Friday, August 2, 2013

Proactive ways to enhance your marriage before (and after) you say “I Do”

So I am married now! I know right?! I am thrilled to be a husband and to have a wife to go home to every day. It is a dream come true for me. I married my best friend and I couldn’t be happier.

Because of getting married, it has taken me a little while to get back to blogging as with the whirlwind of wedding planning, the wedding and honeymoon themselves, with moving Elise from her old place to our new home, and looking into ministry opportunities time has been anything but present or available.

But even with all the busyness, craziness, and stress nothing could damper married life. I love being married to my wife. In fact, I just like saying “my wife” because it comes naturally for me. I know for some of you reading this you will hasten to say “Be careful it is the honeymoon period” or “Just wait until you can’t hang out with the boys” or “Wait until dinner isn’t ready”. But in reality I don’t think Elise and I have a “honeymoon period” nor will we be looking to jump on to any one issue to damper our relationship.

Sure I know hard times will come, disagreements will abound, stress will arise, and hardships will show their faces but that doesn’t mean I have to love being married any less. Elise and I know that marriage takes work and that we have growing to do, but I also know that we have entered into the covenant prepared. What I would like to communicate to you are some proactive steps to take before marriage to help prepare you to deal with problems that could, and most likely will, arise during your marriage.

1.       Open and honest communication

a.       Communication in any relationship is vital to its success. If you cannot talk to one another, than simple issues become problems, problems become grudges, grudges lead to hurt, hurt leads to unsolved heartbreak, and heartbreak leads to unresolved issues that fracture a relationship. Communication is hard for me personally as I tend to internalize and attempt to deal with all my problems on my own. But this leads to stress, emotional distress, and more gray hairs than I care to mention. This step will take some concessions from both people as you must learn to be open and honest about what is going on in your life, which also means being willing to go on to step two. For those preparing to go into marriage seek out meaningful conversation, ask open-ended questions, and look to know your future spouse better than anyone else.

2.       Be willing to accept fault and apologize

a.       When you are being open and honest there will come times when you will need to admit you messed up and apologize for what you have done. This takes a great amount of humility and self-awareness on the part of the one admitting wrong, but the one to whom it is being conveyed should also exercise step three.  Admitting wrong and seeking forgiveness and grace will always point us towards our heavenly Father. When we begin to see how He bestows grace on those who confess we understand just how pivotal it is for us to follow suit.

3.       Always forgive

a.       When your spouse, or soon to be spouse, comes to reconcile and ask forgiveness, do not hold out on granting that to them. Forgiveness is essential in a marriage. If you harbor pain, hurts, anger, and resentment you will not only become embittered, you will always assume the worst, seek to hurt your spouse, and always be looking for excuses and a way out. This is not how a marriage should look. Again, we are to remember Christ’s example to us, in how He loved us in spite of our short comings and always forgave even when it was underserved.

4.       Engage in premarital (and possibly other) counseling

a.       This is something that to most Christians seems like a no-brainer as it has become almost the norm for any Christian couple to have some sort of premarital counseling. But most Christians also have a preconceived notion that it will be just a “ho-hum” sort of thing, where it will be rife with awkward conversations, outdated material, and little if any help to an actual marriage. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Going to a counselor is one the best things you can do as a couple because it forces you to think through issues you may not have as a couple, you see your differences and learn to work with them, you see the ways you are strong and weak as a couple, and you learn how to love better. Going to see a counselor doesn’t mean you are weak or that you have problems, but it does help you to stop problems from occurring, and grow in your love for one another.

5.       Be a servant

a.       This I cannot emphasize enough. Marriage is not about you. Marriage is not about one person or the other. It is about two becoming one and each working to serve the other in order to benefit each other. This is hard to do, and if you enter a marriage believing you can begin to model it only after you say “I do” you are horribly mistaken. This needs to start taking place before you even begin to think about marriage. I keep coming back to the model Christ set forth (because it is the only model we need) and Christ modeled being a servant throughout His entire ministry and as such we need to model this to our spouses. Learn self-sacrificing love that seeks to build each other up (see step six), strive to serve through all aspects of your life, and never use being a servant as a manipulative tool.

6.       Don’t look to criticize, look to empower

a.       When you are in a relationship you should never look to criticize your significant other or put them down. Our society says otherwise. If you watch television, go to the movies, or witness relationships that are self-seeking and not about serving, you can see clearly how both partners put each other down. This is not love, this is not the cornerstone for a relationship, and in fact this will destroy any relationship you have. We should not look to break down one another but instead we should look to encourage and build up our spouses. They are set apart for us by God and should be treated as the very gift they are to us.

7.       Seek to put aside love of self

a.       Marriage is interesting because you learn more about yourself by putting yourself aside. That isn’t to say you don’t care about yourself or your needs, but rather you put someone else’s needs before your own. This is a tough nut to chew because truly loving someone means putting their needs and desires ahead of your own, understanding it isn’t always about you, and realizing that love and marriage takes work.

8.       Put God as the center

a.       If you truly want your marriage to be one that grows and is a blessing to both people, than God must be the center. I can tell you that sharing the same faith and love for God that my wife does, has made my marriage a thousand times better. To see her passion and love for God as we serve in our church, as we pray, as we read the Bible, it makes me love her all the more. God is the reason we are together, the reason we click, the reason we always will be together, our Rock in hard times, and the cornerstone of our marriage. He will get us, and you, through the hard times, be there during the good times, and never will He abandon you.

9.       Seek to marry your best friend

a.       I know that sometimes people aren’t looking to get married and that person appears seemingly at random, but that shouldn’t stop you from seeking to know that person as best you can. I have been blessed to marry my very best friend. Elise and I have known each other for over seven years now, and because of that we know so much about each other. Sure there is always more to learn, like what type of laundry detergent someone likes, but that comes with time. My point is that even on those rough days where you are in a disagreement with your spouse, you realize it is your best friend and the love of your life and know that together you can make it through anything. In short, don’t settle for marrying someone other than your best friend, someone other than the one person who you cannot live without.

10.   Pray and read the Bible together

a.       This is listed at number ten, but in no way should this be the last thing you think about when it comes to your relationship. Reading the Bible and praying together develops an intimacy that few people realize. When two people read the Bible, a book that has dramatically changed their lives, and pray with each other their emotions, brokenness, and vulnerability. This is when intimacy based in Christ begins to develop in the relationship and it only culminates when eternity with Christ begins.

I know this has been a long post, and I know it is a post that some may write off due to the fact that I have been married for less than two months. But let me assure you that these are areas that will truly help you before, during, and after your marriage.

So in short: Learn self-sacrificing love, that seeks to build each other up, live to love each other through service, know that little things matter (sometimes more than the big ones), always say I love you, spend time together, seek to grow in your relationship with God together, and always put Him at the center of your marriage.

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