Top 8 Marriage Tips with the Smiths
Published on 23 September 2020
One of our favourite things to witness is a display of deep and unconditional love between two elderly people who have been married for many years. To watch how they gaze into each other’s twinkling eyes; the gentle way they take their spouse’s hand in their own and the warm banter they share as they recall precious memories of their adventure of a lifetime, can generate hope in the most disappointed heart. Equally impacting is to watch the effects on one when the other passes away, leaving them to face life alone. Watching the tears well up in wrinkled eyes at the mention of their spouse’s name and to see them so often deteriorate and quickly pass away from the effects of a broken heart and a lack of will to live, is equally impacting. Inspiringly, what lies in the wake of this mutual devotion, are many challenging moments along the way, some of which seriously challenged the survival of their marriage—but did not succeed. So what is the secret to a lasting and satisfying marriage?
The truth is, we all want this to be our story; to love and be loved deeply and consistently over a lifetime. We all want to know that the huge investment we have made in our marriage and family is safe and that those we have loved, will love us in return without condition and for the duration of our life. Sadly, this is not always our reality.
Every Christian knows that God must occupy the greatest place of affection in our hearts. After all, He calls Himself our First Love (see Rev 2:4 NKJV). But in His supreme wisdom, He made room for us to love others, giving us the choice to marry—an invitation to love and be loved, and to build a family inside the security of covenant relationship and under the cover of His Lordship. Marriage was intended to yield much joy and multiplied fruitfulness, and to combat the effects of isolation and loneliness in human beings.
As such, marriage is a gift to be stewarded carefully, and in the words of every marriage celebrant—“not to be entered into lightly”.
I’m sure that most people who have been married for longer than a day will agree that marriage is one of the most satisfying AND painful experiences of our lives. Well after the glorious effects of constantly swirling hormones have subsided — those that once attracted us to and kept us obsessively thinking about our future spouse— new emotions begin to surface in their wake. These feelings are far deeper and affect us even more significantly as our marriages progress into new stages of development. Those that fit the positive category include respect, honour, loyalty, gratitude and love— while those which are less appealing, include disappointment, betrayal, disrespect, resentment, anger and even fear. It is our experience that all of these and more, will surface from time to time in our marriages, and will all help to form the tapestry that reflects each one of our unique marriage journeys. But how can we stay in the positive zone and focus our energies on building and not undermining strength in our marriages?
Well, we have been married 30 years this year and although many of our friends can boast a lot longer, we are very grateful to have made it this far—happy, contented and still in love. On reflection of the years of marriage that have flown past so quickly, these are some of the things we believe have helped us to ‘build’:
1. Quality Time
In our experience, there is simply no substitute for quality time spent alone with each other engaging in mutually enjoyable activities. We live an incredibly busy and unconventional life, and due to work travel commitments, spend significant amounts of time apart. Finding time for recreation has always been a challenge, but we have made it a priority—even when our children were little and it was difficult to get a babysitter. It has helped us to set aside a particular day for our quality time, as this has helped to turn it into a routine and something to look forward to when we’re having a challenging week. For us personally, we love going to the movies, and while we may disagree on the style of movie we’ll watch, we have learned to compromise and enjoy our time together.
It is during these moments alone that we have most of the necessary conversations that need to be had. We can talk freely and uninterrupted—especially when there is conflict to be resolved. It is an opportunity to share thoughts and ideas, and to help each other process what is going on in our lives.
Finding moments for quality connections in marriage, takes planning and intentionality. It rarely happens by chance.Without spending regular quality time together, life can so easily slide into a repetitive routine that revolves around work, parenting and domestic duties, and leave us vulnerable to allowing our marriage to deteriorate slowly without even noticing it’s happening. When we do not find what we need in each other, due to the eroding effects of busyness, fatigue and distraction, we risk searching for those things in other places such as our work, unhealthy relationships and destructive habits that provide temporary relief from the feelings of detachment that we are experiencing. That is why investing regular time into being with our spouse in a meaningful way, is so crucial to the longevity of our marriages.
As always, we can look to Jesus as the ultimate example of the behaviour of a loving spouse:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.
Ephesians 5:25 (NIV)
He pursued His spouse (His people). He sought us out and chased us down because He loved us and continues to love us to this day. In the same way, we should seek out our spouse, pursue them, and love them as Christ loved the church. This must be intentional and not left to chance!
The truth is, no farmer plants seed and then walks away and leaves it untended, expecting to bear a great crop without any effort. Instead he carefully tends to it, to give it the best opportunity to grow and thrive. In the same way, lasting, fruitful marriages don’t just happen when left to their own devices. They require our careful attention, and spending regular quality time together is the bare minimum to achieving this!
So when was the last time you took time out to enjoy the company of your spouse?
Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise.
Proverbs 19:20 (NIV)
And he gives grace generously. As the Scriptures say, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."
James 4:6 (NLT)
It’s hard to admit that your marriage is in trouble, but that’s why we belong to a spiritual family. We all need friends/family who we can trust with our failings and who in turn can trust us with their own. Lasting relationships are built on mutual vulnerability, and while it is important to protect and cover our spouse’s most intimate secrets, we all need to be able to admit that we need help and care from time to time. Our leaders and pastors exist for this very purpose; to provide care and guidance that is based on God’s Word.
So often we think others don’t notice that we’re struggling, but in our experience, they do. Despite our best efforts to hide our challenges from those we love, they can usually pick up where we are at from our body language, tone of voice and many other little cues. It is far more productive and authentic to teach those that we love that challenges are real but you can get through them with the right help, than to pretend that things are always good—when they are clearly not.
When things are really bad, we can be tempted to isolate ourselves until the trouble blows over. This has the very opposite effect of making us even more vulnerable to deeper relationship stress. Instead, we have learned that there are some moments where it is critical that we reach out for help—for the betterment of our marriage and for all of the people who depend on us in their lives. If necessary, get help from an external counsellor with Christian values who has some distance from your everyday life. Don’t delay! If a farmer sees an insect infestation on his crop, he does not ignore it and hope that it disappears on it’s own. No, he gets help immediately to limit his losses and save what he has invested so much into. Likewise, our marriages should be precious enough to us, to humble ourselves and seek help when they are under threat!
Lets not forget that marriage is a skill and skills can be developed. Very few people actively seek to learn how to do marriage better, especially when things are going well. But we have learned that there is plenty of useful Bible-based information to help us grow—if we have a teachable heart. If you are an older couple, why not look for young couples who need mentoring in marriage. In days gone by, young people learned about marriage by watching others who had been married longer, up close on a daily basis. Now, we live fairly isolated lives, but are no less in need of good role models and mentors. Likewise, if you are newly married, why not actively seek mentors in older couples. Every one of us would like to believe that the battles we have faced and conquered have not been wasted on ourselves. As such, we all feel a great sense of privilege and usefulness when called upon to offer advice and wisdom that has been hard-earned on the battlefield of life!
Though many qualities are worth seeking when we are looking for a spouse, teachability should be at the top of the list! When we are teachable, we are able to develop in every area of our lives. Without it, our growth will always be limited. The good news, however, is that it is never too late to change and embrace humility and a teachable spirit!
In what areas of your life, are you closed to the help and instruction of others?
3. Preserving Kingdom Order
For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.
1 Corinthians 14:33a (NIV)
In their online article entitled ‘Remember How it All Began’, Ted Cunningham and Gary Smalley make the following challenging statement:
“Few things prepare your children for success more than growing up with a mom and dad who thoroughly enjoy each other. They need you and your spouse to be great parents and great lovers.”
When you first get married, there can be a struggle for the position of authority. Each person enters the relationship with their own culture and values, and it can be confronting when required to compromise these and yield to the will of someone else. Getting our marriage and family in Kingdom Order is essential.
When children enter the marriage, Kingdom Order can be challenged again. When we first look into the eyes of our newborn child, all sorts of emotions kick in. They quickly become the centre of our lives, rightfully demanding our undivided attention and the immediate satisfying of their needs. Although this is normal in the beginning, it can be destructive to our marriages later on. If we are not careful, our children become the centre of our lives, to the neglect of our marriages. If allowed to continue, our children will ultimately suffer when their parents separate or stay married but live as relative strangers. Even worse, when our children finally leave home, if we have made them the centre of our world, the bottom can suddenly fall out of our lives, and we can discover that while we were completely focussed on them, our marriage was rapidly decaying and there is now, nothing left to work with.
Make no mistake, our children are precious to us and something to be carefully stewarded, but no more so than our marriages. It is important that despite the constant heavy demands that parenting brings with it, we continue to prioritise and make time for our spouses. Though our children may scream as we hand them over to a babysitter — tearing at our heart strings and making us feel intensely guilty for leaving them— they will thank us when they are grown and have a deep sense of security knowing that the two most important people in their lives, are still madly in love with each other!
Often we over-care for our children because of lack or trauma from our own childhood. We want so much for them to feel like they are our priority and lack for nothing, but sometimes this leads to kids that are unable to cope with the real world that doesn’t treat them with the same devoted service that their parents provided. We must draw on God’s wisdom to balance our family lives so that every relationship receives what it needs and thrives under the cover of Kingdom order!
So what sort of marriage will you have when your children leave home?
4. Seeking Fun
A merry heart does good, like medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones.
Proverbs 17:22 (NKJV)
One of the most critical lessons we have learned, getting older and having raised our children to adulthood, is the power of making memories. We all reflect back on our lives from time to time, and certain memories drift to the surface and continue to affect us over our entire lifetime. Many not so pleasant memories remain imprinted on our minds. While we cannot reverse what happened to produce these, we can control the active formation of wonderful new memories in our marriages and family life.
While it is true that many wonderful memories happen spontaneously and without planning, we can be very intentional about building them too. That means actively looking for ways to build fun into our everyday lives. Every marriage and family will benefit from more laughter and fun to reduce stress levels and help strengthen the bonds between people who love each other, but are each individually battling with life’s demands.
For those of us who are prone to being addicted to our work, feeling constant pressure to provide or overly worried about the routine demands of family life, it is good to remember the kind of life that Jesus intended us to live as a result of His Presence:
I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance [to the full, till it overflows].
John 10:10b (AMP)
You are never too old or too poor to have fun. Creating memory-making fun in a marriage can be as simple as sharing a bubble bath, or as decadent as ticking something off your travel bucket list. The greatest challenge may be that each spouse defines fun a different way. My husband loves sport, for instance, especially attending live games at a stadium. For me, having been brought up in a sport-free home, attending a sporting match is a mild form of torture! The key is to compromise by focussing on what brings your spouse joy with the hopeful expectation that they will do the same for you!
When was the last time you had a good laugh with your spouse?
5. Protecting Intimacy
The word intimacy is so often attached to our physical relationship with our spouse, but we have discovered it to be so much more! Emotional intimacy is that state of being absolutely at ease with our spouse—completely open and vulnerable in every way. It is the state of trust, acceptance and unconditional love that makes us feel safe and secure, and leads naturally to authentic and mutual physical intimacy. It is what we all want so desperately, but one of the most elusive states to reach. Maintaining emotional intimacy with the person we love, requires our focus and attention. Restoring it after it is lost, is a lot harder than investing a little effort into preserving it along the way!
The openness and trust that is felt during authentic intimacy, is easily scared away when we are careless with our words and behaviours towards our spouse. Whether intentional or accidental, any behaviour that dishonours the one who has put their trust in us, can lead to the construction of protective walls around their heart that will need to be dealt with before intimacy can be restored.
We are not suggesting that we can be perfect all of the time and that there is not a need for continual forgiveness and conflict resolution, but we are urging you to work at maintaining intimacy by taking care of your marriage and avoiding those works of the flesh that can wound the one that you love and cause them to take cover. These may include anger, rudeness, selfishness, and deception—just to name a few of the most destructive offenders! I love the advice that screams loudly from the poetic language of love found in Song of Solomon:
Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that spoil and ruin the vineyards [of love], while our vineyards are in blossom.
Song of Solomon 2:15 (AMP)
This is a call to be proactive, seeking out and ridding our marriages of those things that nibble away at the roots and eventually destroy its fruitfulness! There have been many moments in our marriage where we have been far away from true intimacy, even wondering if we would ever feel it again. But that’s where we as Christians, have an unfair advantage! Holy Spirit is ready and waiting to walk the journey back to intimacy with us, leading and advising us and softening our hearts—no matter how far we have wandered or how significant the damage that has been done to the roots! God is able to restore ANYTHING, even if it appears to be dead!
What dysfunctional behaviours or habits are threatening the intimacy you share with your spouse?
6. Building life around the House of God
Planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. [Growing in grace] they will still thrive and bear fruit and prosper in old age;They will flourish and be vital and fresh [rich in trust and love and contentment].
Proverbs 92:13-14 (AMP)
One of the greatest foundational principles that both sets of parents instilled in our lives since childhood, is the importance of building marriage and family around our local church. Missing church on Sunday was never an option, and although it felt rigid at the time, we are so grateful now.
Church is the place where we encounter God together with our spiritual family. It is the place where we receive God’s Word for our lives, draw close to His Presence and receive encouragement and love from other Believers. It is where we interact with people who are ahead of us on the journey of marriage, and hear testimonies of the great things that God has done. It is a crucial aspect of our lives and one that should never be pushed down the priority list when life’s pressures present.
While it is true that we can access God anywhere and at any time, this does not mean that meeting together corporately is less important.
And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.
Hebrews 10:25 (NLT)
We have learned that we so often come to church full of unresolved conflict with our spouse and family, but find that our hearts naturally soften during moments of worship as we draw close to God. When we encounter God, we become aware of the condition of our own hearts and feel compelled to get right with Him. As a consequence, the offences of our spouses and children come into right perspective and we allow our hearts to heal and open up again towards them.
Just being around Godly married couples is also invaluable. We can learn so much about how to treat our spouses and how we should expect to be treated, by observing the behaviour of others. Most of all, our spiritual family is there to love and support us, and we all need help from time to time.
God values marriage so much that He used it to describe the relationship between His son, Jesus, and the church:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
Ephesians 5:25-27 (NIV)
Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready;
Revelation 19:7 (ESV)
Therefore, we cannot underestimate the value of building our lives around God’s bride. When we look to His example of husbandry with His church, we can learn so much that we can apply to our own marriages.
Where does church attendance sit on your priority list?
7. Seeking Understanding
We don’t have time to discuss conflict resolution in detail here, but there are many wonderful resources available to help you with conflict in your marriage. What we have learned is one simple principle that has helped us navigate some of the biggest challenges in our marriage.
“Get [skilful and godly] wisdom! Acquire understanding [actively seek spiritual discernment, mature comprehension, and logical interpretation]! Do not forget nor turn away from the words of my mouth.
Proverbs 4:5 (AMP)
Here we are urged to not only seek wisdom in life, but also UNDERSTANDING. In the height of conflict, it is so easy to focus on how we can make ourselves understood by our spouse. We can be so busy planning our next point that we fail to even hear the words that are coming out of their mouths! When we follow the advice of Proverbs, and seek first to understand our spouse, we position ourselves differently. Our priority changes from speaking to listening. We seek to understand their perspective on the matter. We have found that as we discipline ourselves to be listeners and begin to truly process what we are hearing, empathy begins to emerge. Whether they are right or wrong, when we understand where they are coming from, we position ourselves to be the solution and not the problem.
Truly loving our spouses and meeting their needs, begins with understanding them. This is true of any relationship. Our spouse’s fears and concerns may be irrational, illogical and exaggerated, but they are real and influential in their lives. It is only when we seek to truly understand the struggle of our spouse, that our hearts can soften, our compassion activate and our offence be discarded in favour of authentic repentance and reconciliation.
Are you a good listener?
8. Choosing your Battles
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Matthew 5:9 (ESV)
We all want to live in peace, especially in our marriages. But there is a difference between trying to keep the peace, and making peace.
We have learned that the little foxes that spoil the vine often go unchallenged in our marriage when keeping the peace is the goal. Every spouse has their own form of challenging behaviour that the other has to work with. This behaviour kicks in when we feel insecure or threatened and activates our need to control our environment to reduce our fear. Often we learn these behaviours by imitating our parents, or develop dysfunction due to trauma of some kind. Some of us attempt to control our spouses using anger and intimidation. Others control using more subtle means like withdrawing love or enacting the silent treatment. Whatever it may be for you, seeking to control our spouses is not Godly and is only effective for as long as our spouses will tolerate it!
Sometimes, we have to go to battle in our marriage in order to establish true peace— where fear, intimidation and control cease to exist. Many have been taught that real Christianity means avoiding conflict at all cost and always being the one to yield in a relationship. This simply is not true and often leads to people being imprisoned and disempowered in environments of abuse. If we are going to truly steward our marriage and protect it from the enemy who is always looking for opportunities to divide and conquer, sometimes a righteous fight is required!
This means confronting our fears and bringing issues into the light, despite the likelihood of triggering our spouses less-than-desirable reactions. In bravely raising sacred cow topics, we need to be prepared for an extended period of discomfort and conflict, knowing that a new level of peace will be established in the end if we hold your ground and obey the directions of the Holy Spirit. Instigating the right kind of conflict can be an act of great love when our hearts are in the right place and surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus at all times. It goes without saying, however, that we are not advocating putting yourself in a place where you will be vulnerable to abuse of any kind. If you feel threatened in any way, please seek advice from professionals and from friends, families and leaders that you trust. God Himself, is ready, willing and available to guide you each step of the way.
Godly peace makers seek out peace and actively intervene to re-establish peace when conflict and animosity raises their ugly heads. Surrendered to and directed by the Holy Spirit, they go to battle with whoever and whatever is threatening a state of Godly peace. They don’t have an attitude that shys away from rocking the boat, because they can see beyond to the peaceful life that awaits. To these, God promises blessing and calls them His sons and daughters (see Matt 5:9).
So what unresolved issues are stealing the peace in your marriage?
If we are determined that our marriages will glorify God, we must give them the attention they deserve and fight for God’s best. Like the parable of the talents (found in Matthew 25:14-30), God is not pleased with those who simply seek to maintain their marriages. Instead, God expects us to invest in and grow the marriages we have been gifted so that we can truly bring salt and light to the world around us. As Christians, our marriages should stand out from the crowd to such an extent that they draw unbelievers to want to know our secret, and in the process, discover their Saviour—the ultimate bridegroom.
Can we encourage you not to settle for anything less than God’s best for your marriage. No matter what challenges you face or how far you may have slipped from the love you once shared with your spouse, the situation is never hopeless when God is invited into the process. He is willing and able to restore what is broken and revive what may seem dead, for His Glory. Trust in Him and invest into the precious gift of your marriage. Though it takes work and effort, it will yield great rewards and you too will gaze into the eyes of your spouse—long after youthful beauty has faded—and feel nothing but awe and gratitude that God faithfully brought you through every season of marriage and blessed you beyond measure in the process!
Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is there anything too hard for Me?
Jeremiah 32:27 (NKJV)
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