My wife and I have known each other for more than 25 years, and we’ve been married for more than 11 of those. While we know each other pretty well, our marriage is still a work in progress. Neither of us are marriage experts. I consider myself more of a marriage student, trying to see where I’m screwing up and what I need to do on my end to make it work better.
Just like your growth as a Christian, marriage is a process. If we are doing it right, we are continuing to be pruned and shaped into the husband or wife we are meant to be. Just as a plant becomes fuller when pruned, our marriages–and lives–become fuller when we strip those things that take away from our relationship and focus on the things that add to it.
There are a few things that come to mind that are “must-haves” for any successful marriage. These are things that many of us don’t do well. It’s not because we lack the know-how or time, it’s that we simply lack the focus on being intentional in our marriages. Despite realizing these traits of a successful marriage, I still find myself falling down in many of these areas. Just like the apostle Paul, in my marriage, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15). That being said, the first step to improving is identifying pitfalls and potential problem areas.
Communicating. Any successful relationship is built around communication. Unity, just as Paul writes to the Ephesians, involves “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). If something is bothering you in your marriage, don’t share it with your best friend without talking to your spouse about it directly. It may be difficult to discuss, but trust in true love. After all, “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; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).
Don’t forget the importance of listening. You’ve heard it said that God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason. If your spouse comes to you with a problem, be quick to listen and slow to speak. “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame” (Proverbs 18:13).
Speaking Her Language. There’s another aspect of communicating that is essential–speaking your spouse’s love language. Maybe you haven’t read Gary Chapman’s “The Five Love Languages” or taken the steps to figure out the love languages for yourself or your spouse. (If you haven’t, I’d highly recommend you do. It’s eye-opening.) Regardless, we can all agree that we need to understand what makes our spouse tick and then act accordingly. We need to make the extra effort to do things in our marriages that make our spouses feel loved.
I fall into the bad habit of trying to show love to my wife in the way that I’m most comfortable. For instance, I feel loved when someone does something–an act of service-for me or spends quality time with me. As a result, I find myself trying to express love in the same way. I try to do things for my wife to show her I love her. That’s fine and good, but she doesn’t receive love that way. She feels loved most when she is hugged or if I reach out to hold her hand. Speaking your spouse’s language puts you on the path to a closer relationship.
Praying. According to FamilyLife, which has surveyed thousands of participants at its Weekend to Remember marriage retreats, less than 8 percent of couples pray together on a regular basis. Even fewer Christian couples (about 5 percent) pray together daily. And, these are Jesus-loving people who care enough about their marriages to attend a retreat. What would a survey look like among a wider audience? Sadly, it’s likely the same or worse. Most of us don’t take the time to pray together with our spouses.
My wife and I recently took FamilyLife’s 30-Day Oneness Prayer Challenge. The concept is simple. Pray with your husband or wife–out loud–every day for a month. When we were introduced to it, we had sadly only prayed together a couple of times in our decade-plus of marriage. At the end of the 30 days, prayer became a normal part of our marriage. I felt closer to my wife, and she felt closer to me. They say it takes 21 days for a habit to form, but only a couple days to undo it. You have to stay on top of it. Just like those gym memberships and New Year’s resolutions, it’s easy to let the commitment fade. Since taking the challenge, we haven’t always prayed daily, but we have prayed together more often. And, that’s a small step to growing closer to God and to each other.
In Shaunti Feldhahn’s book, The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages, she shares that 53 percent of “Very Happy Couples” agree with the statement, “God is at the center of our marriage” (compared to 7 percent of Struggling Couples). She writes, “Highly happy couples tend to put God at the center of their marriage and focus on Him, rather than on their marriage or spouse, for fulfillment and happiness.” There’s no better way for God to be at the center of your marriage than to join with your spouse regularly in prayer.
I’ve heard this analogy used before: a marriage is like a garden or field of dirt. It’s always changing and growing something. Even if left untouched, it’s still going to sprout up weeds. But, if tended and tilled, the soil is ready for planting and growing beautiful or useful flowers or plants. We have a choice. Leave our marriage untended or work at it. The result of doing the latter will make it all worthwhile.
A Prayer for Your Marriage:
Father, help me to be the [husband/wife] you have intended me to be. Show me where I need to improve. Help me to be a better communicator, help me to love my [husband/wife] better, and help us both to grow closer to You and to each other in this new year. In Jesus’ name, amen.
This article was originally written for Crosswalk.com. You can find it here.