Friday, June 4, 2010

Five Crucial Aspects of a Healthy Marriage

In preparation for a friend's bridal shower, my wife asked me the other day what my top three tips for a good marriage were. This is what our discussion produced, and after ten years of marriage I feel strongly that these have been some of the most important factors in the strength or our marriage. Sadly, you won't hear most of these in the average pre-marital counseling session. Let's change that by spreading good advice far and wide.

As a preface, it will be clear that these practices are all based on following Christ and believing in the Living God. That's because I know I couldn't have the marriage I have today without focusing on God and pursuing my relationship with Him. Much of the pain, struggling, and broken dreams we experience in life comes from trying to do things our way, on our own, without giving ourselves up to God and following His wisdom. (A good example of Matthew 7:24-27 in action.)

1. Make sure you both are in some sort of small group or Bible study that meets regularly, in which you each have people you can confide in and pray with. There should be at least one person of the same sex in your life and one in your spouse's life who you can each tell anything and everything to and who you don't hold anything back from. You each need someone you can confess your struggles and your sins to who will keep you accountable and who will pray for you.

2. Pray together with your spouse and read the Bible together. Talk about what you are reading together. If you just pray and read and grow in your knowledge of God separately, you are not building your marriage on a common relationship with God and a mutual dependence on God. It is amazing how many problems in marriage are reduced or solved by talking to God together and confessing your weaknesses and struggles together. You learn to trust Him together and to encourage each other in faith, and you learn to deal with disagreements and problems by talking about Scripture and by praying together instead of just hashing it out.

3. Resolve to forgive each other for anything and everything, just as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32). Be committed to loving each other no matter what, the same way God is committed to loving you. Marriage is not designed to make you happy or fulfill all your expectations. Marriage is designed to help you know Christ more and experience God more deeply, because knowing Him is where you will find happiness and fulfillment. Marriage will reveal to you your own pride, weaknesses, sins, and destructive attitudes more deeply than just about anything else. Resolve to accept that this is God's gift to you to help you overcome your own faults and the things that keep you from experiencing satisfaction in Him. Love each other as you are and encourage each other in growing and changing. When you do, you will experience more joy and satisfaction in your marriage and appreciate how it brings you closer to God.

4. Closely related to #3, never, ever doubt that people can change and that all things are possible with God. No matter how difficult your disagreements may be or how you may disappoint each other, don't give up. Remember what Paul said about the power of God: He raises the dead. We can depend on Him to rescue the living from any despair. God expressly says that He has the power to change a person's heart. Even if it seems like you reach a point where you can't work together on something or one of you won't budge, put your faith and hope in God and trust that He can change feelings, expectations, or attitudes for either of you. I have experienced it firsthand in a number of "hopeless" situations, and I have seen it in other marriages too. "[W]ith God all things are possible." This is not a promise that you'll get everything you want; it's bigger than that. Sometimes the work of God is to show you that what you want or think you need really isn't as important as you thought it was, and that your happiness will come without it.

5. Be open and honest with each other about what you hope for and what hurts you in your marriage. A friend of ours recently said that a lot of pain in marriage comes from expectations that are not communicated to each other, and which therefore go unfulfilled. Don't keep your feelings and your needs private. Talk to each other about how you feel and trust each other with your dreams and hopes. Don't hold back because you don't think anything will change. Remember #4.

What are your thoughts? Please share your advice too in the comments.

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