Martin Luther said, “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.”1 Every believer would acknowledge this is true, but putting prayer into practice—particularly with your spouse—can feel awkward and unnatural. As Ben and I have spoken with other couples through the years, we’ve noticed we are not the only ones who have to work at it. We have heard several reasons why husbands and wives struggle to pray together.
1. The Fear of Sounding Foolish
Public speaking is still listed as one of the top phobias in the world, so it makes sense that most people resist being put on the spot to produce meaningful words. It’s pressure. On my wedding day, I didn’t know I was marrying a soon-to-be preacher. As Ben felt the call to attend seminary and began preaching every week, it was clear to me that his natural gifts of communication were greater than mine.
Ben is a wordsmith who seems to have large portions of Scripture in storage. Scripture flows out of him as he prays. Not only that, he has a “look on the bright side” way about him, so he tends to spend time more time in praise, giving thanks for the “good and perfect gifts that come from the Father above.” (See what I mean?)
On the other hand, God built me to be straightforward, detailed-oriented, and no nonsense. My prayers often reflect my personality as I tend to be list-oriented and straight to the point. I like to be focused when I pray, but I do not have strong recall when it comes to Scripture memory. It is rare I can pull up a specific verse on the spot. Now that I’m forty, I see little chance of improvement.
Early in our marriage, because of these differences, I felt like I didn’t measure up—that Ben’s words somehow carried more weight with God than mine. I know now that I am not alone in this insecurity. Many people feel out of their comfort zone when praying with their spouses.
2. The Fear of Vulnerability
Both men and women resist being exposed, but the battle affects us differently. As James says, “we all stumble in many ways” (Jas. 3:2, CSB). Ben may be a more polished speaker than I am, but he finds it difficult to admit where he feels fragile, afraid, or ashamed. Most men want their wives to see them as “the man of steel” and able to take on the world. This masculine tendency to project strength is often a show and eats away at the opportunity for intimate intercession. Ben has come to understand that this kind of unveiling does not cause me greater instability. Quite the opposite: I feel deeply connected to his heart when he prays more authentically.
Women have their own struggles. Transparency is scary because wounds can be weaponized. Here’s what I mean. When Ben and I pray together, I know I am praying with him, but I am praying to God. The words I choose are coming from deep places in my heart for God to hear and heal and redeem. Ben is privy to the outpouring. There have been times when something that has been prayed out loud between us has come back to haunt us in a heated argument—a sort of not-so-gentle reminder: “Don’t forget I’m not the only one who sees this as a problem. You even prayed for it yourself!” This destructive pattern can lead couples to fear praying and opening up with each other. It could be that the lack of prayer between couples is actually a lack of trust.
So how do you get started? You ask. Here’s a few ideas that may help you move in the right direction.
Three Tips for Praying with your Spouse
1. Start with baby steps.
As you begin, do not make a “system” out of this. Hear me: I am the queen of systems and processes in our home. “We do this chore on this day” sort of systems. The risk involved with this mentality is discouragement when your process doesn’t stick or perhaps your spouse (like mine) isn’t a systems person and revolts at the thought of his/her prayer life being controlled.
Take baby steps. It can begin one time a week. It can be for ninety seconds. It can mean that one of you has to take the first step in praying with the other one for a good long time before the other spouse ever feels comfortable praying out loud. The only thing to be certain of is that every time you attempt praying together will be successful in the eyes of the Lord. Even if it feels like a flop. The Lord hears your every word.
2. Find a verse to pray.
Don’t know where to start or what to say? We were on a Zoom meeting recently with a couple who is older and much wiser than us. They mentioned choosing one verse for a month or even a year and praying that verse. For example, if the verse is Jeremiah 29:11, they repeat the verse in prayer and simply say, “We know you have a plan for us. Show us Your plan.” That’s it. Nothing to overthink. It’s just repeating the affirmation He’s already given us in His Word.
3. What if you are spiritually single?
For five years, I was the director of kids ministry in a church setting with a large number of spiritually single parents. I know this can be a hurtful topic when we make assumptions that everyone has a spouse who will eventually be willing or comfortable praying with them. Many of you have spouses who resist church attendance, resist tithing, get angry at you volunteering time on a Sunday when it takes time away from “the family” on a weekend. The topic of praying with each other is so far down the list of desires with your spouse that it “feels” silly to even pray for. Don’t feel silly or hopeless. Seek out one person who would be willing to pray with and for you. Don’t know who that person would be? Pray that the Lord will send a special person to you to help you navigate your season. “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Matt. 18:20, NIV).
I hope these words encourage you. We are all a work in progress, and this includes our marriages. I continue to ask the Lord for greater depth in our marriage as I also ask for patience as we learn to pray together.
Lynley Mandrell is the wife of Ben Mandrell, the new president and CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources. Before coming to Lifeway, Ben and Lynley spent five years in Denver, CO, planting a church designed to reach the unchurched. She is a mother of four and a fan of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Dr. Pepper®, and silence.
1. Martin Luther, as quote by Warren W. Wiersbe in Be Determined (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 1992), 152.