to-day routine, the marriage is vulnerable to deterioration. If our mate doesn't show their attraction to us, and celebrate us, we become vulnerable to other's advances. This is a dangerous place to be.

Consider approaching your wife again with the topic of "Celebrating One Another." Ask her if she would be willing to spend time each week simply sharing time together, seeking ways to rekindle the romantic spark. Is she willing to add new adventures to the relationship, breaking out of old routines? Ask her how she would like to be celebrated, listening carefully to her love language, and then share with her how you wish to be celebrated. Commit to one another that you will do the extra things to keep your marriage alive and exciting. Acknowledge to one another the obvious dangers if you fail to celebrate one another and take each other for granted. Commit yourselves again to each other, and to God.

Dear Dr. David,

In the beginning of our marriage I discovered my husband's love for pornography. I confronted him about it and said that some day the satisfaction that he gets from this behavior will fade and he will want to find that satisfaction elsewhere. He disagreed and said it was a man thing and every man did it. I believed him.  A few years later my husband was arrested on three counts of Indecent Exposure to women. Only with the strength of God did I stay in the marriage.

My husband and I went through a year of marital counseling and he still goes to counseling today.  I am grateful for the steps that he has taken to change his life.  I have forgiven him and even have an understanding of his addictive behavior.  However I can't forget the hurt that he created. This hurt has created an emptiness in my heart. He has done everything I have asked of him, but nothing he does is good enough. Fear and trust issues, as well as insecurities, are still very much a part of me.  My heart grows harder each day towards him because I can't seem to forget the act that started all of this.

Through this, I stay committed out of fear of the Lord, and the happiness of our two young children. My question is this: Have I really forgiven him like I thought I had, even though my heart and mind will not let me forget about something he did over 2 years ago? What can I do to help soften my heart? ~ Wounded

Dear Wounded,

You raise a very important question, certainly pertinent to many who have suffered severe wounds. The Scriptures are replete with examples of the importance of forgiving those who offend us, and who seek reconciliation.

"For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." (Matthew 6: 14) Luke 17: 3 says, "So watch yourselves. If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him."

I think one of the mistakes we as Christians make, however, is thinking forgiveness is a one-step action. Simply forgive. Instantly. I don't believe this is what Jesus had in mind when he spoke about forgiveness. In the last passage cited, repentance and rebuke are part of the forgiveness process. Other passages speak about the process of reconciliation. (See Matthew 18) When our wounds are severe, and the offense significant, it will usually take a great deal of time, and effort on our parts, to heal. There are many feelings, and memories, which need healing.

You share how you cannot forget the act that started all of your troubles, presumably his addiction to pornography. You may still be harboring bitterness, anger and hurt, and these feelings need to be processed with your husband in counseling. It would be understandable for you to still have difficult feelings, since the wound is still relatively fresh.

Additionally, his offenses were sexual in nature, with other women. This creates a unique wound. Undoubtedly you struggle with unpleasant images in your mind from his egregious behavior. This may require special efforts on both of your parts for healing—and there may always be a tenderness around these issues.

You say your husband is still in counseling. How about you? Have you identified the ways you still feel wounded? Have you shared with your husband exactly what you'd like him to change so that you feel secure in the marriage? There may still be behavior changes needs so you can begin the process of trusting him again? I wonder if it might help to be in counseling with him, as well as being apprised of where he is at in his counseling.

Be patient with yourself. Those who have been through similar trauma quickly share the importance of allowing yourself time to heal. You have sought counseling, which is positive, and want to soften your heart, which is the first critical step in forgiveness. Consider sitting with your husband and praying for wisdom about what may still be hidden in your heart that needs healing. God will be faithful to honor your prayers.  

Originally posted in March of 2007.

Dr. David Hawkins is the director of the Marriage Recover Center where he counsels couples in distress. He is the author of over 30 books, including Dealing With the CrazyMakers in Your Life, 90 Days to a Fantastic Marriage, and Saying It So He'll Listen. Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.