God designed marriage to be the closest possible relationship between humans, but, given that we live in a broken world, it should not surprise us that married life doesn’t turn out to be as easy as we thought it would be.
It takes dedicated hard work and commitment to enjoy increased intimacy and affection for one another as the years go by, in the face of many external and internal challenges.
6 Key Areas to Strengthen Your Married Life
Here are six key areas which need to be tended to, to ensure that your marriage is continuously being strengthened and not being eroded or weakened.
1. Time to connect
Any relationship relies on time spent together to maintain a close connection. Too often in marriage, it is easy to prioritize other people and responsibilities, over time spent with our spouse. We may spend every moment together, but a healthy married life requires regular investment in quality time which is different from the mundaneness of home life.
We will only survive as a couple if we learn to prioritize our marriage relationship over every other demand on our time. Instituting a weekly “date night” is a tested way to ensure that time together happens, because it is scheduled, rather than spontaneous.
Marriage is like a garden that requires tending to keep it in good condition. In the early years, marriage requires a lot of adjustment; it’s about working out how best we can grow together, realizing that we can only change ourselves and not our partners.
Pruning takes place as pressures creep in from work or the demands of young children, and we cut back on those things which are not contributing positively to married life. Just as many plants require support to thrive, spouses need to offer each other encouragement through struggles, which then draws partners closer together rather than creating division.
2. The art of communication
An emotional connection, which is a fundamental human need, will only be achieved in a marriage where there is good communication. There are three levels of communication: Level 1 – passing on information, level 2 – sharing ideas and opinions, and level 3 – being open about our feelings and needs.
Level 3 requires vulnerability and trust. In addition to the words that we speak, our communication also includes our tone of voice and our body language – all three aspects need to work in sync for a genuine connection to develop.
It is important to share our thoughts and feelings with our spouse to enjoy a rich married life, and this can take courage and practice if one or both partners have been taught to hide their feelings during their upbringing or have difficulty identifying their emotions. A wise and understanding spouse will create a safe space for their partner to develop this ability, encouraging them and, importantly, listening.
Listening is one of the most important skills to learn for a strong marriage, and our aim should be to listen to our spouse more than we talk. Sadly, research shows that the average person only listens for seventeen seconds before interjecting. Being able to listen properly is something that can be learned, but it takes intentionality and desire.
A powerful tool when looking to improve communication in marriage is “reflecting back,” which involves repeating what your spouse has said once they are finished speaking, to ensure that you heard accurately. This means that they are given time to finish saying what they need to say, and both parties are on the same page about what is being voiced.
3. Resolving conflict
Every couple disagrees, and conflict should not be seen as a sign of a failed married life. When we enter marriage, we bring our individual backgrounds, needs, personalities, and priorities into a shared arena. Given that we are driven by an innate desire to see ourselves vindicated, conflicts inevitably erupt. What is important, however, is how we deal with conflict situations.
To ensure that a relationship is strengthened by our different opinions, rather than destroyed by it, we can set some ground rules on how to fight. These could include things like focusing on the issue at hand, rather than launching personal attacks, avoiding labeling, remembering to focus on each other’s positive qualities, choosing an appropriate time to disagree (i.e., not late at night or other bad times), approaching solutions as a team that’s on the same side, and actively trying to support one another
Putting these principles in place, hurtful arguments will be drastically reduced. Of course, keeping these boundaries in place requires self-control on both sides, but this can be developed over time and the consequences will result in a positive married life.
4. The power of forgiveness
Can there be any more powerful words besides “I’m sorry”? This simple statement, when spoken sincerely, can melt glaciers and turn any doomed situation around. Of course, it needs to be accepted in good grace, but forgiveness is the key to building a deepened connection in married life. It is vital because unresolved hurt and anger undermine trust and openness.
Emotions do not die – they are simply buried if not properly processed. It can be helpful to learn how each spouse responds when hurt. Some of us are rhinos, who charge in full-blown anger at our mate, while others are hedgehogs, who withdraw when under threat, neither of which is a constructive response.
Instead, it’s about learning to talk about the hurt, taking responsibility for one’s role in the situation – without casting blame and hurt – and apologizing, which opens the way for reconciliation and healing. Forgiveness then follows, which is not about a feeling so much as a choice.
It is also not about denying the pain or injustice or pretending that it doesn’t matter, but rather about recognizing the wrong and choosing not to hold it against our partner. It is about holding to the Biblical principle that “love keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Corinthians 13:5) and truly reflecting on God’s forgiveness towards us in Christ.
Very often, praying together and confessing sin together before the Lord can remove barriers that prevent forgiveness. However, it should be remembered that hurt leaves a bruise and it may take some time to heal – supportive spouses will give each other time to rebuild trust.
5. Family relations
Family background has a big influence on marriage – far more than we give it credit for in Western culture. For some, the support received from family is good and helpful in building a strong marriage, while for others it is more complicated and can even be damaging.
When married life begins, an important psychological and emotional leaving needs to take place – a new center of gravity is established with the highest loyalty given to one’s spouse. This might mean putting boundaries in place in order to connect with parents in a new way.
Essentially, it is about learning to listen to parental advice but making decisions together as a couple. To move through any potential issues, it might be necessary to delve into one’s past to get a good understanding of the family dynamics at play. After that, it’s about employing healthy conflict resolution and building loving family relationships that are in their right place according to God’s design for marriage and life.
6. Intimacy in marriage
The sexual relationship in marriage has been given by God as the ultimate body language by which we communicate closeness, comfort, love, protection, and of course, conceiving children. It is very much dependent on the emotional connection that exists, and therefore, good sex requires being in a “good space” with one another.
Similarly, sex strengthens the bond between a couple and can restore wellbeing. To keep the spark alive in married life, spouses need to speak about how they feel about sex, prioritize and guard space for lovemaking, and remember that it is ultimately about serving the other and being focused on their enjoyment rather one’s own.
When we seek to meet our husband or wife’s needs in a way that makes them feel loved, these six foundational areas will fall more naturally into place. A marriage that is full of love does not happen overnight, but with each action, we are either contributing to its growth or leading to its stagnation or decline.
No one wants to be stuck in a dysfunctional marriage, but, more important than the desire for a happy partnership is the fact that marriage is an area where we need to show our obedience to God. He is, after all, the third cord in every Christian marriage, and is there to help make it as wholesome and holy as is possible this side of heaven.
“Burn Bright”, Courtesy of Jordan Wozniak, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Just Married”, Courtesy of Jonathan Borba, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Reading Together”, Courtesy of Cassidy Rowell, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Psalms”, Courtesy of Tara Winstead, Pexels.com, CC0 License