Growing up, I hated school and studying. Well, I hated most studying. But I loved two local sports teams: the University of Maryland Terps—specifically, the basketball team—and my beloved Washington Redskins. Somehow I acquired an impressive body of knowledge about these teams, even as I continued to get lousy grades in school.
While class work was mostly drudgery, learning about the Terps and Skins was effortless joy. I loved to watch them, think about them, read about them, talk about them, and listen to games on the radio. To absorb everything I possibly could about these guys—to study them—was rich food for my schoolboy's soul.
Why was that kind of learning so easy for me when formal education was so hard? What made the difference?
No secret there. What we love, we want to learn about. And what we love to study, we come to love even more. That's just the way God has wired us. I loved the Terps and Skins; so learning about them and growing in my zeal for them was a totally natural process.
I still enjoy following those teams, but my strongest passions now lie elsewhere.
My highest and greatest love will always be reserved for God, for when I was His enemy and worthy of His righteous wrath, in His great mercy He sent His only Son to live a perfect life and die a perfect death in my place. But after my love for God, nothing compares to the passion I hold for Carolyn, my wife.
Because I have this passion for her, I have studied her. I've noticed and noted details about her. All kinds of details. Everything from the kinds of snacks she likes, to what certain facial expressions reveal, to this one particular freckle that only I see.
It has been my privilege to be a student of Carolyn since before our engagement. As I have studied her—seeking to learn what pleases, excites, honors, encourages, refreshes, and helps her—my love for her has only increased.
The truth that can change your marriage
There is a truth that should be emblazoned on the heart of every husband. If you remember nothing else from this article, remember this:
In order for romance to deepen, you must touch the heart and mind of your wife before you touch her body.
This, gentlemen, is a truth that can change your marriage. Nothing kindles erotic romance in a marriage like a husband who knows how to touch the heart and mind of his wife before he touches her body.
Too often we reverse the order. We touch her body prematurely and expect that she will respond immediately and passionately. Normally that's not how it works.
Some of you have been married a relatively short time, while others have spent decades with your wife. Whatever your situation, we all have this in common: There is still much we can and should be learning about that unique and precious woman who is our wife, that gift from God to whom we have pledged our lifelong devotion. There are two primary ways we can learn how to touch her heart and mind: by studying her and by asking her questions.
If you have children living in the home, then of all the questions you could ask her, this one is especially revealing:
Do you feel more like a mother or a wife?
(If you don't have children at home, replace "mother" with whatever role is likely to be in competition with "wife." It might be something like "homemaker," "employee," or "professional." Then you can apply the principles in this section to your specific circumstances.)
There can be a selfish, sinful tendency among husbands to view their wives as a goal that, once achieved, is then taken for granted. That is how a wife with children comes to feel primarily like a mother. And that is why the very idea of asking a question like this can cause many husbands to swallow hard and consider going off to watch a little TV. But please don't—I want this to be an encouragement to you.
There may be many children in your family, from infants to 20-somethings. A variety of legitimate activities may consume huge quantities of your wife's time. Health, finances, or other factors may present significant, ongoing challenges. But whatever your situation, if you make it a priority to love and care for your wife as Christ does the Church, God will touch her heart so that, even when surrounded by diapers, dishes, and diseases, she can answer that question with joy: "I feel more like a wife."
Not for a moment am I denying the importance of a mother's role. Carolyn and I have four children (with our grandchildren count continuing to rise). Motherhood is exceptionally important. It calls for immense sacrifices and deserves great honor. But I can say with full conviction that according to Scripture, motherhood is never to be a wife's primary role. In fact, I think the most effective mothers are wives who are being continually, biblically romanced by their husbands.
As for you, your primary role is not to raise your children (or to excel in your career or immerse yourself in hobbies or anything else) but to build a marriage by God's grace that reflects the relationship between Christ and the Church. That's why the most effective fathers are husbands who make it their aim to love their wives biblically.
Godly children, whose lives bring much glory to the Lord and much delight to their parents, come from truly biblical marriages. As you learn more and more how to love and lead your wife as Christ does the Church, you will become a more godly, wise, loving, compassionate, Christlike father to your children. And your wife will become more full of joy, hope, and peace and will radiate more of the love and grace of God in all she does.
Your children should be able to look at your life and know beyond any doubt that they have the great privilege of being the most important people in the world to you ... right after their mom.
Learning and gathering
As a romancer of my wife, I know that my essential role is that of a student and a planner. So I constantly keep my eyes and ears open for ideas to record. I've been known not to hear my name called in a doctor's office because I am furiously scribbling information from a magazine article.
I keep track of good getaway spots, ideas for dates, and many other bits of useful information. I know what to record because I have studied my wife—her life, her preferences, and her responsibilities—and have learned what makes her tick, romantically speaking. And I learned a long time ago that no matter how amazed or impressed I am by an idea or thought, I almost certainly will forget it if I don't write it down. These notes are my building blocks for creating and cultivating a more romantic marriage.
To learn how to touch your wife's heart and mind, you must study her. Here are two lists that may be helpful. You can probably add to them.
Do you know how to surprise and delight your wife in specific ways in each of the following areas?
Do you know how your wife is faring in each of these areas?
How much of this information do you have readily available to you, preferably in written form? How much do you really know about your wife in each of these areas?
Processing and planning
Studying our wives and gathering information, of course, is only step one. We must not confuse being informed with being transformed. Transformation doesn't just happen automatically or effortlessly. It is the fruit of application and action.
This is precisely where most men fail, including me. And it should be no mystery why, gentlemen. We have a tendency to be lazy and selfish. Genuine growth involves grace-motivated work, even extended effort. Our information-gathering must be followed by detailed planning and follow-through. Romance occurs when what you know about your wife is specifically applied.
Let me tell you about a practice that I have been engaging in for years and have found immensely helpful. For me, this approach happens to work. You might want to consider trying it ... or create your own. The important thing is that you have some practice that you maintain on a frequent, regular basis. Otherwise all your efforts to learn about your wife will have little actual effect.
Every week, on Sunday evening or Monday morning, I get away to the local Starbucks. Armed with my PDA and a cup of steaming raspberry mocha, I review several things: my roles (husband, father, pastor, etc.), my to-do list, my schedule for the coming week, the book I'm reading, and a message I've heard recently.
The heart of this time is when I define, for each of my roles, what is most important for me to accomplish during the next seven days. I have learned that if I do not define the important, then during the week that which is merely urgent will rush in, disguised as the truly important, and will crowd out everything else.
For each of my roles I identify no more than three important goals I can accomplish that week, and I insert them into my schedule. I'm careful not to load myself down with more than is realistic. This is how the important is identified and protected. The process is absolutely crucial, but it often takes no more than 15 or 20 minutes. (Then, as the week progresses, I make sure my plans are still on track.)
This is obviously not a significant investment of time. But without it a great deal of what I heard and read and learned in the preceding week would be forgotten or left unapplied. Without it I would go through life governed by what seems to be the most urgent thing clamoring for my attention. The truly important things would often go unattended. But with it, as each week unfolds and I find myself engaged in activities that are truly intentional, purposeful, and central, I regularly realize that a particular interaction with my wife is benefiting directly from that time in the coffee shop.
So please don't make the mistake of thinking that simply by reading this you are being changed. I wish it were that easy. But change does not take place until we apply what we are learning in very specific ways, at very specific times, and always in dependence on God's grace to make our efforts effective.
It's just not possible to grow in your love for anything that you take for granted, especially your wife. To increase marital romance, you must study and cherish the object of your affection through the regular investment of time and energy.
As men we are all too eager to touch our wives' bodies before we have taken the time to touch their hearts and minds. I'm trying to restrain you from touching her prematurely, so that when the time does come to touch her body, it will have the deepest possible effect.
Adapted from Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God by C.J. Mahaney copyright 2004, pages 27-35. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Illinois 60187, www.crossway.com. Download for personal use only.