by Mike Genung
A couple can get so deep in the pit that they forget how to find their way back. The following are tips for regaining your footing in your marriage.
1. Every night, no matter how tough it is, pray together. Prayer is one of the most powerful things you can do for your marriage; God uses it to draw the two of you together with Him. If neither of you know what to say, start with something simple like “God, help us… we’re lost… we need You, show us the way.”
2. Remember that your spouse is not your enemy. Marriage is tough when both sides are dug in on opposite sides of the battle line. Your spouse is your biggest earthly gift from God. Resolve to work your differences out together. Your enemy is Satan; he wants to keep you at each other’s throats.
3. When necessary, agree to disagree. There will be issues, especially minor ones, where you’ll have to agree to disagree, at least temporarily. She might think she looks best in dark clothes, while he thinks otherwise. Learn to let the small things go.
4. Be hard to offend. I once heard Dr. James Dobson say we should keep our eyes wide open before marriage, and half shut afterwards. When both sides have their feelings on their sleeves a little spark can start a raging bonfire. This doesn’t mean you should put up with insults or cruelty, but allow your spouse to be flawed… or different. Don’t put unrealistic expectations on them.
Also, do not take seriously all words which are spoken, so that you will not hear your servant cursing you. For you also have realized that you likewise have many times cursed others. Ecclesiastes 7:21-22
5. Never call your spouse degrading names, jab with sharp, critical words, or put them down. Your words have impact, and can hurt and tear down as easily as they can build up and encourage.
6. Focus on loving your spouse. Quit trying to change them. You wouldn’t have gotten past the second date before you were married if you were all about criticizing them. Get back to the basics: a man and his wife, enjoying each other’s company. Focus on accepting them; don’t dwell on their weaknesses.
7. Encourage your spouse. When my wife tells me she appreciates something I did, even if it was small, it makes my day. There’s nothing like a well-timed note of encouragement, or spoken words of appreciation. It’s been said that we should provide five times the encouragement that we do of criticism or correction. Work on upgrading the ratio in your relationship.
8. Wives, tell your husbands what you want. He can’t read your mind.
9. Have fun, often. Go out on a date. Watch a movie. Get away for a night alone. If you have kids, get a babysitter. You should date at least once a month; once a week is best. When my wife and I went through a period where we became distant, we started meeting for a cheap lunch once a week. It made a huge difference in our marriage. Don’t expect a time slot for a date to fall out of the sky; you’ll both have to be intentional about scheduling time alone.
10. Hug each other at least once a day. Hold hands. Tell your spouse you love them. Do it even if you don’t feel like it.
11. Listen. When your spouse has something to share, let them get it all out before you speak. Make them feel heard so they know you care about them.
12. If your spouse shares a situation where you hurt them, apologize immediately. During my more than 20 years of marriage, there were many times when I knew I was wrong while Michelle and I were arguing; I dug into my foxhole because of pride. Tension that lasted for hours or days could have been cleared up in minutes if I’d have just dropped my pride and apologized.
13. When discussing a tough topic, refrain from saying “you” as much as possible. Once we hear “You did this to me…,’ up go the defenses. Try expressing yourself with phrases like “I think that…,” “this is how I feel about…,” “this is how I see it…,” “please tell me if I’m wrong.” Then move towards “how can we work this out together?”
14. Become compromisers. Practice God-pleasing humility by letting your spouse have their way at times. Do things they like. Don’t be all about yourself and getting your needs met. This doesn’t mean become a doormat and do everything your spouse’s way; the idea is to build a loving relationship of two unselfish people.
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Philippians 2:3-7
15. Get your priorities right. God is your first priority and should be the source of your life, not your spouse. Your spouse is never meant to provide all of your emotional and spiritual needs. Each of you should spend time alone with the Lord, every day. Your second priority is your spouse. Parents, kids, friends, hobbies, or sports never take precedence over your marriage. Many will have work to do in this regard. Men have a tendency to put sports, work, ministry or hobbies over their families. For women it can be other relationships, such as with their parents or children, or work. Take a hard look with your spouse at the areas that need to change so your priorities are ordered God’s way, and then make adjustments. If you want to know how you’re doing, ask your spouse if they feel like they’re the priority in your life they should be. If not, don’t get defensive; think and pray about what they said, and take action. For more on how important your marriage is, see Your Marriage is a Big Deal to God.
16. Have sex. Satan does everything he can to get you in bed before marriage; he fights to keep you away from it afterwards. Sex bonds a couple together. If you’re not able to have sex with your spouse today because of a recent disclosure of an affair or porn use, or there are other painful issues at hand, work toward the day when you can resume sexual relations again. Do not ban sex from your marriage. I’ve written in detail in this website about how the wife needs to feel loved and how the man needs to let go of all porn or adulterous affairs; none of that changes. But once you’re into the rebuilding process you need to incorporate sex back into your marriage. This takes time, commitment and planning. If you have kids you may have to schedule times for intimacy. Don’t get wound up about having to be spontaneous; this is the way it is for couples with children. Both sides may also need to negotiate a reasonable frequency. When you have sex, take your time, and enjoy it! Talk to each other and discuss what you like.
17. Never make a major decision unless both sides are in agreement. If I get invited to participate in a ministry event, I check with Michelle first. If she’s not okay with it, I turn it down. God’s given me my wife for a reality check; she keeps me grounded, and I do the same for her. We help each other because there’s no one that knows our strengths and weaknesses as we do, our marriage works when we allow God to work His decision making process through our marriage. If your spouse isn’t in agreement on an issue, let it go, and wait on God. If the Lord moves in your spouse’s heart and brings a change of mind, fine. Otherwise, don’t push it.
18. Realize that your differences are blessings. I’m an introvert who loves to write and spend time alone with God; Michelle is an extrovert who’s great with people. My weaknesses are counterbalanced by Michelle’s strengths, and vise-versa. God put us together for a specific purpose. It took me a long time to figure out that our differences are not points of division, but how God fits us together. I appreciate my wife’s strengths, as she does mine. The trick is to learn how to work together so you’re not beating each other up for your weaknesses. Humility is the key. I am the spiritual leader of my family, but I’m also a broken sinner in daily need of the grace of God. The Lord uses us to help each other. We both need God; at times one of us needs the other to (gently) remind us how God would have us live. There are times when I submit to a direction Michelle thinks we should take, as there are times when she submits to me. I don’t have all the answers, and neither does she. With God’s help, when we’re able to lay down our pride, listen to what the other says, and work through an issue, the answer is usually fleshed out.
19. Pray together; this is so critical that we’re ending this article the same way it started. It’s said that couples who pray together divorce one in one thousand. Soak your marriage with prayer. I can’t stress this enough, especially when times are tough.
Your marriage may be in the pit right now; mine was after I confessed my adultery to Michelle in 1991. My hope and prayer is that God will bless you and your spouse immensely, and breathe new life into your marriage. There is hope, because we have a Creator who cares for and loves the marriages He put together.