This week Beth and I celebrated our thirteenth anniversary. One of the fun things about your anniversary is to look back, not only on your wedding day, but also on the grace God has shown you throughout your entire marriage. In particular you can look over the entirety of your marriage and see how the Lord has been at work in you.
I thought I knew a lot about marriage when we stood before our family and friends thirteen years ago because I had memorized Ephesians 5 and read some books, but the following months proved I didn’t know much at all. God is good though, and in his faithfulness he has helped us both to grow, mature, and experience a portion of the joy the Lord intended marriage to be when he ordained it in the garden.
The Lord has been teaching me through our marriage, through his word, through talking with other Christians, and by his Spirit over the last thirteen years. Here are four marks that seem to be present in healthy and growing marriages.
Anyone can get excited to work on their marriage for a few minutes, but growing marriages require daily work. In his book, What Did Your Expect?, Paul Tripp likens marriage to a garden. You cannot plant a garden, ignore it, and expect to see fruit. Instead, you must do the hard work of pulling weeds and cultivating crops. In the same way, marriages require consistent effort over the long haul. We work on our marriages by cultivating kindness, forgiveness, time together, listening, and a host of other virtues. We must also weed out anger, bitterness, selfishness, rudeness, wandering eyes, and any other sin that effects your marriages.
If you inspect the garden every day to look for growth, you probably don’t see perceptible movement, but over the course of weeks you begin to see fruit. In the same way, we only see growth in our marriage over the course of time and this growth only takes place when spouses are committed to each other for the rest of their lives. Marriages grow because spouses are growing, and many people will not take the time to make the difficult changes that need to be made when they are not committed for the rest of their lives. Marriage requires serious self-reflection, repentance, compassion, forgiveness, and self-forgetfulness. These virtues don’t form in our hearts overnight and it does not happen without painful changes. When you are in your marriage for the rest of your life, you will commit to making the changes you need to make because you value the glory of God and your spouse’s joy.
When I was in high school we played pickup basketball all spring and summer. Many times two guys from the same team would fight each other for a rebound and eventually someone would shout, “same team.” These two guys struggled against each other when they should be working together and had to be reminded they they were on the same side.
We need this same reminder in marriage sometimes. Spouses take out their bad days on each other, snap at each other when the children have been misbehaving, or work against each other instead of working together. In this situation the only answer is for spouses to stop and remember that they are in this together. We have to remember we have the same ultimate goals for lasting joy and the glory of God followed by a commitment to stop acting as if our spouse is a problem and remember they are our partner. Many of the obstacles married couples face will be reduced in size when we face them as one. This doesn’t mean they go away, but we go into difficulties with a completely different mindset when we know we are together. Going in to face problems at work, sickness, overwhelming bills, and disobedient children as a united couple give couples support and comfort they don’t have when they are divided.
So often when we have problems in our marriages, we don’t need a seminar to help us because our greatest struggles come from treating each other in an ungodly way. We speak rashly, hold grudges, forget how to show patience and empathy, and speak to each other in ways we would never tolerate if the shoe was on the other foot. Couples work against each other, undermine each other, and forget to show each other even the most basic courtesy.
Many times, the answer is to apply “love your neighbor as yourself” and the “one another” passages to our marriages. After all, isn’t our spouse our closest neighbor? How much would our marriages change if 23 obeyed “bearing with one another and forgiving one another, as the Lord has forgiven you, so also should you?” What would kind of practical difference would it make if you showed basic kindness and only treated your spouse the way you want to be treated? We over complicate marriage, and think we need some kind of specialized training when we really just need to show love, kindness, patience, and forgiveness. This one change makes overwhelming differences.
About ten years ago everyone started talking about the importance of date night for marital health. Especially when couples have small children, getting away for a few hours is an important ingredient in your marriage. We can have fun and enjoy our time together, especially since we don’t have other people to feed instead of ourselves. However, it a couple’s only quality time together is a date night we are missing some of the best opportunities for our marriage to grow. Nothing helps our marriage grow like daily time together. Working on projects together, cooking and cleaning the kitchen together, and hanging out together after the kids go to bed are some of the best times we can have together. This kind of time together over time builds friendship, helps us work out problems together, and gives moments of joy in the midst of tough days.
The time we need together everyday must be intentionally carved out. No one ever magically “finds time” for important things because if something is truly important we must make time for it. This means aligning schedules and cutting out extra activities if necessary. It involves getting kids in bed or in their rooms at a decent hour or getting up before the kids wake up to have breakfast together. Whatever form it may take, repeated quality time builds a truly loving and lasting friendship.
We don’t talk enough about the role of friendship in marriage. We think of friends as the people who live outside of our own homes, but if we are in union together shouldn’t our spouses be our closest friends? Shouldn’t this be the person I want to spend time with the most and be more willing to confide in than anyone else? If this is not the case, if we want to run from our spouses instead of spend time with them, it serves as a reminder for us to walk in repentance and forgiveness towards them. If years of anger and hostility have driven a barrier between spouses, the answer is to repent, forgive, and reconcile with them so the barrier is torn down and the friendship restored.
These are not all of the marks of healthy marriage, which is why there will be a part 2 soon. What are some of the marks you have seen in healthy marriages?