How To Keep Your Marriage Strong And Fresh


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'Our marriage is way beyond that point.'

It was one of those joking-not-joking comments where you know a point is being made, but before you can respond, the conversation moves along.

Our friend meant that her marriage was past the place where physical (let alone spiritual intimacy) was still alive and well. She and her husband, though Christians, had become roommates instead of lovers and friends.

Now, they're divorced. Like so many other Christian marriages I know.

How did they get from the starry-eyed 'I do' at the altar to 'I could take or (quite literally) leave you'?

More importantly, how can you keep your marriage strong, and prevent it from crusting over? Or, if it is already struggling, ask God to make it healthy again?

In this post, I explore one of the most important practices for keeping our marriages strong and fresh. And even if yours feels dead, it's never too late to start over.

The Secret Ingredient In A Strong Marriage

If you've ever done much cooking, you know that, sometimes, a secret ingredient really makes the recipe pop. I say 'secret' because it's often not intuitive.

For example, the other day I made chili and it was... boring. So, I jumped online in a desperate attempt to make it better.

After checking out a few recipes, I found that adding chocolate - yes, chocolate - might be just the thing I needed. And it was. That chili went from a 3 to an 8, and my reputation was salvaged. (Okay, I may be exaggerating just a bit. #perspective)

Marriage is a little bit like my chili. Yes, there are foundational ingredients like pursuing God first and forgiveness, but there are other, less obvious elements, too.

Like staying tender-hearted toward our spouse. 

Paul puts it this way in Ephesians 4:32:

'Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.'

We don't really use that word in our everyday language. Merriam Webster helps us out here, defining it as 'easily moved to love, pity, or sorrow.' Other words we might use are soft-hearted, open, kind or warm. 

It's the opposite of shut down, calloused or cold, which is where we naturally head over time.

The Usual, Downward Progression

Over time, couples tend to move from warmth to apathy, indifference or (worst of all) to contempt.

This stagnation may result from a bunch of small things, like a million small sins, a bad habit, or simply failing to make changes where your spouse has requested you to. Like my tendency to not enter my receipts into Quicken, our online budgeting software. (Seriously, it feels like climbing Mount Everest for me!)

Or, it might be a big, one-time issue like the discovery of an affair, or harsh words spoken in the heat of the moment. Words that cannot be forgiven, or undone, without serious grace.

When those things aren't addressed with the grace of the gospel, marriages can crawl - or spiral - toward stalemate or divorce. Far away from the glorious picture of Christ and the church they're supposed to mirror.

So, what can we do to keep our marriages strong and fresh?

Healthy And Strong Marriages: The Way Back Goes Through Christ

Paul gives us the remedy for our malady in Ephesians 4:32. Here it is again:

'Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.'

When our hearts want to shut down, Paul tells us to look backward. Not to our spouse and how they've treated us, but to Christ, who richly forgave us when we were his enemies. 'God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.' (Romans 5:8)

That means we can be tenderhearted no matter what our spouse is, or isn't doing. We have agency, and can move our marriage - so far as it depends upon us - in a strong, healthy direction.

When we go first, and let our guard down, our spouse notices, and often wants to respond in kind. But even if they don't, our heart becomes tender toward the Lord and that spills over into every area of life.

I've watched that very pattern take place in a couple I know. The husband is a great guy, but can be... well, a little difficult and critical. It would be totally understandable for his wife to put the car in reverse and keep her distance. But she's been incredibly courageous and fought to remain tenderhearted. And her marriage has benefited tremendously.

If you stay soft, yours will, too.

4 Practices To Keep Your Marriage Strong

Okay, here's where we get granular, and make this practical.

Here are four pathways for making your own marriage strong and fresh.

1. Get honest with yourself, about yourself.

Take a moment and reflect about the state of your soul. Where have you allowed your heart to become bitter, angry or cold toward your spouse?

2. Confess your bitterness, anger and coldness to God.

You don't - and shouldn't - berate yourself. But you shouldn't make excuses, either. Yes, your spouse may have tempted you to sin. But they didn't make you sin. 

In his typical, straightforward way, James jacks us up:

'What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.' (James 4:1-2)

What's the cause of our quarrels and struggles with our spouse (and others)? It's our ungodly passions, desires and covetousness within us. Sure, our spouse has those things, too, but they can't cause an ungodly response within us. We need to take that to God in confession for forgiveness, cleansing, and help.

3. Ask God to show us how we're like our spouse.

It's hard when we're annoyed with our husband or wife. And so much easier to be the judge and jury in the courtroom of our mind. 

But honestly, what has our spouse done that we have not done in principle?

It's incredibly humbling to realize, for example, that we too keep doing things over and over again, just like our spouse. Maybe he keeps coming home late for work, but she may keep struggling with patience.

We're not all that different, at least in our standing before the Lord.

4. Confess your lack of tenderheartedness to your spouse.

Once we see God's massive forgiveness toward us, and get honest with God, we're ready to approach our spouse. Not with a 'I was wrong, but you...' approach, but with a humble admission about our part of the problem.

That's our part, and our spouse's part is up to them. And God.

Over the years, my wife and I have been in plenty of arguments. Some were mainly my fault, and some were mainly hers. But doing business with God, then seeking her forgiveness has often led to reconciliation, and the restoration of tenderness between us.

It has been an incredibly important, 'secret' ingredient to keep our marriage strong, and I believe it will help yours, too. Even if you fight like cats and dogs, a soft, warm, forgiving heart means you get a new start every day.

For reflection

  1. Where are you tempted to be cold and angry toward your spouse?
  2. Work through the process above, then prayerfully go to your spouse.

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