Dr. Vance Whippo
Relationships come in all shapes and sizes, and no two are the same. What does stay the same, however, is that people tend to act, feel, and think like, well, people. We all want to be loved, to be appreciated, to feel alive, and to have a sense of purpose. We all make mistakes, we all want to be heard, and we’re all just trying to make sense of ourselves in this world.When it comes to marriage, each marriage has its own history, burdens it carries or has overcome, and dynamics within it. While there are happy marriages, bad marriages, marriages on the rocks, marriages in recovery, young marriages, seasoned marriages, and much else in between, there are no perfect marriages.
All marriages could stand some improvement in one area or another. While it might not speak to every circumstance, the following is broadly aimed at addressing the very human concerns that are at the heart of every marriage. Because, after all, every marriage is the joining together of two sinful people in a lifelong commitment for the glory of God.
Marriage Advice: 5 Tips to Help Your Marriage Flourish
Ready for some marriage advice? Here are five tips to help your marriage flourish:
1. You’re in this together
Marriage joins two people into one new family unit (Genesis 2:24). These two people come from different families, may have different cultural backgrounds, are educated differently, have different capacities, and think differently. They are different people, and the difference isn’t a bad thing.
Being different is a good thing because it means you’re bringing different strengths and outlooks on life into the marriage. That richness can be leveraged for the good of the relationship by letting individuals lean into their areas of strength.Being different, particularly when you throw sin into the mix, can also be a recipe for disaster. Humans tend to see the difference through a jaundiced eye, as inferior. The more intuitive spouse may view the more logical spouse as lesser than, instead of appreciating the different perspectives they bring to a problem. Instead of standing and fighting together, when conflict arises it is easy to other your spouse and cast them as the opposition.
Spouses need to remember that they are in this life thing together, that regardless of their differences, they are for one another and the marriage. The couple forsook all others and chose this one person to spend the rest of their life with. You are in this together, and those are important truths to remember when selfish interest, in-laws, or anger intrude on the marriage.
It requires empathy to see another person’s perspective and to honor the fact that they’re wired differently from you. If a conflict arises, one of the first casualties is usually empathy, and that leads the couple to further entrench their positions and begin acting like lawyers in a courtroom with little to no room for a settlement.
2. Forgive like you were forgiven
It’s inevitable that despite their best intentions, sinful people will make mistakes, whether they are mistakes in fact or judgment. As this is a fact of life, what matters is how one reacts to that. Being angry is, of course, a natural response, especially if there’s been a betrayal, and couples do need to be accountable to one another and their community.
Forgiveness is one of the linchpins of a successful marriage. Forgiveness does not imply cheap grace or making excuses for the other person’s behavior. It is a choice not to hold the bad actions, words, and so on of the other person against them. Forgiveness works as a bulwark against resentment building up in the marriage. The strength to forgive stems from the fact that we too have been forgiven by God of our many sins.
While forgiveness addresses the heart and mindset of the spouse who is offended, repentance also ought to mark the offender. These two, repentance and forgiveness, are independent of each other, but they work well together.
A spouse may choose to forgive their partner when the latter hasn’t repented of their actions, but that can create a situation of repeated offenses that overwhelm even the most forgiving of people. Similarly, a spouse may repent in the absence of forgiveness, but if resentment builds from the lack of forgiveness, that too can undermine a marriage.
3. Don’t lose your first love (keep dating your spouse)
What first drew you to your spouse? While time changes all of us, there is likely at least a kernel of who your spouse was in them today. Sometimes, people change and are no longer recognizable.If you find yourself in a situation where you don’t recognize your spouse, you have a choice to make. You can choose to not engage this new person, retreat emotionally, or walk away from them to search for something else, or you can choose to stay in the fray and get to know them anew.
Sometimes it’s not as drastic as all that but life does get busy, and you need to keep carving time to be with your love. Between work, family, and other pursuits, you and your spouse can become like ships in the night and simply miss one another.
Being deliberate about spending time together (not for planning, or working on a problem, but to connect) is necessary for a marriage to stay healthy. Whether it’s taking a walk, doing an indoor picnic, going for a bike ride, cooking together – taking that time out for one another is key.
While we’re at it, keeping up the little things, all the trappings of dating, and showing affection and consideration is also an idea. Sure, the relationship and the circumstances have changed, but we all want our spouse to still care for us, to want to know us, and to meet our needs.
Our love language may change over time (another reason to keep dating your spouse – to stay current in how to meaningfully express love and affection to them) but we still want to be loved. Continue speaking well of your spouse to others, especially in front of them. Let your spouse and other people know how highly you think of your spouse and honor him/her in front of others.
4. Keep listening, and listen well
The fact that your spouse is there, an ever-present feature of your life, can make you begin taking them for granted. One of the ways this takes place is we stop listening well. For any relationship to flourish, whether it’s a young relationship or a decades-long marriage, good listening is an important part.
Active listening, in which you pay close attention, don’t interrupt, remain open-minded, ask clarifying questions, pay attention to your own and their body language, reflect and summarize what you’ve heard, lets your spouse know and feel that they’ve been heard. Who doesn’t want to be heard?
When you listen carefully and with empathy, it allows you to hear what the other person is really saying, and to know what they want and expect of you. Miscommunication is one of the biggest obstacles any couple faces. It’s not like people want to be misheard or want to mishear and act in line with that miscommunication – we often just don’t know that we are poor listeners, and that can come back to haunt us.Getting better with communication starts with being a better listener. If the other person feels truly heard, and if you’ve heard what they want to say, that puts you in a good place to have a meaningful connection.
The words of James are quite appropriate here: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:19-20). Spending some time developing your active listening skills will no doubt improve your relationship.
5. Season your talk with salt
The words we use and the tone of voice we use when we speak to others communicates volumes. Kind words can be spoken with derision or laced with resentment. How you talk to your spouse matters – you can use your words to build them up or to tear them down. If our conversation and our words are “always full of grace, seasoned with salt” they can be life-giving instead of life- and confidence-sapping.
A pattern of speaking negatively to or about your spouse (or yourself) has the cumulative effect of breaking down, not building up. “The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit”, says Proverbs 15:4, and the letter to the Ephesians reminds us, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen”.
Criticism can be delivered constructively, and spouses can speak with gentleness toward one another. That pervasive atmosphere of gentleness (a fruit of the Holy Spirit – Galatians 5) can help a couple weather tough storms as a team that is for one another and the marriage.
Married life is not easy, but when it is beautiful, boy, it is beautiful. Many things can trip a couple up, but thankfully the Lord has given us the wisdom to know what to look out for, and the practices to cultivate that can help a marriage flourish.
We need God’s grace to work in us and enable us to deal with one another gently and with kindness in our marriages, to be accountable people who can forgive, and people whose zeal, passion, and love for their partner grows with time.
“Dream Life”, Courtesy of Olessya, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Ear”, Courtesy of Anemone123, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “I’m so sorry!”, Courtesy of Geralt, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Breakfast Date”, Courtesy of StockSnap, Pixabay.com, CC0 License
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