The Intentional Marriage

{This article originally published 8/25/08. Edited & republished 10/8/13.}

In life, we could just put one foot in front of the other and "make it". OR, we can live intentionally and really engage in the adventure of sanctification God has laid out for us.

This is true of all areas of life, but it's definitely true for married life. Here are some ways that Doug & I have gone about intentionally living in, growing in, and fortifying our marriage:

* WE TALK, TALK, TALK. That doesn't mean that's all we do... but we talk through the things on our minds and hearts. The stresses, the good things. The difficult and wonderful things. 

Here's one way that we initially started doing this:
"HIGH/LOW"-- with this, you just share the "HIGH" and the "LOW" for that particular day. It's a low time commitment, but that way you're seeing the good and hard things in each other's lives. We don't do this very often now, because we're so used to talking about life together. But in the beginning of our marriage, particularly in the seasons where we were spending more time apart than together, this helped us to develop the habit of regular communication about the things that matter.
Now, our conversations usually start with, "what's on your mind?" Or, "what are you reading about?"

* WE SERVE EACH OTHER. He pours me big glasses of sweet tea. I make meals that he specifically likes. He gives me a foot rub several nights a week while we talk on the couch. I organize his books. He'll take the kids to the park so I can have some writing time. I keep the kids quiet some mornings so he can sleep in an extra hour or two. We BOTH contribute to each other's sanity in big and small ways.

* WE KEEP THE PHYSICAL "FIRES" BURNING. If you've read here much at all, you know this is a big one for me. It's also one that I don't want to give too many specifics about in such a public forum. You can always e-mail me if you want to talk through specific questions/situations, etc.

But I will say these things: He's not the only one who initiates. We make this part of our relationship a very crucial, regular, fun, growing, and passionate priority. We work hard to make this a really wonderful time to come together and re-connect. We still flirt with each other.

And we don't say no.

On that last point, here are some things that help me put it into perspective:
  1. When I'm 75, or one day at my husband's funeral, will I look back with regret at consistently (or even occasionally) having told him "no" when he tried to pursue me? Or with satisfaction and thankfulness because I really did get outside of myself and love and serve my dh in this area of marital intimacy?
  2. Have I ever regretted doing it? (For many women, "it's like exercise"-- even when you weren't wanting to, you're never sorry once you've done it.)
  3. I'm the only woman who can righteously love my husband in this way.
  4. A friend of mine likened intimacy for women to a campfire... if you keep the coals warm, it's easier to get things blazing again than if you let the fire go out between uses. SO, don't go too long between times. Keep those coals warm and ready for a regular fire. Yes, I'm saying have sex more often, not less.
  5. The optimal sexual encounter lasts between 3 and 13 minutes. SURELY we can make time for 3 to 13 minutes, even on our busiest days!
* WE STILL DATE EACH OTHER. Ours doesn't look like actual "go out to the movies" kind of dates very often ... BUT, our kids are in bed every night by 7:30/8pm. So, we can kind of have a date night whenever we want. Sometimes we'll watch a comedy and laugh together. Or we'll sit on the couch and read together, with our legs touching and the occasional smile and wink as we turn a page. Little things like that can really re-connect you in the midst of the storm. The point is to take time to BE together and enjoy it.

  • Before he leaves for work, tell him something you respect him for, and give him a big nice long kiss.
  • When he passes you in the kitchen while you're making dinner, flirt with each other... don't lose sight of the fact that this was the man that 3, 10, or 35 years ago, you couldn't WAIT to be around!
  • At dinner, make a point to really talk and listen to each other. Even if it's only for 5-10 minutes of the meal, intentionally connect during that time. Sure, when you have little ones, one of you is cutting pieces of chicken into smaller bites and the other one is grabbing a dish towel cause the child who always spills something at every meal has struck again... but that's life. Smile. Look at one another. Enjoy those moments together.
  • Get on the same page about the things that matter... money, kids, extended family relationships, time management, etc. Talk through these things and approach them as working together as a team rather than as each of you picking the other apart or trying to "fix" what's wrong with the other person. And respect his leadership in these areas as the head of the home.
  • Try to still do the things that connected you early on... holding hands, kissing for more than a short peck, leaving each other notes (if you did that), talking about baseball/music/politics (whatever it was you loved discussing together), etc.
  • BUT ALSO-- find some new things that can connect you. Perhaps he's knee-deep in learning about real estate, or the five points of Calvinism, or various approaches to website building, or some such thing. FIND POINTS of discussion and sharing about those things. And share with him the things YOU'RE thinking about and learning. Don't brush each other off and just say, "oh, he's talking about x... I'll never understand why he cares about that." Or "homeschooling is my thing..." and then zone out. Bring each other along for the journeys you're both on. Delight in the things that the other is delighting in. Learn about the things that matter to him (like drafting a killer resume for his upcoming job search, or March Madness). Talk through the things that are troubling you. Share the concerns you have about a particular child's behavior, or the relationship with the in-laws, or the direction your church is heading.

Don't just live life on parallel tracks... get on the SAME track and travel it together. Something I find helpful during stressful moments is to realize that this is God's adventure for OUR lives. This is my real marriage. This is my real family.

I won't get these moments back; 
I won't get a re-do. 

The way I'm living now can't be altered later. The way my marriage is now can't be erased and re-written. I need to walk in the way that I will want to have walked when I am old.

Thoughts? Anything you want to add?


Terry, Ornament of His Grace said...

Not much to add, here. You've done a great job in this post of sharing what it means to live on purpose, not just flying by the seat of one's pants. I guess i will add this:

Think on the positive, especially when there has been a disagreement or if you're in a particularly stressful period in your life. Good actions spring from good thoughts.

And oh yes, remember that leaving is not an option. Just that resolution goes a long way when tough times come. I know you may have thought that goes without saying as most of your readers are christians, but frankly, you'd be surprised!

Mrs. Anna T said...

Jess, what a terrific posts. I hope many young wives just starting out in marriage read this.

Anonymous said...


I love your blog, but these kinds of posts just depress me.

Jess said...

Since you're writing anonymously anyhow, you might as well share why it depresses you. That's not my intent at all.

Anonymous said...

I know it's not your intent to make anyone depressed. I don't mean to imply you're doing anything wrong - it's just that reading about your marriage is like a poor man standing outside a rich man's house.
I much prefer when you talk about cooking or taking care of your house, or parenting. :)

The Durham's said...


I love this post and absolutely agree:) We make it a point to do these things in our marriage and it is so rewarding and fulfilling:) I, too, think down the road and strongly desire to make this one life count:) Bless you for your heart and your wisdom! We have also really enjoyed many great books on marriage, which I am sure you have read the best out there already:) Two that stood out to us were "The DNA of Relationships" by Gary Smalley and "The Blessed Marriage" by Robert Morris. Thanks again!

Stacy Durham

Anonymous said...

Jess great post! The big reminder for me is to really become involved in his hobbies - moto GP...motorcycle racing...something that really doesn't float my boat. But I make an attempt to ask questions, get his perspective on racing techniques, etc. It's funny because after he's done explaining things to me, he usually asks about things in *my world* (which I know that he does NOT find baking But it's great that we get to share our makes me feel happy :)

michelle t said...


Glad you're back from the summer! Great post. My DH & I have been married 16 years. Not all of it has been pretty. In the last five years we have made a point when he gets home from work just to take 5 mins. for each other. He hugs the kids hello and we go up to our room and just talk. We don't take longer than 10 mins. We close our door and the kids know that is "our time". We still try to do the date thing but when things get crazy with older kids and activities this puts us on the same page.

Thanks for the encouragement and the ideas.


Lylah said...

lovely. absolutely lovey and true. here's our 21 tips - after just celebrating our 21st year.

Sunny Daydreame said...

DH and I have what I call a "side by side" relationship. He really is my best friend and I would rather go do something with him than pretty much anyone else in the world. I really hope we can keep it up after our baby is born.

Terry, Ornament of His Grace said...

I'm back, Jess. I was touched by anonymous' comment and it made me think of something that might encourage her.

Frankly, if I held my own marriage up to what you describe here, parts of it would depress me too. For example, my husband is a man of few words, and I don't mean that in the cliche sense of the phrase. He REALLY is a man of few words. So your first point: talk, talk, talk isn't a strong point in our relationship. My husband listens to me, but if I want to know his thoughts, I have to ASK what he thinks about what I've said. Does that bother me sometimes? Yes, but it's who he is. As a matter of fact, I have to ask for MOST of what I want from him in our relationship; many times more than once but he does his best to respond to my needs as I express them to him. A walking monument to testosterone, talking and expressing his feelings isn't who he is.

Who he is is a man who loves to give me gifts,and will work overtime to make sure that when he gives me a gift, it's spectacular.
He's a man of great integrity who keeps his word even if it costs him more than he originally thought it would to do so. He's a father who teaches his daughters right from wrong and what the word says about being young women after God's heart. He goes to work early on days that I have doctor's appointments with the girls so he can come with me and I won't be overwhelmed trying to manage them both if I can't find a sitter. He did that today, in fact. He's a man who never hesitates to stop and help a stranger, something I think we all know is rare in itself these days. When I stop and think about it, I am well loved by a good man. And I didn't always see that.

Anonymous needs to appreciate the spirit of your post, which is about having an intentional marriage, rather than zeroing in on all the specifics that help make your marriage a success. All of those things may not fit her situation and her husband's temperment, though I wholeheartedly agree that in general they are good things.

My point is that even though we don't go on as many dates as I'd like, and we don't talk maybe as much as I'd like (Thank God for sisters and sisters in law!) there are so many positive things to think about when I think of him that it's hard to get depressed when I read about your admittedly wonderful relationship. Rather than be upset, I'm happy for you.

My advice to anonymous is to find something, anything positive about her spouse and think on those things. He can't be all bad or she wouldn't have chose him. I honestly believe that if she begins to respond based on the positive rather than focusing on the negatives, he will respond in kind and she, too, in time could have a marriage worth envying (in a good way, of course!)

Sorry for the book. It's just that I've been where she is and this works. I know it does. I hope you don't mind my dispensing unsolicited advice.

Anonymous said...

I'd love to hear your comments on the spiritual aspects of marriage--it seems so many people I talk to are married to men who have strained relationships with organized religion (many for good reason, like being raised in very punative or dysfunctional churches).

Thanks for blogging again!

Catherine R. said...

I don't know if I have any wisdom to add being that I have been married for one year. But, I do see how things can get very bad very rapidly if you are not intentional. I think some people believe that things will just work themselves out somehow which I think is kind of the opposite of true. It seems to me like there is a lot of wisdom in love as an action, instead of just acting on whatever random emotion you happen to be having at the time. Someone also told me selfishness is the #1 enemy of marriage.

These are good tips you have provided. I might like to see you write something some day about the effect of children on a marriage. It seems like some women think it's necessary and even better to put the children above the husband.

As for anonymous, we don't know any details about his or her marriage, so it's tough to say. One of the sobering realities of Christianity is that we are called to honor our spouse regardless of whether they deserve it or not. I would say in the case of seriously damaging issues, to seek the council of a wise and biblical third party, and be honest about what's going on.

Then again, some people are simply lazy and self-centered, expecting a fabulous marriage without having done anything to help it happen.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous,

I just happened upon this site, and stumbled into this article. Those of us in struggling marriages, who have DH's who are not amenable to suggestions that there be a regular date night, or 5 minutes a day of conversation, or a DH who rubs your feet while you talk; for those of us who have a DH who is not welcoming our initiating much of anything -- we need to stay away from these articles like the plague. We also need to stay away from other forums where there is a continual celebration of couples meeting each other's needs - like Christian Radio, which I realized, depressed me and didn't help me at all. Nothing they suggest would be anything my DH would do. We, apparently, are not married to Prince Charming. You and I, dear anonymous, must concentrate on "whatever is of good report...think on these things". Do not depress yourself by sharing glimpses of other people's marriages. COncentrate on all that is good about your DH, family and home. Pray without ceasing. I have been married for almost 24 years, and keep waiting for it to get better and for the Lord to hear and answer my prayers. I realized a number of years ago that hearing about these sorts of marriage suggestions just doesn't apply to me at all, and I am better off without it. Protect your heart, and aim to keep from coveting what other sisters have. I used to be excruciatingly jealous of women I didn't even know when I'd see their husbands being tenderly attentive to them. The Lord has delivered me from this, and from other serious preoccupations in my thought life by constant and vigorous prayer. I know I am doing what the Lord wants me to do by struggling to be responsible for changing the only one I can change - myself. A site that may really help you (and me) is

God Bless you, Sister.

Tracy said...

I love these posts! I think too many people have grown up seeing unhealthy marriages, and they aren't sure where to even start.

I think you hit the nail right on the head. We have four children, too, and I know having them in bed early was a huge boost for our marriage. Husbands and wives need time to reconnect each evening without little ones. It makes for a much nicer bedtime for the adults as well. ;0)

Kelly said...

Nothing to add, VERY well said Jess!

Gina@Chats With An "Old Lady" said...

Yes...marriage is work. It'll never be perfect, and it seems like as I focus on one aspect another aspect can suffer a bit. But you continue to work,and you don't quit, and you pray for the Lord to do a work in the "weak" areas. And then He does....and you raise your hands and praise Him for the work He is doing, because it's really all about HIM doing the work and enabling us to love as we should. After 20 years of marriage...I see such growth...and I see so much more growth is needed. God will do the work, we just need to choose to cooperate!

Ticia said...

You have gotten lots of praise but I would like to add mine to the mix. Even those of us who have great marriages need to be reminded sometimes how to keep them that way.
I always enjoy reading your blog. Leticia

CG + E3 said...

I think that is one of the most helpful, practical, do-able, positive, beautiful things I have ever read about marriage. Thank you. :)

- CG

Domestikate said...

Great post. Even though my husband and I have made a point to be very active and intentional in our marriage (as you have described), I have been amazed at the difference since taking a challenge that I heard about on the radio. I also "assigned" it to my ladies' Bible study group. And have heard some awesome results. I thought it might help some of your readers who don't know where to begin. It's called the "30-day Husband Encouragement Challenge" sponsored by Revive Our Hearts. Here's the link:

Thanks again for the great post.

Anonymous said...

Don't you think the big thing is to love the actual person you married? That sounds simple, but if that person is very introverted and needs a few minutes of quiet when he gets home, some of these suggestions would be like torture. Giving him a few minutes of quiet, on the other hand, may help him give you what you need (connection) a bit later.

The other thing is to assume the best intention of the spouse. That gets one out of a multitude of jams.

Jess said...

The ironic thing, madge, is that my husband and I definitely do spend a lot of moments in silence together. We both now test as introverts on the Myers-Briggs test. (Although I think my introvertedness is a more recent result of culture shock.)

When I say we talk, talk, talk, that definitely does not mean that that's all we do. Or that that's the first thing we do. But it is something we do. And I think it's something all couples ought to do, to whatever degree is necessary to truly love and respect one another.

Catherine R. said...

I have to add one more profound thought. Sweet tea? You are so country!

Anonymous said...

I know that's what you meant, Jess--but I think some couple get into a spiral where one partner (usually the wife) is eager to engage and the other partner (usually the husband) gets into retreat mode. For couples like this the trick is to figure out how to facilitate an even handed communication (for some couples it is in the car, for others while working on a project or drying dishes or something like that).

That whole "sit down and share feelings while looking at each other" thing that women love to do is pretty alien to a lot of men, particularly men who didn't have effective models of marital communication growing up. if a person grew up in a home where mom was passive aggressive or nagging, and dad was distant or in retreat mode (or the other way around) communication that is intentional and of some depth can be extra challenging.

I'm not telling you anything new here!

Mom said...

This was an excellent post. We just celebrated our 33rd anniversary in June, and everything you said is true. Something we've done all through the years is write each other notes. We've been doing that a lot lately, and you'd be surprised how that can brighten your day when you find a note from the heart of your spouse. One morning recently I took a note to work and put it on my desk where I'd see it throughout the day, and a man that I work with saw the note from a distance, and noticed that Ty had put a heart over my name instead of dotting the i in Debbie, and he commented on how neat that was, and that got me to thinking of how thankful I was for my husband, who got up in the wee hours of the morning, and took time to write me a note and even drew a little heart on it too. Also, this year Ty got me a beautiful decorative box that I've put on my dresser in which I can put special notes from him or anything I want. Also, just like you said, continuing to date is very important, whether you stay home or go out somewhere. One other thing that has really helped us is keeping a sense of humor. Sometimes when we have a troubling situation or disagreement, we might realize how silly it is once we've talked it through, and both of us will laugh, and it is a very healthy experience. My pastor has been sending out special quotes a couple times a week by email, and recently he sent this quote, which I think is well worth sharing after reading this post: To keep a lamp burning, we have to keep putting oil in it. -Mother Teresa

Jess said...

Yes, sweet tea. :) Gotta love it!

darci said...

so so good. thanks, again, for a much appreciated post. My hubby and I have been doing a lot of praying and soul-searching as we see our lives, our marriage, just slipping by in a blur of work, bills, work, bills. We don't want ot look back with regret..but to look back and see that we made the choices to grow strong in our relationship. We've had to make some hard choices to 'give up' some stuff that crowded 'us' out.

Sadie Elliott said...

Jess, this was a great reminder for me today. Thank you for sharing your wisdom in this area!

Crayl said...

This is a really good post. Sometimes I wish we were neighbors so we could just chat a bit on the front porch. I am so happy your husband supports your writing (mine supports me as well) it means I can keep coming back for more.

Fruitful Vine said...

This post was such and inspiration to me I had to say thank you for writing it. I also posted about it and included a link to it on my blog because I want to share it with others. Thanks for the blessing.