How to Strengthen Your Marriage

5-21-13 marriage heartsNot long ago, a friend struggling in her marriage asked me for advice and encouragement. Before getting to my response, I want to share the specific wording of her email to help you feel her desperation.

“I want a divorce. What is wrong with me? I don’t know why I got married. I knew from the beginning that I would never want to get divorced, so why get married? Now I am stuck in a marriage that is an absolute mess and is nothing but misery all the time, and I am so tired of all of it.”

First and foremost, I wanted to help my friend with her marriage. But in advising her on how to do that, I was able to better appreciate how my own marriage went from simply going through the motions of a commitment to being vibrant and exciting.

Tomorrow, my husband and I officially celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary, and we have actually been a couple for 25 years. (On a side note, my husband’s birthday is Friday. Happy Birthday, Rex!)

When giving my friend advice, I knew that all I could really say with confidence is how God worked to save my marriage. Not only did this “process” help my husband and I struggle to victory in our marriage, it still happens regularly to keep the marriage from falling back into destruction.

  1. Decide that divorce is not an option. You just can’t even consider it. Let the frustration of no way out drive you to find a way to work it out. Ultimately, while God allows divorce in some cases, He still hates it (Malachi 2:16). We refused to let it be an option simply because it hurt God’s heart.
  2. Develop your personal relationship with Christ. You’re not your spouse’s Holy Spirit. You can’t force him/her to grow. You can only take the steps to grow yourself because you can only control you and submit to God for yourself.
  3. 5-21-13 marriageDecide to honor & respect your spouse. You may not feel your spouse deserves honor and respect, but your feelings on the matter truly don’t really matter. Scripture clearly indicates that wives are to respect their husbands and husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:21-33). It is amazing how much a man is motivated by a wife who respects him. And, ladies, how do you feel when you know your husband loves you above all else except God?
  4. Devote regular time to prayer. Just “be” before God. Pour out your heart to him. Say the ugly things you’re feeling to him, so you don’t have to say them to your spouse. This does not mean you and your spouse won’t talk about anything difficult, but I find that I have far less negative to say to my spouse when I talk to God first.
  5. Do the above over and over, again and again. Keep going through this process. Eventually, you’ll reach another, higher plateau. That plateau may still feel low, but it will be higher than your previous low. Just keep going a little higher, one small step at a time.
  6. Don’t give up. Sort of related to #1 but a little different because a marriage can still legally exist even after the two individuals involved have given up. Get stubborn about saving your marriage instead of being stubborn about fighting for your own rights and needs.

My marriage is not perfect, but I can honestly say it is the best it’s ever been. We still struggle and have accepted that we will always struggle. A marriage that struggles is one that hasn’t given up. In any aspect of life, if you’re struggling, that means you’re not giving in, right?

DISCUSSION: What advice would you have given to my friend?

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28 thoughts on “How to Strengthen Your Marriage

  1. Hey Kari. Great advice! I think you know as a pastor I hear this stuff all the time. I ache for those whose lives are affected by affairs. But I also ache for those in loveless marriages. There is one couple right now whom I know that is going through a tough time. Trying to help a couple when one wants help and the other doesn't is heart breaking. My wife and I celebrate 40 years in June. It hasn't always been easy but it has been worth it.

    • Even not being a pastor I hear a lot of it, and I can only imagine how much more you hear. It’s sad, often unexpected. People so often hide it until it’s too late. We first & foremost want to set a good example, which means being open about struggles too instead of always advertising how great marriage is. I mean, it can be great, but I am suspicious when that’s all I hear. Tough topic…

      • One of the "safeguards" I tell people is never speak the "D" word. That word has never come into our marriage, and I tell people not to allow it to creep in. Give it an inch and it will take a mile.

        • While some areas of life, and marriage, require flexibility and wiggle room, the "D" word is not one of those areas. There simply can be no compromise on this. Great point!

  2. I think your advice is great, Kari. I would second it! For me, truth journaling also helped because I was believing some lies with my husband. I would also remind her of the Bible verses that talk about remarriage after divorce – in most (maybe all, depending on how you interpret Scripture) cases, it's considered adultery. Often people who consider divorce do so with the idea that there is someone better out there. Divorce is less attractive if the option of remarriage is out of the picture.

    • Thanks, Barb. Journaling definitely helps me too. I am able to work out some things that I never have to verbalize to my spouse; God helps me work through and take care of them. You make a good point I hadn't thought of about remarriage not being an option.

  3. I think when people are willing to struggle through something together then it builds bonds you would not have otherwise. To help each other as we struggle is love in action. To have each other's back even when you don't understand everything you want to understand is substantial. Communication is key. You have to be willing to have hard conversations. They make the good ones so much nicer as well. Do not judge your spouse; work to understand and support even when you don't.

    • You are so right, Mark. Struggling through something together makes each individual stronger as well as the relationship stronger, and out of that comes tremendous victory. Love in action… not needing to understand… communicating… all terrific additional points that could (and should) be added to the ones I wrote about. I heard a saying a while back (Stephen Covey, maybe), that said something like "Seek first to understand rather than to be understood." I think that gets at what you are saying as well.

  4. Pretty sure I have sent an email that sounded a lot like that one. I have had wonderful role models in the area of marriage. My grandparents were married for 77 years; my aunt and uncle for 59 years and my parents have been married for 46 years now. I have just passed my 25th last November. It has not been easy; it has taken much work and much prayer and much conversation. My two older children know what marriage means. It is forever. Divorce is not an option. I think that some people find that weird or antiquated. I mean – you can always get out. It was not mean that way. Vows are a promise and I took mine very seriously. In today’s world – my marriage has been through things for which divorce would be quite an acceptable solution. I am glad that my kids have seen the work we have put into it and understand the importance of the vows and the care that has to be taken to make it work. Great post, Kari – as always!

    • You hit on so many terrific points, Angie. Following godly examples of marriage, refusing to quit even when our culture says it's acceptable to do so and making sure our kids know enough to understand the character traits you have been trying to teach them. You could write your own great post on this, my friend.

      • LOL – probably!! The Lord knows I probably have a never-ending supply of "what not to do's"! 🙂 But – I listen to my 24 year old son say, "well – I am still looking" when he talks about a partner in life. The reason – "she has to understand that we only do this once. There is no divorce. When I get married – it is forever." I guess we have done something right – we have taught both of them the importance of hard work and that marriage isn't in order to have a wedding. I think that too often these days, the girls are all about "the wedding" and not about "the marriage". They don't realize that it is too very different things.

        • You have definitely done something right in teaching your kids. Namely, you not only spoke your values and convictions with words but with actions too. Often, parents speak things & then do the opposite. I believe this is more detrimental to kids than never speaking it at all.

  5. It will be 49 years for us in Oct and I too say it is worth it because we are now best friends but even best friends fight. It's the hard times where you learn to live with each other faults and about applying forgiveness to them and yourselves. I do believe marriage counseling is good before the marriage but think it's during the marriage it's needed the most. Marriage is the hardest commitment I have ever had to keep. It takes very little time for the romance to wear off and reality settles in. Then the real work begins. I read somewhere the pain of divorce is like the tearing of flesh which leaves the worst scars. There are no perfect divorces just as there is no perfect marriages but there is life after a divorce because life is in Christ. Only He can take the worst scared people and with grace bring glory to Himself. Great post Kari.

    • Great advice, Betty. Being proactive about problems in a marriage is so important, and there are a variety of ways to get that counseling. Couples definitely have to be diligent because feelings and emotions sure aren't reliable much of the time. Great point too in saying there is life after divorce. I had a friend who recently went into divorce saying, "I know it's wrong, but I know God will forgive me." Now, that's definitely not a right approach, and she's definitely feeling the "tearing of flesh which leaves the worst scars." But, God is good, and He does heal and forgive any heart that turns back to him in true repentance. Great additions to the post topic!

  6. Your advice is spot on! Troubles and trials will come in any marriage, but if we marry with God as the bonding agent of the relationship, couples will realize when they say I cannot continue in this relationship they are dismissing God's role in the marriage too! Nothing worthwhile comes without a price – commitment will be tested and tried, but the goal is a better marriage in the end. Thank you for standing up with good advice in this case. In our 40 years it could have been easier to walk away more than once, but the reward for hanging in there has been beyond imagination when we begin the journey in the summer of 1973.

    • Is it bad blog commenting if I say I was a year old when you got married 😉 Seriously, you make a great point by saying God must be the bonding agent in a marriage. My husband and I are clear that God is more important than we are to each other, and that bonds our marriage for sure. At one point, simply not wanted to hurt God's heart was what kept me in my marriage. He was more important to me than any feeling I was having or wanted to have. And, commitment does come with a price, but it is definitely worth it when a better marriage results. I am experience such freedom and confidence in myself because of the security I have through my marriage. No matter what I do, there is one person on this earth who loves and accepts me, quirks and all. Once again, great additions, Coach.

      • If only couples would attempt to love as God loves, the divorce rate would be infinitesimal. Children would have more stable home life and role models to follow in their lives too! Oh yeah, God has aged me well. It is my wife who was the child and her looks and energy continue to defy her age. Thanks again…

  7. Great advice Kari, I know I've adapted your points into my marriage of over 6 years. Having a close relationships with God will allow all areas of our life to be and become better, including our marriages. It's why we must be intentional about our spiritual disciplines.

    • Glad to hear you are already applying them in your marriage. We started to about 10 years in, and obviously the earlier the better. Our relationship with Christ must be right first if we hope for our other relationships to be godly.

  8. This doesn't hold up 100% of the time…..but I put a lot of bad marriages on the man…(and I'm a man). For the most part….women are responders. Ephesians 5:25…"Husbands…love your wives…even as Christ also loved the church…and gave himself for it." God never asked a woman to submit, (respond), to any man who doesn't love her and love her like this! It is the man who is to keep the lovelight burning. In the beautiful Song of Solomon…the bridegroom says to the bride…"Behold…thou art fair…my love…behold…thou art fair…." (Song 1:15)….and she responds…"My beloved is mine…and I am his….(Song 2:16). He expresses his love first…and then she responds.

    When another man tells me that his wife is very cold…and she isn't acting like a wife should….that is a dead giveaway…he is actually admitting failure as a husband. He showed what kind of husband he was to draw that kind of response. Just my thoughts???

    • Thank you for this honest perspective from a man's point of view. The verses you picked emphasize your points well. I agree with what you said, and I am glad that you said it in that I would not be able to as effectively since I am a woman. When I think back over my marriage, I can see examples that support the truth in what you said. I know that a woman's mood can set the tone for the household, but her husband can have a huge impact on that mood and thus the tone. He is the spiritual head, and what you said is part of his role as that. Great points!

  9. This is a brilliant post Kari even for singles like myself. I'm currently in a dating relationship with a God-fearing woman and you've just hit some non-negotiables when it comes to building a Christ-centered marriage. I like how in number one you just stated simply "How divorce is not an option." I bereave at today's divorce rates. As a Korean myself, it's saddening to see the divorce rates skyrocket. The implications to children and family is indelible. I am grateful to people like you making a kingdom impact on this. One of my highlights everyday is my commute to work in the morning where I listen to Focus on the Family.
    Thanks for sharing your wisdom here!

    • What an encouragement for me to hear that a single person is already applying Biblical principles for a good marriage. Wow! You'r right, they are simply non-negotiables, and knowing that going into marriage gives you a huge advantage. The statistics certainly are quite depressing, and the impact of what those stats mean is discouraging for sure. You have a great tip on how to cultivate your own growth, and that is through using "idle" time like driving to listen to sermons and studies. I listen to them when I run or bike. There are so many tools out there that really we are without excuse. So glad this post was useful to you as you look toward marriage one day. I'm inspired by that!

  10. I am reading and commenting on our FIRST “vegas” wedding anniversary! I know the pain of divorce, my first marriage would be 41 yrs if we had been able to make it work. I know we both played a roll, am grateful for the daughter I enjoy from it, but it was a mistake of looking for true love somewhere besides God. I once heard if you reread and apply 1 Corinthians 13 love to your marriage each day it will change you and your marriage. My second husband died after 17 years and I said, “no man, no dog” I was going to do MY thing. God had a different plan and I am so blessed to have my wonderful husband. I wrote him a thank you this morning, that included for choosing me, patience with me, and making my dreams come true….I am truly blessed and divorce is not in out vocabulary…we both know the pain. We cannot change our spouse, but must accept them and love them as we want to be loved, even when we have “grabby pants” days! He makes me laugh on those days and it is amazing how he has changed my life. Happy Anniversary to you in June and Happy Birthday to hubby.

    • The area I find the most support sometimes in the Biblical principles of marriage is from those who have been divorced. They know that what God's Word says – about marriage, forgiveness, grace, etc. – is absolutely true. They second all of the points in this post as well as the accompanying comments. I am blessed to have my divorced friends be able to truly speak on the truth God's Word has for marriage. In your comment, you make another great point about telling your spouse that you are grateful for him and just thankful to have him in your life. That is something all married people should do regularly for their spouses, show gratitude for them and build them up.

  11. Great post, Kari. Sorry I'm so slow in getting back into this commenting gig – I've been slipping! haha.
    This is a timely post for me because I've been counseling some friends who are going through a tough time in their marriage. It was bad enough where they seemed headed for divorce. The thing I kept telling them over and over was basically your #2 point. Focus on Christ. Ultimately, you need to be obedient to God regardless of how you feel about your spouse or whether or not they are or are not a horrible spouse. We focus so much on the secular stuff sometime – communication, acceptance of each other.. and all those are good things. But without that foundation that you are doing all of this because you want to be obedient to Christ, then you're setting yourself up for failure at some point.

    • Thanks, Loren. No need to apologize. Actually, I am honored that you take the time to catch up rather than just skip them to catch up. That says something. This advice was certainly hard fought for me to learn. I learned it not just from my own marriage but through counseling others and watching other marriages fail. You're so right about needing the foundation in order for the other stuff to work at all. Obedience to Christ saved my marriage, that's for sure!

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