By Barbara Rainey
First posted on EverThineHome.com
Does evaluating your marriage sound a little scary? Don’t be afraid to read this. Here’s why.
Most of us regularly do maintenance of our cars and our homes. We take performance appraisals at work. Our kids are graded at school.
But do we give our marriages even half this much focus?
Your first thought is probably, “Who has time?” I’ve been there. We had six kids in 10 years and marriage was not my focus for many minutes of any given day. It was an ongoing juggling act for most of our marriage. And it still can be.
Marriage maintenance is hard to prioritize because our culture doesn’t have built-in systems like we do for health, home, car, and job care.
But it doesn’t work to pretend your marriage has no issues, no cracks in the foundation, no work to be done. Pretending is only good for little children or actors on Broadway. It’s never good for your marriage or your faith.
Here are some questions to help you evaluate your own marriage. You might feel a bit of trepidation as you start this list, but be courageous.
Grab a cup of coffee or tea and try not to do this on the run in the carpool line. Or if you do come back to it later for a reread. It’s too important to gloss over or skim.
1. Are you teammates in life? Are you pulling for one another, encouraging one another, because you love each other and are still best friends? Do you have compassion for one another?
I received many comments to last week’s post, “Your Marriage is Worth Fighting For: 9 Truths to Remember.” Many described significant issues and some told of their own divorces. As I read these I sensed a need to address the core of where we all find ourselves in any marriage: in a good place, a hard place, starting over or wondering why you are where you are. The essence of any healthy relationship or marriage is this principle we have taught for over 40 years: “My spouse is not my enemy.”
Listen carefully. This is crucial and foundational.
Both you and your spouse are victims. Victims of someone else’s sin; starting with Adam and Eve and progressing through the ages into endless kinds of evil and harm. And you are also victims of each other’s sin.
But you and your spouse, like every human, are also perpetrators. We are born with a self-focused sin nature that ever seeks importance, dominance, power, and revenge. We distrust, fear, control, self-protect and constantly devise ways to get what we want even if it means harming others.
Remembering these truths means neither of you are the enemy. You have a common enemy who is Satan. This also helps us help each other and be compassionate to each other in our common struggle against selfishness and sin.
It’s why you married your best friend. It’s why you need each other. It’s why the best foundation for marriage strength is keeping these truths in front of you. It helps prevent us from thinking we alone are the victims in our marriages. That it’s all his or her fault.
Are you co-laborers not only in bringing in the money, raising your kids, and doing all that life requires of you, but also in being a team, being united in the goal of becoming all God intended for you individually and as a couple?
2. Have you stopped being each other’s confidant? When we lose sight of who we are and what our goals are in marriage, we can easily move from friends to combatants. And who wants to go on a date with your enemy? Who wants to share personal struggles with someone who doesn’t feel safe?
If this is where you are, start asking yourself first when the change began. What were the circumstances if you can pinpoint them. Why don’t you feel safe or free to share? Then take the risk to talk about it together. That means making time. And you may need to find a counselor or a marriage coach or someone to guide the conversations and debrief with.
I mentioned last week that the last four years have been especially challenging for Dennis and me. We met with a friend, a therapist, who helped us understand why we were feeling estranged, misunderstood, and not connected. For us it was a season of many losses and we were processing them all differently, so we were missing each other.
Take the time to address the problem or your relationship will start to die.
3. Have you stopped dreaming together? This too is a natural consequence of the above. If you aren’t sharing your fears and your hopes then you aren’t sharing your dreams. You probably aren’t even dreaming about the future.
Marriage can easily become a business relationship. Your only communication centers on “to do” lists, your calendars, and the increasing demands of people and family members screaming for your attention and time and money.
To grow and keep a healthy marriage, these very real demands must be managed so you can have time to plan ahead, dream for the future when it‘s just the two of you again.
4. Do you risk sharing your struggles with sin with one another? Do you tell each other about your disappointment with God? When did you stop confessing your failures and mistakes? When did you stop asking your spouse to pray for you?
This is the crux of what God knew we needed when He created marriage. He said it wasn’t good for Adam to be alone. We are not intended to do battle with the enemy of our souls alone. We need the person who knows us best to pray for us, listen to our struggles, have compassion on what matters. We need our spouse to value the way God made us with our gifts and strengths and encourage one another in that journey “which He prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
5. Do you ask your spouse to forgive you? A healthy marriage is a forgiving marriage. We offend each other daily, most often unintentionally. But when we recognize our mistakes, our failures, it’s important to say so. Deny your pride and practice forgiveness generously. Billy Graham’s wife, Ruth, once said, “Marriage is the union of two forgivers.”
A healthy marriage is dependent on this oneness between spouses. And forgiveness is not always quick and easy, like saying “I’m sorry I was snippy with you, will you forgive me?” There are many times it takes a lot of time and work to get to the place it is genuine and all the layers of the onion around the situation have been peeled back. Again, this might be the time to seek the advice of someone who has experienced these issues or is skilled in offering marriage help.
6. Do you still care about having sex together? Sex is the icing on the marriage cake. Good meaningful fulfilling sex is the result of a good meaningful healthy marriage relationship.
Keeping sex a healthy part of your marriage is essential to keeping it alive. Unless there is a medical condition that prevents you or your spouse from sharing this experience regularly, you will be wise to pay attention to this God-created and ordained part of marriage.
Yes, sex is a mystery. It’s often challenging. It isn’t always a fireworks experience. But it is designed to be emotionally bonding, and bonding is like glue in your marriage.
By the way, when I say pay attention to having sex together I don’t mean three or four times a year. To read more about sex in marriage, I’d love for you to read my book, Letters to My Daughters, The Art of Being a Wife. I have an entire chapter on this subject.
7. Have you started pretending that all is well? When our kids were in high school they started talking about “living in the bubble.” I know they didn’t invent the phrase, but they introduced it to me.
The idea is that many of us live in a Christian subculture, a “bubble.” We can live in the same neighborhoods, send our kids to the same schools, and associate almost entirely with other people like us in values and beliefs.