Podcast: How to Date Your Wife (Justin Buzzard)

This article is part of the The Crossway Podcast series.

Practical Advice for Husbands

In this episode, Justin Buzzard, author of Date Your Wife, offers advice for husbands eager to love and serve their wives on a daily basis. He highlights why men should prioritize their marriages in tangible ways, offering practical advice for creating an annual “Date-Your-Wife Plan” that goes beyond the occasional dinner and a movie.

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Date Your Wife

Date Your Wife

Justin Buzzard

Date Your Wife is an intensely practical guide for husbands looking to strengthen, save, or spice up their marriage and pursue their wives from a place of security in the gospel.

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Full Transcript

01:25 - Welcome

Matt Tully
Justin, thank you so much for joining us today on The Crossway Podcast.

Justin Buzzard
Great to be here.

01:30 - God’s Glory and a First Date

Matt Tully
So you’ve got a pretty interesting first date story and I think it’s made all the more interesting by the role that John Piper played on that first date. Can you walk us through what happened?

Justin Buzzard
Well l. . . that was at the end of my first date. I handed this woman, Taylor, who’s now my wife, I handed her a copy of John Piper’s book, Desiring God, and encouraged her to read it because it related to the conversation we’d had during this first date—talking about joy in God and in glorifying God—so I handed her a copy of the book and it’s because I wanted her to read it, but it’s also because that gave an excuse for her to have to see me at least one more time to give me the book back. So I was guaranteed at least seeing her one more time. So that happened. So yeah, our first date we just went on a long walk, a long hike in the mountains in the Santa Cruz mountains here in California on kind of a rainy day. I called her up on a Friday, which is my day off work, and we went on this long hike and it was great and that’s the spot where I later proposed to her actually on that same trail six months later.

Matt Tully
How long have you and your wife been married?

Justin Buzzard
In August, so in a couple months, it’ll be 16 years.

02:49 - Early Marriage

Matt Tully
Wow. So as you think back on those early days of marriage what was the most unexpected thing about marriage, good or bad?

Justin Buzzard
Let’s see. I think . . . most unexpected . . . OK. So I was surprised, even though premarital counseling, and mentors, and wise people had told me, I was surprised at how much your marrying into the family on both sides. I was surprised at how much stuff that was going on with my wife’s sets of parents—she has two sets of parents through divorce—and stuff going on with my parents and siblings how much that factors in and plays this role in your marriage and that you have to be alert to areas where you need to maybe have some more boundaries. That surprised me. Another thing I think that really surprised me, my wife and I had a unique thing, I wouldn’t really recommend this for a lot of couples, it’s just what we ended up doing is I was working as a youth pastor and the youth ministry was beginning to really expand and grow a lot as we were first married and we ended up actually hiring my wife also on to this church staff to work in youth ministry. I was focusing on the guys she was focusing on the gals. So we worked together the first almost four years of our marriage and that was a surprising, strange, wonderful gift: working together. So we had this, I don’t know, unique life for the first four years of marriage of you know being married, living together, working together with this same shared mission, yet having these different areas of authority and leadership as she was with the gals and I was with the guys. And that made for really rich, peaceful, fun kind of united first couple years of marriage where we had a lot of time together and where my wife had a lot of time to kind of flourish and grow as a disciple of Jesus in the church setting with me. So that was really fun.

04:57 - The Impetus for Writing Date Your Wife

Matt Tully
So in your book you note that you wrote it because you were, “Ticked off.” Why was that?

Justin Buzzard
I was noticing around me that I saw very few marriages that were—I don’t know, I could use a lot of adjectives for this—that were inspiring, that I think reflected what the Scriptures call us to. I was noticing a lot of marriages that just kind of seemed like they had settled. Like as though they had thought that the Christian ideal of marriage is simply faithfulness—faithfulness is so important—but is simply as long as we’re faithful and don’t have an affair, that’s a good marriage. So there were marriages that just sort of felt like, Hey I got married and we’re good! And sort of this whole thing of pursuit, and growth together, and flourishing together, and enjoying each other that seemed to have kind of fallen by the wayside and I was especially concerned about this because I was a pastor, and am a pastor, and so I was exposed to a lot of Christian marriages. And so I just kept looking at what I was seeing in the Scriptures about what the Bible has to say about manhood, about being a husband, what the Bible has to say about marriage and I thought, “Man, there’s a lot more here in the Bible that’s not really being reflected in many of the marriages that I’m seeing.” So I thought I saw an opportunity to address a really important topic, to address a problem that concerned me, and show some opportunity for there to be more.

06:41 - Why Focus on Men

Matt Tully
You write in the book that, “God has given man the ability to be the best thing or the worst thing that ever happened to a marriage.” And so my question is, Why focus so much on men? Aren’t there two people involved in every marriage?

Justin Buzzard
Yeah, absolutely. And you’re right and you know this book, this message has received just overwhelming, incredible feedback; but some of the critique there has been, “Man, you sure highlight men a lot.” And even that quote you just quoted. And I think there’s some fairness to that critique. But the issue is I wrote a book to men. So it’s a book for men. Now, many women are engaging with that book and that message and I really recommend that, but I’m speaking to men. So I suppose if I had a message, if I was writing a book to women, I might highlight more of a woman’s responsibility in things. But still, with that being said, you can’t ignore in Scripture this accent that is placed on the man, on the husband’s responsibility—it’s headship—for the flourishing of the marriage, for the good of the wife . . . you see it right away in the early chapters of Genesis and Adam’s responsibility to care for and protect the garden and his wife. We see it throughout the narratives of the Old Testament, we see it in Paul writing to husbands in Ephesians. So that’s why I think there’s a biblical case for it, and exegetical case for it, and I think there’s a severe cultural need for it. And so I want men to wake up more really to that reality. And I really think it’s true, I think it’s true of me. I can either be the worst thing or the best thing to happen to this marriage. And that doesn’t mean that my wife, Taylor, doesn’t have tremendous responsibility, influence, leadership on this marriage. And, of course, anyone listening to this someone’s wife in the marriage could do incredible harm and damage or bring incredible blessing to the marriage, but I think God wants men awake to that responsibility, to that power, to that influence that has been entrusted to them to steward well.

09:15 - Personal Struggles

Matt Tully
That’s one of the things you do repeatedly in the book is to call men to take responsibility for their marriage and take responsibility for their sin and the ways they don’t lead well. So I wonder as you reflect on your own marriage and your own leadership in your marriage, what would you say has been the biggest struggle for you over the years?

Justin Buzzard
The biggest struggle for me has been you know it’s taken me a longer time to wake up to, to be self aware about, to see kind of the strength of my personality, energy, force of ideas, tone of voice, all that and how different that is from my wife. So you know we’re still—16 years into marriage—we still have conflict over a lot of the same things we had conflict over when we were first dating or in year one of marriage. So an example might be gosh the way I express an opinion or an idea and to me I feel like I’m saying something—on a scale from one to 10—I feel like I’m saying something at a one but my wife can hear it at a 10 because I’m passionate, because my tone of voice is strong, and this and that. That can just spill out into so many different things where it’s taken me longer—this will be a lifelong journey for me—journey to recognize man, my wife is just very different than me. We have a lot of similarities but she’s very different than me and I’m very different from her and my way of expressing myself or navigating life is not the right way, nor is her way necessarily the right way. But marriage has been this incredible place to begin to discover that. I know I’ve certainly hurt my wife at times throughout the years by just kind of this strength and this energy and this “let’s go.” That’s probably what she would say if she were sitting here. Intensity is a good word for it.

11:26 - Common Struggles

Matt Tully
You’re a pastor, you’ve been talking to guys about their marriages for years now I would imagine. Summarize the one or two most common struggles that you think men tend to fall into when it comes to their marriages.

Justin Buzzard
The first one that comes to mind is just putting the marriage on cruise control. So that’s a little bit what got me to start thinking about this, writing about this, talking about this, is I think so many men fall into the mistake in thinking that they’ve kind of mission accomplished. I pursued, I wooed this woman—my girlfriend—we’re married now. Mission accomplished. Now let me pour all of my ambition, vision, strategy, energy, great ideas into my career or some other thing. And that’s just a false way of thinking because then what happens is a guy just puts the marriage on cruise control and the marriage doesn’t flourish and that’s particularly dangerous when couples and when men do this as they begin to have kids and all the energy goes onto career and kids for 10, 20 years and the kids are out of the house and they realize here’s this marriage that I didn’t invest in for 20 years. So that’s a significant issue and men need to see that this is one of the grandest priorities in life is to take great care of their wife, of their marriage, and that the real mission, the real adventure actually starts after those vows are spoken and as you enter into marriage. So that’s the first thing. And where I live, Silicon Valley, where everyone lives here or moves here because of work, because of a career, not because this is an incredible super-easy place for relationships and marriage and having a lot of spare time. I’ve especially had to and continue to talk to men about this as it relates to their careers because the career pulls men to, and constantly summons them, “Hey put in more hours, put in more work, put in more energy. Work a 70-hour work week every week.” And marriage and family can really suffer. I’d say that’s the biggest one that I’ve seen.

14:01 - The Power of Pursuit

Matt Tully
So your book is called Date Your Wife and one question that someone might have is, “Are you suggesting that if husbands and wives just go out for dinner and a movie more often that their marriages will automatically get better?”

Justin Buzzard
Not at all. Though there is some surprising—I’m not making that case at all—but there is wisdom in the simplicity of just something like that just if you think about it just in terms of a habit. Like, if someone doesn’t have any kind of habit of a date, of a weekly time like that in their marriage just making one habit adjustment like that, having a weekly date where you’re together for a few hours that could be—if you’re intentional with that time—that could pay some huge dividends in the marriage. No, as I use that verb “date” I use it in a big, comprehensive way. Think about it like “pursuit.” I make the case in the book all from Genesis 2:15 that’s how I kind of define “date,” God’s call to the first man to cultivate and guard the garden. So I use “date“ in that sense to cultivate, pursue, take great care of, cause flourishing, and bring protection to the wife, to the marriage. So I’m talking about with that I’m speaking about vision, I’m speaking about a dream for your marriage, I’m talking about a posture of pursuit and intentionality that then yes, gets down into specifics of having a plan for your marriage of going on dates, of doing things like that. And that looks different in every marriage, that looks different in seasons of life. Something that was important to us when our three sons were really little—you know when they were 4, 2, and 0—it was very important to our marriage, very important to my wife that we did have a babysitter come in once a week, I think it was normally on Thursday night, just getting those three hours together meant the world to my wife, and to me, and to our marriage. But things are different now that our boys are 12, 10 and 8 and what some of those rhythms and habits look like are pretty different. So in different seasons of life, we shift the specifics of the dream of our marriage.

16:20- Dating through Difficulty

Matt Tully
Another thing that I think can often be a challenge for us when it comes to cultivating that romantic side, cultivating the intimacy that should characterize a husband and wife is conflict. Anyone who’s married is familiar with just the reality that sometimes such silly things can drive us to conflict, let alone the big things that we might disagree on and I’m struck that Paul Tripp writes in his book What Did You Expect?, “We live in a world that is still sadly and terribly broken. Your marriage will not escape its brokenness.” And so I wonder if you have any advice for husbands when it comes to cultivating that closeness with your wife and dating your wife even in the midst of periods of conflict or disagreement when it can be hard to do that kind of thing.

Justin Buzzard
A few thoughts. Expectations are a big thing. So that quote you just read is helpful. We need to just have realistic expectations that conflict will always be a factor in a marriage. And in fact, if a marriage never has conflict that’s not a healthy marriage. Any healthy team—let’s talk about an elder team at a church, or the team you work on in your workplace—healthy teams have conflict and conflict is an opportunity to grow, and to mature, and to sharpen one another, and to be more effective as a team. And so of course if you put two people together in the covenant of marriage, the two people are both sinners. And so we talk about how the sin plays into that, but also talk about how the wounds play into that . . . .ways which we’ve also been sinned against and our wounds, and different sets of weaknesses that are there and I think it’s important to separate those sins, wounds, weaknesses. And then different personalities and different ways of being raised, different ways we grew up. Man, it’s just inevitable that there should be conflict probably everyday. So I think sometimes people think that because they’re experiencing conflict in their marriage, that that is automatically bad and I don’t think that’s true at all. I think that conflict can be an incredible opportunity to grow and I think that it’s just going to be inevitable in every marriage. So I think what becomes important is how we navigate that conflict, our posture in that conflict, how we handle that conflict. So I think a way I’m growing right now is learning to be a much better listener in conflict, like what I was talking about earlier intensity and all that I can have a tendency in conflict to just sort of like power through and try to make sure my voice is really heard. And so I’ve been growing in listening to my wife more deeply and taking longer to respond to things and that’s been helpful. And I think couples also need to discover their style of conflict. There’s not one right way to handle conflict in a marriage. In our marriage both my wife and I are very passionate people and fairly strong-willed, stubborn people, and pretty sensitive people. And our way of handling conflict is often pretty passionate and pretty quick. We have very few periods of conflict that are drawn out. They’re pretty intense, quick, passionate but they’re done, over it, we’re better on the other side. So I think knowing your style as a couple together of handling conflict and growing and maturing in that is important.

19:53- Marital Conflict and Sex

Matt Tully
So one of the areas that is often a source of conflict for couples in marriage relates to sex. It’s so central to marriage and it does play a big regular role in the dynamics that people experience in marriage. I’m curious what advice you would offer to husbands who maybe feel like they’re relationship with their wives is not what they would like it to be. That the intimacy, whether it’s the frequency of it or just how it plays itself out isn’t where they’d like it to be. How would you encourage husbands in that regard?

Justin Buzzard
You’re bringing up a really important topic. What I always do in those situations is I encourage the husband to communicate more about his thoughts, about his feelings. I’ll just tell a story: just a few weeks ago I got together with a couple, my wife and I got together with a couple in our church, that wanted to share some stuff with us and wanted to confess some stuff to us and as we walked with them through this whole story, what surfaced was the two of them realizing that the husband had been ashamed to share what he really was thinking and experiencing related to their sex life. He was afraid to share some things about what he desired, about frequency, about intimacy; and he was just fearing that that would come across, that he would maybe get rejected by his wife in that, or that it would come across as though he was trying to pressure his wife. And as he kind of came clean and shared all this stuff, she just loved it and she felt like she better understood her husband and that they could then really deal with reality as a couple. So I think communicating very clearly, regularly, specifically, humbly is really important. Now, I’m sure there’s people listening to this that have seen that go sideways. Often it comes from the husbands side. The husband shares something and the wife hears it as expectation or pressure, so I think it’s how you prayerfully and thoughtfully share things; but I’m a big believer in husbands and wives ought to be talking regularly about their hearts, their thoughts, their feelings, their fears as it relates to sex. And to think those things through together and to have those conversations together I think is very, very important. And that shouldn’t be an abnormal, and unusual, a rare part of marriage communication. I think that’s something that at least as you’re forming and setting sort of a culture, you could call it a culture of sex, in your marriage, culture of intimacy I think it’s really important to be talking frequently about that and listening well to both sides.

22:46 - Making a Plan

Matt Tully
You’re a big proponent of actually writing out what you call an “Annual Date Your Wife Plan” and you describe that as entailing both an “air war” and a “ground war.” Can you explain what you mean by that?

Justin Buzzard
Yeah. So you’re mostly right that I’m a big proponent of that. So for me it’s not that every year I write out a plan. What I’m saying in the book is I want to get men that have not really ever put pen to paper for their marriage but they’ve done it for their business or for their big trip that’s coming up, I want them to actually do that for their marriage and to have that same intentionality for their wife. So there’s years where I do that and there’s years where that I don’t. And there’s year where it looks different. Like this year I’ve got some goals on paper for myself, for my marriage, for my family, for work, and some of them are goals related to dating my wife. By “air war/ground war” what I’m seeking to teach guys to do with that: “air war” is I’m trying to get them to think about their marriage from the high level, from the 30,000-foot level, from the annual level. What’s kind of the rhythm of our year going to look like? What are the big rocks that I need to put into the calendar for taking good care of my wife? So it might look like, “OK, end of Spring/start of summer that’s when my wife’s going to be really tired because of the school year and what’s been going on with the kids so that’s when I need to be sure to just send her off on a 24 hour/48 hour retreat by herself just to get some rest” Or, “Hey, this is when our anniversary is I’m going to make that special.” Or, “Plan for this, this is when we’re going to do a getaway.” So that’s “air war,” the big picture things. And then “ground war” is getting a guy to think in weekly or daily kind of chunks for his marriage. What’s the weekly rhythm going to look like? What’s a spot or two in the week where I could take my wife on a date, or I could give her relief, do something that would really bless her, what’s the daily rhythm going to look like? When’s my wife the most tired? When does she need help? What does that look like? So getting a guy to actually systematically think through that rather than just letting life happen, instead of being intentional and happening to life and happening to the marriage and being thoughtful about it.

25:09 - An Unresponsive Wife

Matt Tully
So what would you say to the man listening who’s thinking right now, “You know, I really am trying to love and serve and lead my wife but she’s just not very responsive to me.” What advice or encouragement would you offer to that guy?

Justin Buzzard
That’s highly contextual, that’s highly dependent on the background and history of that marriage, right? So you could have a guy saying that where there’s been infidelity in the marriage and he’s seeking to kind of turn things around, or where he’s been a very aloof and unintentional husband and is now turning things around and the wife is like, “Who are you? Where is this coming from? I don’t believe this.” There’s a lot of different back stories that could be shaping it, but I guess regardless of the backstory, the general counsel would: Be keep at it. Be patient. Trust the Lord. Be prayerful about it. Pray that the Lord would use what you’re doing, how you’re leading your pursuit for his glory and for the good of your wife. And just be patient. Recognize that things take time. Because what we’re talking about here for quite a few couples is a change in the culture of the marriage. And to change culture, whether at your workplace, with some other organization, or in your marriage, that takes time. So don’t have expectations that this is going to change overnight, or in one week, or one month. There needs to be time. And then make sure you have a good guy friend, someone in your church, a good buddy who knows you well who you can share some of this with where he can encourage you, pray for you, walk with you in this so you don’t feel alone.

26:58 - Checking In with Your Spouse

Matt Tully
You repeatedly encourage men to ask their wives questions. And sometimes they’re challenging questions that might lead to uncomfortable answers. And so I wonder what’s one question that the men listening should ask their wives tonight?

Justin Buzzard
Well, one, maybe I’ll give you two. The first one would be something simply like, “How am I doing as a husband?” And you could ask that question several different ways and there’s a bunch of sub-questions with that, but to honestly—and men do this from a place of security in the gospel and God loves you. You’re secure in Jesus, this feedback can only help you grow. And if you’ve never asked your wife this, expect that you’re going to get the dump truck. Some of what’s said might just be a lot and be coming from years of you having never asked something like this. But just ask how you’re doing as a husband and kind of what you’re doing that your wife’s really appreciating and what you’re not doing or doing that your wife is frustrated over and that hurts her. So I think that would be really helpful and that would communicate a lot of love and a lot of care to wives. A second question, I’d say, I’ve learned—this would be a another interview—but I’ve also learned a lot in the last several years about the importance and the power of desire. And just ask your wife the question, “What do you want?” And not just from you as the husband, but get in touch with your wife’s desires. What does she want? What does she long for in her own journey with the Lord? How does she want to grow? What is she really praying and asking God to do in her and through her in the world? What does she want from you as her husband? What does she want your marriage to become? What is she wanting for your family, if you have kids? What is she desiring in terms of friendships with other women? What is she desiring in terms like influence, career, Proverbs 31, impacting this world? And pay really, really close attention to those desires and so far as those desires honor the Lord in her part of seeking first the kingdom of God. Help pour gasoline on those desires. Help make those desires become a reality. Help your wife pursue these dreams that are deep, deep in her heart.

29:33 - Closing

Matt Tully
That’s so helpful. Justin, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today and share some of your own wisdom from nearly two decades now of marriage and just I think encourage and spur men on to date their wives, which is really a way of saying love their wives and care for them.

Justin Buzzard
My pleasure. Great to be with you. I hope this helps a lot of men and a lot of marriages.


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