Ah, the good old days. Older people often reminisce about the period of the 1950s and early 1960s, when Howard Cunningham (Happy Days) and Ward Cleaver (Leave it to Beaver) ran the home. Yes, it was a time when faith and the traditional family were central to the American Identity. And in many ways, things were very good as far as marriages and families were concerned, as 65% of all children under the age of 15 were being raised in traditional breadwinner families during the 1950s.
But we also should acknowledge there were issues as well, as hiding behind some of those old happy-faced photos were moms who were secretly sneaking cooking sherry to deal with the stresses of husbands who could be overbearing, demanding, self-centered, and abusive at times. So perhaps the good old days weren’t quite as perfect as we want to remember them to be.
If those were the good old days – if that’s what the marriages of yesteryear were like – what in the world can we say about today?
I think author Timothy Keller was onto something when he called today’s modern family, Little House on the Freeway. It most certainly is. In a lot of ways, our lives today more resemble the Starship Enterprise going Warp 9 with Scotty yelling, “The engines, they can’t take much more of this captain!” than the warm, tranquil plains traditional happy nuclear family that Michael Landon, Melissa Gilbert, and company portrayed for us during the 1970s.
Indeed, the typical American family of today looks like anything but that. We have more technology than ever before in our history. And yet, our lives are busier … more chaotic … and more stressful than ever before. American families are over committed, as career-minded husbands and wives alike (some on their 2nd or 3rd marriage) are trying to live the American Dream, while trying to raise their children in a largely two income dependent culture.
In “Hi, Good-bye” relationships, they find themselves racing at breakneck speed from work to one child’s school play, to another child’s soccer game, and to still another family church activity somehow before turning into pumpkins at the stroke of midnight. Despite the fact that most Americans seemingly live on Facebook and Instant Messenger, paradoxically we have less time for one another … and are in many ways more distant and more estranged from one another than at any point in our history.
As a result, marriages are experiencing far more stress and having even a greater tendency than ever before to drift into isolation and disconnectedness. Is it any wonder that half of all marriages today are ending in divorce?
Marriage Counseling Tips to Save Your Marriage
What do we as Christians need to know and to be doing in order to save our marriages? Let’s discuss some things that you and your spouse can be learning how to do as you grow in your marriage and in your relationship with Christ …
Tip #1 – How to Joyfully Follow and Serve the Lord
There is no greater thing that you can do to strengthen your relationship, both with God and with each other, than to make a habit of praying and studying God’s Word together. If you DON’T honestly have God at the center of your lives and marriage, then who or what is? Money? Your career? The kids? Is it some other empty, self-centered pleasure? Or perhaps it’s the most potentially deadly and deceitful idol of all – yourself.
In the end, none of those things will end up satisfying you. Though they are quite enticing, if those are your idols that you pursue wholeheartedly, they will leave you emotionally bankrupt and will be a serious threat to your relationship.
Make it a habit today to not only start studying God’s Word on a daily basis … not only praying on a daily basis … but to put your faith into ACTION on a daily basis. As James 2:14-26 concludes, “Faith without works is dead.”
If you are honestly wanting to joyfully and wholeheartedly serve the Lord and to seek His will together – to put your faith into action together each and every single day – everything else will flow from there. There is no greater step that you can take to save your marriage and family than the sincere choice (on the part of both of you) to put God at the center of it.
Tip #2 – How to Submit to One Another
Without a doubt, one of the most misunderstood and misused passages of Scripture when it comes to marriage is Ephesians 5:22-24, “Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands as you do to the Lord.” Many domineering husbands throughout the centuries have used that verse to bludgeon their wives, saying, “See, it says right here in the Bible that you need to do what I say.”
That isn’t even close to what a biblical relationship looks like, as the very next verse says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). How exactly did Christ love the church? Ooooh, that’s right, he washed the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-17), he came to serve, not to be served (Matthew 20:28), and ultimately, he died for the church.
That’s right, husbands – that means you need to be learning how to be a servant leader in your own home – how to die daily in your service for your wife and family. It’s being willing to change dirty diapers, to scrub toilets, and to show love by doing whatever dirty and undesirable job there may be.
Husbands and wives both need to learn how to daily “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). If you honestly learn how to sacrificially love and serve each other each and every single day, you will go a long way toward saving your marriage.
Tip #3 – How to Listen With Focused Attention
Remember growing up, when your mom was trying to tell you something important she needed you to do while you were watching TV? With eyes affixed on your favorite show, you’d respond, “Uh-huh. Sure, Mom,” and acknowledge just about anything she mumbled to you … only to have her get mad at you later for forgetting to do the chore she asked you to do. Well … things today haven’t changed all that much. In fact, they’re gotten far worse.
According to a new study conducted by Microsoft, the average American now has an attention span of roughly 8 seconds. The average goldfish has an attention span of about 9 seconds. To put that in perspective, in the 1950s and early 60s, the average attention span was around 1 minute.
Why the drastic change?!?
Social psychologists pretty much unanimously agree that we are seeing the direct effects of living in a technological age. Facebook and other social media platforms, cell phones, tablets, high action video games and movies – they’ve all collectively wired our midbrains to a higher level of stimulus. Savvy TV stations like ESPN and CNN know this, which is why they focus on providing short, high stimulus, ever changing news.
You want to save your marriage? Stop checking your checking your email, your Instagram, your Instant Messages, every 5 seconds. Put down the video game controller, turn off the TV, and re-capture the quaint art of open and honest communication and active listening. Active listening is a critically important skill for us to have today – especially in marriage.
Many affairs begin because spouses fail to both be open and honest and to really listen to each other. God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason – you should be listening twice as much as you speak. Seek first to understand rather than always seeking to make yourself understood.
Tip #4 – How to Recognize and Fulfill Each Other’s Needs
Willard F. Harley is a psychologist and Marriage and Family Therapist with over 35 years of clinical experience. He has seen many couples over the years and as he did so, patterns emerged. Again and again, he kept seeing that men and women tended to have common emotional needs. Quite predictably as well, he found that men’s needs and women’s needs tended to be different.
Generally speaking, the top 5 needs of men tended to be:
- Sexual Fulfillment
- Recreational Companionship
- An Attractive Spouse
- Domestic Support
The top 5 needs of women, on the other hand, tend to look quite different:
- Honesty and Openness
- Financial Support
- Family Commitment
Again, these are general tendencies, as your particular needs may look different. Rather than seeking to focus solely on improving communication alone, Harley taught couples to first recognize what each other’s emotional needs were … and then seek to understand them and fulfill them in each other.
So for example, let’s say that a particular wife’s top needs were affection and conversation. For her, she needs to be able to receive hugs with no hidden agenda that her husband is merely hugging her as a means to get sex. She knows when he gives her that hug that it’s a genuine sign of affection that lets her know that she is cherished. In addition, she also highly values conversation and feels that she needs to be able to talk openly, honestly, and at length with her husband every day in order to really connect with him.
If her husband (whose top emotional need is sex) really grasped that his wife not merely valued, but honestly needed these things, he might find her much more willing to meet his needs in turn.
A key to fulfilling those deep needs in each other is also understanding WHAT says love to the other person. We are relational creatures by nature. God created us that way, for relationship, to give and receive love and care. God (being Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is Himself a relationship. Is it any wonder then that the crown of His creation, being created in His Image, would be the exact same way? But what says love and care to one person may not communicate love and care to another person.
In his book, The 5 Love Languages, author Gary Chapman identifies 5 different ways people tend to express love:
- Words of Affirmation
- Acts of Service
- Quality Time
- Physical Touch
Too often in relationships, we hear things like, “I keep giving and giving and giving, but I get nothing back in return.” Well, people have a natural tendency to give and express love in the way that they want to and expect to receive love from others in return. The problem comes when we don’t notice this fact and act accordingly.
If you’re a husband and the primary way you express love is through gifts and your wife is geared to crave physical touch, issues can ensue if you fail to recognize this and choose to start loving your spouse in a way that says love to her.
Tip #5 – How to Become a Team
Genesis 2:18 says, “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone, I will make a helper suitable for him.” The word “helper” there in the Hebrew can actually be more accurately translated “help meet.” In Created to Need a Help Meet, Michael Pearl explains, “As two pieces of a puzzle meet in exact profile, so man and woman meet the natures of the other.”
In other words, husband and wife are a team, designed uniquely by God for each other to meet the needs of each other in marriage. Becoming an effective team, though, can be a bit of a process and in many ways a challenge. One of the most common barriers to true oneness in marriage pertains to roles and expectations.
In football, an offensive play only works effectively when all 11 players are working together in harmony, completing their assigned tasks. If a fullback (who is supposed to block on a given play), blows his assignment and instead chooses to go out for a short pass, the quarterback can end up getting sacked.
Likewise in marriage, if you want to become an effective team, you and your spouse need to clarify your roles and expectations of each other. When couples get married, a natural tendency is for spouses to fall into the exact same patterns and roles of their parents that they witnessed growing up.
So, if mom was the one who cooked, kept a spotlessly clean house, and took care of the kids, there is a tendency for her daughter to unconsciously adopt the exact same role once she gets married (and to really believe that’s her job). If her father was a Mr. Fix-it who took care of all the maintenance around the house, she may subconsciously expect her young husband to be the exact same thing.
Role confusion and such subconscious expectations can cause a great deal of disharmony in a marriage. In addition, it can often be very difficult when people get married when they are older. People who are single for a long time get used to being alone and doing things on their own. They are the masters of their own schedule and household. They answer to nobody in their spare time. They can get quite set in their ways, so if that’s you, it’s especially important for you to get on the same page if you want to become an effective team.
Tip #6 – How to Balance
Yes, you are a couple, but you are also your own person as well. You didn’t just stop being an individual the second you got married. Often as Christians, we read passages such as Matthew 19:19, “Love your neighbor as yourself” and we have a tendency to focus solely upon caring for others. But it doesn’t say instead of yourself … or to forget yourself entirely.
You have your very own personal needs as well and those needs have to be acknowledged because if they aren’t, fatigue, resentment, bitterness, and so on can ensue.
Your spouse has needs, wants, and desires. If you have children, they do as well. One of my very favorite verses is Ecclesiastes 7:18, which says, “The man who fears God will avoid all extremes.” Effective marriages are the ones who learn how to balance the needs, wants, and desires of all family members, friends, church, and so on. So, avoid the extremes and learn how to take some time for yourself and for your needs, wants, and desires as well.
Tip #7 – How to Have Self-Responsibility and Self-Control Only
You hear it all the time in argument – “You made me mad! It’s your fault!” Although it’s a natural tendency for people to assume responsibility (especially if they’ve come from an abusive background), stop and really consider that for a moment.
Do you honestly feel you have power over another person’s emotions? In reality, you aren’t in control of others or how they choose to feel, think, and act. The truth is there is only one person you are in control of and whom you need to take responsibility for – yourself. You are the only one who is in control of your own thoughts, feelings, and actions.
Viktor Frankl, who survived the Holocaust, said in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, that the Nazis took almost everything imaginable from the Jews. But despite unimaginable suffering, he realized there was one thing they could never take away – the power to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.
Never take responsibility for your spouse’s thoughts, feelings and choices – only for your own. Even if you have children, realize too that in the end, you aren’t in control of them, either. You are in charge of them, but you aren’t in control.
Being in charge is very different because the only thing you have power over is how you choose to respond. Never forget too that choosing to do nothing in a given situation is also a conscious choice that you have power over, as well. Learning how to have self-responsibility and self-control alone will save you a ton of heartache and pain.
Tip #8 – How to Forgive
I don’t know if you realize this or not, but when you got married, you married someone who happens to have a sin nature, just like you. Conflict in marriage is inevitable. People fight. They hurt one another, both intentionally and unintentionally. They mess up.
Forgiveness and grace are two of the chief cornerstones upon which good marriages are built. Forgiveness is a choice and you need to choose to forgive when others sin against you. Forgiveness does not depend upon feelings, or waiting until you feel like forgiving. It is a conscious act of the will – a choice to let go of the need for revenge and all of the pain, anger, and bitterness that eats you up inside.
Forgiveness sometimes includes the very toughest person in all the world to forgive – yourself.
Jesus Christ has forgiven your sins. He took on the penalty for your sins and in the process forgave you a debt you couldn’t possibly ever repay. Shouldn’t you choose to forgive as well? As Matthew West says in his song, Forgiveness, “Forgiveness sets the prisoner free and the prisoner that it really frees is you.” True forgiveness can certainly save your marriage.
Tip #9 – How to Create Space for Rest, Renewal, and Fun
Remember how it was when you two first fell in love? When you first got together? Life was fun. Every moment together was new and exciting. You walked together among the clouds and seemed to have all the free time in the world for each other.
How drastically things can change over the years, though. Most American couples and families today find themselves running at top speed in so many different directions their heads are spinning. They are overcommitted, chronically overtired, and stressed out. Between time commitments to work, school, kids, church, and so on, there seems to be very little time for each other.
Hear me when I say you as a couple are either slowly growing together … or you are slowly drifting apart. If you want to avoid the slow drift toward isolation and loneliness, you two need to be very intentional about creating time for each other – alone and away from distractions.
Jesus himself knew this. Luke 5:16 tells us he “often withdrew to lonely places.” Yes, even Jesus needed rest and relaxation as well. He needed to spend time alone with His Heavenly Father in order to recharge His batteries.
There is a reason that God included the Sabbath among His 10 Commandments. It’s because like Him, we need time for rest, renewal, and to just have fun and recreation. We all need times to simply play and do no work.
I know that’s a particularly hard one for a lot of men and women out there. There will always be clothes to wash, carpets to vacuum, lawns to mow, etc. There will always be work phone calls to make and emails to potential customers to write.
That constant “on the go” lifestyle also inevitably creates stress. Modern research is telling us that stress has real long-term physiological effects (i.e. high blood pressure, strokes, heart attacks, and so on).
The truth of the matter is that you only have so much time in a week. It all comes down to a simple question, “What’s most important?”
So, learn to say, “No.” Put those cell phones and laptops away. Spend time with one another away from all the modern distractions. There is no substitute for actual face to face human contact.
You may very well not have a lot in common with your spouse naturally. Maybe she enjoys gardening, while he enjoys fishing. That’s fine. In that case, I’d encourage you to find a hobby that you both can enjoy together. If you want to save your marriage, make your relationship with each other your top earthly priority.
Tip #10 – How To Seek Out and Receive Ongoing Support
As we’ve already discussed, we are social beings by nature. We were not made to live alone or to figure out all of life’s problems on our own. You and I were made for community. As believers in Christ, we are all part of one massive extended family called the Body of Christ – and as a family, we all need one another, care for one another, and lean upon one another (1 Corinthians 12:12-31).
You as a couple need ongoing love, care, and support from others in order to have a healthy, vibrant marriage.
Supports that could help save your marriage include:
- Your Local Church, Bible Study Group, and/or Home Group
- Fellow Christian Couples who can support you and uplift you.
- Older Mentor Couples – Spouses who grew up in a dysfunctional family may not know what a healthy marriage is supposed to look like. There is often nothing more powerful than to see a living model.
- Marriage Seminars
- A Trained Christian Therapist – Sometimes, especially if you’re dealing with particularly difficult issues (like the effects of childhood sexual abuse or infidelity), it may be necessary to seek professional help. If you’re struggling, why not seek out another gifted member from the Body of Christ?
“Rush Hour,” courtesy of Nabeel Syed, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “To have and to hold,” courtesy of Jon Asato, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Together,” courtesy of Ryan Franco, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Forever,” courtesy of Gus Moretta, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Stand by Me,” courtesy of Alex Iby, unsplash.com, CC0 License