Setting the Thermostat in Your Marriage

There’s almost nothing better than stepping into a warm house after you’ve spent a few hours in an icy wind.

After clean water, ice-cream and coffee, climate control is at the very top of my list of favorite first-world-blessings. There is something so exquisitely good about those first few minutes indoors, as the warmth brings back the feeling in your frozen fingers. The shivering stops, your breathing is easier, you feel the welcome thaw in your limbs. A warm house is a wonderful thing.

Sadly, though, I have been to homes where the thermostat was set at a toasty 75 degrees, but it still felt frosty inside. No matter how warm the air from the vents is, if the affection between a couple is cold, everyone will feel the chill.

Marriages, like homes, are subject to the second law of thermodynamics: left on their own, they get colder.

This article is not about “turning up the heat in your marriage”. That’s a topic for another (braver) writer. However, the burning question for us is: how do we make sure we stay WARM? And not just for the winter, but for a lifetime of seasons to come?

The thermostat of choice
My husband and I had only been married for a few years when we saw the movie The Painted Veil. It tells the story of a British medical doctor fighting cholera in a remote Chinese village, while also being trapped in a loveless marriage to an unfaithful wife. As a beginner wife myself, the movie left an indelible impression on me. Yes, there was the initial, big betrayal of adultery, but the rest of the movie told the story not of how that one big decision impacted a marriage, but of how the small, daily choices set the temperature in their relationship.

Big things happen, and we feel their impact: the birth of a child, the loss of a home, a betrayal—all these significantly affect the temperatures in our marriages. However, the lesson of The Painted Veil was that it was not just the big things, but really the little things which reveal where my hand was setting the dial on our marital thermostat.

It is the choice to scowl or smile when you’re tired and yet another thing breaks in the kitchen. It’s the choice to reach out and touch your spouse, even though you are hurting and want to pull away.

It’s choosing to give your spouse the benefit of the doubt when they’re silent instead of filling the blanks with your anxiety. It’s saying I love you, even though you’re angry. It’s standing still when you want to run.

It’s choosing an honest apology instead of an excuse. It’s choosing to be together rather than to be right. Sometimes it means cooling off rather than venting.

It’s taking a breath instead of taking a potshot. It’s saying thank you for trying instead of “that’s not how I wanted it”. It’s saying thank you, period.

Warm and loving relationships are not the product of frequent hot encounters. Rather, they are the blessing of sustained, committed energy – a dial set to “I cherish you.” Choosing warmth means being responsible for the energy we bring into the room, and most especially the room our spouse is in.

The energy source
The couple in The Painted Veil missed too many opportunities. They were too many cold shoulders, frosty retorts and Siberian silences. The movie was devastating to me, as it seemed so obvious that both the husband and wife were unhappy and WANTED to make their marriage work, and yet they kept missing the little opportunities to extend kindness and mercy to each other.

Over the years, my marriage has suffered some hurts. My husband and I, despite our best wishes to love each other well, have disappointed and hurt each other on many occasions. We have felt the temperature in our marriage drop as we have struggled with feeling misunderstood, hurt, unloved (me) and disrespected (him). In those seasons, little overtures of warmth take Herculean effort. It is hard to reach out when you’re hurting. It is hard to speak kindly when you’re angry.

However, there are more than just the two of us setting the temperature in our home. Ours is a cord of THREE strands. As one forgiven by God, I can forgive. As one beloved by God, I can love. As one who receives kindness even when I’m a brat, I can show kindness. My go-to memory verse for chilly marital days is Colossians 3:12…

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, put on compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other.”

Warmed by the gospel, we can extend warmth to our spouses. God knows we are not energy efficient beings: our hearts are ever in need of being “fanned to flame”. But He has given us His Holy Spirit, that great Generator of love, the Source of light, the Energizer of souls.

Home and Hearth
There are cooler seasons and there are warmer seasons, but we can choose the climate in our homes. The little daily decisions and habits: to kiss each other goodbye, to hold hands when you give thanks for a meal, to say thank you for a sandwich, to make eye contact before you check Facebook, to forgive—those habits keep our marital thermostats energized by grace. They infuse our homes with warmth. They give shelter from the storms.

A warm home is a wonderful thing.


Bronwyn Lea loves Jesus, writing, ice-cream and the sound of her children laughing. She writes about the holy and hilarious things in life at, where she also hosts a faith and relationship advice column. Find her there, or follow her on Facebook or on Twitter.

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