At times, we all fall short at being the perfect partner to our spouse. Our relationship ebbs and flows like the tide, but through spiritual guidance, we are reminded of the kind of partner we want to be. So, if you would like marital tips and articles on deepening your relationship, please read on:
Articles and excerpts are from www.foryourmarriage.org.
Commitment is crucial in a marriage. But commitment is sometimes a scary word because we act differently when we know that our futures are tied together. You may avoid a prickly conversation if you know the other person will not be around forever. You may move on to another love if your current one starts to rub you the wrong way. Commitment means you’ve promised to stay and work it through, not just today but forever.
Commitment is a choice to give up choices. Although this might sound limiting, it actually brings great freedom. No longer does the committed person need to weigh which person or way of life will bring more happiness. Once committed, all one’s energy goes into making this commitment work. The following talks about commitment and ideas on how you can remain committed to one another throughout your marriage.
Keeping the commitment
“Till death do us part” can sound so romantic—but it can also sound deadly. Regardless of whether one marries in a secular or religious ceremony, most couples still believe that they are making a permanent commitment. Of course we all know that the divorce rate is between 40 – 50%, but most couples who marry don’t think it will happen to them.
What happens between the solemn pronouncement of wedding vows and the decision to divorce? This is not a “one size fits all” situation. Certainly some couples made the decision to marry too young, too impetuously, too naively. Others were not psychologically mature enough to “forsake all others” or had other character flaws that were overlooked or not evident during courtship. Still others just got bored or tired of trying to make it work. Still others earnestly worked and gave their all to the marriage but their partner decided he or she wanted out. One can’t be married to an absent spouse.
Some spouses have no choice but to leave for their own safety or because their spouse won’t work on the marriage. But research (Waite and Gallagher, 2000) shows that many marriages could be revived if the commitment is strong. Waite and Gallagher surveyed a large national sample of unhappily married couples and found that after five years, three fifths of the formerly unhappy couples reported that they were very happy. Sometimes it is simply the commitment to each other that carries a couple through the harder times, along with generous doses of time, counseling, effort, luck, and faith.
Love is a decision. This phrase reminds couples that as wonderful as the feeling of love is, it is not sufficient for a marriage. At many times, a husband and wife need to decide to love—even when they don’t feel like it. Acting on this decision by doing loving things for your spouse, speaking kindly and respectfully, and deciding over and over to pay attention to the relationship makes love rekindle.
Making a permanent commitment is much more than a decision not to divorce. It’s a commitment to do the daily work of keeping the commitment alive. It may mean turning off the TV or taking a nightly walk in order to listen to each other’s concerns. These simple actions, and many more, are the stuff of commitment. They are the actions that keep a marriage vibrant, interesting, and exciting so that temptations to make another choice don’t erupt. As Christians, we might reflect on the scripture to “take up your cross every day and follow me” [Luke 9:23]. That is, every day we recommit to follow our beloved and vice-versa.
How Much Does Faith Matter?
Mary’s faith has always been very important to her. Her husband, Ted, was raised Christian but now considers himself an agnostic. He’s not anti-God; he just doesn’t know that God has anything to do with his life here on earth.
This didn’t bother Mary when they first got married since she knew Ted to be a good and moral man who did not interfere with her practice of her faith. Mary and Ted, however, now have a child who is preparing for Confirmation and asking why Dad doesn’t join them at church. Mary also finds herself a little resentful that she and their son go to church every Sunday while Ted sleeps in or plays golf.
Ted has also been dealing with stress at work lately and seems depressed at home. Mary thinks that it would help Ted cope if he had God in his life. She feels that they would have a more cohesive family if they could share faith and go to church together. What should Mary do?
- Mary could talk to Ted about how important faith is to her and ask Ted to join her in faith for the sake of their marriage.
- Mary could leave pamphlets around the house or ask Ted to join her for faith-sharing or enrichment talks sponsored by the church.
- Mary could ask Ted to go to Bible study to learn more about her faith and perhaps decide to embrace it for himself.
- Mary should accept the fact that faith and God are not important to Ted and not try to change him.
- All Mary can do is pray.
It certainly is painful when something important, indeed something core to one’s being like faith, is not shared by your spouse. It is difficult enough when a spouse belongs to a different faith tradition but even more so when Ted not only rejects organized religion, but also does not seem to value a spiritual life.
While no one can or should force another to believe in God or practice a religion, that doesn’t mean that God might not work through the believing spouse’s example of a faith-filled life. Assuming that Mary has already asked Ted to join her for worship and he has declined, another step might be to attend something together that is less directly religious but focused on parenting or marriage enrichment. Often churches sponsor such programs that are value based.
Also, Mary could look around for an inspiring speaker who talks on faith issues and ask Ted to accompany her–not for conversion but for support. Another route would be to find short, inspirational articles that address common human concerns such as depression, living a more fulfilling life, or communication in marriage. She could start with an article on this ForYourMarriage website or other resources such as CareNotes (www.onecaringplace.com). Although Ted probably would not yet be receptive to having a chat with a pastor, perhaps there is a respected friend who could talk about why he or she is a person of faith. If Ted can find encouraging insights through spiritual talks or reading it might stir him to take another look at organized religion.
So Mary can do a number of things to introduce Ted to a healthy, meaningful spiritual life, but the most important question is, “Is Ted a good man? Does he live by values consistent with the gospels even if he does not claim Jesus Christ or any particular religion?” If indeed he has a strong moral compass but is not ready to join Mary in religious practices, leave the rest up to God. Who knows the path God will use to draw him close. Of course, Mary should continue to pray that she might be a worthy instrument of God’s grace in their life together.
adapted from an article by Susan Vogt
Stages of Marriage
The psychologist Paul Tournier said, “I’ve been married six times – all to the same woman.” Tournier explained that he never got divorced, but rather his marriage transitioned from one stage to another. All healthy marriages experience change and transition. That’s what keeps them alive and growing. Some of the stages of growth are predictable, others are not.
Here is an Overview of the Stages of Marriage. For simplicity, we’ve divided them into chronological time frames. Where are you and your spouse in your married life? Click on the link that pertains to you and learn about your stage of marriage
- Newly Married (0 – 5 years)
- Middle Years (6 – 25 years), which usually coincides with the active parenting stage
- Later Years (26+ years), also known as the “empty nest” years
Not all marriages fit neatly into these categories. Those in second marriages may find times shortened; however, certain developmental tasks generally take place during each stage. All healthy marriages experience change and transition. That’s what keeps them alive and growing.
Another way of looking at transitions in marriage is through cycles of growth. Most relationships move through cycles that include:
- Mature Love
In this framework, the stages emerge more quickly, with disillusionment often coming soon after the honeymoon. Mature love evolves-hopefully-after several years of marriage.
In The 7 Stages of Marriage (2007), Harrar and DeMaria identify these stages:
However you describe it, the essential point is that a marriage is a process. It evolves. It helps to know what to expect at the various stages. Otherwise, normal transitions may be misinterpreted as loss of love or reasons to divorce.
5 Ways to Give the Gift of Words
Gift of Words #1 – Compliment Your Mate Inside and Out
There are two types of compliments: those that address a person’s outer appearance and those that address a person’s inner character. Surprisingly, our research shows 84% of people prefer to receive a character compliment as in, “You are an incredibly kind person,” over a comment like “Your hair looks great.” Start sharing character comments with your honey today.
Gift of Words #2 – Show You Care
We all experience unique events during our busy days so when our spouse shows interest in our day’s happenings it creates an immediate loving bond with him/her. Find something in your spouse’s schedule, such as a special meeting, an important errand, or a doctor’s appointment, and call/text/email mid-day to specifically ask how it went.
Gift of Words #3 – Talk Forward
You can deepen your relationship by persuading your spouse that he or she is special to you every day by “talking forward.” Take charge and make a thoughtful plan for the future, “I’d like to make a special plan for us next month. Let’s go to __________. [Fill-in with something your spouse enjoys, such as a museum, the theatre, shopping, a road trip, etc.]? What do you think?”
Gift of Words #4 – Make an Offer
If you want to receive instant love and appreciation from your honey, volunteer to do something for your mate before he or she asks you to do it. For example, offer to pick something up at the store, offer to repair something, prepare dinner or offer to put your kids to bed (if you don’t usually). A surefire way to boost your love life is to make an offer. It says to your mate, I care about you and when you’re happy, I’m happy.
Gift of Words #5 – Be Memorable
Do and say memorable things today and year round. Instead of always dining out, create a candlelit indoor picnic. Sing karaoke together. Arrange for a massage together. Post love notes in surprising places. Buy a lasting plant instead of flowers. Phone your spouse to give a heartfelt comment during the day like, “I love you because….”.
You will spark love and romance throughout the year instead of just on special occasions that seem to demand it, like Valentine’s Day and your spouse’s birthday. Any day of the year, you can shower your sweetheart with the priceless gift of words.
About the author
Laurie Puhn is a Harvard-educated lawyer, couples mediator, and bestselling author of “Fight Less, Love More: 5-Minute Conversations to Change Your Relationship Without Blowing Up or Giving In.” Article adapted from “Fight Less, Love More.”
My husband and I have been married 35 years and have led marriage preparation programs for 30 of those years. We estimate that over that time we’ve prepared over 5,000 couples for marriage. I’m not sure if that makes us experts or outdated and, therefore, irrelevant. I can tell you the obvious – that times have changed and we have changed.
Early in my career, when I taught high school or college students about marriage, I’d say that communication was the key in choosing a mate and keeping a marriage healthy. I’ve changed my mind.
Good communication is not enough
Yes, good communication is essential to a thriving marriage, BUT it is not sufficient and probably not the most important criteria for choosing a mate. I say this because in my counseling I repeatedly came across couples who had learned the right communication skills and could use them. They knew how to use “I statements,” listen to the whole person, and use active listening. They were often fine, caring men and women, but they had serious difficulty living together happily- not at the beginning, but after several years. The bottom line often came down to either very different personalities or very different values. The other significant variable was the inability of at least one partner to make a lasting commitment.
Personalities cannot easily be changed, so it’s a red flag when dating couples have very different personalities. Complementary personalities, however, can also be an advantage. For example, she’s a talker, he’s a listener; or he’s a detail person, she sees the big picture. Often people with different personalities can work out accommodations as long as the difference is not too extreme or on too many different fronts. I tell my students that it’s fine to differ on one or two elements of the Myers- Briggs Type Indicator, but if you differ on three or four and the differences are great, you’ll probably have a lot of stress in your marriage.
Common values, however, can be a deal breaker. If one spouse values a simple lifestyle and the other values accumulating wealth, it doesn’t matter how well they communicate, their basic life orientation will present constant opportunities for conflict. If one spouse values faith and the other resents religion, conflict is inevitable. This doesn’t mean that both spouses have to have the same religion, but both must value a spiritual dimension of life.
Another important common value is one’s attitude towards having children. One partner may really want children and feels marriage would not be complete without a child, while the other is ambivalent or, worse, thinks children would impinge upon their lifestyle. Good communication can only clarify this difference, not solve it.
Likewise, if one spouse believes that career is the top priority and the other puts family first, the argument will be eternal- either by outward criticism and fighting or by going underground with general dissatisfaction or depression. Whether one spouse should stay home with young children is a subcategory of this issue.
Different beliefs about respect for human life and other moral values are deeply rooted. Getting new information and talking through differences usually only lead spouses to realize that they have vastly different life goals and values. These will not change without violating one’s integrity and conscience.
Yes, communication is vital, and if couples don’t have good communication skills, learning them can be a marriage saver. But if the values are significantly different, it’s unlikely that even the best communication will be enough.
Is it too late?
This is fine, you may say, for engaged couples who have not yet made a marriage commitment, but what about us married couples? Is it too late? Can value differences be fixed or changed? The answer is that prevention is always preferable but seldom is a situation hopeless. A lot depends on the severity of differences and whether there are compromises that both spouses can tolerate.
I would never want a spouse to violate his/her conscience in order to please a mate, but sometimes one spouse may be too scrupulous. Over time they may learn that not everything is black and white. On the other hand, a spouse who rationalizes away ethical decisions, saying they are unimportant, may, with commitment and effort, develop a more sensitive conscience. It’s not easy, though, since these are life long behavioral patterns.
Sometimes a couple can agree to disagree on a few values and live their lives in different spheres. For example, one night a week she goes to a prayer group and he plays his favorite sport. He supports her and does not interfere with her Sunday worship, even though he doesn’t find it important for himself.
Most serious value differences require counseling. That’s the bottom line.
Try a short exercise to determine how close you and your spouse are on basic marriage values.
COMMON VALUES ASSESSMENT
Circle the values that are most important to you. Consider that some values may initially appeal to you but upon deeper reflection (the statement that follows each value) you realize that you don’t always hold them as a priority. Then rank them in importance from 1-14. Discuss with your fiancé(e) or spouse.
1. Honesty. Yes, but sometimes it’s OK to fudge.
2. Commitment. Sure, but some commitments are just too hard to keep.
3. Fidelity. I don’t plan on having an affair but who knows the future.
4. Loyalty. It might be necessary to violate a loyalty if another’s safety is at risk.
5. Devotion to parents. Parents are important, but spouse comes first.
6. Generosity. I’ll give, but only after I’ve taken care of myself.
7. Peacemaking. Sometimes evil needs to be confronted, even with violence.
8. Living simply. I work hard for my money. Why can’t I enjoy its rewards?
9. Kindness. Some people are too kind and others take advantage of them.
10. Self-control. I believe in being flexible and spontaneous, not being uptight.
11. Education. Education is over-rated. I wouldn’t sacrifice current wants for it.
12. Sacrifice. Suffering and delayed gratification have no use and are to be avoided.
13. Friendship. Friends are nice, but family and spouse are more important.
14. Children. I value my freedom more