Do you pray with your spouse? I’m not asking do you pray for your spouse. Do you pray with your spouse? I’m also not asking this as a rhetorical question. I’d honestly like some feedback about whether or not you feel like you pray with your spouse like you should. And if not, why not?
True, holistic, meaningful intimacy is multifaceted, and spiritual intimacy is a critical dimension of a couple’s overall intimate relationship. Yet, many couples fail to facilitate their spiritual intimacy through shared prayer. Why? A time of shared prayer seems like such a simple thing. So, why is it so often neglected?
In my experience counseling and talking with couples, wives typically want their husbands to show spiritual leadership in the marriage relationship and be the ones to initiate prayer time together. However, men have a plethora of reasons for not doing so. For those men who grew up going to church, many experienced a church culture that stressed the outward "performance" of spiritual disciplines. Young men were told that they needed to look the right way, read scripture in a flawless manner, lead singing with just the right gusto, speak clearly and confidently from the pulpit, and always use the right language when praying in public worship. The sense of perfectionism in these disciplines carried over into the home life as well. Please understand, I am not faulting any previous generation for setting unrealistic or “performance-based” standards for prayer. For those generations, it was not a show. It was how they perceived "giving your best to God." Regrettably though, the stress on flowery, poetic language and carefully measured phrasing left many young men who had a different set of God-given talents with the constant sense that their best was not good enough. So, rather than fail to live up to expectations, it was easier to simply not do anything. And, that sense of "not good enough" prayers carried over into their marriages.
This is just one example of what can contribute to a stagnation of shared prayer in marriage. There are many other, greatly diverse reasons a husband or wife might feel uncomfortable sharing prayer time with his/her spouse. But, regardless of the specific reason, what do we do? How do we overcome the barriers to a shared prayer life?
The reality is that most husbands and wives are not taught how to communicate spiritually with their mates (at least not in a way that conveys and grows spiritual intimacy). Here are a couple of suggestions that I think are critical to breaking through this barrier. First, spouses have to become comfortable speaking honestly in their prayers with each other. Because of the “perfection in prayer” mentality we sometimes nurture, in our prayers that we vocalize in front of our mates we have problems admitting fear, failure, uncertainty, or other feelings and situations that plague us. Yet, when I am honest about my spiritual life before my mate, imperfections, doubts and all, I become spiritually transparent and authentic, fostering a greater spiritual intimacy.
Second, every husband and wife needs to be part of a like-gender accountability group. Men have struggles that only other men can fully understand, and women have struggles that only other women can fully understand. While we must seek spiritual intimacy primarily with our spouses, we also need others of like-gender to pray with and for us. But more significantly, we need others in our lives that have permission to crack down on us and hold us accountable if they see we are doing things that will harm our marriage or our spiritual walk.