Tools for Your Marriage Toolbox
Our marriages can be like machines that need tune-ups, regular maintenance, small repairs and sometimes even a major overhaul. As any good mechanic knows, the quality of your tools makes a big difference in the process of the work, even affecting your enjoyment of the work. I’d like to share a few tools you can have in your marriage tool box to help with those issues that inevitably come up in every life shared by two people trying to be one flesh.
A Sense of Humor
If I have to think of one thing that has helped Tony and I throughout our nearly 39 years of marriage, I would have to say it was the both of us having a sense of humor. We laugh with each other, and sometimes at each other, but never to hurt the other person. We laugh whenever we find something funny.
Sometimes it can be really easy to take life too seriously. And life can get pretty serious as we all have experienced. But Proverbs 17:22 says “A cheerful or joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed or broken spirit dries up the bones, or saps a person’s strength.”
Henry Ward Beecher said “A person without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs. It’s jolted by every pebble on the road.”
Do you need to develop your ability to perceive humor or appreciate a joke? Maybe you just haven’t valued laughter enough in your life.
In no way am I advocating the cruelty of making fun of your spouse. Ridiculing another person is ungodly. Some people tease so hard they can become cruel and sarcastic instead of being lighthearted and fun. Let the wellbeing of your spouse be your guide in all your attempts at humor. Put-downs, no matter how funny they are to you, are never permitted.
When a sense of humor has been allowed and enjoyed in a relationship, it can add to the grace needed in the serious times.
Laugh freely when your spouse is making a joke or being funny. It can be a passive aggressive response to withhold your laughter from your spouse. Everyone likes to feel that they are funny at times and your laughter makes your spouse feel like they won something!
Taking life too seriously can lead to burn out or dry bones as the Bible says. Look for opportunities to laugh and have fun with your spouse even in the most trying of circumstances.
Be On the Same Team
A good marriage requires a team mentality. You have to guard against a competitive positioning of you versus your spouse.
Philippians 2:3 says “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”
Being on the same team is vital especially when it comes to handling the tough situations. You have to cultivate camaraderie through loyalty, friendship, and a mentality of tackling issues together. You want to create a united front against whatever you are facing.
Some situations are less intense than others. Some us may need outside help in order to stay on the same team.
I think of the struggles that blended families have. Trying to parent two sets of children together can be a real test of a couple’s unity.
For Tony and I our greatest challenge in this area was dealing with our son who went through a terrible season. We had to wrestle our way into being on the same page as we were walking through the logistics of a prodigal child. Tony came from a Father’s perspective and I came from a Mother’s perspective. Tony was tougher than I wanted to be with our son and we had to have many conversations and make many compromises as we developed a united strategy. We prayed together and sought the Lord’s wisdom, but we had to work it out. Our strategy wasn’t just dumped in our lap in a pretty package. It took time and effort just like most everything of value.
Be aware that one of the enemy’s tactics is to separate the two of you whenever he can. But if you are committed to being a team, his plan can be averted and God’s plan can be fulfilled in your marriage.
A Sense of Fair Play
I think a common feeling among married couples that tries to rear its ugly head is self-pity. The thought that “I am doing more in this marriage than he or she is” comes to us all and it’s a thought that we should dissect and dismantle when it comes. Self-pity is an enemy to our souls and to our relationships.
One way to combat this is for each of us to be good to our spouses. Each of us needs to bring a sense of fair play to the relationship where both of us are trying to outdo the other one in the area of good deeds.
Fairly sharing household chores, fairly spending money, fairly sharing parenting duties—things like these help establish that sense of fair play.
I once heard the story of a man who went out without telling his wife and bought a boat. Their finances were not such that a boat purchase was in their best interest and it put the wife in a bind as she tried to manage their finances. This is not fair play. Both husband and wife need to be in agreement on purchases such as this.
While I doubt any relationship can be 100% equal in the giving and taking, I do believe relationships can be fairer.
Check yourself: are you a giver or a taker? Takers need to recognize that they are takers and learn to be better at being a giver. Givers often need to learn to become good receivers when your spouse does something nice for you. Givers need to recognize when a gift is given to them.
So each one of us needs to step up in our responsibilities to the relationship and invest in the well being of our spouse through actions and attitude. As believers we know that love is patient and kind, doesn’t envy or boast, is not arrogant or rude. 1 Corinthians 13:5 in the ESV says love does not insist on it’s own way and to me, that speaks of fair play. Have the determination that you are going to be fair to your spouse and fulfill your responsibilities in the marriage so that your spouse isn’t tempted when self-pity comes calling.
Gratitude is another antidote to self-pity, one we administer to ourselves. Colossians 3:15 says “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”
I believe that the power of gratitude has a lot of influence in our marriages and if you have two grateful people in a relationship together, you have a holy attitude that permeates the marriage. It is the will of God that we give thanks and as believers, He is working his will in us on a daily basis.
Have you ever noticed that when you expressed gratitude to your spouse for something, that it triggered a positive response in them? There is a saying that goes “What gets praised gets done” and I believe that what gets thanked also gets done. A smart wife will thank her husband for the effort he puts into his job so that the family is supported financially. A wise husband thanks his wife for the job she does whether in the business world or at home or both. Be quick to see and be grateful for whatever good your spouse is doing for you and the family and be verbal about your gratitude. It blesses them that you notice enough to make a comment about it.
William Arthur Ward said “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” Gratitude has a way of making you a happier person and also making your spouse a happier person. Who doesn’t want that?
I saved the biggest and heaviest tool for last, and probably the most useful tool of all, to be honest. Ruth Bell Graham once said “A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.” After nearly 39 years of marriage I believe that.
Ephesians 4:32 says “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” We always want to keep in mind that God says in Mark 11:26 “But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.”
To be clear, forgiveness is not saying that what the offender did was right. True forgiveness says that what they have done or are doing is wrong, but God’s love and power in you is far greater than this offense against you. You decide that you will not allow this offense to contaminate you with bitterness. You may have been affected by what they did, but you will not be an ongoing victim by retaining the offense.
Forgiveness is not forgetting—but it enables us to be less and less preoccupied with the memory of the wrong suffered.
Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does change the future. Max Lucado said “Relationships don’t thrive because the guilty are punished, but because the wounded are merciful.”
We are to be merciful as our Father in Heaven is merciful, and we can be more like Him as we walk in forgiveness toward each other.
These are just a few tools that I have found to be helpful in my own marriage journey. Tony and I still consider our marriage to be a work in progress and we continue to learn what works and what doesn’t work.
May God strengthen us as we endeavor to nurture our marriages to be all that He intended for them to be.