Here are ten practical exhortations to keep your marriage sharp, happy, and as effective a ministry as it can be.
10) Take Nothing for Granted.
Routine can be comfortable but it can also wreck spontaneity, passion, gratitude, and fun. So be careful. Cultivate a spirit of appreciation for one another. Understand that true love isn’t mere sentiment. It is action and thus requires time, effort and dedication. My friends in Belarus have a saying that fits here: “A wife isn’t a guitar. You can’t play with her awhile and then hang her on the wall!”
9) Build Up Your Marriage Partner.
Discover the compliments that are especially meaningful to your spouse and use them often. Expressions of gratitude, affection and praise should be business as usual between the two of you...including in public. Billy Sunday, the major league infielder turned evangelist once advised husbands, “Try praising your wife...even if it does frighten her at first!” Convince one another that you are their best friend and their biggest fan. Don’t worry about their ego getting too big -- life will take care of that. For your part, you can’t be too much of a cheerleader for your spouse.
8) Hang Out with Godly People.
The company you keep is a far more important factor in a successful marriage than most people realize. Don’t underestimate it. Develop friendships as a couple with people who take seriously the things of God. Such friendships will be of immeasurable help in providing accountability, inspiration, assistance, and, as the Scriptures put it, the “stimulation to love and good deeds.”
7) Keep the TV in its Proper Place.
Don’t be fooled. People do become what they watch and listen to. And modern television presents an awful lot that is contrary to the spiritual values you’ll need to keep your conscience clean, your adventure with Christ active, and your romance pure and strong. Furthermore, don’t let the TV steal time that could be better spent in other ways. TV can sometimes be an innocent friend, but it can more often be a powerful distraction - even a tyrant. So beware the power of the tube. (This warning, of course, applies to the computer too.)
6) Never Criticize Your Spouse in Public.
And I do mean, never! Anger, mockery, sarcasm, embarrassment -- these shouldn’t be part of your relationship, period. But when these things occur in front of an audience, it can create loads of hurt, a lot of resentment, and it can severely damage the trust, respect, and intimacy that every strong marriage needs.
Become comfortable in praying together...not just in crises or during church services or with the kids at bedtime. Rather, pray together throughout the week as an expression of your union as a couple with God. And pray with a willingness to take the actions God directs you to. Also, developing a pattern of praying together will be a tremendous help to the next item in the list.
4) Fight Fair.
Conflicts and confrontations are going occur. That’s natural and it’s no big deal if you observe some basic rules - rules that are simply applications of the vows you took on your wedding day. Examples? No rage, no threats, no leaving the house, no name-calling, no whining, no comparison to others, no unfair exaggerations (as in “You always” or “You have never, ever”), no dredging up the past, no bringing in your spouse’s family, and so on. The purpose of the argument should always be kept in view and that is seeking a unified, mature, spiritually sound solution to the problem – not creating wounds, getting your way, or getting even.
3) Serve God as a Team.
You don’t need to always be involved in the same things or be under each other’s feet, but you should always have a lot going on between you, including activities that require teamwork. Foremost in this area for most couples will be parenting. If and when that ministry comes along, both of you must embrace it. But there are also household chores, the budget, social interaction, Christian ministry, avocations, and so on. Make sure you are in fellowship and growing together, not apart.
Forgive frequently and genuinely. Forgive before being asked to. Forgive not only for love’s sake and for your own peace of mind, but forgive over and over because Jesus Christ, as evidenced by the ongoing effects of the Cross, forgives you over and over. One of the most important ways to express your appreciation of the life Jesus gave to pay the penalty of your sins is to lean completely into His grace. You can thereby forgive others, especially the one He has blessed you with as a life partner.
1) Keep Falling In Love.
You mustn’t be content with your album of wedding photos. Make your marriage an existential, active, even a celebratory relationship. And that comes not only from spending time together but from your personal spiritual growth. Robert Browning, one of Western civilization’s most romantic poets, nevertheless took a practical view of what’s most essential in marriage. “Success in marriage,” he wrote, “is more than finding the right person, it is being the right person.” Dedicate yourselves to developing your relationship with Christ as individuals and you will improve your relationship at the same time.