Debbie and Maurice are in their seventh year of marriage. Debbie is a stay-at-home mom for their 4-year-old son, 2-year-old daughter and soon-arriving third child. Debbie runs a home sales business, and Maurice is employed at the local mill in town.
Recently, Maurice has been promoted into management, requiring increased work hours each week. They’ve enjoyed good times, and both spouses are committed to their marriage and family.
They have had their share of challenges and disagreements over the years, and once even went to counseling following the birth of their second child.
At that time they were experiencing increased stress and loneliness as they struggled to find time for one another in their marriage.
Now, with the increasing responsibility of a third child and Maurice’s increased work schedule, conflict between Debbie and Maurice has returned, bringing with it feelings of discontentment, worry and stress, which is beginning to dominate larger portions of their day.
How can they balance all their commitments and prioritize the one they made to each other?
How to build strong foundation for marital success
By Larry K. Daniels, MAMFC, LMFT, LPC
Pathways Professional Counseling
Changes and challenges are inevitable in life and can be taxing on a marriage. If not addressed, such strains can damage even the strongest marriage. Divorce statistics and marriage counseling substantiate this. What’s a couple to do?
It is normal for individuals to meet, fall in love, marry and begin a family. The God-ordained institution of marriage and family is designed to be productive and effective for holy matrimony. A holy matrimony is God’s desire for us.
Belonging, love, peace, joy, fulfillment and contentment are all part of God’s hope and desire for us in our relationship with Him, others and especially our spouses — and praise God for His provision and guidance. An institution alone does not automatically make a home and holy matrimony, however.
Jack and Judith Balswick, in their book “The Family: A Christian Perspective on the Contemporary Home,” write: “The logical beginning point of any family relationship is a covenant commitment, which has unconditional love at its core. Out of the security provided by this covenant love develops grace. In this atmosphere of grace, family members have the freedom to empower one other. Empowerment leads to the possibility of intimacy among family members. Intimacy then leads back to a deeper level of covenant commitment.”
Let’s look closer at these four components that help build a strong foundation for marital success.
Covenant: Both spouses love and are loved unconditionally. They intentionally get to know each other, understanding what makes the other tick and what ticks them off, as marital therapist John Gottman says. They share words and actions of appreciation and assertively address needs, issues, conflict and concerns without being dismissive, disengaging or damaging. They also take simple steps to improve their friendship.
Retired counselor Tommy Smith calls these the 3-Ts: Spend TIME together. TALK as friends. Do things TOGETHER.
Grace: Both spouses forgive and accept forgiveness which creates an atmosphere of acceptance. Ephesians 4:32 says it this way: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you.” When conflict arises, these couples establish dialogue; tackle solvable problems with negotiation and compromise; and engage each other from a loving, positive approach first. Gottman calls this a “soft start-up.” Begin conflict resolution with a compliment to your spouse about something you appreciate instead of jumping right in to the problem.
Empowerment: In a marriage both spouses are on the same team. Empowering is the act of helping someone become stronger and more confident, here in their role as husband or wife. Jesus taught us how to serve. A good lesson for spouses is to find ways to serve each other. Find ways to advance the other’s needs. Learn and speak your spouse’s love language. Share the division of labor that makes a house and home run (chores, finances, parenting, etc.) Address and support your spouse’s needs/desires as a priority. Assist your spouse to fulfill their dreams.
Intimacy: When both spouses are committed, accepted through grace, forgiving one another and empowering one another, the chance for the couple to grow together as one is enhanced. The opportunity for shared meaning of your marriage and lives is heightened. As believers, you can assist intimacy by worshipping, praying and reading Scripture together. Sexual intimacy also is important, as is spending quality time together through parenting, projects, hobbies and interests.
This model of covenant, grace, empowerment and intimacy offers a biblically based approach for couples to thrive in their marriage. Once a couple begins working through these areas, this approach can become a concentric circle that has the capacity to continue strengthening the marital relationship. When engaging in such an approach, a couple’s covenant forms the solid base for growth, which encourages acceptance and forgiveness of one’s spouse, which can lead to couples empowering one another to be their best and to meet one another’s needs, which increases the intimacy they share in their marriage, leading to an ever-strengthening of commitment between them.
Pray for one’s self, spouse, marriage continually in ‘spiritual mismatch’
By Carrie Brown McWhorter
The Alabama Baptist
Roughly half of married American adults believe shared religious faith is very important to a successful marriage.
However, interfaith marriages, including marriages in which one spouse is not religious, are on the rise.
Research on the intersection of marriage and religion suggests that almost 4 in 10 Americans who have married since 2010 have a spouse who is in a different religious group. Approximately one-fifth of those are Christians married to someone who has no faith affiliation at all, according to the 2014 Pew Research Religious Landscape Study.
Kenny Hoomes, associate pastor for spiritual maturity and senior adults at First Baptist Church, Montgomery, said it is common today to see couples in what some label a “spiritual mismatch.” Though there is no typical situation that defines such a marriage, Hoomes said these marriages generally fall into three categories.
“Sometimes it’s a believer marrying a nonbeliever, and from the very beginning, the believer thinks the spouse will change over time,” he said. “Another situation is when two believers marry, but one has gotten crossways in their relationship with Christ and has pulled away from their beliefs and from the church.”
A third situation is when one spouse becomes a Christian after the marriage. That was the case for Lee and Leslie Strobel. Lee Strobel has written extensively about his conversion from atheism to Christianity after his wife became a believer. The Strobels’ marriage suffered after Leslie Strobel’s conversion, as they write about in their book “Spiritual Mismatch: Hope for Christians Married to Someone Who Doesn’t Know God.”
“Our marriage was strong and secure — until someone came between us,” Lee Strobel writes. “The someone who nearly capsized our marriage was none other than God Himself. … It was faith in Jesus Christ — which most couples credit for contributing to the strength of their marriage — that very nearly destroyed our relationship.”
When a previously unbelieving spouse accepts Christ, everything changes, Hoomes said. The new believer may not feel right about doing things they enjoyed doing as a couple before. Church attendance can become a point of conflict.
Some nonbelieving spouses are ambivalent, Hoomes said, maintaining an attitude of “if it makes her happy, she can go to church.” In other cases, anger surfaces because the new believer’s love seems to be split between Jesus and the spouse.
Lee Strobel writes that his wife was able to “gently and lovingly” point him toward Christ, though that doesn’t happen in every marriage. Regardless of whether an unbelieving spouse ever comes to faith, Hoomes said a believer first can rely on the truth of God’s Word to nurture his or her individual faith.
‘Stay the course’
“The truth of God’s Word is to stay the course. The godly life of a believer can be a very positive influence on the life of an unbeliever,” Hoomes said, referencing 1 Peter 3:1–2.
A second thing a believing spouse can do is to respond in love to his or her spouse, just as Christ responded.
“Even though insults were thrown at Him and He was crucified, Jesus responded in love,” Hoomes said. “Spouses can respond accordingly, just as Christ has done.”
Finally, prayer is essential.
“We have the opportunity to pray for our spouse whether they are a believer or not,” Hoomes said. “Let your spouse know you are praying for them. Even if he or she is a nonbeliever, prayer still has a tremendous effect on their lives.”
Importance of prayer
Lee Strobel recommends praying for one’s self, one’s spouse and one’s marriage continually, just as Jesus did.
“(Jesus) never sopped praying for people who were far from God — including those who were bitterly opposed to Him,” Lee Strobel writes. “If Jesus refused to give up praying for the very soldiers who were in the process of cruelly murdering Him, then how in the world could we ever stop praying … for those who we love the most, including our own spouse?”
Lee Strobel says a spouse in a spiritually mismatched marriage can remember one other truth as well.
“Regardless of whether your mismatch lasts six months or 60 years, whether your spouse never becomes a Christian or becomes the next Billy Graham, one truth will endure above all else: God is faithful — even in the midst of a spiritual mismatch.”
Couple’s shared faith in God gives them common bond unlike any human resource can
Larry K. Daniels, MAMFC, LMFT, LPC
Pathways Professional Counseling
Marriage has the capacity to be so much more than simply that which makes us happy. A biblically based approach truly leads us toward holy matrimony. The covenant commitment of marriage parallels the covenantal relationship between God and Israel and the covenantal relationship between Jesus and His followers that empowers believers to “have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
Happiness is situational, externally driven and fleeting. Holiness is consistently God-like, an internal decision from the heart, and eternal.
Faith in a loving, caring, giving God who sent His Son, Jesus, to die for our sins and to show us how to live is our greatest hope to an eternal life, a fulfilling life this side of heaven and a satisfying marriage.
Likewise, Jesus’ example of how to be a servant provides us the strongest road map of how to make our marriages resilient and strong, holy and yes, even happy. But we must seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness in faith, and then all these things will be added unto us (Matt. 6:33).
A couple’s shared faith in God, through His Son, Jesus Christ, gives them a common bond. There is no human resource, capacity, event or standard that even compares to Jesus and His unparalleled resources.
Faith can hold us steady when all else seems lost. Faith gives us hope when all hope seems gone. Hebrews 11:1 says,
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
For an abundance of witnesses on the importance of faith, read the rest of the chapter.
‘Great cloud of witnesses’
Following the “great cloud of witnesses” in Hebrews 11, Hebrews 12:1–3 continues, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Galatians 6:9 further encourages us with, “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.”
So if keeping faith alive in marriage is important, just what does that involve? What does that look like?
The single strongest indicator of an enduring marriage is commitment. The biblical word for commitment is covenant. A biblically based covenant leads to grace, which leads to empowerment, which leads to intimacy, which cycles back around to a stronger commitment. If a couple is not committed or has not made a covenant with one another, it is easier for one or both of them to find a reason or excuse to treat their spouse less lovingly and to bow out of the marriage when times get tough.
In marriages that prioritize these foundational elements, selfishness is less likely to be consistently present. After all, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (James 4:1–3).
Therefore, keep faith alive in your marriage, so that you may fulfill your biblical roles as a husband and wife (Eph. 5:21–33). Keep faith alive so that you may prosper. Keep faith alive in your marriage to increase the opportunity to have a mutually satisfying and fulfilling marriage. Keep faith alive so you may bring up your children in the way that they should go (Prov. 22:6). Keep faith alive because God said so. Keep faith alive because it is good for you. Keep faith alive so the two of you continue to be one.
Try one of these strategies when discussions seem to be turning into arguments
Difficult conversations can easily get off on the wrong foot. When that happens, use repair attempts to stop the escalation of the conflict. These techniques are like the brakes on a car — they stop the situation from intensifying. Try one of these strategies when a discussion seems to be turning into an argument:
- Show your appreciation as the conversation starts. Say:
I know this isn’t your fault.
My part of the problem is …
I see your point. Thank you for it …
That’s a good point. We are both saying that.
I understand. I love you.
I am thankful for …
This is not your problem, it’s our problem.
- Reference your feelings. Say:
This feels scary/harsh.
That hurt my feelings.
Please say that more gently.
I need things to be calmer right now.
I need your support right now.
I feel blamed/criticized. Can you rephrase that, please?
Can we take a break from this discussion?
- Reference your regret and/or contribution to the problem. Say:
My reactions were too extreme. I’m sorry.
I really blew that one.
Let me try that again.
I want to be gentler to you right now and I don’t know how.
I can see my part in all this.
How can I make things better?
Let’s try that over again, this time with more respect for one another.
Let me start again gentler.
What you are saying is …
I’m sorry. Please forgive me.
- Move toward a mutual “yes” with your spouse. Say:
You’re starting to convince me.
I agree with part of what you’re saying.
Let’s compromise here.
Let’s find our common ground.
I never thought of things that way.
This problem is not very serious in the big picture.
I think your point of view makes sense.
Let’s agree to include both our views in a solution.
I’m thankful for …
One thing I admire about you is …
I see what you’re talking about. (Larry K. Daniels)
- “Winning Him Without Words: 10 Keys to Thriving in Your Spiritually Mismatched Marriage” by Lynn Donovan and Dineen Miller
- “Sacred Marriage: What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy?” (Paperback) by Gary L. Thomas
- “A Wife After God’s Own Heart: 12 Things That Really Matter in Your Marriage” by Elizabeth George
- “The Power of a Praying Wife” by Stormie Omartian
- “The Power of a Praying Husband” by Stormie Omartian
Compiled by Carrie Brown McWhorter