Listen. Talk. Fight. Grow. Provide. Rest. Serve. Submit. Pursue. Worship.
Being a husband is easy. Being a good one, however—one characterized by those ten actions—is not. That’s why I’m thankful for Darrin and Amie Patrick’s new book, The Dude’s Guide to Marriage: Ten Skills Every Husband Must Develop to Love His Wife Well (Thomas Nelson). Cultivating such behaviors in a consistent manner, they contend, is the secret to a healthy, Christ-honoring marriage.
I spoke with the Patricks—highschool sweethearts, pastor and wife, parents of four children—about the biggest issue couples face, the danger of mere compatibility, the effect of kids, and more.
What's the most serious problem you perceive in typical Christian marriages?
Darrin: The husband is passive and the wife gets disillusioned with his lack of engagement and leadership. It’s a huge failure in headship.
Amie: I think we tend to impose all kinds of our own ideas and expectations onto our marriages that aren’t biblical, which leads to a great deal of confusion and disappointment.
Darrin, you confess: “It didn't take too many years of marriage for me to see that I had a deficient philosophy that would destroy my marriage if I did not repent of it.” What was this deficient philosophy and what, humanly speaking, occasioned your repentance?
My deficient philosophy centered around how my wife likes to be loved. The popular treatment of this is in Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages. The premise is that human beings prefer to be loved in specific ways. We have a whole appendix in the book that explains it, but let me answer the question succinctly. My wife loves to receive gifts; I love to be served. For years I loved my wife the way I love to be loved (being served) instead of loving her the way she wanted to be loved (receiving gifts).
What’s wrong with merely looking for compatibility in a wife or husband?
Darrin: I think the word merely is relevant here. It’s essential that some polarities exist in a marriage relationship. For instance, my wife is super-detailed and I’m hyper-visionary. This causes a ton of conflict, but it also helps us stay future-oriented without neglecting the present. The problem is functionality: looking for someone who will help me fullfill the dream I have for my life as opposed to looking for someone to worship with as we pursue God’s dream for the world.
Amie: Compatibility is important, but since it’s often based on preferences and circumstances that inevitably change, it’s simply not enough to build a marriage on for a lifetime. When tragedy turns our worlds upside down, or a season of suffering or disappointment seems endless, we need something more substantial than shared likes and dislikes in order to love one another sacrificially for the long haul.
You discuss the importance of husbands pursuing their wives mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Amie, what’s the single-most helpful thing Darrin has done to pursue you in each area?
Amie: Physically, Darrin is great about being affectionate in lighthearted and playful ways. Especially in a tense or stressful moment, he often lightens the mood with some sort of affectionate gesture, which is a great reminder that we truly enjoy each other and and have fun together. Mentally, he’s almost always up for an interesting or challenging discussion. He genuinely respects my intellect, and shows it by engaging me in thoughtful discussions with insightful questions, particularly in areas where I’m more knowledgeable than he is. He also looks for opportunities to engage my sense of humor; we laugh a lot together. Emotionally, Darrin’s willingness to go to counseling by himself and with me has been transformative for our marriage. He knew emotional health was an area where he needed some help, and he was humble enough to pursue it—both for himself and so he could learn to be more emotionally available and engaged with me and our kids. And spiritually, although there are many things I could mention, the most profound way Darrin pursues me in this area is in his willingness to admit and repent of his own sin. His continual choice to do that is a beautiful reminder to me that we are both sinners desperately in need of the grace and mercy found only in Christ. And nothing is more humbling and honoring than when Darrin prays for me and asks me to pray for him.
You’ve done marriage and relationship counseling for hundreds over the years. What’s the biggest issue couples need to address for their relationships to honor God?
Darrin: Taking a sabbath. Period. Without a weekly Sabbath, our scheduling overwhelms our spirituality. This is true even if both spouses can’t take the same day. God gave us one day to refocus on him and be renewed by him.
Amie: It’s important to regularly consider where we’re looking for joy and fulfillment apart from Christ. Our attempts to do so always have an effect on relationships with those closest to us, particularly our spouse and our children.
What would you say to people who genuinely feel they’ve fallen out of love with their spouse?
Darrin: Welcome to marriage. Since love is not primarily a feeling, we all go through dry times. The most important thing is to get help—now! Find a good counselor who can help you and your spouse work through this tough season. Also, get some Christian friends who are married to hang out with. Married couples need community all the time, and counseling some of the time. Don’t give up!
Amie: I talk to a lot of people who feel alone in this struggle, and I think it’s important to know it’s not at all uncommon, and doesn’t mean your marriage is hopeless or over. C. S. Lewis’s chapter on Christian marriage in Mere Christianity is one of the most helpful and enlightening things I’ve ever read with regard to this issue. He writes at length about the value of “being in love,” but also about the futility of trying to build a whole life on that state—as well as the beauty of letting that initial “thrill” go in order to experience something different and deeper. Darrin and I have been married for 22 years, and I’ve found the realities Lewis writes about here to be profoundly true and helpful, year after year.
How has parenting four kids affected your marriage? What's your biggest piece of advice for fellow parents with respect to their marriages?
Amie: Parenting has definitely exposed things, both good and bad, that we didn’t know or understand about each other before we had children. That’s been really fun and and incredibly hard, as we both have strengths and weaknesses as parents that need to be graciously affirmed and respectfully challenged. Overall, parenting has deepened our love for and understanding of each other as we learn to unselfishly love, enjoy, and parent the amazing children God has entrusted to us.
It takes a lot of ongoing and intentional refocusing to keep your marriage from drifting to a place where everything revolves around your children and a healthy marriage becomes a low priority. This is true when kids are little, and we’ve found it continues to be equally true as our kids get older. It’s rarely convenient or easy to get time alone or away together. But we’ve seen a lot of marriages disintegrate after kids grow up and leave home, and have learned it’s not healthy or beneficial to anyone when kids are raised as the primary focus and goal of a marriage and family.