I saw a post on Facebook several months ago that was a pretty interesting read. It was written by a man who had recently been divorced after almost 16 years of marriage. His post was a list of marriage tips, written from the perspective of a divorcee, to help others protect and save their marriage. I took some of his advice, (I threw out the rest of it), matched it up with scripture, and added to it to come up with a marriage workshop we recently taught.
Now before you wonder why I’m sharing advice from someone who lost at the game of love and marriage, let me ask you…who better to give advice than someone who learned some very tough lessons and paid a high price? The price he paid was the loss of his best friend…his lover…his life partner. You should know by now that in life, we usually learn better through tough times…through pain and suffering, than we do when it’s smooth sailing.
So here’s the thoughts…in no particular order of importance.
Never stop dating: Never ever take each other for granted. When you were dating, everything was about the other person…your thoughts were held captive by her / him. Your time was spent with the one your heart was pursuing. Your money was spent on him/her. You cherished the moments you had and when you were apart, you desperately counted the minutes until you could be together again. Am I wrong? Take a moment and think back to a special date or your special place. Do you remember that feeling? Proverbs 18:22 “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 14:1 “Pursue love…
Guard your heart: Just as you committed to be the protector of one another’s heart, you must guard your own heart with the same diligence. Love others, develop healthy friendships, but remember that there is a special and sacred place in your heart where no one must enter except your spouse. Refuse to let anyone or anything in. Proverbs 4:23, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
Fall in love over and over and over again: You are constantly changing – so is your spouse. S/he is not the same person you fell in love with. Accept that change, and CHOOSE love. We all sag, droop, wrinkle, bulge, etc. Our outward bodies will change, and we need to accept that about ourselves but most importantly, about our spouse. Now, that’s not to say that we can’t hold off the effects of aging somewhat. A gym membership is a great idea. Watch that cholesterol, reduce that salt, eat more roughage. Eating healthy demonstrates your love. Take care of your body, for it is the temple of the HS. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body,” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). Guys, what are you doing to fight to win her heart, over and over again? Gals, what are you doing to attract your husband to you, over and over again? If he’s not attracted to you, he will find someone he is attracted to. You can count on it. It’s how he’s wired…and God created him that way! Song of Solomon 8: 6-7 “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the Lord. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, he would be utterly despised.”
Always see the best in your spouse: Focus only on what you love about him/her and focus on their positive traits. If you tend to focus on the negative, over time, the negative will be all you see. If you focus on what bugs you, you will find reasons to be bugged. Her little annoying habits – and we all have them – will start to show up everywhere, all day long. Have you ever been out looking for a new car? You decide you like a particular style that you hadn’t considered before, and you buy it, and the very next day it seems like EVERYONE is driving it! They were always around you, but you didn’t care before, you didn’t pay attention to them before. But now that you’re focused on it and you bought one, you are more aware and they are everywhere! If you focus on what you love and admire about your spouse, you can’t help but be overwhelmed and consumed with love for your spouse. Focus on his/her positive traits and the other annoying things will fade away in the peripheral vision. When you no longer see anything but love and positive traits when you look at your spouse, you will want to spend all your waking moments with him/her and you will think you’re the luckiest person alive to be able to call him/her YOURS. Proverbs 25:11 reminds us, “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.”
It’s not your job to change or “fix” your spouse!: Your job is to love your spouse and if anything needs “fixing” – fix yourself! If s/he changes, love them for it (unless it is a negative, sinful change). You can’t “fix” your spouse, no matter how hard you try. Love him/her and open up a conversation to discuss any changes you’d like to see made. Approach it with love and understanding, and you’ll be apt to have a much more receptive audience. Ephesians 5:25 “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.”
Take full responsibility for your own emotions: It’s not your spouse’s job to make you happy and s/he can’t make you sad. You are in full control of your happiness and contentment, based on what you choose. You and I choose our attitude and we control our happiness. Proverbs 17:22 – “A merry heart doeth good [like] a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.” Philippians 2:14 – “Do all things without murmurings and disputings.” 1 Corinthians 11:1 “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” Certainly our spouse can influence our attitude and emotions, but we are responsible for them and we can choose how to respond to circumstances, words, and actions. Never blame your spouse if you get frustrated or angry. These are your emotions and when you assign blame, his/her human response is to either get defensive or blame you in return. When you feel that you “win” an argument, do you really win? Does the relationship win? Rather than finding fault or assigning blame, take some time to evaluate YOUR fault in the disagreement and take responsibility for it.
Don’t run away when s/he’s upset: When your spouse is upset, you most likely can’t “fix” it but you certainly shouldn’t run away or avoid them either. Sometimes the best thing to do guys is to just hold your wife. This is a lesson our marriage counselor taught us years ago, when we were learning how to communicate. So many times I tried to “fix” her emotions when what I really needed to do was to hold her. Sometimes the best antidote is to listen and hold her – even when she thinks she doesn’t want you to. Many times when Debby was upset I’d just hold her, and more often than not, she tried to pull away and push me away. Those were the times when I kept my mouth shut and just held her. She needs to know that you are there, willing to listen, but also willing to just be still. We both need to learn to listen to what’s NOT being said and to understand what is really being communicated behind the words and emotions. Understanding that a woman’s emotions are more fragile than a man’s and tend to roll in and out like the tide is key to understanding your spouse. It’s human nature to try and avoid conflict and to not want to be around one another when one of you is upset. However, these are the times when it’s best to allow a little space and perhaps a cooling off period, and then reassure your spouse that you love him/her and that you are willing to work through the conflict. Running away is never the response that will result in resolution. Proverbs 29:11 “A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.” Romans 14:19 – “Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.”
Don’t use silence as a weapon: Silence is deadly, and can have a disastrous affect on your relationship. It is easier to communicate and work through a problem when you are both talking, even if you’re launching mortars at one another, than if you are experiencing the icy ‘silent treatment’ and your mind races through the 99 different ways that your spouse resents and hates you. When you’re talking, at least your imagination isn’t running wild and you’re not consumed with trying to figure out what your spouse is thinking. Oftentimes that can be more damaging to the relationship and delay resolution that hurtful things you could say to your spouse. Now, I’m not advocating you say hurtful things to one another just for the sake of avoiding silence – you need to learn how to articulate your feelings and resentments in a way that causes your spouse to understand them, acknowledge them, and that leads to resolution. Proverbs 15:1 “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Proverbs 18:13 – “He that answereth a matter before he heareth [it], it [is] folly and shame unto him.”
Be silly and don’t take your self too seriously: Laughter is good for the soul and the relationship. Spend time doing things that make you laugh…that bring you joy. Essayist and biographer Agnes Repplier, who was known for her common sense and good judgment, said, “We cannot really love anybody with whom we never laugh.” A woman discovered a shelf of reduced-price items at a local bookstore. Among the gifts was a little figurine of a man and woman, their heads lovingly tilted toward one another. “Happy 10th Anniversary” read the inscription. It appeared to be in perfect condition, yet its tag indicated “damaged.” Examining it more closely, she found another tag underneath that read “Wife is coming unglued.” Are there times when you feel like you are “coming unglued?” We all have those moments, and laughter is the best medicine and humor makes all things tolerable. Proverbs 15:13 “A glad heart makes a cheerful face, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed.” Proverbs 17:22 “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” Job 8:21 “He will yet fill your mouth with laughter, and your lips with shouting.”
Be present: Wherever you are, be all there. Give one another not only your time, but your focus, your attention, and your soul. Clear your head, and your schedule, when you are with one another so you can be fully present. Treat your spouse as if he or she is the most valuable and most important person in the world and when you are together, give of your best. Treat your spouse as if s/he is your most valued and most important treasure – she is! So, how do you do this? Here’s a few tips:
- When your spouse is talking, STOP what you are doing and look at them. Eye contact is important as it lets him/her know you are focused and paying attention. Give them your undivided attention. STOP – LOOK – LISTEN
- If you find yourself being distracted or if there is something urgently important that they interrupted, be honest. Share the fact that you are being distracted and work to eliminate the distraction. When you’re honest enough to communicate in love, it draws you closer together and you will understand each other better. Better to acknowledge that you are being distracted than have him/her wonder why you are drifting off. If you simply MUST be doing something else, communicate that too in a loving and caring manner and tell your spouse that s/he will have your undivided attention just as soon as you can break away from whatever it is that is urgent.
- Listen to your spouse in the same manner as you would want to be listened to.
Being in a relationship means “relating” with one another and connecting. So be all there – distraction free and fully engaged. Just like in some drawings where you “must be present to win” you and I must be “present” to “win” in our marriage. I Cor 13:4-5 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful.
Learn one another’s love language: Gary Chapman wrote a book called The Five Love Languages. Once you understand the ‘language’ that your spouse speaks, you will be in a better position to understand what makes them tick. Chapman explains how important it is for couples to understand how each other and themselves both give and receive love. It is possible for couples to truly love each other, but to truly feel unloved because they don’t think the same about giving and receiving love. For example, if a husband does not meet the primary love language of his wife, she might not sense his true feelings and start to be unsatisfied with their relationship.
- Words of Affirmation “If this is your love language, you feel most cared for when your partner is open and expressive in telling you how wonderful they think you are, how much they appreciate you, etc.”
- Acts of Service “If your partner offering to watch the kids so you can go to the gym (or relieving you of some other task) gets your heart going, then this is your love language.”
- Affection “This love language is just as it sounds. A warm hug, a kiss, touch, and sexual intimacy make you feel most loved when this is your love language.”
- Quality Time “This love language is about being together, fully present and engaged in the activity at hand, no matter how trivial.”
- Gifts “Your partner taking the time to give you a gift can make you feel appreciated.”
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes: You will make mistakes, and so will your spouse. We all do…you’ve heard he phrase, “no-one’s perfect.” It’s true, we will all say and do dumb things. Now, we should try and avoid doing dumb things and the fact that we’re not perfect isn’t a ‘license’ to be an idiot, but don’t be afraid of making mistakes and don’t withhold forgiveness if you are wronged. We should strive to learn from our mistakes and apply those lessons to other situations in life. That’s growth. Mistakes and bad judgment happens. That’s keeping it real. You and I aren’t expected to be perfect, just try not to be too stupid. Psalms 37:24 – “Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the LORD upholdeth [him with] his hand.” When you make a mistake or do and say something dumb, don’t try and cover it up – that makes it worse. Admit it and move. Proverbs 28:13 – “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh [them] shall have mercy.”
Be fully transparent: A key part of trustworthiness is earning the trust of your spouse. That means being willing to share everything – especially those things you don’t want to share. It takes courage to open your heart and be transparent and to admit to insecurities or faults, but part of that courage is allowing your spouse to love you fully in spite of your flaws and weaknesses. Trust is one of the primary foundations of a healthy relationship. Trust is the cornerstone of a marriage. If you don’t or can’t trust one another, what type of a relationship do you have? Without trust, a relationship is destined for disappointment and failure. Ephesians 4:25 “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” Earlier we spoke of the importance of guarding your heart. One way to do that is to be transparent and fully accountable to one another. We encourage couples to share e-mail and social media passwords and to allow each other full access to your cell phone and other communication devices. Knowing that your spouse can go through your text history may keep you from making an inappropriate comment which could lead to an inappropriate relationship.
Never stop growing together: It’s a stagnant pond that breeds malaria and disease while the flowing mountain stream is fresh and cool. Atrophy is the natural process when you stop working a muscle, just as it is if you stop working on your relationship. Never stop growing, never stop improving your relationship. We discussed this in a chapter of our book called “One Day at a Time.” We should constantly strive to increase our faith in God and our commitment to one another, growing deeper and deeper in love with one another. II Corinthians 4:8-9 “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” To borrow the words of the late President Ronald Reagan, “Our best days are yet to come.” As we continue to grow in our relationship with the Lord and with each other, our love grows deeper, stronger, and more resilient to the pressures of the world. Find common goals, dreams, and visions and work together towards accomplishing those dreams.
Don’t fight about money: Money is very important in a relationship and it’s important that you are on the same page with one another in how you spend your resources, but don’t fight about it. In most national surveys on the leading causes for divorce, money problems come up either #1 or #2 and according to a survey conducted by a leading Money Magazine, most couples argue about money twice as much as they argue about sex. Here are a few financial landmines to avoid.
- Mine, Yours, Ours – Sometimes couples can’t agree on financial goals or they don’t trust one another to be fiscally responsible so they try the “divide and conquer” approach. Otherwise known as “Mine, Yours, and Ours.” They split the bills according to their different income amounts and after they pay “their” bills the rest of their money is, well, theirs to do with as they choose. The biggest problem with this, that I see, is the process often leads to resentment over individual purchases made or savings that one spouse accumulates. Sometimes an argument is made that the two had different assets before the marriage began and those assets need to be “protected.” If that’s how you feel, that you can’t fully trust your spouse, then maybe you shouldn’t get married. Just a thought.
- Debt – School loans, car loans, credit cards, impulsive buying habits – most people bring financial baggage to the alter with them. If you have a load of debt when you’re single, you introduce that debt to your partner and s/he owns it when you get married. If one partner has more debt than the other, or one is debt-free and the other isn’t, it may be agreeable in the beginning but over time, resentment can kick in and lead to serious disagreements. Furthermore, after the marriage one is likely a spender while one is a saver and that too can lead to a clash of the titans.
- The Power Play – this often occurs when the earning potential or earning reality is unequal. For example, he works and she doesn’t, or vise-versa. One earns significantly more than the other – and women, if you earn more than your husband, don’t think for a moment that he doesn’t feel embarrassed, ashamed, thinks that he’s a disappointment or that he’s ‘less than a man’ – it’s in our nature to be the bread winners…yes even in the year 2015. Earn as much as you can ladies, and yes I support equal pay for equal work, but be sensitive of his feelings. Reassure him…but know that all of your reassuring won’t completely change how he feels. Maybe one comes from a rich family and one poor. Generally speaking, the higher wage earner feels the ‘right’ to dictate the spending priorities which could lead to disagreement and resentment. One solution may be to allow the non- or lesser-earning spouse to have the deciding vote in financial matters. The most important thing is that you communicate and decide financial matters together.
- Keeping Up with the Joneses – Unfortunately Americans have a reputation for playing “keep up” with the Joneses. In other words, when your sister gets a new car, you have to get a newer or better car. When your best friend buys a new house, your house suddenly isn’t good or big enough. Always trying to “one up” your friends and neighbors is what drives many of us in to the unending debt spiral. When we were young, we were poor. We intentionally made a choice to keep Debby home with our kids. Because of that choice, we didn’t have all the toys, cars, or spending money that our friends had. Yes, it was often difficult, but it was a choice we made together and I wouldn’t re-do it if we could. It was the right thing to do, for us. But whether you both work or not isn’t the issue. Avoid the “one up” game and live within your means. “Live like no-one else, so you can live like no-one else!” ~ Dave Ramsey
Here are some key verses on money
Philippians 4:19 “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”
Malachi 3:10 “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.”
1 Timothy 6:10 “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”
Acts 20:35 “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
Proverbs 22:7 “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.”
Hebrews 13:5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
I love what Dave Ramsey says about money, “Debt is dumb, cash is king, and the paid off home mortgage has taken the place of the BMW as the status symbol of choice.”
Forgive immediately: We need to learn to forgive immediately and not hold on to hurts and faults of the past. Don’t let history hold you hostage. Holding on to past mistakes that either you or your spouse has made is like a heavy anchor on your marriage and it will hold you back and eventually sink your ship. Forgiveness is freedom. Cut loose the anchor of bitterness, resentment, and un-forgiveness and always, always choose love. Choosing forgiveness is choosing to love. I’m constantly reminded that God has forgiven me, and I know the depth of my sins, so how could I ever choose to not forgive Debby for anything? We need to come to an understanding and realization that our relationship is far more valuable than the words or actions that wounded our pride, let us down, or in some way caused us to feel insignificant. An amazing marriage consists of complete forgiveness and restoration of your relationship from all the hurts and wrongdoings. You nor your spouse are perfect and those imperfections need forgiveness. Immediate and complete forgiveness. Far too many people spend sleepless nights trying to unpack the past hurts and hang on to a word or deed that was offensive, when what they really need to do is let it go and move on. Forgiveness begins with a conscious choice, or decision. You and I need to completely release our spouse from the hurt and pain s/he has caused and make a move toward complete forgiveness. Forgiveness offers a freedom that I can’t explain when you release someone, and yourself, of the burden. I encourage you to talk through any areas in your marriage where you are holding on to past hurts and offer forgiveness to your spouse. Choosing to release forgiveness can elevate your marriage to new heights you never thought were possible. The relationship Debby and I have developed over the years is by far deeper and stronger than we ever imagined and we owe it in part to the trials we faced together and the battles we fought to save our marriage. We would have never chosen to face infidelity, but it happened to us through poor choices, but by the power or God and His forgiveness, we were able to overcome that, among many other things, and we have strengthened the bond in the process.
Psalm 103:8-12 “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.”
Isaiah 1:18 “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”
David prayed in Psalm 51:10 “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”
Colossians 3:13” Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
Affirm your spouse publically – Make your spouse feel, no, believe, that they are the most important person in the world to you. Speak well of your spouse in your inner circle. Praise your spouse publicly. Sing his/her praises through social media. Never make disparaging comments about your spouse in public or on a public platform. Michael Hyatt says, “I am convinced that praising your spouse in public is one of the most important investments you can make – in your family and in your leadership.” He says this is important for at least five reasons:
- You get more of what you affirm Praised behavior is repeated. It’s human nature – just be genuine, not manipulative!
- Affirmation shifts your attitude toward your spouse Words are powerful tools. If you start speaking well of someone, you start believing what you say.
- Affirmation helps strengthen your spouse’s best qualities Encouragement is also a powerful force for good. We all need positive reinforcement.
- Affirmation wards off the temptation of adultery When others see you are happily married, they are less likely to proposition you. It’s like a defensive shield.
- Affirmation provides a model to those you lead To be a truly effective leader, you must lead yourself, and then you must lead your family. Your marriage is a powerful visual of how you treat the people you value the most. When you speak highly of your spouse, your followers are more likely to trust you.
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. ~ Philippians 2:1-4
Love passionately – There is a direct correlation between the health of your relationship and your intimacy. You see, the closer your relationship, the more frequent and passionate your intimacy. Most people think it is the other way around – the more sex you have the closer your relationship will be. That couldn’t be further from the truth. We have some close friends who, according to them, had frequent and great sex. But that’s really all they had. They loved to love on one another, but their relationship was like a dried and withered vine – it produced no fruit. Sex is a thermometer of your relationship, not the thermostat. You can’t set the temperature of your relationship based on the frequency you have sex. However, if you constantly hold out or have a lingering “forever headache” that will put a freeze on your relationship in a hurry. Unfortunately, sex is a topic that is rarely preached on and many Christians avoid talking about it. If you think that the Bible only talks about sex in a negative “don’t do this, avoid that, do not lust, fornicate, etc” manner, than you need to read your Bible!
Proverbs 5:18-19 “Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love.
Song of Solomon 4:9-15 (NLT) 9 You have captured my heart, my treasure, my bride. You hold it hostage with one glance of your eyes, with a single jewel of your necklace. 10 Your love delights me, my treasure, my bride. Your love is better than wine, your perfume more fragrant than spices. 11 Your lips are as sweet as nectar, my bride. Honey and milk are under your tongue. Your clothes are scented like the cedars of Lebanon.
12 You are my private garden, my treasure, my bride, a secluded spring, a hidden fountain. 13 Your thighs shelter a paradise of pomegranates with rare spices— henna with nard, 14 nard and saffron, fragrant calamus and cinnamon, with all the trees of frankincense, myrrh, and aloes, and every other lovely spice. 15 You are a garden fountain, a well of fresh water streaming down from Lebanon’s mountains.
Make your marriage your first priority – After your relationship with God, your spouse and your marriage must be your top priority. Marriage takes work, and a lot of it.
Ecclesiastes 4:12 “A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.
Ephesians 4:2-3 “Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.”
Chose Love. Always – In the end, this is the only advice you and I need. If this is the guiding principle through which all your choices are governed, there is nothing that will threaten the happiness of your marriage. Love will always endure. “Happily ever after” isn’t a fairy tale – it’s a CHOICE. But it takes work – hard work, every day. And a commitment to grow together and a willingness to continually invest in creating something that can endure eternity. Through that work, the happiness will come.
Marriage is real life, and it will bring ups and downs. Embracing all of the cycles and learning to learn from and love each experience will bring the strength and perspective to keep building an amazingly successful marriage, one brick and one choice at a time.
1 Peter 4:8 “Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.