Building a Pure Marriage
“He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.” – Psalm 18:19, All references NIV unless otherwise specified.
Almost every week, I receive an e-mail from a woman from somewhere across the country whose marriage has been shaken to the very core by impurity. With a note of desperation, she expresses her anguish, fear and anger. Each of these women explain their mate’s plunge into impurity – everything from addiction to pornography to being arrested for voyeurism.
Why do they contact me for help with such heart-rending struggles? Not because I’m a professional counselor (which I’m not). Rather, because I’m a fellow struggler who, through many tears, much prayer and abundant mercy from God, has found a good and spacious place.
There have been moments where I didn’t think my husband Dave and I would make it. Although he had fought impurity since he was 12, his battle with sexual addiction took him places I never dreamed could be part of a Christian marriage. And as the firstborn daughter of an alcoholic, I was well versed in codependency. Eventually, the near break-up of our marriage thrust us both into recovery, including extensive counseling.
Yet, priceless gifts have resulted from our battles. Sexual addiction drove me to the depths of insecurity, but also into the arms of my God – culminating in my first book. I’ve traveled extensively, speaking and hearing women’s stories. Eventually, Dave and I decided to come forward with our battles, and we started doing purity seminars.
The journey has been one that I would have never chosen for myself, but nonetheless a testimony to the redemptive power of God.
Why These Lessons?
“Honor marriage and guard the sacredness of sexual intimacy between wife and husband….” — Hebrews 13:4, The Message
For Dave and me, the sacredness of intimacy is without a doubt our greatest treasure – one that we’ve fought for and continue to fight for daily. In this series of articles, you’ll find some of the lessons we’ve learned, including:
- Understanding the unique gifts that each of us bring to intimacy
- Unveiling the counterfeits that Satan and our society propose
- Setting boundaries that protect our marriages from Satan’s interference
- Finding healing and hope after heartache
Here’s the great news! God has a beautiful plan for every married couple, even those of us who have suffered losses. Ready to get started? Let’s take a walk together all the way back to the Garden of Eden.
Naked and Unashamed
Differing perspectives and fears about our imperfections can make Biblical intimacy challenging. Learn how to develop pure intimacy in your marriage through embracing your differences.
“The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life…. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man….. The man and his wife were both naked and they felt no shame.” – Genesis 2:7, 22, 25
After God brought together the first man and woman, we find a beautiful expression of pure intimacy: “They were both naked and they felt no shame.” In other words, they had nothing to hide physically, emotionally, mentally or spiritually. They were “not embarrassed or ashamed in each other’s presence” (Genesis 2:25, Amplified Bible).
Although my husband Dave and I have been married for 28 years, we’ve found that this kind of transparency is a lofty calling. Living in an impure world where we’re judged by our bodies and/or beauty can create insecurity. And many of us also bring losses from our past into marriage.
If that weren’t enough, even deeper questions beckon: Is it safe to be completely vulnerable with another person? Can I really trust again after I’ve been deeply hurt? How can I achieve intimacy with someone who is so fundamentally unlike me?
Unique, Yet Unashamed
In the Biblical model, uniqueness isn’t an obstacle to intimacy. In fact, a look at the Hebrew words used in the creation account reveals much about the unique gifts Adam and Eve brought to intimacy.
- His gift. “The Lord God formed [yatsar] man …” (Genesis 2:7). The word yatsar means forming by plan or design, like a potter. Just as a pot usually has a singular purpose, God gifted man with a purity of focus that helps him initiate, protect and provide – physically, spiritually and sexually.
- Her gift. “Then the Lord God made [banah] a woman from the rib …” (Genesis 2:22). Banah was sometimes used to describe constructing a palace. God fashioned woman with an emotional, physical, sexual and relational complexity that allows her to nurture deep connections.
The good news for us is that intimacy thrives on differences! By refusing to hide from each other and God, and through honoring our differences, we bring each other exceptional gifts.
Imperfect, Yet Intimate
Although Adam and Eve lived in the perfect surroundings of the garden, they were still human.
Their walk together would soon be ambushed by sin and heartbreak. Yet afterwards, we see God ministering to them together, covering them with animal skins after they were cast out of the garden (Genesis 3:21).
And, after the tragedy of Cain and Abel, God granted them another son through their union (Genesis 4:25). Biblical intimacy can be a haven in times of darkness, pointing us to God’s redemption.
Just as God extended mercy to Adam and Eve in their personal tragedy, intimacy allows us to reflect to each other a godly acceptance in our most sensitive questions:
My mate wonders…
I can reflect God’s grace…
|Are my accomplishments meaningful?||“…your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:58|
|Do my struggles with anxiety and/or depression mean that I’m bad?||“…he will quiet you with his love….” Zephaniah 3:17|
|Does anyone understand how I feel?||“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses …” Hebrews 4:15|
|How should I view this health challenge?||“My health may fail …, but God remains the strength of my heart.” Psalm 73:26 (NLT)|
Sexuality That is a Sanctuary
The Hebrew word “yada” points us to another dimension of intimacy. The Bible tells us that Adam knew (yada) Eve (Genesis 4:1 KJV). Exodus 33:13 says, “… teach me your ways, so that I may know (yada) you and continue to find favor with you.” Our sexual intimacy with each other reflects an even greater drive – to understand our acceptance by God himself.
In a world that flashes impossible and impure standards before us day and night, accepting each other isn’t optional – it’s our lifeline. And it takes moving past our fears:
- He won’t accept me if he knows this about me. (Read Romans 15:7.)
- She won’t forgive me if she knows that about me. (Read Psalm 51:6.)
- He can’t love this part of me. (Read 1 Corinthians 13:6.)
- She won’t respect this part of me. (Read Romans 12:10.)
By forging an intimacy that embraces our differences and imperfections, Dave and I have developed a deeper confidence in each other and in God. But we’ve also learned the importance of refusing a false or counterfeit intimacy.
Why is this fruit of false intimacy so enticing?
The Enticing Fruit of False Intimacy
False intimacy promises an emotional high but leaves us empty. Learn how to identify false intimacy and replace it with Biblical intimacy.
“But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” – 2 Corinthians 11:3
It was 6 p.m., and the phone was ringing. We were less than two years into marriage, but I was well into pregnancy with our first child. When I answered, my husband Dave was on the phone. With a sheepish tone of voice, he explained that he had stopped by an “adult bookstore” on the way home after work. After his rendezvous with pornography, he came out to find his car towed. Wanting to be gracious, I expressed hurt but also reminded Dave that God’s discipline surely meant he was a son of God.
This was just the beginning of a saga that would span 20 years of our marriage, including our years in the full-time ministry. There would be periods of freedom, but then Dave would fall again. I would express disappointment, but then, fearing abandonment, would seek to quickly “restore” him, often by giving myself sexually.
Eventually, the falls began to increase. Well-meaning brothers did everything from reading Dave Scripture on repentance to threatening church discipline. Little did we know that we were both caught in a web first spun in the Garden of Eden.
Back to the Garden
In the last article, we talked about how true intimacy involves knowing and being known in all your imperfection. For a married couple, romance and sexuality help create this safety and unity. In contrast, false intimacy idolizes sex and romance as being the supreme goal. Instead of thriving in real life (including heartache and loss), this false intimacy depends largely upon fantasy.
Bottom line: False intimacy is based on an illusion woven by the father of lies himself. This illusion boldly states that certain actions or thoughts, explicitly forbidden by God, hold great power to give us satisfaction, fulfillment, control or relief from emotional pain.
I’ve found that the temptations that come with false intimacy mirror Eve’s temptation in the garden in Genesis 3. The road to false intimacy includes:
|Satan’s Whisper||Allure of False Intimacy||False Promise|
|Did God really say?||One bite promises the knowledge/ experience that you need.||One look won’t hurt anyone.|
|Your eyes will be opened.||All of your fantasies about romance, love and sex will be fulfilled.||You’ll have what you want without suffering, pain or hardship.|
|You will be like God.||You’ll feel powerful and worthwhile.||You’ll share unlimited passion with others.|
|You won’t surely die.||You will feel more engaged with your sensuality – more of a man/woman.||You won’t have the consequences that God promised.|
It would be easy to assume that, since God wholeheartedly endorses a beautiful freedom and holy passion in marriage (just read the Song of Solomon!), we are largely exempt from these temptations. But remember that Satan’s goal is not just to lead our bodies away from God and each other, but also our minds. And he can do that both outside and inside of our bedrooms.
Dave and I have learned that our best defense is understanding what Satan seeks to steal from us through false intimacy and then setting hedges of protection around our marriage.
|Temptation||Steals From Us|
|Secretly seeking comfort from life’s pain through chat rooms, Internet pornography, masturbation, etc.||Finding complete comfort in God and my mate. Walking in the light together.|
|Escaping from emotional disconnection through romance novels, movies and television.||The emotional energy needed to engage the ups and downs of real-life intimacy.|
|Creating “better sex” through pornography,
x-rated videos or imagining sex with someone else.
|The process of communicating, listening and learning to respond to our sexual differences.|
|Bartering sex for favors or demanding sex as reward. Pressuring a mate to go beyond their conscience.||The ability to set and honor boundaries. Respect for myself and for my spouse.|
Satan whispers that false intimacy is okay because it feels good or pleases our mate. But, the more we spend our intimacy reserves on false intimacy, the less we have to spend on real intimacy. From the starting place of false intimacy, Satan has led many a couple into emotional affairs, adultery or other dark places they never imagined.
Coming Out of Hiding
Through counseling, recovery groups/literature and immersing ourselves in the Bible, I’m grateful to say that Dave and I have learned to replace false intimacy with Biblical intimacy in our marriage. In fact, now we can say that the greatest treasure in our marriage is our intimacy. (Amen!)
One of the most important skills we needed to learn in this process was setting healthy boundarie
Did God Really Say? Setting Godly Boundaries in Marriage
Just as God drew a boundary to protect Adam and Eve, setting clear boundaries in marriage safeguards us from temptation and cultivates deeper intimacy.
“Satan got Eve to doubt God by first getting her to doubt herself. ‘Eve, my dear, perhaps you misunderstood. Because I can assure you, you won’t die.'” — Secure in Heart, p. 151
As I travel across the country speaking and talking with women, I hear a scenario described often. A woman marries a Christian man. Because he is a follower of Christ, she doesn’t even consider he might be engaged in a secret war against impurity. But then, slowly, signs emerge. He stays up late into the night online. When she enters a room where he is watching television, he quickly flips the channel. Then, after a sermon or men’s retreat, he confesses one of his many encounters with pornography.
She is devastated, and rightly so. But she doesn’t think to ask if there is more. She just wants it to be over. Surely he won’t do it again, now that he knows how much this hurts me.
Some brave women also describe their own struggles with bringing impurity into their marriage. For instance, she starts off reading steamy romance novels in order to get an emotional high without the pain of confronting issues with her husband. Eventually, yearning for more than her novels can deliver, she ends up addicted to pornography or in a secret emotional affair.
It’s easy to see why purity struggles tend to only intensify with time. And unfortunately, when one spouse introduces impurity into marriage, and the other doesn’t draw a clear boundary, both partners suffer losses.
What is a Boundary?
In marriage, think of a boundary as a limit we set that protects the sacredness of our marriage – keeping us far from anything that could hurt our relationship. Certainly, God’s plan for sexual purity has always included boundaries. As Solomon said of the wayward woman, “Keep a path far from her, do not go near the door of her house…” (Proverbs 5:8).
We shouldn’t be surprised then that Satan’s very first attack on Adam and Eve came in the form of an all-out assault on the only boundary God had set. “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?'” (Genesis 3:1).
One thing is for sure, Satan’s enticing lies then sound eerily familiar to the way he attacks today:
- Did God really say? Who says this is wrong? How could it be wrong when it looks and feels so good?
- What are God’s motives? Is God withholding from you? Does God want you to miss out on knowledge? Pleasure?
Often Satan seeks to desensitize us to the harmfulness of impurity by taking us there one small boundary break at a time. The truth is that God’s boundaries are evidence of His goodness and His desire to protect us from painful consequences. And, if you look at the many Scriptures that set sexual boundaries in context, you’ll find that they are wrapped in love:
|No coarse joking, not a hint of sexual immorality (Ephesians 5:3).||“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love…” (Ephesians 5:1-2).|
|Treat younger men as brothers and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity (1 Timothy 5:1-2).||“Watch your life and your doctrine closely … save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16).|
|Keep the marriage bed pure (Hebrews 13:4).||“Keep on loving each other as brothers” (Hebrews 13:1).|
|Learn to control your body in a way that is holy and honorable (1 Thessalonians 4:4).||“May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other …” (1Thessalonians 3:12).|
Dave and I have come to see boundaries as our best friends – calling us to the highest expression of our love. Our boundaries include:
- Not a hint of immorality. Neither of us is alone with someone of the opposite sex without advance permission from the other. We refrain from movies, books or magazines with full or partial nudity, or sexual innuendo.
- Absolute purity. Dave confesses sexual temptation early. I make it safe to have the discussion.
- Keeping the marriage bed pure. We focus solely on each other through eye contact and open communication.
- Walking in the light. We’ve agreed not to initiate or receive lovemaking if there is unconfessed sexual sin or broken boundaries; we first confess and repair the rift.
Establishing good boundaries will not only help protect your marriage, but it will also create a refuge where you can taste the glorious freedom of being naked and unashamed (Genesis 2:25).
But what if you’ve already taken some blows in the arena of impurity? Can you restore God’s legacy of pure intimacy in marriage?
Out of the Bushes and Into the Light
Shame tempts us to hide from God and others. Learn how to resist Satan’s accusations and allow God to remove your shame.
“With his love, he will calm all your fears.He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.I will gather you who mourn for the appointed festivals; you will be disgraced no more.” – Zephaniah 3:17-18 (New Living Translation)
One of my favorite memories is of my husband singing over my daughter while she was still in my womb. I liken it to God singing over His first children, Adam and Eve, as He brought them to life. And, just as my daughter Bekah quieted when Dave sang over her right after she was born, I’m convinced Adam and Eve immediately recognized the comfort of God’s voice.
This beautiful picture of God’s love is also reflected in Adam and Eve’s intimacy with one another. Their relationship with each other and with God was completely pure. Impurity was a foreign concept.
But all it took to bring complete upheaval of Adam and Eve’s security was one breach of their Father’s will. After Satan attacked their purity before God, it seemed they had lost their voices, and they were afraid to listen to God’s. Instead, they hid in the bushes, ashamed and afraid.
So the Bible tells us that, grasping for anything to protect themselves, they sewed together fig leaves to make coverings for their bodies and their souls. When their Father came to walk with them, they were quaking in the bushes.
Running for Cover
I remember vividly the first time as a Christian that I intentionally hid from God and others. It was during our engagement. Alone together in the apartment where Dave was living, we touched in ways I knew God reserved for marriage. After we parted, I wept, devastated at dishonoring God.
That night, at a church fellowship, I made a run for the bushes. Instead of finding someone safe to talk to, I kept quiet. Why? Pure and simple, I was insecure and deeply ashamed. “Surely we will never fall again,” I thought.
Unfortunately, that decision didn’t help me find cleansing or hope. Rather, it was the beginning of repeated struggles. And once married, a similar pattern continued with Dave’s intermittent battles with pornography – alternating between confessing, covering and compensating – until we both decided once and for all to do whatever it took to come out of hiding.
Now I realize that the impurity in our relationship tapped into existing shame from the sexual abuse I received as a child. It also pulled from experiences growing up as the firstborn daughter of an alcoholic. Like Adam and Eve, I bought into Satan’s whisper, “What will God and others think about you now?”
God, Our Safest Place
If you or your spouse has struggled with impurity, you understand that the fear of reproach from others (in the form of disgrace, blame or judgment) is strong. Recently, a wife whose husband just confessed a longtime habit of watching pornographic videos wrote, “I feel like if others find out we’ll be judged.”
Why does Satan want to keep us in the bushes? Certainly, one reason is so that he can go to work creating a stronghold in our hearts. Hiding from God and others only escalates the shame, making us more likely to listen to Satan’s accusations and less likely to believe we can change.
But the truth is that God is the safest place to turn after impurity. God alone can guide us toward repentance while quieting the shame, fear and disgrace of our sin. For instance, think of:
- David and Bathsheba. After adultery, murder and one of the biggest hiding jobs of all time, God exposed their sin. Yet, after their repentance, God restored them, telling them to name their second child Solomon, which means loved by the Lord (2 Samuel 12:24-25).
- The Samaritan Woman. Not wanting to face others who might judge her for five previous husbands and her current live-in boyfriend, the Samaritan woman came to the well in the heat of the day. Jesus gently dismantled her defenses, offered her the true need of her heart and took her from hiding out to touching an entire town! (John 4:1-26).
As someone who has spent way too much time and energy covering my weakness, I can tell you that living in the light is glorious. Knowing that God has removed the disgrace of the losses Dave and I have experienced makes me want to shout, “How amazing is your grace, my God!”
But let’s take this one step further. If we aren’t going to cover ourselves with the proverbial fig leaves, what will cover the shame of our sin and help us to trust God’s voice again?
After the Fairy Tale
More than a cautionary tale, Adam and Eve’s story demonstrates God’s redemptive nature. Apply these same liberating truths as you build a pure marriage.
“I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.” – Psalm 34:4-5
In this series on building a pure marriage in an impure world, we’ve looked to the story of Adam and Eve for insight. Most of us see their story primarily as a cautionary tale – used to warn us about the high cost of disobeying God’s word. But I’ve also come to see a beautiful redemption story.
After Adam and Eve’s disobedience, and after God spells out the consequences of their sin, there lies a verse that I read right past for years. In Genesis 3:21, the Bible says, “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.”
If you think about it, God could have had many responses other than this one. He could have told them, “Now you’ve done it; you’re on your own now!” But instead, we see God tenderly sacrificing one part of His creation to clothe another after their sin, no doubt pointing towards the day when Christ would cover us all.
It is very telling to realize that God did more than forgive Adam and Eve’s sin. By covering their nakedness, He took the first step to healing their shame. But several questions remain:
- Did God continue to fight for Adam and Eve as individuals and as a couple?
- Did Adam and Eve continue to open their hearts?
Reading on in the Bible, I see evidence of both:
- Eve’s reliance on God. Eve’s first words after the birth of Cain were, “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man” (Genesis 4:1).
- Adam and Eve’s parenting. Adam and Eve taught Cain and Abel to give to God from their flocks and garden (Genesis 4:3-4).
- God’s involvement with Cain. Seeking to help him avoid tragedy, God sought to help Cain face his anger and emotional pain. God wanted to reassure him that if he did what is right, he would be accepted (Genesis 4:6-7).
- God’s gift of Seth. Through this son, given after the banishment of Cain (Seth literally means granted), God granted Adam and Eve a second chance (Genesis 4:25).
God’s Got You Covered!
Fighting for a pure marriage isn’t just for those who’ve struggled with impurity; it’s for all of us. And Satan would seek to keep us hiding in shame over many different issues – whether depression, struggles with children, infertility, debilitating health problems or financial challenges. But the good news is that pure intimacy in marriage doesn’t depend on perfection. It doesn’t even depend on not sinning.
Although Adam and Eve lived out and then lost their proverbial fairy tale existence in the garden, there was still mercy, grace and redemption to be found. And that means hope for us as well. How can we continue fighting for a pure marriage in an impure world? Here are a few suggestions:
- Build pure intimacy. Make your relationship your safest place through praying together, talking about emotional pain/anxieties and setting good boundaries.
- Talk about your purity. Don’t be afraid to discuss such sensitive topics as false intimacy, pornography, emotional struggles and other temptations on an ongoing basis.
- Refuse to hide your battles. Whatever struggles come, commit together to keep your relationship in the light. Have the heart to do whatever it takes (whether counseling, recovery groups, accountability partners, etc.) to fight for your purity and your relationship.
- Give each other a place to grow. Refuse to be ashamed of your battles. Support each other by engaging tough issues and reminding each other that God truly has you covered.
Next Steps and Related Information
Additional resources addressing sex and intimacy in marriage
Popular questions on this topic:
- Several years ago I had an affair. My wife has forgiven me for cheating, but how can I rebuild our relationship?”
- How do I explain to our kids about meetings my husband is attending as he recovers from a pord addiction?
- I use porn because my wife is overweight.”
- What can my spouse and I do to protect our relationship from an affair?
- False Intimacy
- Boundaries in Marriage
- Five Essentials for Lifelong Intimacy
- Hedges: Loving Your Marriage Enough to Protect It (Hardcover)
- The Love List: Eight Little Things That Make a Big Difference in Your Marriage (Hardcover)
- The Passionate Marriage
- The Gift of Sex: A Guide to Sexual Fulfillment (Paperback)
- God’s Design for Sex
- Managing Temptation
- The Overcoming Marriage
- The Role of Friendship in Marriage
- Devotional: Sex and Intimacy
- Devotional: Spiritual Foundations