All weddings are happy. It’s living together afterward that causes all the trouble.
Mrs. Billy Graham was asked, “Have you ever considered divorce?” “No,” she responded. “Murder many times but never divorce!”
It sometimes feels like my marriage is this tiny outpost in the middle of enemy territory, and the enemy is shooting at us from every side! This world is not the friend of marriage. The good news is that God is the friend of marriage. Marriage is God’s plan, his idea, and his design.
I know you are just like me. You want a great marriage, but you may feel that your marriage has endured too much pain and that there is no hope of improvement. But, no matter where you are or where you have been in your marriage, the rest of your marriage can be the best part of it.
Dan and I have been married for 46 years. Our marriage is stronger and better than it has ever been. Let me share some of the keys to a healthy marriage God has taught us along the way.
Key one: When the going gets tough, the tough stay right where they are!
Ephesians 5:31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”
An essential key to a successful marriage is commitment. The Spanish explorer Cortes knew what commitment was. He insisted on it from his men when they landed in Mexico to invade the land of the Aztecs. Sensing the crew’s fear and hesitation, he gathered them all onshore and set fire to the ships. Cortez turned to his men and said, “Now, there can be no turning back.”
That is the kind of commitment we need in our marriages. But unfortunately, we live in a world of “throw-away” marriages. If it doesn’t work, we throw the relationship away and find another, but Jesus is big on commitment. Jesus told a parable about a man who found a valuable pearl in a field. The man immediately sold everything he had to buy the field so the pearl would be his. Of course, he would be left with nothing if the pearl was worthless. But he was willing to take the risk.
For marriage to be what God designed it to be, we must choose to be committed to our mate and our marriage. Commitment is not based on feelings. Feelings cannot build a solid marriage. Love is not the basis for marriage. Marriage is the basis for love.
Hold on to your commitment to God. Hold on to your commitment to your marriage.
Key two: Accept your mate and change yourself.
Colossians 3:13-14 “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”
The marriage relationship has a specific dynamic. If one person in the relationship changes, the whole relationship changes. We keep trying to make sure that our mate is the one that changes.
I approached marriage and my new husband like buying an old house. I couldn’t wait to see it remodeled. Wasn’t Dan fortunate to have married the Holy Spirit? I tried to change him. I just wanted Dan to be more like me! I learned that we can be different without being right or wrong!
We need to celebrate our differences. Differences can either rip us apart or add great flavor to a relationship. Unfortunately, the things we try so hard to change are the very things that attract us to our mates in the first place.
He used to be carefree. Now he is irresponsible.
He used to be determined. Now he is stubborn.
He used to be more concerned about inward qualities than outward appearances. Now he is sloppy.
Acceptance and approval are two different things. What would happen if you unconditionally accepted your mate? What would happen if we took the energy we wasted trying to change him and used it to change our lives?
Accept your mate. Ask the Lord what needs to be changed in your own life.
Key three: Spend time alone with your spouse.
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Amos 3:3 “Can two walk together except they be agreed?”
Weeds spring up overnight, but it takes years for a mighty oak to grow. So likewise, a great marriage takes a lot of hard work and time. We have three choices about time. We can waste it, spend it, or invest it. Busyness builds a schedule but destroys the family. A crazy life schedule has always been a battle for Dan and me.
When our children were young, we saw our marriage and children being swallowed up in a hectic schedule. We were doing wonderful things. But, unfortunately, they just weren’t the best things. So we made an important decision. We would give ourselves one year to make drastic changes or leave the ministry. We chose not to sacrifice our marriage or our children on the altar of a ministry or church.
We began taking a day off each week. Monday is my day with Dan. We sometimes go shopping or out for lunch, where we talk – setting goals, planning, dreaming, and examining our marriage to ensure we are on solid ground.
We began scheduling time away. Every two or three months, we make a plan to get away – alone. Then, when the pressure is off, we are different! It is one way to keep the romance alive in our marriage!
We began setting aside time at the end of the day to talk. This time became an essential part of our daily schedule. We talked about the day and shared whatever was on our minds, creating a connection time. Doing so kept us on the same page and was a strong statement to each other and our children about the importance of our marriage.
We learned to be part of each other’s world. I began reading the books that interested Dan. I went with him to conferences. I began to study Dan – his needs and interests, frustrations and dreams, fears and hopes. I know. We often say we don’t have the time or money, but we are saying that it is not important enough to learn how to be part of our mate’s world. But, if it is important, we will find a way to do it.
We all exchange our lives for something. But we need to make sure that the exchange is worth it!
Key four: Guard your mind.
Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brethren, whatsoever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things.”
Don’t allow anything or anyone into your life that will undermine your marriage.
When we invite these things into our life, we are setting our marriage up for failure. In the early years of our marriage, I was addicted to soap operas. I told the woman on television to leave her rotten husband and run off with the handsome man. Needs improvement!
For the sake of our marriage, we must guard our minds.
Key five: Learn to fight fair.
Ephesians 4:29 “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what helps build others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
Wow! That’s a tall order, isn’t it? But God never asks us to do anything that he will not empower us to do. For much of our marriage, I have tended to shove my anger down until some final straw makes me both hysterical and historical. Not anymore. Here are some tips that have helped me learn to fight fair.
-Pray. Bathe your conversation in prayer and ask God to give you the right words to say
when you need to have a challenging conversation with your mate.
-Pick a time and place that is good for him. That means picking a time and place to give your conversation the best chance of succeeding.
-Begin and end with affirmation.
-Be willing to accept blame.
-Express hurt – not hostility.
-Stick to the subject at hand. Don’t drag up every hurt from the past that you have buried.
-Avoid using the words “never” and “always.”
-Be solution centered.
-Understand that restoration – not winning – is the goal.
-Get outside help if you need it. That may be a mature Christian couple or a professional.
A marriage is only as good as the communication between husband and wife – especially when fighting fair.
Related: Learn to Fight Fair in Marriage
Key six: Discover your mate’s language of love!
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Isaiah 35:3-4 “Encourage the exhausted, strengthen the weak, say to those with an anxious heart ‘Take courage, fear not!'”
Every husband and wife has different ways of giving and receiving love.
My dad died when I was four years old. My mom showed her love for me by serving. So I grew up believing love is demonstrated by cleaning the house, buying groceries, doing the laundry, or cooking meals.
Doing these things for Dan showed him that I loved him – right? The only problem was that I needed to use the correct language. His language is touching and telling.
But since I had been molested as a child, I had trouble with communication and intimacy. So we had problems. When Dan hugged me and told me he loved me, I always thought he wanted sex. If he really loved me, he would clean the garage.
It is like going to a foreign land and insisting that the people there speak my language. It won’t work.
Learn your husband’s language of love and become fluent in it!
Key seven: Become your partner’s strongest fan.
Hebrews 3:13 “Encourage one another daily.”
Every man should be able to trust his wife and what she says about him, and every wife should be able to trust what her husband says about her.
We should count on each other to be a cheerleader!
Don’t criticize your mate to your friends or family members. You will get to the place of forgiveness, but your family and friends may not. And don’t criticize your mate to your children. I know that is hard. But it is right.
Make a list of your mate’s good points and then broadcast them!
Psalm 141:3 “Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord. Keep watch over the door of my lips.”
I once read, “Dear Lord, help me to bridle my tongue so that on judgment day, I will not be guilty of assault with a deadly weapon!”
Don’t be a dream-buster. Be a dream-sharer. Ladies, if your husband is leading you in what you feel is the wrong direction, your choices are:
-To leave him.
-To stay and make life miserable for everyone.
-To say to him,” I am committed to you. I disagree with you, but I am with you!”
Then turn your dream and him over to God, who can bring the two together in a fantastic way.
Key eight: Laugh a lot.
Proverbs 17:22 “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”
We must not get so serious about life that we lose our joy. We must always remember what it means to laugh, play, and feel like a child again.
The best marriages take a lot of work, but we need to balance that work with fun. The more challenging the marriage, the more important it is to have fun. Laughter brings healing. Humor can be a bridge over frustrating circumstances.
God wants our homes to be living illustrations of him! God wants marriage to demonstrate His love.
What choice or commitment do you need to make in your marriage? He stands ready to empower that commitment. God wants your marriage to succeed, and he wants you to find joy in your marriage. So make that commitment today, and then trust him to do it.
Related Resource: Check Out Our FREE Marriage Podcast!
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Mary Southerland is also the Co-founder of Girlfriends in God, a conference and devotion ministry for women. Mary’s books include, Hope in the Midst of Depression, Sandpaper People, Escaping the Stress Trap, Experiencing God’s Power in Your Ministry, 10-Day Trust Adventure, You Make Me So Angry, How to Study the Bible, Fit for Life, Joy for the Journey, and Life Is So Daily. Mary relishes her ministry as a wife, a mother to their two children, Jered and Danna, and Mimi to her six grandchildren – Jaydan, Lelia, Justus, Hudson, Mo, and Nori.