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When it comes to marriage, ‘Thou Shalt Honor’





How honoring your spouse can turn your marriage into the most remarkable and rewarding experience of your life and ministryf-Smally-Honor


Sometime back, I—being a loving, sensitive husband whose whole ministry is based on the concept of honoring others—was talking to my wife, Norma, on the phone. In the course of our conversation I asked, “What do you need from me that I’m not giving you right now?”

She responded, “You don’t know how to honor me.” Naturally, I laughed, assuming she was joking. I thought, “You can’t be serious!” I said, “That’s a good one! But what do you really need?” And she said with all seriousness, “No, I’m not kidding. You don’t know how to honor me.”

Honor Is a Diamond

Obviously, after all these years, we still need to work at this idea of honoring each other. And it is work. In my mind, honor is a diamond. We started out with a rough, raw stone. And over the years, I’ve made several major cuts and polishes, turning it into a beautiful gem. As far as I’m usually concerned, I’m doing a great job and it’s ready to mount and display. Norma, on the other hand—because she knows me better than anyone—realizes that there are still some rough surfaces, and she sees them all every day.

One example in our ministry took place years ago when we were really beginning to grow. With new opportunities opening up nearly every day, it seemed natural to me that our staff should expand to meet those demands. There were seminars to run, books to publish, film series to produce, small-group studies to develop and so on. I was ready to build an empire. I started interviewing and hiring people to help turn my dreams into reality. Norma didn’t think that was a good idea and told me so. I didn’t agree and told her so. Before too long, however, events would prove she was right. Some of those I hired barely lasted six months, leaving in frustration and disappointment, and more grief was to follow.

It took me a lot of years, but eventually I accepted the fact that I had better listen carefully when Norma speaks about my strengths and gifts, about people and projects, and so on. She knows me better than I know myself in some ways, and she has a wonderful intuitive sense about people and situations. As we look back on our moments together now, we can see dozens of times when she has guided, protected and kept me from doing foolish things. So no less than a hundred times, I’ve thanked her for going through the pain of speaking up through the years when she knew I wasn’t going to like what she needed to say.

In general, women want to be 
connected to their husbands, but men are naturally more comfortable keeping their distance. For the relationship to thrive, husbands need to learn the skills of connecting by meaningful conversation and by listening to the feelings and needs of their wives. However, some husbands and wives have built a high wall between them over the years. Each brick is an unconfessed and unforgiven act that closed the partner’s spirit a little more. Just as it took time to build the wall, it will also take time to tear it down. If a husband will take the initiative to go back and deal with as many offenses as he and his wife remember, they will find tremendous healing.

Men, when was the last time you looked your wife in the eyes and said something like this? “I appreciate so much your emphasis on relationships and all you do to build ours up. The things you do to make our house into a home, supporting me in my work and ministry, and the time you give to the kids. You’re terrific.”

Ladies, when people speak of a good man’s power, they immediately think of words reflecting character like warmth, sensitivity, dependability, determination, caring and genuine compassion. A man will do almost anything to gain the admiration of others. The most important person from whom he wants it is his wife. Some women think that because their husbands are admired by others in their ministry, they don’t need it from their wives. That’s a serious mistake.

Going to God Together

Another thing that has helped to build security in our relationship is that we pray together about anything that looks challenging. There’s a great sense of peace and oneness that comes from going to God together and placing a difficult matter in His hands. We also know that when we’re both seeking His will for a particular concern, we’re on the right track to finding a good answer because self-centeredness and ego have been taken out of play. 

The key to a satisfying marriage is most likely to occur when we put God at the center of the relationship and commit our lives to Him, both individually and as a couple. In our times of prayer for each other, we acknowledge that He’s our Lord, that we need His guidance and that without His strength we won’t succeed. We also honor Him in that we never give up hope that He can fix whatever’s wrong in our marriage (or any other area of need)—that He can do something supernatural to work things together for good. We know that He, in turn, will honor His Word in James 1:5-6 and give us the wisdom we need when we ask for it in faith. 

Since ministry can take much of your time away from each other beyond that normal 40-hour workweek, take the initiative to suggest a specific time to talk together. For example, set up a breakfast or dinner out with just the two of you with cell phones off. Let your convictions show. Meaningful conversation is crucial in developing a growing and loving relationship. Design togetherness times that incorporate your spouse’s interests. These may involve athletic events, musical concerts, museum trips, meals out, fine arts and entertainment, vacations, and so on.

We honor God by serving Him in ministry. Seeing people renewed, healed, encouraged and motivated by our love for them increases our self-worth as God’s servants. And learning what your spouse needs by listening intently, then looking for creative ways to meet those needs, unlocks the door of serving in a most profound way. If you want your spouse to be all the help to you that God intended, start today to really listen to—and take to heart—what he or she has to say.

The Lifeblood of Love

In our new book 4 Days to a Forever Marriage, Norma and I both share our experiences and insights for marriage. We encourage you to take the four-day challenge and learn how to honor your spouse through loving communication, anger resolution, affection and intimacy, and discovering treasures in trials.

We choose our actions and responses every hour of every day. We must learn to distinguish and choose love. Love grows out of an attitude of honor. When we decide someone is valuable, that decision is a major step in acting out our love for him or her.

Additionally, healthy communication is the lifeblood of love. A relationship will only be as good as its communication. The key to close-knit communication is to make conversations “safe,” where opinions, feelings and needs can be treasured and valued. The best way to handle conflict is to remain free of anger and blame, and full of love and understanding.

We all know that a marriage can’t be sustained with romance alone. But added to security, meaningful communication and meaningful touch, it can be a tremendous source of energy and growth. If you want to raise the passion level in your marriage, increase the purity of your character. Every enduring marriage involves an unconditional commitment to an imperfect person—your spouse. 

We must also learn that almost every trial increases our love for others. So even if we don’t see any other good, we know of at least one—more love. We know Christ is at the center of our relationships when negative emotions such as anger and hurt feelings no longer control our lives. You can invest in forever today by making your marriage the most remarkable and rewarding experience of your life and ministry.


Gary Smalley is a well-known conference speaker, family counselor and president and founder of Smalley Relationship Center. He is also a best-selling author, writing more than 60 books. His books and videos have sold more than 9 million copies. Smalley and his wife, Norma, have been married for more than 40 years.

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