Friday, November 9, 2012

How to Strengthen Your Marriage by Turning it Upside Down

Ironically, your initial instincts about how to improve your marriage may actually end up harming it. What seems logical usually doesn’t work well in a marriage relationship, because the process of two people growing together as spouses isn’t a simple, formulaic process.

But if you’re willing to turn your marriage upside down by taking a completely fresh approach to it – while inviting God to help you learn new ways of relating to your spouse – you can open your marriage up to powerful transformation.

Here’s how you can strengthen your marriage by turning it upside down:

Don’t talk so much.
Concentrate on listening, instead. The more you and your spouse each focus on listening to each other, the more you can improve the communication between you, which will strengthen your marriage. Schedule at least 15 minutes every day to talk with your spouse in a quiet place where what you’re discussing can remain confidential, and take turns talking and listening so that you each get half the time to talk and half to listen. Pay attention to your body language. Be kind and compassionate with each other so you each have the security of knowing you’ll still love each other even when you’re discussing difficult issues.

Quit forgiving all the time. While it’s important to always forgive your spouse whenever he or she hurts or offends you, it’s also vital to set boundaries for the future to prevent your spouse from taking your forgiveness for granted. Keep in mind that forgiveness never releases someone from the consequences of his or her behavior. If your spouse doesn’t repent of sin and change unhealthy behavior, you shouldn’t tolerate being mistreated. Instead, you need to set and communicate clear boundaries and consequences. Seek to protect yourself from abuse of any kind: emotional, verbal, physical, or sexual. Follow God’s command to forgive unconditionally, but set conditions on how you will interact with your spouse moving forward.

Stop spending so much time together. Making a habit of regularly spending some time apart from your spouse will help you each develop a fresh perspective on your marriage and how best to solve the problems you face together. Try to spend time alone when you sense God calling you to reflect and pray, which is best done in solitude.

Fight more. Conflict is an inevitable part of all marriages, and trying to avoid it will only weaken your marriage by causing you and your spouse to neglect dealing with important issues, and becoming bitter toward one another as a result. Accept the fact that going through conflict is necessary for you and your spouse to develop stronger characters and become the people God wants you to become. So rather than trying to avoid conflict, focus on learning how to resolve conflict successfully. Ask God to use each conflict to teach you and your spouse more about yourselves, to help you both grow into more mature people, to expose issues in your marriage that He wants you to work on, and to learn more about how to best work together as a team. Fight fair, in ways like giving each other equal time to speak, avoiding absolute statements (such as “You always…” or “You never…”), clearly distinguishing facts from opinions, sticking to just one topic at a time and only involving the two of you, and focusing on the issues rather than attacking each other’s character.

Have less sex. Focusing too much on sex in your marriage can lead you or your spouse to reduce it to simply physical pleasure and lose the emotional connection that God intends for it to strengthen. So focus less on sex itself and more on intimacy. Ask God to help you discipline your sexual desires so you can intentionally use sex to develop a closer emotional bond with your spouse. Aim for quality sex, not just quantity. Get to know your spouse’s romantic desires and do your best to meet them.

Be worse parents. Don’t focus so much on your parenting that you neglect your marriage. Keep in mind that, from God’s perspective, your role as a spouse is even more important than your role as a parent. Fully enlist your spouse’s help with the children, since parenting should be a team effort so one person doesn’t become over-burdened with parenting duties. Don’t schedule so many activities for your children that it causes stress in your marriage.

Embrace poverty. The wealthier you are, the more complicated your marriage can become, because wealth demands lots of decisions and often brings stress into your lives. The conventional ideas that money makes you happy, money brings security, money makes you free, and money brings respect are simply myths. What’s true is that living a simple life free of too much concern about money – just like Jesus did – frees you up to enjoy the best life possible. Work with your spouse to follow biblical principles for managing your money, such as by keeping your expenses below your income and giving at least 10 percent of your income to support God’s kingdom work.

Go to church less. While it’s important to participate in church so you both can grow spiritually, it’s unrealistic to expect that your pastor or anyone else at the church can fix your marriage, or that you or your spouse can change simply by attending church programs. Trust in God alone to redeem and restore your life together, using the church as just one of His tools in the process.

Accept the fact that you’re average. Expect to go through many of the same challenges that affect most married couples, such as becoming annoyed by each other’s habits and dealing with stress from your children and having to coordinate work schedules. Ask God to help you proactively plan how to overcome common marital challenges.

Be less religious. Instead of acting as a religious judge toward your spouse, humble yourself before God and make changes in your own life as He leads you. Rather than focusing on what your spouse is doing wrong, focus on what you can start doing right yourself to start improving your marriage.

Give up finding your soul mate. Realize that it’s a myth that there’s just one soul mate for you somewhere in the world and you have to find him or her. The truth is that you can become a soul mate to the spouse you currently have. Shift your focus from chasing fleeting romantic emotions to working diligently to build intimacy in your marriage.

Don’t go home for Christmas. Set boundaries in your relationships with your families of origin so your parents and in-laws won’t be able to harm your marriage by trying to control you and your spouse. While you should always honor your parents, you shouldn’t let them manipulate you – during the Christmas holidays, or any other time of year.

Adapted from The Upside Down Marriage: 12 Ways to Keep Your Marriage Right Side Up by Jim Keller, copyright 2012 by James Mark Keller. Published by Russell Media, Boise, Idaho

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