One of the best things my husband and I ever did was go to marriage counseling. That was, in fact, largely my motivation for becoming a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. Jonathan and I had always worked hard on our marriage, but in our therapist’s words, we were just “missing each other.”

It had gotten to the point where it often felt like we were having the same arguments repeatedly. I had repeatedly told him what I wanted from him, and from my perspective, it still wasn’t happening. (In his defense, I was being unreasonable and did not see the effort he was putting out.) When I would really get upset, my reaction was almost always the same, “If you loved me, you would….” And then you could fill in the blank with whatever I was upset about at the time.

This was like throwing dynamite on a fire. If things hadn’t exploded between us, it would with that statement. I knew that statement would get under his skin, which is why I said it. From my end, I just needed to feel heard and validated. Unfortunately, I had no idea what it meant on his end. There was a reason that comment would get to him more than anything else I could say.

I am very blessed with parents who just celebrated 56 years of marriage. Jonathan wasn’t so lucky. His biological father and his stepdad both left their family. In his mind, when love isn’t strong, people leave. It wasn’t how I meant it at all, but every time Jonathan would hear, “If you loved me…” it undermined the stability of our marriage because if I didn’t believe he loved me with all of his heart, why would I stay?

I am so eternally grateful for our therapist and the help she gave me in understanding what I was doing to my wonderful husband without even realizing it. I immediately banned this phrase from my vocabulary, which has made a difference in our marriage. However, that was also when I discovered what would become the “theme verse” for our marriage. In I John 4:18, Scripture reads, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”

My sweet mama’s greatest disappointment in life is that I don’t have a crafty bone in my body. Even so, I hand-stitched “There is no fear in Love” to hang above our bed. This verse has revolutionized how we interact with each other, and it has helped me realize how often relationships have a basis in fear: fear of someone leaving, fear of our needs not being met, fear of being used or manipulated, fear of rejection. But God never intended for our marriages to be based on fear.

Sisters, let me encourage you to evaluate your interactions with your husband. Note the second half of the verse, “For fear has to do with punishment.” How often do our interactions with our spouse, or even our children, include manipulation? Or snarkiness? How often do we embody the phrase, “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy?” How often does our husband get the cold shoulder, or do we withhold sex as a “punishment”? This is just not God’s intent for our marriages.

Open, honest communication when we are upset or struggling is one thing that’s key to a happy marriage. Still, comments or actions designed to create fear, instability, or punishment in our marriage are just not biblical. I truly don’t believe we do these things intentionally; as I have already said, I didn’t even realize how what I was saying affected my sweet hubby, but I encourage you to really observe and consider. If a specific phrase typically gets under your husband’s skin, there’s probably a reason for that, and as anger is often a mask for fear, fear may well be at the core.

Sadly, I know that some marriages have a reason for fear. If this is you, please understand that this isn’t what God wants for you. Please reach out to a godly counselor or a trusted minister’s or elder’s wife for help. If that isn’t you, please be mindful of how you communicate and interact with your husband. I encourage you to run your interactions through the I John 4:18 filter and remember there is no fear in love.

Lacy Crowell
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Lacy Crowell is the Dean of Students at Freed Hardeman University in Henderson, TN. She has been married to the love of her life, Jonathan, for over 20 years. They are blessed with four amazing kiddos whom Lacy has had the privilege of homeschooling. She has also served alongside her husband in full-time ministry for 15 years.  She is a graduate of the Bear Valley Bible Institute of Denver and is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. Her great joy is working to help others become excited about studying God’s word, and helping couples thrive in their marriages. She is a member of the Come Fill Your Cup team and the author of two Bible study books for women: Proclaimed – Jesus the Messiah which is a study of the Gospel of Mark, and Pursued – God’s Plan for Intimacy in Marriage: a study of the Song of Solomon.