So, God has led you to seek Christian values that can help pull your marriage back from the brink or even help someone you know to save theirs. Hopefully, God will use these tips to help restore your marriage and bring about much good.
Four Useful Tips that Could Save Your Marriage
These tips are based on professional experience and will hopefully encourage couples to work toward strong, healthy marriages that can go the distance. To that end, there are applicable principles from God’s word that can guide couples to a more fulfilling marriage.
The tips in this post are a blend of Christian principles and counseling practices that can make a real difference to couples seeking long-term happiness and seeking to avoid the detrimental effects of divorce.
Tip #1: Recognize that love is a decision
New relationships are full of strong feelings when they first begin. The Greeks referred to this kind of love as “Eros.” Physical attraction in addition to personal qualities creates the fantasy of romantic love. Fantasy is a specific word used here to emphasize the fact that in the early days of a relationship it is doubtful whether you really know someone.
Harville Hendrix, author of Getting the Love You Want, hypothesizes that people are attracted to those who have the sort of visible qualities that match the kind of person who will meet their unmet needs for love.
He also points out that individuals also select a spouse with qualities that contrast with objects of love from their personal lives, such as parents. In theory, spouses seek to obtain love from a person who feels familiar but who does not give all of the love that they need.
Hendrix suggests that this attraction is developed in the unconscious and acts as a sort of drive to seek the wholeness that one shared in their mother’s womb. As love develops the romantic qualities tend to dim. As an individual concludes that, realistically, their spouse is incapable of always meeting all of their needs, this romantic mode tends to shift to one that of frustration, jeopardizing the relationship.
The Greeks also had a name for love that is selfless: “agape” (agápē). This kind of love gives regardless of whether it is reciprocated or not. The Bible speaks extensively about this type of love. Matthew 16:18 tells the story of how Jesus changed Peter’s name to “Rock” long before it ever suited him. Jesus knew what sort of man he would become after Jesus’ death on the cross.
This model should be applied to your marriage, that of sacrificial love with a forward-looking view of your spouse’s true potential as a response to your love for them. Your spouse can experience the short-term effects that criticizing and demanding change in them can bring.
However, these short-lived efforts to force change do not coincide with the love that is needed to withstand the struggles in marriages today. A more realistic goal would be to take the time to seriously consider your spouse’s personal weaknesses and then make sacrificial investments of your time and energy to make them feel the confidence that comes from being loved despite those weaknesses.
Even though you sometimes may feel that your spouse may not deserve it, it is imperative that you continue to remember how God blesses everyone with such agape love daily. This marital investment proves more fruitful to marriage success. All it takes is a strong commitment to sacrificially loving your spouse.
Tip #2: Get your desires under control
John Gottman, a well-known couples counselor, explains how marriages fall apart via a description of what he refers to as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.
The common thread running between these poisons of marriage is that they objectivize marital problems for the person who is suffering from the issue.
In chapter 4, verses 1-4 James promotes a much more subjective view of solving conflict in relationships. James understands that at the root of all relational conflict lies a frustrated desire stemming from people not seeking God’s guidance to fulfill this desire.
This passage is full of practical wisdom! From a couple’s perspective, most conflicts are a result of each partner saying what they really need or want to see change. This verse encourages couples to seek God’s guidance through prayer and Bible study before it ever reaches their spouse’s ears.
This removes the shaming and blaming out of conflicts and spouses focus more on using God’s word, examining their own desires in faith that God will lead them to negotiations that are beneficial to both parties (Psalm 37:4). Ultimately, God becomes the agent of change in marriages, as opposed to the worldly thoughts and actions of His servants.
When a wife speaks to her husband in a harsh way, for example, he will feel that she does not disrespect him. His first thought, according to the James 4 passage, should be, “Am I trusting God to fulfill my desire for respect?” One should seek guidance through prayer or Bible study to learn from cases where God displayed love to mankind despite their disrespect to Him.
The unresolved desire for respect in marriages may surface when one is insecure. However, God has an answer for this. Matthew 20:26 relates Jesus’ teaching that “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.”
This passage speaks volumes about what actions are needed to solve this desire dilemma. Keeping in mind the qualities of a humble servant in the middle of marriage conflicts can lead to more fruitful resolutions.
To align one’s desires with God’s, you have to read your Bible and look for teaching that shows how God wants you to relate to your desires.
Tip #3: Marriage first, but only after God
Marriage is an ordinance that God has given to His servants to sanctify them in this life. North Point Community Church pastor, Andy Stanley, commented on relationships in his recent sermon, “Pack Your Bags: Now And Then” explaining sleeping around before marriage is a lousy idea.
Unselfishly honoring and committing to one person lays the foundation for a successful marriage. Many today believe that one must live together in a sexual relationship with someone before deciding if enough compatibility exists to get married. True intimacy begins with a committed marriage relationship, rather than self-interest.
Proverbs 5:15 says, “Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well.” Marriage is to be a sacred institution. As one commentator remarks: “Solomon urges his disciples to follow after purity in the married life; he pictures in vivid terms the delights which it affords as compared with the pleasures of sin.”
Life is full of things that occupy our time and attention such as work, entertainment, children, etc. It is easy to place other things before our marriage relationship.
There are a lot of couples with unresolved conflicts over unmet needs, for example, where one partner is too focused on the kids and the other one is a workaholic. It is only after the kids become adults, and leave the home, that the couple may come to realize that neglect of each other’s needs has degraded the intimacy of the relationship.
How does one go about putting their marriage first? Here a few practices that are tried and true:
- Pray with and for each other regularly.
- Let each other know what you are learning in your walk with God.
- Deliver more encouragement than criticism.
- Find ways to build your spouse’s confidence where they are insecure.
- Talk daily. Get out on dates regularly.
- Read books about marriage
- Find something to do for which you have a mutual interest.
- Never commit adultery (either physical or emotional)
Finally, if you believe that you are not making progress, consider seeking professional help.
Tip #4: Let the change start with you
Relational demands can lead to reciprocal behaviors in marriage that begin to display a pattern as time goes on. Although this establishment of patterns is intended to keep a healthy balance in the marriage, some patterns can end up causing dysfunction in the relationship. Where a husband is totally focused on himself, for example, his wife may be left without any avenue for expressing her thoughts and emotions to him.
While her husband considers her dutiful with regard to sex and doesn’t request much in the way of deep emotional bonding, balance will continue to exist in the relationship. Over time, however, dysfunctions in the relationship will begin to surface as the wife struggles with finding happiness with an emotionally distant husband.
Dysfunction can manifest in a number of ways, such as eating to excess, too much focus on the kids, adultery, anger issues, depression, or even pursuing divorce. At that point, the question then becomes one of how to change dysfunctional patterns that have accumulated in the marriage.
Identifying your role in causing the dysfunction is the first step toward bringing about change. Because patterns of family behavior tend to be cyclical, initial efforts by one spouse to bring about change will likely meet stiff resistance.
However, if one spouse can work diligently to change the things that are their fault and interrupt this cycle with personal change, their partner will naturally undergo personal change as well. This cycle is then redirected to a new balance point in the marriage.
So in the example listed above, the wife may begin trying to express her desires for romance in the relationship. She may suggest a boundary such as, “I feel more like being romantic with you when you have invested time and energy into talking and spending time with me.”
Stung, the husband might protest, “But all you want to do is talk about everything in minute detail. Nothing I do is sufficient.” The wife might then reply, “I get that this may be difficult, but if you want me to be as interested in romance as you are, then I expect you to work hard at improving our communication.”
Should the wife use this style of open communication and remain firm, her husband will ultimately have to make a choice either to increase emotional communication with his wife, or remain the same, and subject his marriage to possible pitfalls.
1 Corinthians 7:3 is a verse that is often misinterpreted by one or both of a marriage. In it, Paul warns husbands and wives not to withhold sex from each other. Frequently taken out of context in this verse is the additional expectation of commitment to mutual spiritual growth. What this verse does not teach is that making insensitive demands on each other is okay.
How Christian Marriage Counseling Can Help Save Your Marriage
Even though these tips may sound simple, one should not draw the conclusion that fixing problems in your marriage will be easy. The tips mentioned above should be viewed as general principles that will take time and a lot of practice to apply to your particular marriage. Some individuals come into marriages with the baggage of a complicated life history and variety of dynamics. Often struggle with patterns of dysfunction that they have built up over long periods of time.
Proverbs 15:22 reads, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers, they succeed.” Having an outsider to diffuse potentially tense situations and give insight into how the patterns of dysfunction work can be a big help on your road to marital health. Bringing Biblical principles to bear by means of Christian marriage counseling can help married couples experience stronger romantic love.
Gottman, John. 1994. Why Marriages Succeed or Fail.
Hendrix, Harville. 2001. Getting the Love You Want.
“In Love,” courtesy of ambroochizafar, pixabay.com, CC0 Public Domain License; “Love on a Bench,” Courtesy of mrhayata, Flickr.com, CreativeCommons (CC BY-SA 2.0); “God-Centered”, Courtesy of Naassom Azevedo, Unsplash.com; CC0 License; “Trouble”, Courtesy of Nathan Dumlao, Unsplash.com; CC0 License