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40 Lessons From 48 Years of Marriage and Family (Part Two)

By Dennis Rainey

In last week’s blog post I shared 20 of the most important lessons I’ve learned about marriage and family. Thanks for reading my reflections and convictions—and for passing them on (over 50 percent of you helped pass them on!).

As I read through these lessons I’m struck by the fact that I’m still learning them after nearly five decades! Marriage and family demand a teachable heart.

So here’s part t wo ... 20 more lessons I’ve/we’ve gleaned …

If you missed part one, you can view that here.

21. Marriage and family are redemptive.

Being married to Barbara and having six kids has saved me from toxic self-absorption. The path to experience marriage and family as God designed is the same path as coming to faith in Christ—surrender—give up your rights to God, spouse and family—serve them.

I have a confession to make. I mistakenly thought God gave Barbara and me six children so we could raise them. I’ve concluded that He gave me six children so He could finish the process of helping me grow up. Nothing has taught me more about self-sacrifice and following God’s Word than loving, leading and training our children.

22. Husbands: Make your marriage a “spiritual greenhouse.”

One of the most important responsibilities of being a husband is to make your marriage a “spiritual greenhouse” and create a climate for your wife to flourish as a follower of Christ. One of my early mentors, Bill Bright, co-founder of Cru, used to say, “Vonette is my number one disciple”.

One of the biggest mistakes I made early in our marriage was not focusing enough on how Barbara was doing spiritually. When we were in the 10-year period of having our six children, Barbara needed me to engage in conversations, care for her soul, and ask what she was learning in her walk with Christ and from Scripture … and be more intentional about sharing what I was learning with her. In addition, I wish I had encouraged her to spend time with a mentor, attend women’s small group Bible studies, and get away on retreats by herself.

If you want to be better equipped in all these points, check out the Weekend To Remember. We've trained over five million folks at our events since 1976.

23. Wives: Your respect will fuel your husband and your contempt will empty his tank.

Ephesians 5:33 commands wives to respect their husbands. Ladies, keep in mind that 93 percent of all communication is non-verbal. It’s not just what you say to your husband, but how you say it. As you interact with your husband is your tone negative and your face filled with contempt or belief? When he does something right, smile, give him a hug and an encouraging word.

Barbara’s belief in me as a man has helped me excel. It’s not a blind belief but one that speaks the truth in love. Her opinion of me as a man, husband, and father really is important.

24. Make your home a storm shelter.

I grew up in southwest Missouri and spent many nights in a musty smelling cellar, down with the potatoes and green beans, trying to dodge tornadoes that never hit.

In Matthew 7:24-27, Jesus compares the builders of two homes—both homes encountered storms. We should get a clue from what Jesus taught: We’re going to build our marriage, our family, our home in the midst of storm warnings, winds, rains and floods. To make your home secure, obey His words and you will be building your home on a firm foundation.

In nearly five decades together, Barbara and I have experienced some “Category 5” hurricanes which have tested our “foundation.” Barbara nearly died on four different occasions from a runaway heart, beating over 300 beats a minute. Until we got her heart problem fixed I often imagined life as a single dad with six children. Our 13-year-old athletic son was stricken with a rare neurological disorder which took away his ability to run. There was a prodigal. There was the day my dad died. There were short paychecks in ministry. There were challenges in our ministry—a recession, scarce financial resources and issues with people.

Make your home a storm shelter—a safe place to go during the storms by obeying Jesus and fulfilling your marriage covenant for a lifetime.

25. Suffering will either drive you apart or it will be used by God to merge you together.

Scripture teaches that our response to God and His Word is the difference-maker in how we handle suffering and loss. You and your spouse have to decide to suffer together rather than falling apart.

It is a wise husband who gives his wife space and grace to process loss and suffering differently than him. After Barbara had heart surgery I remember wanting her to flip a switch and move on with life. That was easy for me to say. I wasn’t the one who they took away in an ambulance with a heart beating so fast the bed was shaking.

As you experience seasons of suffering, determine that you and your spouse will knit your hearts to God and one another. Remember: Isolation from one another is the great killer of relationships.

Related podcast: Storm Stories: Charlie's Victory (Part 1) - Charlie & Lucy Wedemeyer

26. Loss is a part of life and increases with age.

Over the course of your marriage you and your spouse will experience many losses together. I’m not talking only about loss of parents, family, and friends. You may lose employment and economic security … with age comes the loss of health and eventually independence … you may experience the loss of dreams or hopes.

Losses test our faith and our bond in marriage. How you and your spouse process loss will determine whether you grow old and bless others, giving them life, or whether you grow old and curse others, becoming a bitter crotchety old person. The best book on loss is by Dr. Jerry Sittser, A Grace Disguised. Read and discuss this classic work as a couple.

27. Communication is the life-giver of a relationship.

Communication is the life blood of a marriage relationship and family.

One of the things we did when I arrived home from work is take a walk together in our garden and yard. We would walk for 10-15 minutes looking at what was blooming and debrief about our day. The kids thought we were just going out there to see the flowers bloom. We were going out there to get away from them so we could have a complete conversation between each other.

Leave the screens in your kitchen, turn off the TV, and take a walk. Reconnect with each other.

Our wedding day!

28. Maximize your wife’s talents, gifts, experience, and passion as you would an Olympic athlete.

Ephesians 5 talks to men about loving their wives as they love their own bodies. Ask God to help you focus on your wife’s life and help her fulfill God’s purposes for her.

Consider completing an inventory of her gifts, her talents, her passions and her dreams. What motivates her? What demotivates her? What are her core competencies? Dream some dreams together—don’t wait until you’re empty nesters to dream the dreams. Start dreaming and discussing them together even in the midst of building your family. Pray for her and her vision.

29. Different isn’t wrong; it’s just different.

Genesis 2:18 reminds us, “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone. I will make him a helper fit for him.’”

We marry one another because we’re different and unfortunately, we divorce each other because we’re different. What we need to remember is that our spouse’s differences are new capacities God has brought to your life to complete you.

When we married, Barbara and I thought we knew each other. But we soon discovered that we were much more different than we realized. And we’re still learning … when Barbara and I moved into the empty-nest phase, we discovered that we are even more different than we ever imagined.

Barbara is an artist and as we began our empty-nest years I told her, “Wherever you go, you make things beautiful.” Before I married her I didn’t appreciate beauty. I had no idea how beauty reflected the glory of God. Your spouse is God’s handmade gift and adds dimension to your life. Celebrate your wife as a woman, her many gifts and her differences and how they complement you.

30. Build too many “guardrails” around your relationship rather than too few.

In marriage it’s important to set up some barriers that will protect you from temptations which could harm or even destroy your marriage. One important guardrail, for example, is to agree you will never conceal any purchase from your spouse (unless it’s a gift for her). Too many couples get into financial trouble because one or both don’t control their spending and then try to hide the problem.

I encourage men to not trust themselves alone with the opposite sex. If you need to meet a female colleague for lunch, invite someone to join you if appropriate. I’ve had a friend who won’t get in an elevator alone with a woman. You may think that’s a little extreme, but I’ve been propositioned on an elevator. Share your “guardrails” with your wife and ask her if they are too extreme. (I’ll share a few of my guardrails a bit later in this post.)

31. Husbands should express love for their wives by sacrificially denying themse