By Hollie Gilman, Crosswalk.com
Marriage is God’s idea, an unconditional covenant built on the commitment to love and to serve. Beginning a marriage on this foundation is key to a partnership that can successfully weather the ups and downs that are sure to come over the years. But it is often the commitment to do the little things in marriage that make the difference in our daily joy and closeness. Here are 10 small things you can do today to strengthen your marriage.
1. Take “Quit” Out of Your Vocabulary
It all starts here. If we didn’t make the final decision on Day 1 of our marriage never to give up, we can decide to do so today once and for all. We commit to sports teams, formal education, diets or lifestyles, and the church softball league. At the top of the list of things we will commit to and decide not to quit should be marriage. Quitting on marriage seems so unthinkable on the wedding day, but ask a seasoned couple who’s been married for 10, 20, or even 50 years, and on any given day they may tell you they didn’t always “feel” like being married at that moment. If we allow ourselves to wake up each morning and ask ourselves if we want to overcome difficulties, make sacrifices, or work out disagreements, our answers might vary. But take the word “quit” out of it, and we have no choice but to see it through. Working it out, together, becomes our only option. Now we are focused on the solution and not the problems which may arise. At the crux of succeeding in anything is to decide that quitting is never an option.
2. Pray with Your Spouse
If this idea is new, it may sound intimidating at first. Pastor Craig Groeschel of Life.Church put this off for years with his wife Amy because he assumed it would be long and involved. He suggests one good way to start is to set aside just a few minutes a day to pray together. It doesn’t have to be pastoral prayer length, elaborate, or full of complete theology. It can simply be a sweet time to come together as a couple before the Lord. Take the pressure off - there’s no wrong way to do it. Where two or more are gathered in His name, He is there. (Matthew 18:20) What could be better than freshly inviting the Lord into your marriage each day?
3. Pray for Your Spouse
Perhaps you are in a marriage where your spouse may not be willing to pray with you, or maybe, as in the case of some military or job situations, you are separated by distance. Praying for your spouse can be done anytime, anywhere, and it allows you to place yourself in your spouse’s position. What is he/she struggling with? What pressures is he bearing right now? What decisions does she need the wisdom to make? As a bonus, it’s been said you can’t pray for someone and stay mad at them. Not only does praying for your spouse benefit them, but God will work in your heart as well.
4. Serve One Another
Christ is our greatest example of a servant. He was greater than all of creation, yet He emptied Himself taking on the form of a servant. (Phil. 2:19) We are to consider one another more highly than ourselves. In marriage, serving simply means we seek to fulfill the needs of the other above our own needs, and it is one of the greatest gifts we can give our spouse. Marriage is a 100% partnership, not 50/50 as we often hear. Fully giving to your spouse is more than just each person being looked after, it also builds a deeper love and trust in one another.
5. Be Thankful
You married your spouse for a reason. Hopefully, you married them for countless reasons. Sometimes those reasons get lost over time, and it becomes hard to remember what you were thinking when you were young and perhaps a little starry-eyed and free from the yoke of responsibilities that living a full life can bring. It is important to remember and even meditate on those reasons that brought you together often. Lack of appreciation can lead quickly to discontent. What was once a thankfulness to find such a great catch can lead to restlessness or more destructively, bitterness over dirty laundry, messy hair, bills, and crumbs on the couch. Take time daily to remember the qualities that drew you to your love. Give those qualities a name, and express to your spouse and God how grateful you are for those qualities. Start small, and you may be surprised how meaningful it is for your spouse to hear at the end of a long day, “I’m thankful you worked hard for our family today, I appreciate you,” or “Thank you for making dinner for us tonight, I know you’re tired.” No one likes to be overlooked, and gratefulness is a simple way to show you see and appreciate your spouse.
6. Stop Comparing
Often this precedes feeling and expressing gratitude, and sometimes we deceive ourselves as to how stealthily it can slip into our lives. We may be watching a movie with a hero we admire and suddenly we feel a nudge of admiration for a quality we feel may be weak in our spouse. Whether it’s media, books, or anything that plants a seed of discontent in your mind regarding your spouse, let it be a warning signal, a red flag to cut the comparison out now. That new coworker at the office you click with? Don’t forget you are seeing them at their best every day when you and your spouse see each other’s - well, everything. Don’t compare someone else’s best to your spouse's less refined characteristics. Whether in real life or on a screen, it is worth being hyper-aware of comparisons that begin to creep into our minds.
7. Schedule Regular Time Together
It may seem overwhelming or even impossible to find quality time alone, but it can be done, especially if we keep it simple. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate week away on a tropical island, although if you can swing it, do it! But mostly it will be the small things that we do together that continue to bond us over time. Rent a movie and order a restaurant meal for one spouse to pick up while the other puts the kids to bed early. Voilà - date night! When the kids are old enough to begin staying home alone, take advantage of small chunks of time weekly or bi-weekly. Make a run for ice cream or coffee, or take a Sunday drive to a model home or an open house to dream and create conversation about your future together. Quality time together can be a small investment when it comes to time or money, but the investment in a strong emotional bond is priceless.
8. Schedule Time for Intimacy
You may think putting sex on the calendar just sucks the fun and spontaneity out of it, but many of us live and die by our calendars. From doctors appointments to job interviews to Christmas dinners, we schedule the important things in our lives, and we make sure they happen. Sex is an important part of God’s design for a healthy marriage, and let’s face it, things get in the way. There are jobs, kids, illness, laundry, homework, sports teams, and any number of things that can and will consume our time and energy. By the end of a long day, which is often the only time couples will finally be alone together, there are still issues to discuss and decisions to make, and the day ends when both husband and wife are at the end of their time and energy. Just try it. Put it on the calendar. Ok, you don’t have to write S-E-X on the actual calendar, but schedule it some way and stick with it. You may just be surprised in how planning it brings new fun, energy, and enjoyment to your marriage. I am willing to bet you won’t hate it.
9. Remember Together
Scripture is chock full of examples of God telling His people to remember. Without conscious, deliberate effort, we often forget His past blessings in our lives. The same can easily be said for our relationships. When we face hard times, the good times we have had together can fade into the past and even seem like a bygone era never to return. Remembering, making a purposeful, deliberate effort to remember, can encourage our hearts. Take time today to reminisce, maybe hand-in-hand on a walk, and treasure the memories that have made you laugh and encouraged your hearts over the years. Thank God for those memories.
10. Look Forward to the Future Together
Dream together. Cast a future vision, path, and plan and strengthen the idea that you are building a life together for as long as the Lord allows on this earth. When couples are buried under busy schedules and taking care of children, getting through the day can seem like a worthy feat and accomplishment in and of itself, let alone thinking beyond today. Imagine together. What will it be like when we have children? What will it be like as they are growing up? What about after they leave? What do we want to accomplish together? What are some ways God can uniquely use our gifts and strengths together? Create a bucket list of fun things you’d like to do or places you would like to travel. Consider going on a missions trip together. God has uniquely equipped you and your spouse to bring Him glory. Spend time talking and listening to each other and the Lord on how He may use those gifts in the years to come.
Remember: Strong Marriages Take Time
A wise friend reminded me, you can’t have a 10-year marriage in 1 year, and you can’t have a 25-year marriage in 10. Culture may glamorize the excitement of finding a new love interest, and all too often we fail to recognize the rare beauty and blessing found in one long, exclusive, committed marriage. Nothing can replace depending on God’s strength and grace in living together, sharing life, and determining to do what it takes to build a stronger marriage daily. Overcoming challenges together provide a rich history that cannot be replaced in days or months of flirty attraction. When things are less-than-perfect, and perfection will elude us all, fight to come through it together. At the end of our days, to say we were faithful and true to the one we promised before God and man that we would love for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, now that is worth fighting for. That is worth doing whatever it takes.
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Hollie Gilman has spent the last 20 years momming, homeschooling her 3 almost-grown-and-flown children, and working with her husband of 23 years. She is a lifelong passionate learner in all things Faith, Health, and Leadership andloves to find the humor and heart in the common experiences so many busy parents share. Sheis currently enjoying her new life in the country (being a pretend farmer) just outside her hometown of Richmond, VA.Her work has been featured in Coffee+Crumbs, Richmond Family Magazine, and Parkway.org, and occasionally she spills her guts on her blog tryingtowalkandnotfaint.wordpress.com.