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Real Marriage: The Truth about Sex, Friendship, and Life Together

Real Marriage: The Truth about Sex, Friendship, and Life Together

by Mark Driscoll
Grace Driscoll

Learn More | Meet Mark Driscoll | Meet Grace Driscoll
New Marriage, Same Spouse
Behold, I make all things new.—Revelation 21:5

How is your love life?

Are you single, hoping to meet someone and live happily ever after? Seeing someone and contemplating marriage? Maybe you’re newly married and still filled with wedded bliss, or a married couple so exhausted from the constant demands of work and parenting that your marriage is slipping. You may be reeling from a devastating sin in your marriage. Or the two of you are still in love and doing pretty well, but you want to avoid ending up like other couples you know who are not getting along and possibly even getting divorced. Perhaps you are empty nesters who have realized that the kids largely held together your family, and you don’t have a close friendship now that they’re out of the house. Are you a parent or grandparent concerned for the marriage of your child or grandchild? Divorced and trying to figure out what went wrong and how not to endure that pain again? A leader who seeks to help people struggling with relationship issues?
Whether you or someone you know has a problem in marriage—or are trying to avoid one—my wife, Grace, and I hope to help. We want to serve you in this book. So we will be honest about our own failures, sins, mistakes, and griefs. Even a pastor and his wife come into marriage with baggage and a few carry-ons. But God has been faithful to us, and we trust Him to be faithful to you as well. To get started, we thought it would be helpful for us to share our story in hopes that you would get to know us a bit, thereby providing some context for what we write in this book and hopefully earning your trust.

Can you imagine being onstage in front of thousands of people, answering the most intimate questions about sex and relationships? That’s where I (Grace) found myself a couple of years ago when my husband was preaching the Song of Solomon to our church. At the end of his teaching, I would join Mark onstage, where we’d sit as members of the congregation texted us their questions, which would appear on a big screen next to us. We took turns answering everything from “How long should I wait for my boyfriend to commit to me?” to “Why should I stop sleeping with my girlfriend when we’ve been together for five years?”

I had prayed for months about whether I should join Mark on stage for this. What if someone asked me something too embarrassing to answer? What if I said something that sounded foolish? Would people think Mark and I were claiming to know all the answers? In the end, I made the decision to step out in faith. No, we don’t know all the answers, but we have studied for years what God says on the subjects of sex and marriage. And we have certainly learned a lot the hard way. Like many, we entered marriage with a load of habits, secrets, and preconceptions that could have killed our marriage.

For me, the seeds for the potential destruction of my marriage were planted as a child. As a pastor’s kid, I gave in to the pressure to pretend that everything was perfect and avoided looking sinful. Unfortunately, it is common for pastors’ kids to believe they can’t be themselves for fear of ruining the ministry of the church somehow. We often practiced the “silent treatment” when we were upset, rather than dealing with sin issues kindly and honestly, so I learned to hide my sin from my parents and others. I was also afraid of the conflict and exposure it would take to resolve it. I had the misconception that Christianity was just having good values and acting right on the “outside,” but I didn’t understand true heart-changing repentance. I often felt shame when I sinned but didn’t know how to get past it by confessing the sin, asking God and the other person I sinned against to forgive me, receiving that forgiveness, and asking Jesus to help me turn from that sin by power of the Holy Spirit.

My oldest sister and I had a rough relationship growing up, and I remember often saying I was sorry, but don’t recall really feeling bad that I had hurt her. It was more like a script I read to move on or get out of my bedroom “time out.” Now when I sin I actually feel the impact of sinning against a holy God and whoever else might be involved, which is prompted by the Holy Spirit. If I had understood the gospel more deeply, I would have known that repentance keeps shame from condemning us because Jesus died and scorned the shame (Hebrews 12:2).

Though repentance is humbling, there is such a freedom in allowing Jesus to replace sin with His free gift of righteousness. Sadly, I became great at lying and pretending I was a good person. I didn’t fully understand my sin nature and need for Jesus to die for my sins. Upon entering junior high, I still lacked confidence and went through two very awkward years believing I had no value. Even though I was a Christian, I still didn’t realize my identity needed to be founded on God creating me in His image and Jesus gifting me His righteousness. I did well in school and started to make friends, thinking I was doing better, but not giving credit to God for giving me those abilities. That’s when I met a handsome young man named Mark.

I (Mark) was raised in a very rough neighborhood near the airport in Seattle before it was incorporated as a city. Without a local police force, it resembled the Wild West. There were multiple strip clubs, seedy massage parlors, and hourly rate motels down the street from my home. The prostitutes walked the streets openly and were brazen enough to even walk up and knock on my car window seeking “business” as I waited for the light to turn green. Some of these young women attended my high school; and serial killers murdered some of them. Ted Bundy and the Green River Killer picked up many of their victims in my neighborhood, even dumping at least two of their bodies at my Little League field.
The men on my father’s side include uneducated alcoholics, mental patients, and women beaters. This includes an uncle who died of gangrene and his sons, roughly my age, who have been in prison for beating women and were supposedly on the television show Cops. One of the main reasons my parents moved from North Dakota to Seattle was to get away from some family members when I was a very young boy.

Growing up, my goal was to get out of my neighborhood and enjoy a new and better life. I remember building forts as a young boy and treating them as my own home. I did not want to get trapped by gangs, drugs, alcohol, crime, or manipulative women. I wanted to get an education, make some money, live in a better neighborhood, marry a nice, beautiful woman, and be a father. This was my vision from a very young age.

I did not drink, and to this day have never done any drugs or taken a puff of a cigarette. I did well in sports and school. By fifteen I had lied about my age, falsified my birth certificate, bought a car, and drove myself to work at a 7-Eleven (near the strip clubs), where I sold liquor, condoms, porn, and rubbing alcohol for freebasing drug addicts who lived in the low-income apartments next door. Around this time I also started having sex with a girlfriend.

I was the “good guy” in my high school. I graduated high school “Most Likely to Succeed,” student body president, Man of the Year, editor of the school newspaper, and a four-year letterman in baseball. I was part of a bond campaign to renovate our school and was active in a state political campaign. I was a moral, religious boy from a Catholic home who, for the most part, stayed out of trouble despite a short wick, foul mouth, and bad temper that resulted in doling out more than a few beatings to various guys—usually for what they were doing to women and children. In short, I was a good guy and a tough guy, so I thought.

At seventeen I became smitten with a cute girl named Grace who was a grade older in school. A friend in common introduced us, and before long we were going out on our first date. Grace was a pastor’s daughter, and although she was a Christian, she had fallen into drinking and partying. Underneath the “fun girl” image, though, she was hurting. It was a lonely place for a young woman to be. She was the youngest of three girls and was very shy and naive, not understanding the world around her.

Innocence in a child is normal and healthy, but naivety is when you believe things or trust people without ever questioning them, and it leads to a lack of discernment. Innocence is when a child trusts her parents, as she should be able to, and is free to grow and mature in wisdom with their guidance. Naivety, on the other hand, can be harmful to the person if, as a regular way of thinking, they are unaware of the dangers around them. For example, in college Grace used to walk alone at night around a dark and dangerous collegecampus and would unknowingly put herself in dangerous positions with guys.

Neither Grace nor I were virgins when we met, and before long we were dating and sleeping together, which continued even after she went off to college while I was finishing high school.

Upon graduation from high school, I was given a free senior trip to Mexico. The company representative said I would receive “VIP treatment” that included lots of alcohol and young women to sleep with. A few weeks before the trip, I declined the offer because I loved Grace and did not want to ruin my relationship with her.

Off to college I went, and—as an unbelieving freshman in college a few hundred miles away from Grace—I joined a fraternity. Our frat party was the first weekend, and while I was not planning on drinking, I was planning on attending the party and was tempted to see what might happen with the young women. Our frat filled the basement with music, beer, and black lights. Soon a parade of young women flooded the hot basement to dance and hand out variously colored highlighter pens, inviting the guys to draw on their white tank tops and T-shirts to glow in the dark. As I was walking into the basement room I had a strong, strange sense that I should not enter, and I did not know why. I was not a Christian, but it seemed to me that if I walked through that door, my life course would change, and I knew I was supposed to turn and walk away. So I did, and only later came to realize it was God saving me from myself.

The next morning I awoke before anyone else, because I was not hung over. (I was possibly the only guy in the frat who did not drink.) Downstairs I encountered a sorority girl who was still drunk, confused, and crying. She was nearly naked, wrapped in a blanket, unsure of what happened to her, whom she woke up with, or where her clothes were. I gave her a pair of my sweats and walked her home. She cried the entire way, and that morning I decided to leave the frat, without having touched any young woman. And, I missed Grace.

My pledge class ended up getting arrested. They spent evenings and weekends in jail or doing community service. I got out just in time by the grace of God.
Not long after, God saved me while I was sitting in my dorm reading the Bible Grace had given me. Back in high school, once she suspected that I was probably not a Christian, she did not break up with me as she should have. Instead, she bought me a nice leather Bible with my name on it. I had not really read it up until that point, but kept it around as a sort of good luck charm. That day I finally picked it up. I was not going to church, had not heard a gospel presentation or read the Bible, and no one led me to Christ. In Romans 1:6, I read, “You also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ” (NIV). God highlighted that statement in my soul, and it seemed evident to me from that moment forward that my life was not my own. I belonged to Jesus Christ like a tool in his hand forwhatever He wanted.

I soon went searching for a church, unclear of what I was even looking for and afraid that I might end up in a cult. By God’s grace, I ended up in a solid Bible-teaching church where I was taught about Jesus, marriage, sex, and family. I absolutely loved my first church; the people were invaluable in teaching me about life as God intended, without pretention or legalistic rules. I often thank God that my first church was a wonderful church and one of the highlights of my entire life.

In the spring I attended my first men’s retreat with the church. The pastor told us to spend some time in prayer with God. I went for a walk and asked God what He wanted me to do with the rest of my life. Uncertain of what would happen, I was basically just walking along a river in the Idaho woods talking aloud to God when He spoke to me. I had never experienced anything like that moment. God told me to devote my life to four things. He told me to marry Grace, preach the Bible, train men, and plant churches. Since that day in 1990, that’s what I have been pursuing by God’s grace.

When I got home, I called Grace to let her know what God had said. She was genuinely thrilled at my conversion and asked a number of questions about what God was teaching me through the Bible. We talked for what seemed like hours; she wanted to know about what church I had chosen as well as the multiple Bible study groups I had signed up for. She had returned to a growing relationship with Jesus after wandering for a few years drinking and partying with friends. Meanwhile, God was transforming me. As soon as she could, Grace transferred to my college and we began attending church together.
It was there I began learning about sex and marriage from the Bible. The pastor seemed to really love his wife, and they had a faithful and fun marriage. The previous church I had attended was Catholic, with a priest who seemed to be a gay alcoholic. He was the last person on earth I wanted to be like. To a young man, a life of poverty, celibacy, living at the church, and wearing a dress was more frightful than going to hell, so I stopped going to church somewhere around junior high. But this pastor was different. He had been in the military, had earned a few advanced degrees, and was smart. He was humble. He bow hunted. He had sex with his wife. He knew the Bible. He was not religious.

In that church I met other men who were very godly and masculine. There were farmers who loved Jesus, hunters who loved Jesus, and even one guy who was on his way to having eleven daughters and two sons with one wife. They had a beautiful family and sometimes invited Grace and me over for dinner. I had never seen a family pray the way they did, sing together, and pretty much just laugh and have fun. Watching that family, I learned about the importance of a dad praying and playing with his kids, reading the Bible to them, and teaching them to repent of their sin to one another and forgive others when sinned against. It was incredible. Before long, Grace and I were volunteering our Friday nights to babysit for free so they could get a date night.

Also, in this season we stopped sleeping together, which was a bummer for me. At a collegiate Bible study, a pastor taught from the Bible about the sin of fornication. To be honest, that f-word was new to me. It sounded as if he was saying that sex with a girlfriend you loved and planned to marry was wrong. I immediately thought, Of course he doesn’t mean that. So I called that pastor on the phone and told him I had a “friend” I was afraid might be fornicating and wanted to double check what fornication was. He took me to the Bible, where I realized I was a sinful fornicator.
To be honest, fornicating was fun. I liked fornicating. To stop fornicating was not fun. But eventually Grace and I stopped fornicating, got engaged, and were married between our junior and senior years of college.

I assumed that once we were married we would simply pick up where we left off sexually and make up for lost time. After all, we were committed Christians with a relationship done God’s way.

But God’s way was a total bummer. My previously free and fun girlfriend was suddenly my frigid and fearful wife. She did not undress in front of me, required the lights to be off on the rare occasions we were intimate, checked out during sex, and experienced a lot of physical discomfort because she was tense.

Before long I was bitter against God and Grace. It seemed to me as if they had conspired to trap me. I had always been the “good guy” who turned down women for sex. In my twisted logic, since I had only slept with a couple of women I was in relationships with, I had been holy enough, and God owed me. I felt God had conned me by telling me to marry Grace, and allowed Grace to rule over me since she was controlling our sex life. I loved Grace, but in the bedroom

I did not enjoy her and wondered how many years I could white knuckle fidelity. Grace was so full of shame and hurt from previous relationships that she didn’t trust that I loved her, no matter how many times I said it. She became afraid of me and felt used as I tried to explain how she frustrated me sexually, which added to her feeling less valuable. We desperately needed help but didn’t know where to turn. Bitterness and condemnation worsened.

Upon graduation we packed up our old Chevy truck and moved back to our hometown of Seattle, weeping as we drove away from our college town and beloved church. In Seattle we worked simple jobs to pay the bills, house sat for some months, saving up enough money to rent an apartment, and finally settled in at a multiethnic suburban megachurch half an hour away, volunteering in the college ministry. Before long we were running the college ministry and moved into a rental home in the city near the colleges. WE served there for a few years before starting our own new church.

As we both prayed about where to start the church, we felt called to pursue the seemingly impossible. Seattle was the least-churched city in the nation, and the least likely person to attend church there was a college-educated single person, especially a man. So, after fasting and praying over the decision, we decided to plant a church where the need was greatest, although the work was hardest and resourcing was least. We began gathering the core group of maybe a dozen people for our church plant in our home. From the outside, our marriage looked okay. We were still having weekly date nights and were faithful to each other, but in reality we were more life partners than lovers and friends, working jobs and hosting Bible studies to serve others. All our conversations revolved around other people and how to serve and help them. It seemed to be the “right” way to do ministry, but neglect of your own marriage is never the right way.

Making issues even worse, I (Grace) realized I hadn’t really followed the Genesis command to leave my family and cleave to Mark as my new family. I still called my mom daily and complained when Mark and I were fighting; we spent all our holidays, birthdays, and vacations with my side of the family, rather than starting some of our own family traditions. My parents had keys to the house and would stop by at any time unannounced, so we lacked privacy and I didn’t see it as a problem. I called them “my family” which made Mark feel as if he and I weren’t family. I had to learn to pray and work through our conflict differently, plan some of our own traditions and memories, set healthy boundaries of privacy, and refer to Mark as “my family” and others as our “extended family.”

We did ministry nearly every night of the week, with a few thousand people in total passing through our home in a given year, and many even living with us at various times. I (Mark) am an introvert who prefers home to be a refuge, which meant the lack of distinction between ministry and home was killing me. All the while, though, our sex life was still less than stellar, and it became increasingly frustrating in the next few years as we taught premarital counseling to a few hundred couples. Every quarter a new class would pack into our home to hear, among other things, my detailed teaching from the Bible on the freedoms and joys of married sex, after which I would go to bed without enjoying much of it. My bitterness grew.

Our marriage was functional but not much fun. As we approached the launch of the church, Grace was pregnant with our first child and suffering from painful stress-related issues caused by her public relations job, which culminated in me apologizing for not bearing the entire financial burden for our family. She gladly came home from work, and we lived on a very small income from outside jobs and support, because the church plant could not afford to pay me during the first few years.
In this season we shifted into ministry-and-family mode, neglecting our intimacy and failing to work through our issues. This became apparent to me when my pregnant wife came home from a hair appointment with her previously long hair (that I loved) chopped off and replaced with a short mommish haircut. She asked what I thought, and could tell from the look on my face. She had put a mom’s need for convenience before being a wife. She wept.

One night, as we approached the birth of our first child, Ashley, and the launch of our church, I had a dream in which I saw some things that shook me to my core. I saw in painful detail Grace sinning sexually during a senior trip she took after high school when we had just started dating. It was so clear it was like watching a film—something I cannot really explain but the kind of revelation I sometimes receive. I awoke, threw up, and spent the rest of the night sitting on our couch praying, hoping it was untrue, and waiting for her to wake up so I could ask her. I asked her if it was true, fearing the answer.

Yes, she confessed, it was. Grace started weeping and trying to apologize for lying to me, but I honestly don’t remember the details of the conversation, as I was shell-shocked. Had I known about this sin, I would have not married her. But God told me to marry Grace, I loved her, I had married her as a Christian, we were pregnant, and I was a pastor with a church plant filled with young people who were depending on me.

Grace: Mark had righteous anger and felt totally betrayed. He wondered who I really was and felt trapped, confused, and at a loss to know what in the world he would do now. A bomb had just dropped, and shrapnel was everywhere! Dear Lord, how could I have done this to You and my husband? How could I have acted like such a good person with such darkness in my heart? How could I ever make up for what I had done? Mark wished he hadn’t married me; I wished I hadn’t ever lied. I was pregnant and he felt trapped. I begged forgiveness but told him he had every right to leave. He felt completely stuck; I felt total shame. How could we ever get through this? Mark tried to get counsel from other men, but they didn’t know what to say or do. I didn’t think we should tell anyone since we were just planting the church, but that decision only made the pain go on longer for both of us. We should have sought counsel from someone, but we just both felt alone.
Where was the freedom I was supposed to feel after finally telling the truth? Why didn’t we get closer in our marriage after exposing what seemed to be the deepest sin? God still needed to reveal more. He revealed the sin but wanted the heart and underlying motive to be exposed and repented of. He faithfully and miraculously kept us together so we could get to the next layers of pain and repentance, which wasn’t for another seven years. All we knew was that we had made a covenant before God in 1992 to stay married for better and for worse (we thought nothing could be worse than this), no back door, and God had told Mark to marry me very clearly—it was all we had to hold on to.

Some people will use this story against Mark and me, but we want to share it to help those of you who also are hurting and want to work through deep areas of sin in your marriage (or future marriage). I want God to be able to use all my story to help others, including the difficult, more “secret” sins. Every time I sat down to write for this book, I prayed what the Lord told Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”

Mark: I knew Grace loved me, but to hear her admit that in our premarital counseling she chose not to confess the entirety of her past sins because she knew I would not marry her made me feel like a furiously trapped animal. I had idolized Grace as a functional savior, and marriage and family as a functional heaven. When I discovered her sin against me and that she had punished me with resulting years of sexual and emotional denial, I felt like a total fool, and my world crashed around me. It seemed everything I had been striving for since I was a little boy was in vain. In idolizing marriage, I ended up demonizing Grace and doubting God.

Grace: Most people who know me now wouldn’t believe I would commit such an act of sin, let alone hide it from my husband for years. Yes, I was instructed to “tell all” in premarital counseling, and the Holy Spirit nudged me to tell the truth, but I blindly believed the lie that it would hurt Mark too much to tell him, and it was just a one-time mistake anyway. I also chose to believe the lie that it wouldn’t affect me, Mark, our marriage, ministry, or other lives in any way. This set up our life on a foundation of dishonesty, and it began to feed my fears that I didn’t deserve Mark as a husband—he was too good for me. I did things to sabotage our relationship, like neglecting him sexually, staying emotionally distant, and serving others’ needs obsessively—thinking I was protecting myself for when he left me. I gave into the Enemy’s trap and was responsible for causing Mark to feel very alone. I knew something was wrong but wasn’t willing to look at the effects of my sin as the cause of any pain.

Mark: I had been out of touch with my old pastor since graduation and had no one to talk to. Some friends tried to give us counsel, and they meant well and did their best, but ultimately they were of little help. So I put my head down, kept my pants on, and decided not to be the porn or masturbation or adultery guy. I worked about twice as many hours a week as I should have for the next decade, pouring all my energy into ministry and my children, while settling for a frustrating, lukewarm love life. Grace’s identity, too, became serving others and the church.

I grew more chauvinistic. I had never cheated on a girlfriend, but I never had a girlfriend who did not cheat on me. And now I knew that included my own wife. So I started to distrust women in general, including Grace. This affected my tone in preaching for a season, something I will always regret.

We didn’t know how to talk through these extremely hard issues without hurting each other even more, so we didn’t talk about them at all. I just got more bitter, and Grace just felt more condemned and broken, like a failure. Occasionally we’d meet a Christian pastor or counselor who was supposed to be an expert in these areas, but we never spoke with them in much detail, because in time we found out they either had a marriage as bad as ours or they had been committing adultery and were disqualified for ministry. We felt very alone and stuck.

Grace: I look back and wish I had listened to God’s voice urging me toward repentance, but in the following years I continued to be wounded and to wound people I loved. Mark and I grew more distant in our marriage. Communication was at an all-time low, as was our intimacy, and we became unable to serve each other without demanding something in return. We dealt with conflict very differently: he chose harsh words, and I chose silence. We both chose bitterness. As you can imagine, nothing really got resolved. Fear, lies, busyness, and discontentment all kept us from intimacy.

Mark: In the second year of the church we had a lot of single people getting married, and so I decided to preach through the Song of Songs on the joys of marital intimacy and sex. The church grew quickly, lots of people got married, many women became pregnant, and my counseling load exploded. I started spending dozens of hours every week dealing with every kind of sexual issue imaginable. It seemed as if every other young woman in our church had been sexually assaulted in some fashion, every guy was ensnared by porn, and every married and premarital couple had a long list of tricky sex questions. Day after day, for what became years, I spent hours meeting with people untangling the sexual knots in their life, reading every book and section of the Bible I could find that related to their needs.

Although I loved our people and my wife, this only added to my bitterness. I had a church filled with single young women who were asking me how they could stop being sexually ravenous and wait for a Christian husband, then I’d go home to a wife whom I was not sexually enjoying. One particularly low moment occurred when a newly saved married couple came in to meet with me. I prayed, and then asked how I could serve them. She took charge of the meeting, explained how she really liked her body and sex, and proceeded to take out a list of questions she had about what was acceptable as a Christian for her to do with her husband. It was a very long and very detailed list. As I answered each question, she would ask related follow-up questions with more specific details. Her husband said very little, but sat next to her looking awkward and smiling at most of the answers I gave. After they left the counseling appointment to get to work on the list of acceptable activities, I remember sitting with my head in my hands just moaning and asking God, “Do you really expect me to do this as a new Christian, without a mentor or pastor, in the midst of my marriage, and hold on for the next fifty years?”

Peter walking on water seemed an easier task.

By a miracle of God’s grace, we stayed faithful to each other in our marriage, without infidelity of any kind. We did have mediocre sex that eventually resulted in five children and one miscarriage. We really did love each other and wanted to connect, but often did not. We still disagree on how often we had sex (I was bitter, and she was in denial, which skews the perspective), but we both agree it wasn’t a healthy amount to support a loving marriage. We kept date night every week and checked the dutiful boxes of a decent respectable Christian marriage that would not disqualify us from ministry. We were together, but both very lonely.

This became increasingly apparent as we raised our firstborn, Ashley. I have always absolutely adored and enjoyed her. She, along with my other children, owns a special place in my heart. Grace often commented that she had never seen a dad as good as me, but did so in an aching way, as she longed for the same kind of love from me. The beginning of a breakthrough came when God spoke a word to me. He said that He was Grace’s Father and had chosen me for the important mission of rescuing, protecting, and loving His daughter. This felt like a noble divine assignment and began to change my motivation for pursuing Grace, because I saw her for the first time as the Father’s daughter—the Father who loved her as I loved my own daughters.

Then, after more than a decade of marriage, a root issue was finally revealed. Grace’s problem was that she was an assault victim who had never told me or anyone else of the physical, spiritual, emotional, and sexual abuse she had suffered. Hearing the details of her abuse broke me. Reliving her pain with her as we worked things through was healing. Yes, it hurt deeply. But at least the hurt was from a surgery that would cut out the cancer. In forgiving and walking with Grace, I realized that I was so overbearing and boorish, so angry and harsh, that I had not been the kind of husband whom she could trust and confide in with the most painful and shameful parts of her past. I was world-class at truth telling, but my words would tear her down rather than build her up. I spoke to her more as I would to a sinful guy, but where men stood up to my challenges, she fell down. My bitterness had continued to condemn Grace, and she kept shutting down more. In it all, God was gracious and gave me a deeper love for Grace than ever, and gave her a willingness to forgive and work with me.

As Grace began working on her root issues, I hit the wall physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. I had been working way too many hours a week for more than a decade as the church exploded and became one of the largest and fastest growing in the nation, in one of the least-churched cities. I wrote books and spoke at conferences, traveling to make extra income so Grace could stay home with our children. My pay was still low, we had nothing in savings, and we accrued a bit of debt—in a city where the cost of living was high. I preached as many as seven times a Sunday for more than an hour each time, year in and year out, nearly every week of the year, until my adrenal glands and thyroid fatigued, and I finally came to the end of myself in my midthirties. I was breaking, and it seemed there was no help, relief, or sympathy.

My veneer of tough, self-reliant husband without any needs was gone. I really needed my wife in ways I had never told her and she was surprised to hear. I needed a new life. I did not need a new job, but a new plan for that job. I also needed a new marriage, but wanted to have a new marriage with the same spouse. So we cleaned up the church, lost around one thousand people due to changes amid intense criticism, laid off a lot of people (many of whom were great), and decided everything would change or we would walk. I refused to die from stress or destroy my marriage and family for the sake of “religious” people and outgrown organizational systems. I found a good doctor and did what I was told to rebuild my health. Grace and I pulled back from many commitments, got some help, including someone to help her one day a week and someone else to clean the house every other week, and carved out some time to intentionally work on our relationship with Jesus and each other.

Since that season, we have been works in progress. We are now closer than ever. We have sex pretty much every day. We work together as one. We repent and forgive quickly and well by God’s grace. We are blessed to have been faithful to each other for the entirety of our marriage. Through it all, we’ve learned a lot. On a scale of 1 to 10, we’d say our marriage is somewhere around an 8+ or 9, when in years past it was a 3 or 4. Writing this book has been an absolutely unifying and trust-building project by God’s grace. We have a lot of fun as friends, and we get a lot done in life and ministry. By God’s grace and the Holy Spirit’s power we got a new marriage with the same spouse and avoided becoming yet another statistic.

It was 2007 when we decided to teach the Song of Songs again, about a decade after I had taught it the first time. We did not tell anyone the intimate details of our story. We did, however, tell folks the principles we have learned using a book of the Bible as a springboard to other books of the Bible, some cultural analysis, a few of our counseling insights, and some interesting sociological data. I preached the sermons, and Grace joined me onstage to answer two hundred questions texted in over the course of the series, which we titled “The Peasant Princess.”1 The series vaulted us to number one on iTunes for Religion and Spirituality, a place the podcast has been at or near every week since 2007. The series landed us on ABC’s Nightline a few times, CNN, Loveline with Dr. Drew, and a bunch of other media coverage. It has also led to conferences around the United States.

I (Mark) have also preached parts of this book’s content in England, Ireland, Scotland, South Africa, Australia, India, and Turkey. I have stood in line, where Grace has joined me when she was able, around the nation and the world, talking for hours with hundreds of thousands of couples. This, along with the ministry in our church and church-planting network, has led to seemingly every possible kind of conversation related to sex and marriage, which helped us greatly in writing the book.

So, after years of learning, counseling, teaching, repenting, forgiving, and praying, we believe it’s time for us to tell the story of what we’ve learned and what we are learning. The story is honest, helpful, practical, and biblical. We’ll give date night tips, talk about how to set up a marriage, and discuss how to fix a broken marriage. We’ll have pointed words for husbands and wives, answer the most tricky “can we do that?” sex questions, and give hope to people like us who entered into marriage a complete mess. And if you have unconfessed sin and/or a past of sexual sin, including pornography, fornication, sexual abuse, bitterness, and the like, we pray this book leads to the healing of your soul and your marriage.

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