January 11, 2012

It is sometimes hard for me to believe that Mandy and I have been married for over 14 years.

That seems like a long time but it has gone by so fast. And even faster still is the fact that we have had children in this marriage for the past 10 years. Not a day goes by that I am not blessed to grow with my wife as we work together as both a spouse and a parent. But in the ministry I see couples hurting. When I counsel them I see the pain brought forth by words, action, and a lack of God at the center of their marriage. In today’s “flesh-testing” society the harsh reality is that marriage is a struggle and we feel pulled in so many different directions. And finding time to be there for your spouse and with your children, between work and priorities, is difficult. This alone can cause guilt, which I promise you is being felt by your spouse and can lead to conflict.

Knowing that this email goes out to both men and women I wanted to focus on our marriage and what we can be doing to make it stronger.

Divorce happens (statistically) at two major points in a marriage:

1. Between 4 and 5 years into the marriage: I feel this happens because the honeymoon is over and the reality that marriage is work has finally kicked in.

2. After 25 years of marriage: Relate this to the reality that “we” actually have to start talking with each other and not the kids, who have moved out. This becomes a “thanks for the ride” sort of mentality.

But to turn a marriage around to the Positive Side I have always been a firm believer that marriage needs two things:Communication and Laughter. Here are some important things to take into consideration when trying to grow your marriage into what God had planned.

There are several things both men and women can do to strengthen their marriage and avoid being a statistic. The trick in my counseling is that any information needs to be put into action. This email may look fancy, but if you delete it and never use it, where is the benefit to your marriage. Try taking one idea and practicing it.

1. Be faithful: Put your spouse at the top of every relational list you have. Love him or her unconditionally and love with every ounce of creativity you can muster. This may sound like a no-brainer, but the practice of faithfulness requires vigilance every day. Faithfulness is far more than a physical condition. If you’re still unclear, ask yourself the following questions as to who is #1 in my life?

Who do I spend the most time with?

Who is my primary emotional confidant?

Who do I text most often?

Who do I call?

Who gets my emails?

Who lights up my fantasy life?

2. Surround yourselves with strong relationships: When the couples around you separate or get divorced, then ending your marriage begins to look par for the course. Peer pressure doesn’t let up just because we left high school. So make peer pressure your ally – and be deliberate about forging friendships with strong couples and people who live their commitment out loud. Put yourself in an encouraging place. Look around, ask yourself where marriage is valued and positive relationships are encouraged. If it’s your local church, then get involved as a family and do what it takes to get the encouragement that we all need.

3. Seek help: If you can take your car in for a 30,000 mile check up, then why not your marriage? Counseling can be preventative; it’s not just for emergencies. Alternatively, join some kind of a support group where there is instruction, encouragement and accountability. We weren’t created to live alone, and we don’t have to solve our problems in a vacuum. God calls us to be relational.

4. Take care of your finances: Money problems are the #1 cause for marital discord. Make sure you and your spouse are on the same page financially, and then work hard to keep your heads above water.

5. Tell your spouse everything – be an open book: This is a daily practice Mandy and I have established and it works. What’s most important here is to be on the same page. Simply put, don’t engage in activity that sets the relationship up for additional stress. Be sensitive to your spouse and be respectful of the boundaries you agree on. If you meet attractive people at work, make sure your spouse is the first to know. If an old fling initiates a contact via email, share the conversation with your spouse. If you can’t talk about it in the open, then you don’t need to be doing it in the first place. Secrets are dangerous, period! Best friends talk about everything, and stuff that’s out in the fresh air of communication won’t have a dark place where it can grow mold (Great analogy!)

6. Spend time together – relax and play: You got married because you wanted to be together – so be together already! Absence does NOT make the heart grow fonder; absence hurts. Hang out, play board games, go to dinner (Date Nights!!!), garden, travel – you may fall in love all over again.

7. Date on a regular basis: (Date Nights!!! – Do you see a big hint here?) Don’t be boring; get creative. Remind one another how cool it is to be together. Taking one another for granted is like death by slow poisoning. Really, you can do better.

8. Dream together: Try sharing your hopes and dreams with your spouse. Then listen. Dreaming together puts a positive future right in the middle of your struggling present. Suggestion: On a date night each year set aside time for the two of you to set goals for the year. Include both individual goals and family goals. That will also help you two to be on the same page with your dreams.

9. Make out: Did I really just say that? Well, yes! If your spouse doesn’t know that you still find him or her attractive, then do something about it ASAP. One of the primary reasons that men (and women) stray from their wedding vows is boredom. Remember that sex was gift from God, to be shared in marriage. This is not old-school church taboo. Enjoy it with one another. If it’s difficult then seek counseling to help rekindle the fire.

10. Be intentional about your relationship: It’s just an omission here, a slight there, a moment of indiscretion one day, a secret another. Nobody sets out to destroy a marriage – it just happens. Well who said it had to? Who decided that the primary relationship that anchors the family, the foundational building block of society, was less important than anything else in your life? Make a decision! Step up! Be intentional about making your marriage amazing. (Portions shared from All Pro Dad)

I hope you find this article helpful and beneficial to your marriage.

– Article contribute by Ed Garrett, West Coast associate for the Master’s Men ministry.