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Tool #3 to Rebuild Trust in Marriage: Delay Gratification

By Samuel Rainey

First posted on

Note from Dennis: This post is part of a six-part series by my son, Samuel, on rebuilding trust in marriage. Samuel is a professional counselor and, with his wife Stephanie, is part of the speaker team for FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember marriage getaways. This series offers great help from a man who has helped many couples in their marriage. 

by Samuel Rainey

"Better is the end of a thing than its beginning, and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit." ~ Ecclesiastes 7:8

One of the most significant differences between adolescents and adults is their impulse control. Adolescence is not about a person’s age, but about their emotional maturity. So many of us are walking around in adult bodies controlled by an adolescent inside that has yet to fully grow up. This is quite understandable given how much hardship many endured in childhood and early adulthood.

If you have a goal in your life that you put off, ignore, or outright refuse to do the necessary work to accomplish, chances are that is the adolescent in you running the show. I’ve seen 50-year-old women behave worse than a 15-year-old girl (same with men/boys, too).

The ability to wait on fulfilling a desire until it is the right, honoring, and correct time is one of the greatest gifts you can give. You will be able to resist the “flesh” that Paul talks about in Romans 7:5 as “our sinful passions.” Impulse control requires that we have a really strong patience muscle. And just like our physical muscles, its growth takes practice and exercise.

Every instance of broken trust in a relationship stems from the inability to delay gratification. The man who has the sexual affair with his neighbor gave into gratifying his sexual fantasy. The woman who copes with stress by drinking too much wine at night gives into gratifying her desire to numb out to the pain.

Susanna, married to Rashad (see the first two posts in this series), had to work on delaying her desire to buy things as a way to cope with her stress. Not shopping meant she had to be present with whatever was bothering her at the time. This was really hard for her at first because she was so used to opening up her Amazon app and browsing the “deal of the day” link.

There are countless examples in the Old Testament of men and women who chose not to delay gratification. I’m reminded of King David’s affair with Bathsheba and then his murder of her husband Uriah (1 Samuel 11). Or how about Esau selling his birthright to his brother Jacob because he was hungry (Genesis 25:19-34)? I also think of the story of Cain and Able. Cain was unable to cope with the stress of feeling like he was displeasing to God. So he lashed out and killed his brother (Genesis 4:3-8).

These stories and many others shine a light on the devastating impact of giving into a spontaneous impulse. Trust cannot survive when there is uncertainty about impulse control.

To rebuild trust means that you'll need to set aside your wants for some amount of time. This can be stressful ... which means that setting aside what you want will probably increase the impulse to act out and cope with the stress!

There are two ways that you can work on your impulse control and delay gratification. The first is to breathe. When you are tempted, immediately take deep breaths. And when you breath in, invite the peace of God to inhabit your body. When you exhale, think of breathing out the stress and painful issue that you are facing.

Second, get outside (if possible) and go for a brief walk. Walking with the rest of nature is a restorative practice that can remind you that whatever you are facing doesn’t have to dictate your actions.

This doesn’t mean that your wants need to go away; they just don’t need to be acted upon immediately. Regarding the money situation that Susanna and Rashad were recovering from, they agreed to wait 24 hours before making any purchase over $50. Additionally, both had to know about the purchase. But for any purchase of $100, both parties needed to agree. While this felt very businesslike to them, it was a necessary boundary given Susanna’s past indiscretions. Over time, this agreement became more flexible as their trust grew.

Once you’ve learned how to ride a bike, you no longer need training wheels. Think of the trust-building process like riding a bike. You start off with really safe guidelines. When you make progress, you remove some of those safety measures and have more fun!

Learn to wait. Grow in your ability to be patient. Just because you can get something doesn’t mean that it’s best to do so right away. Developing the ability to wait will be an incredible gift when the time comes when you have no choice but to wait.

Delaying gratification … 

Builds in you: Patience

Helps others trust in your: Stability

Samuel Rainey, son of Barbara and Dennis Rainey, is a marriage and family therapist. He and his wife Stephanie have four kids.

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