As I’ve thought about our marriage and the post I wrote last week, I thought I would share the things that I believe have been most helpful to us.
Here they are, in no particular order:
Prayer – Not long after we started dating, our college had a conference on prayer. Howard Hendricks spoke and shared some powerful things. My favorite quote from that evening was, “It’s far more important to talk to God about men, than to men about God.” He also shared marriage statistics comparing couples that prayed together versus couple that did not. One of our most common dates was to walk around the streets of Chicago praying together. We have continued taking prayer walks, praying together before falling asleep, and praying together at meals throughout our entire marriage. It’s harder for me to pray with Chad when I’m angry, but Chad is super committed to us spending time in prayer no matter what.
Counseling – We agreed at the beginning of our marriage that we would seek counseling for our relationship. We started with pre-marital counseling, which was incredibly helpful to us as we talked through really practical things like budgets, household chores, if we really wanted to spend the rest of our lives together…etc. Later, during seminary, we faced a season of grief, which had us running in opposite directions. Chad dealt with his grief by wanting to work more, while I was shutting down. We didn’t understand each other at all and decided it was time to get someone else’s opinion. It was an incredibly helpful time for us. We are still in touch with that counselor and are grateful for his godly wisdom and insight into our relationship. Bringing a third party into our relationship has helped us understand each other and grow in our relationship immensely. We don’t believe that counseling is a sign of weakness or something to be ashamed of. Instead, it can be a place of healing and growth for people who want to understand themselves and their spouses in a deeper way.
Willingness to change and grow – This is huge. I know quite a few people who are unwilling to change for their spouse/marriage, and all I see are negative consequences. If you are a Christian, the process of sanctification, of knowing Christ and becoming more like Him, is all about change. We never stop fighting sin in our lives, recognizing personal flaws, and looking to Christ for forgiveness and the grace to change. I don’t know about you, but I have some sins in my life that I would really like to remove from my life. I have some patterns of treating Chad poorly, and I know they are hurtful to him. At times it feels impossible to change, but I hope that I never stop fighting to change and grow, to treat my husband with more love, with more respect. It would really stunt the growth of our relationship if I told Chad, “I know this behavior hurts you, but it’s just the way that I am and there’s nothing I can do about it.” At the very least, I seek to give Chad the gift of acknowledging my poor behavior, asking his forgiveness, admitting that I want to change but don’t know how and committing to pray about it. He feels loved when I do that.
Allowing our spouse to influence us – One book that we have read on marriage is “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work” by John Gottman. It is a great book, and we have learned a lot from it. Principle number four is “Let your partner influence you.” As we have adapted to life in missions, this has become a big help to us. Missions was a big adjustment for us as we went from separate work lives to a shared life. 24/7 together. At first we fought each other on ways that we wanted to do things. We had some different opinions on how things should be done and we dug our heels in on our perspectives and wouldn’t budge. We took things personally and had some ugly arguments. Somewhere along the way, probably through the help of some godly counsel, we began to apply this principle and let the other person speak into our lives. John Gottman shares an example at the beginning of the chapter about a man who invites his wife to participate with him in decisions. Gottman concludes, “Jack has made his wife a partner in his decision making. He respects and honors his wife and her opinions and feelings. He understands that for his marriage to thrive, he has to share the driver’s seat” (pg 100). This was something that both Chad and I had to learn, specifically related to our work, in order to be able to thrive in our marriage on the mission field. It is a special part of our relationship that we value each other’s opinions on almost everything and are able to help each other as we make decisions day to day.