This year marked a decade of marriage for my wife and me, and after our handful of years together, we still have a long way to go. Even so, we’ve made progress in some important ways and I would encourage any couple to try growing in these areas:
1. Serve each other. Anytime somebody serves us in some tangible way, it leaves us feeling cared for. For example, I’m usually horrible at taking care of Raquel when she’s sick, and it creates tension between us. The more I serve her though (like when I keep the kids so that she can do something fun for herself), the more she feels honored, and it makes it that much easier for her to honor me.
2. Affirm each other. Couples have to make a habit of complimenting each other and showing gratitude to each other for little things. I frequently make a point to affirm how much I appreciate all that Raquel does for our family, and I remind her that I think she’s beautiful. Affirmation increases the feeling of being loved and makes it easier to love in return.
3. Keep the flames going in the bedroom. When all of us were younger, we never imagined that regularly having sex would take work. Then we got married and noticed how the distractions of life make it easier to disengage from intimacy. If it’s possible, I think a couple should be physically intimate in some way on a weekly basis. It’s a tangible reminder that the couple is committed to staying close, no matter how much life tries to pull them apart.
4. Never put each other down. Putting each other down with insults plants toxic seeds that can grow into bitter roots in the heart. For example, yesterday morning I got frustrated with Raquel and lodged a petty slight at her, which is rare for me. She called me out and I apologized for it. I want to steer clear of those kinds of comments in the future. I don’t want to do anything that encourages a culture of contempt in our marriage.
5. Stay under control financially. Some of the greatest stresses I’ve seen in other people’s marriages have come from being financially out of control. Raquel keeps a watchful eye on our budget and I’m not a big spender, and as a result, we haven’t had any debt for most of our marriage (outside of our mortgage). I can’t imagine the stress and resentment we might otherwise feel anytime we made a significant purchase.
6. Have friends who want your marriage to succeed. One of the most effective ways a couple can stay strong is to avoid isolation. I’m privileged to have a handful of longtime friends who are there for me when I’m not being the best husband I can be. These guys have spent countless hours listening to me talk about the ups and downs of marriage, given advice and prayed with me. When you have people like that in your life, they can provide the support you need when you’re too weak to be a strong spouse.
7. Never forget the “third strand” of your marriage. There’s a powerful piece of ancient wisdom that applies to marriage: “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12, NIV). The “third strand” of my marriage is Christ, who lives in Raquel and me. Every day, He corrects our pride, inspires us to show grace and gives us the strength to fulfill the vows we made to each other. This is, by far, the thing that has strengthened our marriage the most in the last ten years.
Start the next year and make the effort to improve your marital health in some practical ways.
Surprise your spouse by serving them in unexpected ways. Set an alarm on your phone to remind you to compliment your spouse each day. Schedule a day at least once a week for physical intimacy. Apologize for unkind words. Take a course on financial responsibility. Be honest with your supportive friends about the areas where you’re struggling. Try reading just three Bible verses together each day, saying a prayer together before you go to sleep, and/or going to church together.
Let’s invest in our marriages this year in ways that may seem small — we may end up seeing all kinds of unexpected returns that last a lifetime.