No, I am not an expert on marriage. No, my marriage isn’t perfect. We have our ups and downs like all couples. Yet, the following principles have served my wife and I in creating a 17 year marriage that is alive and well, having endured times of great adversity and success.
Marriage is a very personal subject, and lots of couple secretly wonder, “how can we make this thing work better, or work at all?” I pray these values will serve your marriage as they are serving ours.
Here’s what’s working for us… (in no particular order)
o.o1 Shared values– There is a difference between shared views and shared values. No, Amy and I don’t see everything the same way. Yet, there are shared values with which we have unity and base our views. For example, we value a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Our faith is a foundational value to our marriage. I can’t imagine not sharing this core value. We value the quality of our family and the giving of our best in the area of parenting. We have many shared values.
We have found that shared values, such as the ones I list in this post, are critical for a healthy marriage. Taking the time to understand and come to a place of unity upon core values is an absolute essential in our book. If marriage is like a house, then having shared, core values as a couple are integral parts of the foundation. It’s certainly not necessary to see eye to eye on everything, that would be boring! But it is critical to see heart to heart on the essential values that make a marriage thrive. What are the essential values to a great marriage? I am sure there are many, perhaps the ones I share in this post are a good start.
Tip: As a couple, make separate lists of things you would see as critical values for the marriage. Then, come back together and discuss theses values and your views on each one. If there are areas of disagreement, take a couple days to think over that area and come back together to see if there is any room to come closer together towards a shared value.
o.o2 Prayer- For Amy and I, prayer brings us together and enables our burdens to be carried by God and not our relationship. Prayer in marriage can feel very vulnerable and even a bit awkward because you are connecting at the deepest levels. However, the reward of pushing through and taking time to pray together is invaluable. We are not very formal in our prayer life together, we pray together as a spontaneous, natural ebb and flow of our life and family. This way, our children can have glimpses into our prayer life and become a part of it. For us, prayer is not a religious obligation but a relational expression. It’s not governed by length, eloquence, or location, but rather by the heart. It doesn’t have to be long, well said, or formal… just pray.
Tip: Wives, many men are intimidated by praying and fear being shamed by their wives, who are often further along or more open spiritually then they are . Make sure you don’t push too hard, nor criticize his efforts. Applaud and encourage everything you can.
o.o3 The last 2%- The last 2% is what needs to be said in a relationship but is often the most difficult to say. It’s the complete truth, not just a percentage of it, it’s how you really feel, not just a version of it. In my ministry, almost every couple that comes to me for counseling with serious marriage problems ready for divorce has a traceable path of relationship deterioration that starts with one or both persons not being open and honest about what they are really feeling or thinking. It’s the small, innocent looking crack in the ceiling that over times turns into the roof falling down. It seems at the moment, the best thing to do is to just brush your feelings aside, keep the peace, or hope it will go away, but the reality is, that unwillingness to deal with the last 2% will be what later costs you a 100% of your marriage. Openness and honesty is absolutely critical for a healthy, thriving marriage. Full disclosure, even if it makes things temporarily worse instead of better, is an essential value for a working marriage.
Tip: Ask your spouse, “What is the one thing you really want to say to me but are afraid it might hurt me or cause tension in our relationship.” Once it is spoken, make a commitment to deal with whatever is shared with the goal of building the relationship. If a very serious issue is revealed, push the pause button on the conversation and seek out a professional, Christian counselor to help you work through it. Any marriage can handle anything when you apply the counsel of God.
o.o4 Constant check ins- Valuing and monitoring the health of your marriage is vital. One of the things that serves our marriage and continues to be invaluable is the reality that we are constantly checking in with each other to make sure we are on the same page, we are connected with each others lives, and our marriage is going well. Someone needs to take the lead in monitoring the condition of your marriage. In our marriage, this has been a natural role for me as I have a strong gifting in discernment. If you were to look into our marriage, you would hear us on a consistent basis asking each other questions like, “How are we doing?” “Are you happy with us?” “So, what do you think of _______?” “Is there anything we need to talk about?” “How are we going to handle __________?” etc. Included in these check-ins are frequent conversations about our parenting, finances, future plans, hopes and dreams, expectations, and struggles. We want to make sure as much as possible we are on the same page on the front side of issues, not the back. Can’t tell you how much this pays off.
Tip: Perhaps schedule a couple times each week where you “check in” with each other where the only rule of the conversation is, “anything can be discussed, anything can be asked” Make sure the conversation deals with monitoring the health of the relationship.
o.o5 Family first- I am amazed at how many couples want to either fix or improve their marriage, but want to spend very little if any time doing it. Time is the oxygen of a marriage. If you don’t have enough of it, the marriage will choke and all your efforts to make it work. Amy and I are both very busy people, but we are committed to making sure that our marriage and family have enough time together to thrive. The amount of time needed will be different for most couples and will vary depending on what season of your marriage you are in. However, many problems in a marriage start because there isn’t enough time for necessary aspects of the relationship to take place. Romance takes time, talking through issues takes time, relaxing with each other takes time, planning the future takes time, saying what needs to be said takes time, enjoying each others company takes time. For many couples, the issue behind the issues is time. We don’t talk because there isn’t enough time for conversations to ebb and flow, we don’t hang out together, because there isn’t enough time. Our sex life isn’t healthy because there isn’t enough time for all the nuances that give it life.
For Amy and I, our family comes first… period. I believe a man’s resume’ is his home. As a pastor, my most important ministry is to my wife and kids. Marriage is defined by what you say “yes” and “no” to. What you say “yes” and “no” to is governed by your priorities and values. Everybody has a plan for your marriage and family, the question is, do you?
Tip: As a couple, evaluate how you are spending your time. Maybe even make a list of the things that get the majority of your time and attention. Then check to see how much time is being utilized exclusively for your marriage. What you discover might be very telling.
o.o6 Standing guard- Your marriage is a gift from God, and all gifts need to be protected. There are real forces at work in the world that want to divide you and your spouse. Don’t be nieve, you were married into a war, not a vacation.
Every couple should be on the lookout to identify things that are potentially eroding the relationship. The moment you think it can’t happen to you is the moment you are most vulnerable. Success can be just as much of a threat as hardship. Good times can be just as much of a threat as bad. You children (how you handle them) can become a threat to your marriage. Money issues, stress, extended family, health, tragedy, careers, friendships, church, all can become threats to your marriage. Many things that can appear to be innocent can easily turn into things that compromise the health of your marriage.
Becoming an overreactive alarmist in your marriage is not going to be a positive things, but keeping watch with the health of your marriage as a top priority, will be.
Tip: Have a discussion as a couple asking three questions, 1) Where are you individually most vulnerable to temptation? 2) In what area is our marriage most vulnerable? 3) If Satan where going to attack our marriage, where in our marriage would he have the best chance at being successful.
o.o7 Integrity- Sometimes when you look under the hood of a marriage that isn’t working, you will find one or both of the persons in the relationship doing stupid things. Some of these things may be discovered to even be sinful in nature. It’s hard to put bad things into a relationship and expect good to come out of it.
At times when I talk to couples, I become amazed at how many of them speak of secrets they have from their spouse, sketchy things they do that seem to them to be of no big deal, and habits that are sure to be eroding and not building the relationship. Sometimes I just want to ask, “are you stupid?” Unfortunately, when many people go to the well of how to act in a marriage, they draw from the negative or absent example of their parent’s relationship. Often, instead of breaking unhealthy cycles, we end up repeating them.
Integrity in marriage means… taming your tongue, applying self control to your emotions, staying faithful to the relationship emotionally and physically (for men this means controlling your eyes, for women this means guarding your heart), not getting lazy, taking responsibility, saying what you mean and meaning what you say, keeping your promises, being open and honest, and being a trustable kind of person.
Tip: As a couple, make a list of things each are doing that is building the relationship, then make a list of things that are seen as not building the relationship. Discuss.
o.o8 Marriage Purpose- As a couple, we believe God has brought us together to serve each other and to serve God in a unique way together. We see our marriage as a ministry to each other and to the world. What we can accomplish together as a marriage and family is a vital part of our lives. I have my own personal ministry, Amy has her own, but we also have great things for God we are pursuing together that we couldn’t do a apart.
As a couple, you are either growing together, or you are growing apart, there is no in between. Discovering and pursuing the things God has for you to become and do as a couple goes a long way towards ensuring you will be growing together. Take time to ask, “what has God called “us” to do “together” to change the world?” That will be one of the most powerful questions and conversations you will ever have in your marriage.
Tip: As the question of your marriage, “Other than for ourselves and for our children, why has God brought us together?”
These are some of the values that have served our marriage, what values are serving your?