Nineteen years ago, I left an over-the-road trucking job to go into full-time ministry. This meant I would be going from driving nearly 2400 miles per week to a job that was approximately a quarter-mile from our house. I would be home every night and most lunchtimes – just the thought of it was amazing.
The sad part was, before the transition was made my wife was approached by several different women who wondered, “how will you be able to stand having him around all the time?” Sheesh, thanks! I mean, these were Christian women, mind you. You know, the people who are supposed to hold marriage in the highest esteem. It seemed weird to me that these same women thought living in close proximity to their husbands would rank right up there with eating paste.
Now, as I think about our current situation with COVID-19, I can’t help but wonder how many marriages are in some trouble or at least being stretched beyond their usual thresholds. I’m not talking about the marriages that are ringing the phones off the hook at the domestic abuse hotline – and this is indeed happening.
But, I’m trying to address the Christian marriages all over this country that look great on Sunday morning but this COVID thing has brought them to their final straw or awful close to it. It grieves me that so many Christian marriages suffer in silence. But at the same time, as long as Jesus is a part of the marriage, there is hope. Below are some things that can help. Even if you’re doing great, maybe a tune-up would be good. This isn’t a time to simply endure your marriage. Rather, it’s a great opportunity to shore up some weak spots and enhance some things you’re doing well.
Here are five tips that might help ease the stress and, in fact, bring you closer together.
1. Remember, You’re In This Together.
Thanks, Captain obvious – how about way more together than I thought I signed up for? But the reality is that if you are struggling, your wife most likely is too – we all are. Growing apart through the years is one of the greatest challenges of marriage and is the cause for many divorces. Most marriages start out with two people head over heels in love – absolutely, positively, forever.
Soon the children begin to appear – it’s a mystery. At the same time, your career (or both your careers) become more and more demanding. The kids get older, get involved in sports or other school activities, and soon every spare minute is spent running them from event to event.
Oh, and during this time is usually when your parents begin to show their age and their health issues begin (who came up with the timing of all this?) In the meantime, you and your wife are just trying to keep things together and, if you haven’t been intentional about spending time together, you have grown further apart than you even noticed. The kids finally graduate and move out of the house pursuing college, the military or whatever and the house is now occupied by two strangers.
This is a common way divorce happens after 30 years of marriage. The sad fact is that no one was nurturing the relationship during all the life that snuck up on them. The reality is that you will never drift into the marriage you had always dreamed of. When you are drifting, its always apart. There is no static position in marriage – if you aren’t working on it, its drifting.
I always ask men struggling with their marriage if they have a fixed date night. No one has ever said yes. Here’s the principle. You two were a thing before kids and you will be a thing after kids – you need to make sure you’re a thing during kids. Make time, every week, to go back and retrieve the friendship you had when you were madly in love. Hint: if it was ever there, it can be there again.
I remember hearing James Dobson on Focus on the Family remark that the greatest thing dads can do to nurture a sense of security in their children is to love their mother. When date night’s a priority, the whole family wins.
2. Share the Responsibilities.
In the middle of a pandemic isn’t the time to say, “That’s not MY job.” (Not a good time to say lots of things but let’s just start here.) Actually, there’s never a time to say that unless it has something to do with dying your wife’s hair – that’s definitely not your job.
If you have a good working system of who does what at your house then that’s great. In this season of disruption, let’s not add to it by dictating jobs to each other. Here’s the new rule - if you see something that needs to be done - to borrow the line from Nike, "just do it." It is a simple way of sharing the load and letting each other know you are working toward a common end, and you are extending yourself for the other.
3. Lead With Prayer and Compassion.
In his book, Strong Men in Tough Times, Ed Cole make this observation, “. . . prayer produces intimacy. You become intimate with the One to whom you pray, for whom you pray and with whom you pray.” It’s true, nothing builds emotional intimacy like praying together. It is when we should be most transparent and vulnerable – before our God. And don’t use prayer to manipulate – “Lord please help my adorable wife see that she should spend more time with the kids and be more patient . . .” A good way to find yourself sleeping alone.
It has been rare for me to meet a man who prays with his wife. Out loud. I can’t imagine what is so horrifying about this concept that causes men to recoil from the very idea. Maybe the real fear is that they will be exposed to have a pretty lame prayer life even in silence? Time to man up on this one, guys. Time to lead your wife and family in spiritual practices. Yes, it may feel awkward the first few times but the rewards are rich. Starting your day and ending your day praying with your wife will yield earthly and heavenly rewards. Trust me on this one.
Speaking of your prayer life – having trouble getting answers to your prayers? Check out this verse –
In the same way, you husbands must give honor to your wives. Treat your wife with understanding as you live together. She may be weaker than you are, but she is your equal partner in God’s gift of new life. Treat her as you should so your prayers will not be hindered. 1 Peter 3:7 (NLT)
Here's the thing, guys – don’t think you can have a healthy spiritual life and treat your wife poorly. If we are not loving our wives well, apparently there’s not even any point in praying. First things first – your marriage is to reflect the love of Christ for His church.
4. Listen Well.
It’s common knowledge that many men struggle with this one. We are wired to fix things. So, when our wife begins to unfold a lengthy narrative about an issue she is currently facing – usually relational, we are quick to respond with a solution.
“Well, why don’t you just tell her...” Hold it, cowboy – you are about to make a colossal mistake. A solution wasn’t asked for, never in the entire narrative were the words, “What should I do about this” mentioned or suggested. Can’t our wife just download sometimes without us trying to solve whatever the “problem” is?
Sometimes we’re not actually sure what the problem is – we would just like to know if it’s us. Well, since we’re not always that intuitive, just ask, “Are we ok here? Do you just need to talk?” Hopefully, the answer is yes and we can relax, re-adjust our receptors and listen. We need to give our wives the gift of “listening to understand” and stop “listening to respond.” Many times, a response isn’t what’s needed – a listening compassionate ear is. This may take some practice – but really, has there ever been a better time to learn this?
5. When In Doubt, Follow This:
“As I have loved you, so love one another”
Can you guess who said this? If you guessed Jesus, give yourself 5 points and an extra scoop of ice cream. The great news is that since these are the words of Jesus, it is fail-proof advice (actually a command) all the time.
This one sentence pretty much sums up all the marriage advice you will ever need if you do it. Two people loving each other in the same way that Jesus loves us, can’t fail – It’s impossible. Mutual surrendering, one to the other, is the key to a fulfilling lifetime marriage. That is the advice Paul gives us in Ephesians 6:21 “. . . submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
That’s it. The key to a fulfilling marriage is the same key to living the Spirit-filled life. Jesus reminds us in several places in the Gospels, that the key to living the best life you can imagine is to lay down the life you are making for yourself.
On the day you stood before God and witnesses, you promised to do this, in so many words. Have you drifted from the daily awareness of your covenant pledge? Now is a great time to get your priorities back in order. Chances are, the marriage you always dreamed of, is the one you already have. We’ve simply drifted.
The belief of our day is that I can’t act like I’m in love if I’m not feeling “in love.” In fact, if I don’t feel like I’m in love then maybe I married the wrong person. But the truth is that our feelings actually follow our behavior. There is a verse below that you can use as a daily plumb line. You’ll notice that feelings are never mentioned. Actions are. Love is a verb and a choice we can make. What a great time to put a few simple priorities into motion and start living the marriage of your life, for the life of your marriage.
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NLT)
What marriage-savers keep you going in close quarters?
Let us know in the comments below.
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