Marriage is a very challenging yet rewarding relationship. I’ve been married now for 24 years and I’m still learning, making mistakes and trying to grow and get better at being a husband. I think a lot of people enter marriage thinking that this relationship will make me happy. That is a dangerous mindset entering marriage. Oh there will be times of great happiness, but there will also be times of sorrow, anger, disappointment and conflict.
All healthy relationships are messy and hard at times. Gary Thomas said this in his book Sacred Marriage, “God intended marriage not to make you happy, but to make you holy”. That is so true if you are a Christian. God uses the relationships in our lives to shape and mold our character. Each of us has a choice in the matter. Do we view marriage as a place to get my needs met, or where I become more like Christ?
Marriage is not primarily about feeling happy everyday. It’s not about getting what you deserve or getting the sex you want. Marriage is a lifelong training ground to knock off the rough edges and reform your selfish nature in order to make you holy. The cool thing is when you become more holy you become more happy.
Marriage is about commitment, giving, serving, forgiving, sacrificing and humbling yourself. That doesn’t sound like a lot of fun, but marriage is also about intimacy. The healthiest marriages have 3 kinds of intimacy: Spiritual, emotional and physical. When all 3 of those areas are healthy and growing there is usually a good bit of happiness as well. However to be healthy and growing in those areas, you must be committed, giving, serving, forgiving and sacrificing.
Knowing how to love your spouse is also a learning experience. Knowing, understanding and applying the 5 love languages that Gary Chapman lays out in his book The Five Love Languages is vital to a long healthy marriage. If you don’t know them, then get the book and read it.
If you want a better marriage it will take some work like reading a book or ten, going to see a counselor and actually being open and honest. It might mean learning new ideas and changing old mind sets about marriage. It might mean learning what your fear buttons are and how that triggers your unhealthy responses. It might means asking for forgiveness or extending forgiveness.
The point is you must work on yourself in order to improve any relationship. The more you focus on yourself and your own issues the better your relationship will get. When you also include God in the process you can transform any marriage or any relationship no matter how damaged it may be.
Love always trusts, always hopes, always remains strong.
What does a Healthy Marriage Look Like?
To be healthy in any area of our lives, it takes work and being intentional. If you want to get healthy physically you need to eat right and exercise. This does not mean perfect but healthy. When one area of our lives is out of whack or unhealthy it affects all the other areas of our lives. When we are struggling financially, it causes stress on our relationships and work. When we are struggling with a relationship with our spouse or children, it causes us to be distracted, unfocused and can even affect our work performance and work relationships. Many times we try to compartmentalize our work, our family, our faith and our person time, but the reality is that they all affect each other either in a positive healthy way or a negative unhealthy way.
Marriage is one of the most difficult relationships we will ever have in our lives. I believe marriage is hard work, because we all struggle with selfishness and unhealthy views of what marriage should or shouldn’t be. Many times we have learned about marriage from our parents, from television or the movies or from other people we see from a distance. Many of the things we have learned are not healthy. The way in which we handle conflict; the way we communicate; the way we approach sex; the way in which we parent; the way in which we handle our finances; the way in which we handle extended family issues; the way in which we do household chores.
What I want to share with you today are some of the best practices I have learned over the 23 years of my own marriage and also what I have learned as a pastor over the last 10 plus years in meeting with couples.
1. Understand & Speak the right Love Language
2. Recognize & Stop the Fear Dance or Crazy Cycle
3. Understand & Nurture the three types of intimacy needed in marriage
4. Understand & Improve the way in which you communicate
5. Understand How Powerful Forgiveness is – Every relationship has to practice forgiveness.
These five practices are vital to having a healthy marriage, but it takes work and practice. It also takes humility to admit that you need to make a change and do things differently in order to improve you marriage. Sometimes it takes working with a counselor or mentor in order to make the necessary adjustments and changes. The good news is that your marriage can change and improve and be healthy and all the work is worth it. Remember that you cannot control your spouse and what he or she does, but you can control what you do.
Most of us would agree that there are areas of our lives that are not where we want them to be. It might be a marriage relationship that has deteriorated or maybe a relationship with a son or daughter or parent that is unhealthy. Maybe we are not where we want to be in our professional lives. For some it could be emotional health, hurts from our past that are causing problems in our present lives. Many of us struggle to be where we want to be spiritually as well. So what holds us back from growing in these important areas of our lives? Why do so many people simple remain the same and maintain the status quo instead of growing and changing?
Here are some of the distractions that keep us from growing:
One or more of these may be keeping you from growing and making progress in certain areas of your life. In order to move forward it takes a decision to face these things head on by first acknowledging the problem and then developing a plan to make a change.
I love to spend time planning this time of year. It is a great time to evaluate where we are at in all the important areas of our lives. If there is an area we are not happy with, we can begin to focus on how to make a change in that area. It might mean getting help from someone that has been through what you are dealing with or taking a risk to try something new or different. The important thing is to acknowledge that you do not want to remain the same and that you desire to grow. Then start praying and asking God to help make this happen. A year from now will you be the same person you are today or will you be in a new place spiritually, emotionally, physically, relationally and financially?
When we talk about health most of us think about our physical health. That is an important thing and I try to take that seriously by eating healthy and exercising. Emotional and spiritual health is something we don’t think about or talk about as much. I believe that they are even more important than physical health because they contribute to physical health. When we are unhealthy emotionally or spiritually it can actually contribute to physical problems because of the unhealthy beliefs and thinking that contribute to the emotional state we are in. So how do we get a handle on how healthy we are emotionally.
One of the biggest indicators of emotional health is the level of trust a person has. The dysfunction of mistrust hurts relationships, marriages, work environments, churches, families and even entire countries. Mistrust and control often go hand in hand. At its core control comes from not trusting others to make healthy and wise choices. Mistrust is often present when there is not proper clarity and when boundaries are not defined. When their is a lack of communication people begin to mistrust. Here are some things that create a culture of mistrust, either at home or at work:
So how do you build trust? How do you change a culture in a home, church or workplace that has mistrust?
Finally here are some trust building principles that will help transform your relationships at home and at work.
Healthy people trust, unhealthy people mistrust. It is the same way spiritually. Healthy people trust God completely and believe He will do what he says He will do. I encourage you to get healthy, take a risk and start trusting more.
How we ask for forgiveness is critical. I don’t know of any relationship that has lasted very long that has not had to practice forgiveness. This is the key ingredient that makes all the difference. Unhealthy relationships lack true forgiveness. Old problems and conflict are brought up on a regular basis and used to hurt the other person. I will be writing several posts in the coming weeks on this idea of forgiveness.
If I accidentally spill a cup of coffee on you, I have not sinned against you, so I do not need to ask for forgiveness. But I should apologize for what I have done. On the other hand, if I throw a cup of coffee in your face, I have sinned against you. I need to ask you to forgive me.
So, is an apology the same as asking for forgiveness? No. The right way to go about asking for forgiveness is to first name the specific sin, and then explicitly asking the person for forgiveness: “I was wrong for yelling at you and using that language with you. Will you forgive me?” I named the sin and asked for forgiveness. If I would have said, “I am sorry for yelling at you,” and stop there, the typical response from the offended person is, “Oh that’s okay,” or “it’s no big deal.” What has happened there is the offender has not admitted to sinning against the other person. Secondly, the offended person has lied by minimizing the sin. It is not okay for someone to sin against another person. This is not the way to healthy relationships.
So the key is recognizing and admitting when we sin against another person. When you admit your mistake openly and ask for forgiveness for that offense it now puts it into the other persons court to make a decision. Either I choose to forgive that person or not. I may not be ready in that moment to forgive if it was a deep hurt or has been a long term thing. I should consider if the person is trustworthy and sincere. Even if they are not totally sincere or trustworthy, it is still my decision to hold onto the hurt or release it by forgiving the person. Unforgiveness is the root of most anger issues and will destroy your relationships. Choosing to forgive is the beginning of healing and wholeness.
Next time I will talk about why we don’t forgive.
Relationships are so important and yet they are also so challenging. When you think about it relationships are what matter most in life because that is what people will remember. I have been doing a lot of funerals lately and am always reminded that none of know how long we have or how old we really are. That is why it is so important to make sure that we are working on the relationships in our lives. Checking our priorities to make sure we are actually putting things like family, spouse, children, friends and God at the top of the list. The real test is what we actually do, not what we say. That is where the real work comes in, putting effort into the important relationships.
Here are several principles that will improve all your relationships if applied:
- Don’t bury the problem or the pain it’s causing you.
- Don’t use inflammatory remarks, sarcasm, or name-calling. Don’t generalize or exaggerate.
- Don’t let the conflict broaden to other issues.
- Never use ultimatums or threats.
- Don’t use disrespectful body language or demeaning nonverbal communication.
- Don’t interrupt, don’t raise your voice, don’t walk away or withdraw or hang up the phone in the middle of conflict.
- Do take time out to regain your composure.
- Do prepare for the confrontation before you engage in it.
- Do ask for advice on what you can do to help resolve the problem.
- Do use many encouraging and positive statements.
- When possible, reassure the person of your ongoing commitment to them and your desire to strengthen and build the relationship.
I could keep going, but those are some of the best things we can do to improve any relationship that is important to us. Keep working at it, it is worth the effort. A healthy happy relationship will bring great joy and peace into your life.
My last post was about the mistakes a lot of the guys make in their marriage. That was easy for me to write about as I am one of those guys. Writing about mistakes women make in marriage is a little more challenging. This comes from years of counseling couples and listening to their frustrations and problems. Just like my post about the guys, I am sure there are other things that could be mentioned, but let’s start with these five for now. These are similar to the mistakes that men make.
I hope some of those thoughts were helpful. My last thought is this. Don’t make the mistake of not building spiritual intimacy with your husband. It may only be you praying for him in the beginning, but that can be very powerful. Remember you can’t change him, you can only change yourself.
Healthy relationships take work and a willingness to learn and grow. For men this can be a very challenging thing. Most men tend to struggle in relationships because we don’t realize some of the mistakes we are making. Marriage is the closest relationship we have and as men we need to make some big changes in order to have happy, healthy marriages. Just a quick word to the guys reading this. Most guys work hard at improving themselves in their work life. We study, practice, and learn from more experienced people in order to become better at our jobs. We do the same thing with our hobbies. Why should it be any different when it comes to the most important relationship in our lives.
So here are 5 mistakes that I have made along with most men. Now there are probably a lot more mistakes that the ladies reading this can come up with, but that would feel like nagging and most guys would tune that out quickly. Here are the top 5 things guys can work on to quickly improve their relationship with their wives:
Well guys, I hope this was a helpful start in making adjustments or changes in your marriage relationship. My next post will be on 5 Mistakes Women make in marriage.
This week and gave a speech on healthy marriages at a local business. I was very impressed that the leader of this organization was investing in his employees by offering helpful information on how to be healthy in all parts of their lives. They have heard talks about finances, wills and physical health and I was now addressing relational health.
If one area of our lives is out of whack it negatively impacts the other parts of our lives even though we think we can compartmentalize each area of our lives. When our marriage is hurting, it impacts our emotional state and increases the amount of stress we feel on a daily basis. That stress impacts our work performance, our parenting skills and our ability to focus and make good decisions.
Marriage is difficult because this is the closest we get to another human being, which brings out all the ugly stuff inside us. We all bring our picture of marriage to the table. What we have learned about marriage from our parents, television, movies and friends. Most of it is not accurate and sets us up for disappointment and failure. These are the 5 steps I shared with that group that I believe are vital to having a healthy marriage.
- Words of Affirmation – The way in which we speak to each other either builds up or destroys. If this is a primary love language words hurt or help even more.
- Acts Of Service – Actively serving the other person by noticing things that need to be done and doing them before being asked.
- Receiving Gifts – If this is a primary love language receiving a gift like flowers or even a small token make the person feel like they are valuable and special.
- Quality Time – Planning time together and where we can focus on just on another. This communicates to the other person that they are the most important person on the schedule.
- Physical Touch – Hugs, kisses, holding hands, a touch on the shoulder and sex are some of the ways to speak love to a person with this love language.
The way to identify which ones are most important to you is to ask yourself which ones can I do without and which ones can’t I do without. If you have not been speaking your spouses love language for a while it will be difficult in the beginning because it will feel somewhat fake. However the more you do it the better you will become and the more likely your spouse will reciprocate.
2. Understand & Stop the Fear Dance – The fear dance is the cycle we go through when we have conflict. I get hurt, I want things to be different or change, I feel my emotions like anger, frustration coming up (Core Fear is touched), I respond usually in an unhealthy way and the same cycle happens with my spouse. We all have core fears like fear of failure, fear of being inadequate, incompetent, unheard, abandon etc. When we can understand which core fears we have we can better stop the fear dance and resolve conflict in a healthy way. To learn more about the fear dance read the book “The DNA Of Relationships” by Gary Smalley.
3. Understand & Nurture the 3 kinds of Intimacy
- Emotional Intimacy – This is friendship, we should be best friends with our spouse. Doing fun things together, sharing what is going on in our lives, being completely open and honest with each other.
- Spiritual Intimacy – This is connecting on a spiritual level by being in agreement on our beliefs and then doing things together that reinforce those beliefs like going to church together, praying together, reading together, talking about spiritual things together and with others that are like minded.
- Physical Intimacy – This is when we share our bodies with each other and submit to each other physically. Knowing how to please the other person. This is usually where we start in a relationship, but the other two need to come first for this to be healthy.
4. Understand & Change the Way We Communicate – Communication is vital to a healthy marriage, but communication is not just talking. Here are a few communication ideas to help improve communication.
- Really Listen – Most of us don’t really listen. We make attempts at it, but don’t consistently listen well. Listening is the most important part of communication, because when we listen well we can avoid misunderstandings and we let the other person know that they are valuable and important to us. By simply listening, we can improve the health of our marriage instantly.
- Speaker/Listener technique – This is a simple way to communicate through conflict. When someone has an issue they want to talk about they have the floor or the microphone. Using a pen as the microphone the person explains what the issue is. The other person can only ask clarifying questions and repeat back what the other person said. When the person with the floor feels heard they turn over the microphone and the other person can share their side.
- Be interested, not Interesting – This means that instead of sharing everything about yourself and your day and what you accomplished, you are more interested in what your spouse did and how their day went. By asking some simple questions and then shutting up and listening you communicate that your spouse is important.
- Know Your Filter – Men see and hear things much differently than women. Therefore we always need to make sure that we don’t assume this is what the other person meant. We also have all had different experiences and circumstances in our lives that cause us to filter things in different ways. Again, don’t jump to conclusions without asking questions like help me to understand what just happened.
5. Understand & Practice Forgiveness – No relationship will last very long without practicing forgiveness. Being quick to admit when we are wrong and humbling ourselves will build a healthy marriage. Forgiveness is not forgetting, but it is the first step toward forgetting. When we are healed we tend to forget the previous hurts and don’t keep bringing them back up. Forgiveness does not mean we don’t have boundaries either. Sometimes we need boundaries until the other person can show a change in behavior, even though we have forgiven them.
These are some things that have helped my marriage over the last 22 years. Practice them and I am sure things will begin to improve and become more healthy. Sometimes we need some help getting started and that is when counseling or mentoring can help. Meeting with a mentor couple or a counselor or both can help you get on track and start reconciliation. We offer marriage mentoring at NewPointe Community Church for couples that want to restore and rebuild their marriage. For more information you can check out this website – Marriage 911.
Nearly everyone that gets married, goes in wanting to be happy and stay married for the rest of their lives. So what happens along the way to cause people to end up hating each other or frustrated to the point of divorce? Why does verbal, physical and emotional abuse happen so often in marriages that started out with so much hope?
Most people that end up getting married, don’t put much work in on the front end. They may date for a while and many people are now pretending to be married, thinking that is a good way to prepare for marriage. Unfortunately the results have been dismal. Couples that live together have a much greater chance of divorce than those that do not. Couples that do not go through some pre-marital mentoring or counseling have a much higher chance of not making it. So for people that are thinking about getting married, go get some help in preparing for this lifelong commitment. Why wouldn’t you get some training for the biggest relationship commitment you will ever make.
For those that are already married and maybe did not put a lot of work in at the beginning, it’s not too late. Marriages can be improved dramatically with some work and a different perspective. Here are some tips or thoughts on how to build a happy marriage:
These ten things are not the only things that help build a solid marriage, but they can get you started. Marriage takes work to be successful. A selfish person does not make a very good husband or wife. Pride and arrogance leads to destruction. So if your marriage is a mess or struggling along, humble yourself and get some help. If your marriage is doing well and you have worked through some struggles, then you need to help others work on their marriages.