Strong marriages take work.
But, with these tips, it can become a labor of love
by Susan Yates
Condensed From A House Full of Friends
NEXT to our relationship with God, our relationship with our mate is the most important one of all. A solid marriage friendship sets the tone for building other healthy relationships within the family.
If we want our children to have strong marriages, then they need to see us taking time to cultivate our own marriages. Strong marriage friendships take work. And as our children see us working on ours, they will have a realistic picture for their own marriages. In seeking to build a strong marriage friendship, there are three gems to polish.
1. Express Gratitude. If each day we thank God for one or two specific things we appreciate about our mate, our hearts will be filled with gratitude rather than criticism. In addition, tell your mate, each day, something you appreciate.
My husband, John, has always been incredibly disciplined about getting up early to prepare for the day, to pray, and to read the Bible for guidance. He prays for specific things in each of our children's lives and in my life. Recently, I realized I should tell him how much it means to me. When I did, he was pleased and I was filled with a fresh sense of gratitude for John.
For years, I've been in a prayer group with my friend Holly. Each time we pray, Holly prays for our husbands, thanking God that they work hard to support us and that they want to be good husbands and fathers. She also asks God to bless them. Her prayers remind all of us to have a thankful spirit.
Titus 2:4 says that older women are to teach younger women to love their husbands. Holly's prayers do this; so does her counsel to younger women. A thankful heart doesn't mean, "Everything's fine because we just praise the Lord." Things may be rotten. Loving, honest confrontation may be needed. Counseling may be crucial. But day in and day out, we are going to build a strong marriage only if we choose to cultivate a thankful spirit.
2. Create on Accepting Atmosphere. Our homes should, above all, be a place of acceptance—a place where we are loved simply because we belong. A simple greeting at the end of the day can set the tone for the rest of the evening. An enthusiastic greeting at the front door says, "I'm so glad you are here." That's acceptance.
An accepting atmosphere also allows for the freedom of honesty. It enables us to deal with conflict. We remember that we are on the same team and God is on our side.
An accepting atmosphere stresses service rather than roles. "It's the woman's job to…" or "It's the man's job to…" is not the basis for a relationship. Rather, we are both called to serve each other. And, when we do, we honor our mates. Such honor causes our marriage friendships to deepen.
An accepting atmosphere is one in which mates express an interest in each other. Many wives complain that their husbands don't talk to them on a deep level. The reason: Often, we don't ask good questions. "What made you feel particularly happy today?" is a question that might lead to a deeper conversation.
Sometimes our mates don't discuss difficulties with us because we have too many answers. An exhausted mother of toddlers may tell her husband about her long day of cleaning and disciplining. She doesn't need him to respond with a plan. She needs empathy and appreciation. A husband struggling with a project doesn't necessarily want solutions from his wife. He just needs a listening ear. As mates, we must resist the tendency to fix everything in each other's lives, and pray for wisdom to know when to advise and when to listen.
3. Develop a Fresh Vision. Each marriage goes through different seasons, and each season has distinct challenges and specific blessings. Newlyweds have the challenge of considering another person's desires. But they soon discover the joys of married life as they learn to care for each other.
The arrival of a first child ushers in a different season in marriage and brings with it the challenge of sacrificing the couple's wants to care for the needs of a baby. Both mates are challenged to learn flexibility, for life with a young child is unpredictable and taxing. But there is a wonderful blessing in watching this treasure begin to respond to your love.
The season of having children at home brings many challenges. One is finding time to cultivate our marriage relationships. We are forced to reorder our priorities and determine what really matters in family life. That reordering brings blessings to our marriages.
Some seasons are more challenging than others. The benefit lies in working through the challenges and focusing on the blessings. Ask God to give you a fresh vision for the season you are in right now.
Fresh vision often comes when we recognize and develop our gifts. We want to be with those who bring out the best in us and encourage us. A blessing we can give each other is to encourage one another's gifts.
Bill was in commercial development, which he loved. But when the economy soured, his work became discouraging. His wife encouraged him to become involved in their church's new building program. With her support, he became the head of the church's multimillion-dollar building program. Encouraged by his wife, Bill used his talents to help his church; in the process, his faith blossomed, his relationships deepened, and his personal fulfillment increased.
Women who have stayed home with their children face a new season in their lives when the last child leaves home. It's a wise husband who encourages his wife to begin thinking about a new career before their children leave. Perhaps as the children get older, he could encourage her to take some classes or begin working part-time. Often when a morn has put her own interests on hold for years, she lacks confidence about re-entering the workplace. Now, more than ever, she needs her husband's loving support.
A fresh vision includes having creative fun. Life is filled with serious issues, and it can easily become an exhausting existence. "Too tired to have fun" might be an accurate statement of marriages today. What a shame! Perhaps some of these simple, fun ideas might help you polish the gems in your marriage:
• Plan a weekly date. An evening out or a breakfast date allows time to cultivate your friendship.
• Develop common hobbies. A friend recently took up tennis because her husband likes to play. She took lessons and now the two of them play together.
• Take turns planning an adventure of the month. It may be a play, an all-day hike and a picnic, or some other creative activity. Keep the activity a surprise until the day of the event.
• Spend an evening looking at old photos together.
• Enlist the children's help in honoring your spouse by serving him/her breakfast in bed, writing love notes, doing your mate's chores.
• Bake cookies or hot pretzels together. Send some to a friend.
• Put on your favorite music and dance together. Invite the kids to join in. It's guaranteed to produce laughter.
A thankful spirit, an accepting atmosphere, and a fresh vision will encourage us as we continue to cultivate friendships with our mates. We must remember, however, that we will never enjoy a perfect relationship with our partners. Author Larry Crabb contends that this is how God intended it, because our deepest longing for a totally fulfilling relationship will be met only when we are with Him in heaven.
Many people go from mate to mate looking for what they cannot find. Instead, we must rejoice in the mate God has given us, remembering that He has given us the partner we need to help us become the person He intended for us to be.
Copyright © 1995 by Susan Alexander Yates
from Positive Living
September /October 1998