It’s been one of the most pressing seasons for our marriage.
We’ve been navigating a crux of major life decisions—only one of which included the continent we’d be living on. And our marriage that has been characterized by fairly fluid teamwork can at times be pulled taut by our diverging passions, longings, and reasoning.
“Stressed” doesn’t begin to cover it.
The most pleasantly surprising discovery of such a thin, exhausting stretch of marriage: Despite our completely opposing views, by God’s grace, we have remained (as Dan Allender calls it) intimate allies.
Bending intentionally toward the man I married, rather than emotionally curling up in isolation, can feel like a superhuman effort indeed at times (e.g. when I may or may not have wanted to throw a shoe in a husbandly direction). In fact, I feel like a superb marriage requires nothing short of supernatural intervention. Yet in our plethora of options, working to be even more married, more one flesh, is always a good choice.
- Some of our marital stress is avoidable. As with any conflict, start with the “log in your own eye” prayer: Lord, expose the ways my sin is contributing here, and dividing us. Let me see the precious values in my life that have become too precious: more precious than Your commands and/or people.
- Pray for positive memories and ways to serve, returning a blessing for an insult (1 Peter 3:9). With all that’s hitting your relationship, you need a little positive (or even neutral) equity, some good connection time in the bank. Pray for ideas to have fun together, specifically serve your spouse, and honor your him or her, even when your gut is roaring against it. Little gestures communicate you understand your spouse’s burden, and you still “see” him or her. You’re saying, This problem isn’t bigger than us.
- Pray together. Choosing to pray together means you’re moving toward the same goal: God’s glory. “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness”—and God will continue to tend to our other needs as well.
- Pray for protection over your words. David prays, “Set a guard over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips.” Ephesians 4:29 counsels us to speak only “as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who listen.” Is that the rule for your mouth? Ask that God would help you to discern each occasion, to talk things out when you’re emotionally healthy—not withered and irritated. There will also be times to grieve together; even then, “venting” is rarely useful. Talking honestly with each other doesn’t mean saying whatever comes to mind.
- Pray for the character to choose “charitable judgments”. This means when you don’t have all the information, you choose to believe the best about their character. Think of Eli judging Hannah’s motives in the temple, assuming she was drunk—or the Pharisees assuming Jesus was from Satan: Often, we simply don’t have all the facts, and are destructive in our impulsivity to carry out “justice”. Ask God to help you always trust, always hope, always persevere in your love; to not be easily angered in those areas of anger from the past which carry sensitive triggers (1 Corinthians 13:5-7).
- Pray for the courage to move toward your spouse, not away. Jesus prayed “that they may be one as [He and God the Father] are one” (John 17). Isolation helps neither of you. Choose to cling to each other rather than retreating to your corners.
- Pray to be against the problem together, not against each other—and for the wisdom for real solutions. Peacemakers suggests isolating the issue (as a question you’re trying to solve, i.e. “Should we adopt?”) separately from your interests (“I want to protect our already paper-thin margin of time, energy, and finances.” “I want our family to do something courageous and compassionate.”) This helps you think outside the box for creative solutions. James 1:5 is my go-to in any dilemma: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” Pray that God—a.k.a. Truth (John 14:6)—will open your eyes to truth in this situation.
- Ask for discipline in your mind. I am still constantly challenged by the standard of 1 Peter to have “unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” Honestly, my thoughts are where most of my disunity with my husband is kindled or stoked. Ask God to help you take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). As FamilyLife shares at its Weekend to Remember: My spouse is not my enemy! Use Philippians 4:8 as the guardrails for your thought life when mulling over the issue(s). Are your thoughts true? Noble? Right? Pure? Admirable? Excellent? Praiseworthy?
- Pray for gratitude—and renewed affection. David counsels his soul to “forget not all His benefits” (Psalm 103:2). My time in Africa has embedded in me that thankfulness is a game-changer in the middle of suffering. Thankfulness in my marriage helps me—like the Israelites at the Jordan, choosing stones to remember what God’s done—of God’s goodness the past road that stretches behind us as a couple; of the incredible gift God crafted in my spouse.