Does evaluating your marriage sound a little scary? Don’t be afraid to read this. Here’s why.
Most of us regularly do maintenance of our cars and our homes. We take performance appraisals at work. Our kids are graded at school.
But do we give our marriages even half this much focus?
Your first thought is probably, “Who has time?” I’ve been there. We had six kids in 10 years and marriage was not my focus for many minutes of any given day. It was an ongoing juggling act for most of our marriage. And it still can be.
Marriage maintenance is hard to prioritize because our culture doesn’t have built-in systems like we do for health, home, car, and job care.
But it doesn’t work to pretend your marriage has no issues, no cracks in the foundation, no work to be done. Pretending is only good for little children or actors on Broadway. It’s never good for your marriage or your faith.
Here are some questions to help you evaluate your own marriage. You might feel a bit of trepidation as you start this list, but be courageous.
Grab a cup of coffee or tea and try not to do this on the run in the carpool line. Or if you do come back to it later for a reread. It’s too important to gloss over or skim.
1. Are you teammates in life? Are you pulling for one another, encouraging one another, because you love each other and are still best friends? Do you have compassion for one another?
I received many comments to last week’s post, “Your Marriage is Worth Fighting For: 9 Truths to Remember.” Many described significant issues and some told of their own divorces. As I read these I sensed a need to address the core of where we all find ourselves in any marriage: in a good place, a hard place, starting over or wondering why you are where you are. The essence of any healthy relationship or marriage is this principle we have taught for over 40 years: “My spouse is not my enemy.”
Listen carefully. This is crucial and foundational.
Both you and your spouse are victims. Victims of someone else’s sin; starting with Adam and Eve and progressing through the ages into endless kinds of evil and harm. And you are also victims of each other’s sin.
But you and your spouse, like every human, are also perpetrators. We are born with a self-focused sin nature that ever seeks importance, dominance, power, and revenge. We distrust, fear, control, self-protect and constantly devise ways to get what we want even if it means harming others.
Remembering these truths means neither of you are the enemy. You have a common enemy who is Satan. This also helps us help each other and be compassionate to each other in our common struggle against selfishness and sin.
It’s why you married your best friend. It’s why you need each other. It’s why the best foundation for marriage strength is keeping these truths in front of you. It helps prevent us from thinking we alone are the victims in our marriages. That it’s all his or her fault.
Are you co-laborers not only in bringing in the money, raising your kids, and doing all that life requires of you, but also in being a team, being united in the goal of becoming all God intended for you individually and as a couple?
2. Have you stopped being each other’s confidant? When we lose sight of who we are and what our goals are in marriage, we can easily move from friends to combatants. And who wants to go on a date with your enemy? Who wants to share personal struggles with someone who doesn’t feel safe?
If this is where you are, start asking yourself first when the change began. What were the circumstances if you can pinpoint them. Why don’t you feel safe or free to share? Then take the risk to talk about it together. That means making time. And you may need to find a counselor or a marriage coach or someone to guide the conversations and debrief with.
I mentioned last week that the last four years have been especially challenging for Dennis and me. We met with a friend, a therapist, who helped us understand why we were feeling estranged, misunderstood, and not connected. For us it was a season of many losses and we were processing them all differently, so we were missing each other.
Take the time to address the problem or your relationship will start to die.
3. Have you stopped dreaming together? This too is a natural consequence of the above. If you aren’t sharing your fears and your hopes then you aren’t sharing your dreams. You probably aren’t even dreaming about the future.
Marriage can easily become a business relationship. Your only communication centers on “to do” lists, your calendars, and the increasing demands of people and family members screaming for your attention and time and money.
To grow and keep a healthy marriage, these very real demands must be managed so you can have time to plan ahead, dream for the future when it‘s just the two of you again.
4. Do you risk sharing your struggles with sin with one another? Do you tell each other about your disappointment with God? When did you stop confessing your failures and mistakes? When did you stop asking your spouse to pray for you?
This is the crux of what God knew we needed when He created marriage. He said it wasn’t good for Adam to be alone. We are not intended to do battle with the enemy of our souls alone. We need the person who knows us best to pray for us, listen to our struggles, have compassion on what matters. We need our spouse to value the way God made us with our gifts and strengths and encourage one another in that journey “which He prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
5. Do you ask your spouse to forgive you? A healthy marriage is a forgiving marriage. We offend each other daily, most often unintentionally. But when we recognize our mistakes, our failures, it’s important to say so. Deny your pride and practice forgiveness generously. Billy Graham’s wife, Ruth, once said, “Marriage is the union of two forgivers.”
A healthy marriage is dependent on this oneness between spouses. And forgiveness is not always quick and easy, like saying “I’m sorry I was snippy with you, will you forgive me?” There are many times it takes a lot of time and work to get to the place it is genuine and all the layers of the onion around the situation have been peeled back. Again, this might be the time to seek the advice of someone who has experienced these issues or is skilled in offering marriage help.
6. Do you still care about having sex together? Sex is the icing on the marriage cake. Good meaningful fulfilling sex is the result of a good meaningful healthy marriage relationship.
Keeping sex a healthy part of your marriage is essential to keeping it alive. Unless there is a medical condition that prevents you or your spouse from sharing this experience regularly, you will be wise to pay attention to this God-created and ordained part of marriage.
Yes, sex is a mystery. It’s often challenging. It isn’t always a fireworks experience. But it is designed to be emotionally bonding, and bonding is like glue in your marriage.
By the way, when I say pay attention to having sex together I don’t mean three or four times a year. To read more about sex in marriage, I’d love for you to read my book, Letters to My Daughters, The Art of Being a Wife. I have an entire chapter on this subject.
7. Have you started pretending that all is well? When our kids were in high school they started talking about “living in the bubble.” I know they didn’t invent the phrase, but they introduced it to me.
The idea is that many of us live in a Christian subculture, a “bubble.” We can live in the same neighborhoods, send our kids to the same schools, and associate almost entirely with other people like us in values and beliefs.
This isn’t wrong, but it can have a downside. When we live in the bubble we can begin to believe we are doing everything right because we are doing what everyone else is doing. We can easily begin to model our lives on those around us. And it can impact your marriage by leading you to believe your marriage is great because it looks like everyone else’s.
8. When was the last time you got away for an entire weekend to invest in your marriage? I want to encourage everyone who reads this post to find a weekend this year to attend the best marriage conference I know of—a proven success for over 40 years. Like a regular tune up for your car or regular check-ups with your doctor, the Weekend to Remember Marriage getaway is the realignment every marriage needs, not just once in a lifetime, but repeatedly over the life of your marriage. Every season in your marriage presents new needs. We have friends who go to one of these events every year as a way to get away for a marriage tune-up.
Speaking at these events for nearly 40 years did more to keep our marriage focused on God’s plan for us and our marriage than anything else we did. We learned something new to apply every time too. Nothing is better than repeatedly investing.
The point is there are ways to make growing your marriage and seeing it become stronger over time. The question is, will you make it a priority?
9. Do you say no to other needs, activities, or tasks so you can have time for your marriage?Despite our modern beliefs, you simply cannot do it all. Your children can’t do every sport or activity and attend the best schools, while you give your lives to your work, your ministry, your mission, your community, your church, or your fixer-upper house.
We live in a world that celebrates everything exceptional and we curate our social media to make ourselves look perfect. But we all have limitations. The best decisions are to practice living within those limitations. Then there is freedom to develop what God has given you rather than striving for what others have.
You may believe you have the energy to juggle it all, but something will suffer. Usually it’s your marriage. You must have margin in your life to invest in each other. When you are both working full time in separate spheres what do you have in common beyond your home address? You must make decisions that favor your marriage, decisions that give it room to grow. No one else can or will do it for you.
Here is the bottom line for all of us: “Search me O God and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts” (Psalm 139:23). We cannot do marriage on our own. It is God’s invention and we need Him to make it work.
Go to Him.
Talk to Him.
Above all, ask His Spirit to help, guide, teach, and lead you in your marriage. Listen closely for His whispers to you. No marriage can survive without God’s specific and direct work in your life and in your spouses. And don’t worry about your spouse; you are only responsible for your part, what God has given you to do. Let God deal with him and his issues and heart.
Here is my prayer for you and all who are Christ followers in marriages:
May you stand strong for your marriage.
May you believe God and see Him work wonders
in your heart and your spouse’s heart.
May you stand with me and say,
“No more victories for Satan. Not in my marriage!”
Lord, give us women courage to believe You,
in every circumstance,
For more help on building oneness in marriage, click here.
For more help on conflict in marriage, click here.
For more help on romance and sex, click here.
For more help on working on a troubled marriage, click here.
For information on the Weekend to Remember marriage getaway, click here.
To order a copy of Barbara’s book, Letters to My Daughters, click here.