Building Your Marriage

"First you choose your love, then you love your choice."- Puritan proverb

"Let the wife make her husband glad to come home, and let him make her sorry to see him leave." - Martin Luther

"Put in twice as much as you take out and don't keep score." - Adrian op der Heide

Carol and I are currently enjoying our 47rd year of marriage. (Photo, above: in '74 VW Westphalia with Ben in 1984) We can truly say we've never loved each other more. We hope the following will be of help to you also ...

First, some utterly simple basics...

  • Pray together - Some may raise an eyebrow at the thought, but the truth is praying together as a couple brings an intimacy of spirit deeper than physical intimacy. More...

  • A Weekly Date - I believe most couples date too much before marriage and too little after marriage. Before Carol and I were married, I was 26 and didn't enjoy "putting the best foot forward" in dating. I felt it involved pretending, and did not necessarily lead to knowing the other. So when Carol and I met I chose instead to share 'everyday life' - school, studying, doing laundry and simple meals together rather than elaborate dating. Our dating experience consisted of going out for one movie and, on another occasion, pizza. After marriage however dating becomes more important, rather than less. Once married, we went on a weekly date. We talked of our relationship, our spiritual life, progress towards our goals and often planned the week ahead. Short of money? Sometimes we shared a muffin and ordered basic coffee, but it was a date and we looked forward to our outings. As finances improved, we went for pizza every Monday evening, then Saturday morning breakfasts, and have done other things since. Never stop dating ... find things you love to do together, and do them weekly.

  • Resolve differences quickly - early in our marriage we determined to resolve differences quickly. Unresolved differences lead to emotional distance, stress and insecurity. The Bible says, "do not let the sun go down on your anger." Each of us knows emotions are powerful, particularly pride, hurt or selfishness. How can you overcome conflict or resolve differences before it erupts in conflict? If emotions are already running high in an area of conflict, how can you communicate lovingly and effectively to find resolution? First, step away and agree to be still for an hour, to be alone if need be, to let emotions settle, to pray and seek the Lord's guidance to resolve the difference. Second, as a principle, commit to work to resolve differences as quickly as possible. If each of you agree you will resolve the matter before you sleep, you are far more likely to be successful rather than allow it to fester. Third, ask yourself if anything you have said or felt requires forgiveness. Even if you feel you are only 10% in the wrong, ask forgiveness for words or attitudes which have contributed to the conflict. Fourth, remember and aim for the "four words" (see below) which are the goal of marriage. Fifth, aim for resolution, rather than winning or even compromise if possible. Resolution can best be found if each of you write down three ways in which you think the issue can be resolved in a way the other (rather than you) will find acceptable. Each of you to remove two of the six alternatives from the list. Now seek to find the best solution  each of you feels good about or at least can agree on.

  • A friend has given permission also to share a process which has enabled them to slow the pace when emotional, to learn to listen more deeply, and find solutions which each agrees expresses love to the other. More..

  • Remember Four Words - My parents where happily married for 50 years. When my mother was widowed she lived with us for 7 years. Our teen-age daughter once asked my mother the secret of their successful marriage. The secret she shared was profoundly simple. It's found in four little words: "to please each other." This flows against human nature and conventional wisdom but brings great peace and blessing to marriage. The way Carol and I expressed this is "if at all possible, say yes." If you know your spouse wants to please you, and will do everything possible to do so, you can focus not on taking care of yourself but on pleasing him or her. Bring these four words to mind often; they are the heart of great marriage, rooted in the Biblical principle of mutuality, "one anothering," putting the other first - the foundation, not only of marriage and family, but in fact of thriving human community.

Let me add also...

  • An honest book, deeply committed to Marriage and the Scriptures: There are many excellent resources on marriage, but my favourite is: Mike Mason's, The Mystery of Marriage, Multnomah Books (1996). This is not a "how to" book but something more foundational: meditations on what marriage is and how God uses it in our lives to re-make us into the person God intends. I encourage you to read it together if you are seriously considering marriage. The "how tos" will follow naturally.

  • Affirming Your Spouse - It is so important to affirm your spouse, both privately and in public. honour each other rather than embarrassing or humiliating. Some couples think verbal sparring is fun or clever. Click here for an account of someone who has observed the effects and seen the outcomes. 

  • Did You Marry the "Right Person?" - Don't even go there. Rather read a brief, important excerpt on the myth of compatibility and what to do about it from Tim and Kathy Keller's The Meaning of Marriage.

  • The value of traditional values: How do modern egalitarian freedoms stack up with traditional values? Carol and I commend to you a taste from an 1880s Gentleman’s Etiquette Manual here.