Kenny Chesney and Renee Zellweger… married 4 months
Carmen Electra and Dennis Rodman… married 9 days
Brittany Spears and Jason Alexander… married 2 days and 7 hours
Ok, so maybe these are not the best examples of a long marriage. Well they are hardly examples of marriage at all. In this short amount of time you could barely remember each others birthday, much less bond and grow deeply in love.
This past month my wife and I celebrated 18 years of marriage, and yes 18 great years of marriage. Now not all those 18 years were great, there have been some very difficult years in our finances, jobs and the like, but in spite of what life has thrown at us, there have been 18 great years of marriage. Over those years, I have learned a lot about being in a long-term dedicated relationship, which is surprising considering that I was not exactly the marrying type in my younger years. In fact, before I got married I had not been faithful to one single relationship I ever had. Told a lot of girls I loved them, swore up and down they were the only one… sounds like the lyrics to a country song… but I lied. I enjoyed the freedom of doing whatever I wished, the thought of being “tied down” did not greatly appeal to me.
God changed that in me when I came to know Jesus Christ as my savior, my selfishness turned to a desire to love someone the way I saw my mom and dad love one another. They provided me a great example of a loving, dedicated couple. That is something I deeply desire to pass along. In a day and age when marriage is not as celebrated as it once was, is held in disdain by many, when life long love is laughed at by some, and thought to only be a foolish fantasy by others, I love to see dedicated love celebrated. There is so little of it in the world today, people move between relationships like they change cell phones, looking for a new model every few years.
So how do you keep a marriage fresh? How does a marriage relationship, a love partnership, last in a time when there is great pressure to get your own way, exert your own rights and not tolerate any shortcomings of your mate? I would not consider myself to be a counselor, a psychiatrist or a therapist, just a man who loves God and after 18 years still desires to be the best husband my wife could hope for.
So in no particular order, here is what I have learned about keeping a marriage fresh
1) Know this is about love, not needs
So many people are looking for love today- just watch TV. Companies are making a killing hooking people up in relationships- eHarmony, Match.com and others fill the airways promising that you can find that special person to “make your life complete”. First, I really don’t like the implication that you are somehow less than a complete person if you are not married. Secondly, it makes for a bad marriage if the other person is constantly having to make up for your deficiencies. The Bible says that we are complete in Christ only…
Col 2 8 Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. 9 For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily;10 and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.
Since we are complete in Christ, a marriage is about loving one another, not getting what you want. There are several inherit problems with looking for your mate to give you what you want or need. First, they will disappoint you. Second, two imperfect people cannot make each other perfect. Third, you put tremendous stress and pressure on your spouse to keep you supported and fulfilled. So if I am looking for my mate to meet my needs, when do I have time to be constantly meeting their needs- it creates a never-ending impossible cycle.
However, if this is about love, several great things follow. I will want to help my spouse, not compelled or guilted into meeting their needs or fulfilling their desires. My spouse will recognize my support as love, not manipulation to get what I want later. We will work together, not just as separate individuals hoping that someone can make me feel better, but there will be a synergy where together we can do more and be more than we can apart. To keep a marriage fresh you can’t bog down the relationship with one person or both people hoping that the other can meet the impossible standard of meeting all my needs.
A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person. Mignon McLaughlin
2) Seek to bless, not whine
This second principle follows the first very closely. In many couples one of the spouses may feel unfulfilled because there is that desire in them for their spouse to meet their needs, and when they fail… whining follows. Whining is a result of being self-centered, the belief that the world around us, in a marriage our spouse, owes us something and we better get it. Rita Rudner, a comedian, once said, “marriage is finding that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life.” Not exactly what God had in mind. Now realistically, if a marriage works properly, your spouse does have an obligation, to love you, encourage you, be your help-mate, and work with you through times of difficulty. However, there is a difference between seeing that as a part of a loving relationship, and demanding it as a boss would from an employee.
Your mindset cannot be, “what can I get out of this relationship”. If that is you, you are a taker. A taker is a person who drains the other person dry emotionally, spiritually and in some cases financially… and when the well runs dry, they complain that their spouse does not do enough for them. Takers are toxic to a marriage. If that is the case, you are doomed for disappointment and if carried far enough, marriage failure.
Instead, don’t sit back and wait for your spouse to fulfill you, seek to be a blessing to them. The Bible tells us that God has designed us to be givers- do good and share, bless one another, encourage one another, and many other things we are supposed to do for one another. A marriage that is fresh will be with two people who desire more to bless one another than to whine about what the other is not doing for them.
Whining does not encourage your spouse, you may guilt them into doing something for you, but at what cost? With what motivation?
3) Speak well always, not gossip
This has got to be my number one pet peeve when it comes to a married couple. Simply put, do not talk down about your spouse in public. It seems like everyone likes to complain, and when one person starts, others have to top how awful their life is or how bad their situation is or how disappointing their spouse is. Now some people would say that this is just innocent talk, just banter at the water cooler or just identifying with their co-workers or friends. But innocent talk gets repeated, repeated talk develops attitudes and attitudes turn into stances or strongholds.
If your conversations with your friends, co-workers, neighbors or church family are always of a negative nature about your spouse, guess what people will begin to believe about your spouse- negative things. That’s when those strange conversations take place- “well your husband said that you were struggling at work”… you think, well when did he say that and what did he mean? “Your wife says that you have trouble controlling the kids”. You begin to wonder what else your wife has said about your parenting. Then trouble ensues.
I have made it a principle to never talk about my wife in a negative way in front of people. First I feel like it is a betrayal of trust. If I have a problem with something she is doing, I need to talk to her about it, not the rest of the world. Secondly I expose her to ridicule with others by opening up her faults and waving them in front of others to see and hear. It doesn’t matter whether I am around other men who are complaining about their wives, that does not give me permission to run her into the ground as well. Neither one of those things are an expression of love, neither do they help build trust and encourage openness between spouses. If a spouse feels like every mistake they make is going to be trotted before their friends and planted like a billboard in front of their life, the likelihood of a strong, close, open relationship takes strong downward turn.
To keep a marriage fresh your spouse has to believe that you will be there for them, not looking for some juicy bit of gossip to pass along. They need to believe that you will love them through their faults and problems, not denigrate them in front of your friends. Speak well of your spouse and it will build confidence and intimacy in your relationship.
4) Surprise and improvise, not just routine
Mother’s day weekend 2002… my wife was fascinated with the new PT Cruisers that had come out. The car was a little out of our price range to buy, but not out of my price range to rent for a weekend. It was one of those presents that made her happy, made a memory for her. She would have loved a sweater or nice smelling bath products, she would have enjoyed any number of her favorite things. But every once in a while, you need to be a little surprising, and driving around in a cobalt blue PT Cruiser for the weekend was a hit. It was one of those little things that keeps it fresh and exciting along with a little wonder in the relationship.
Routine is a great thing, it is dependable, comforting, and familiar, but a little razzle dazzle is also a good thing! I love the fact that she has no idea what I will come up with for a present for her. I love the fact that she can’t guess what it will be. How do you do this? Listen. Pay attention to the little things you hear in conversations, while you are watching TV or at the mall. File those things away, and pull one out every so often and pull a surprise. This is one place that knowing your spouse’s love language can be important. Gary Chapman’s 5 Love Languages is a terrific study and helpful to know how your spouse feels love.
The point is to keep up expressions of love, in small surprising ways. Some people think that only the big things count- a weekend trip, a big diamond ring… but it is the small, spontaneous, unexpected things that keep a marriage fresh. I knew of one man who every week sent his wife flowers at work on Friday. She loved it, she loved getting them, she felt loved. We were talking about this and he was worried that he was keeping this up, but that it was growing old. So I made a simple suggestion, rather than having them delivered to her office, why don’t you take a half a day off, deliver them yourself and take her to lunch. It was a big hit, she was surprised, he was happy that she was so excited. Those kinds of things keep a relationship from losing its’ edge.
5) See beauty, not faults
It’s easy to see the faults in others. Jesus mentioned this when he said to take care of the plank in your own eye before you pointed out the speck in your brothers eye. We are filled with faults, physical ones, emotional ones and even spiritual ones. Yet a marriage can never be built by trying to fix the faults in your spouse.
Many stories have been told of spouse who marry someone figuring that they will “fix” their spouse along the way. Now, what would it sound like if we said that out loud. “Yes, I’ll marry you, but I’ll need to fix some things about your personality and get you to lose a little weight in order for you to really be right for me.” What happens after three or four years when they still have those personality quirks and they have gained a few pounds- resentment. No matter how much beauty there is in someone, fault finders will always resent the other person not changing to their liking. And by the way, a person who is a fault-finder will always find faults to fix, it is a cycle that never completes and does not have a happy ending.
On the other hand, a person who looks for beauty in their spouse will assume, know and not be surprised or disappointed in the faults of their spouse. Why? Because we all have them. If we all have faults, and you can’t build a marriage on fixing faults, look for the beauty in your spouse. I tell my wife that she is the prettiest woman I have ever seen, that I can find her in a crowded room by simply looking for the most beautiful woman there. Because in my eyes, there is not a more beautiful woman. Do I care what others might think? No. Do I care if someone else thinks that blondes are more beautiful? No. In my eyes, when I look at her, she captures my attention like no other.
I find beauty in who she is, in all the good things that she does, and all the good qualities that she has. Could I sit down and pick her apart and make her feel bad for things that she does wrong, yes. Could she do the same to me, yes. But what good would that do. What would that accomplish but to build mistrust and tear down the others self-worth. I want her to know that she is not just special, but priceless, irreplaceable. A few years ago for our anniversary I sat down a wrote out a David Letterman Top 10 list… but this list was the top 10 reasons I loved my wife. Some of them were kind of cute, some had to do with how she was with our kids, some has to do with her Christian walk, but all of them pointed out her beauty, the inner beauty and her outer beauty. She keeps that by her bedside.
More marriages might survive if the partners realized that sometimes the better comes after the worse. ~Doug Larson
6) Find ways to serve, not expect service
Jesus said that He came to the earth not to be served, but to serve (Matt 20:28). Now if the King of Kings, the one who is truly worthy of all service, came to this earth and served us, we certainly are called and commanded to serve one another, and that includes a marriage. To serve your spouse may seem to some a very old-fashioned concept, not very empowering and downright offensive to others. But, if we don’t have a heart to serve our spouse, what options are left? The option, and one that we see among many today, is that we are here to be served, taken care of. That attitude first of all is not a Christian attitude. To set yourself up in the high place, expecting service, does not come from the Holy Spirit.
A heart to serve your spouse is not a sign of weakness, but love. Serving one another by helping your spouse advance in their career, doing the wash when it is not your turn, taking the kids out to eat so your spouse can have a little quiet time- these are not weak moments, but strong moments of selfless love. Remember what Paul tells us in Galatians…
Gal 5 13 You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature rather, serve one another in love.
A marriage that is fresh will be one where both spouses seek to serve one another out of love. Don’t worry about it being one-sided. “Well, what if they don’t serve me like I serve them?” Then you are not really serving out of love, but out of manipulation. Selfless service gives because it wants to, not looking for what it will get back. (read Luke 14:11-14 for what Jesus says about serving others who do not and cannot repay you)
7) Flexibility- either roll with the punches or run into a wall
Life tends to be very unforgiving. Difficulties of many types will beset your marriage finances, job loss, medical problems- and your relationship needs to be flexible enough to change to meet the times you are in. For the first years we were married I was in school, getting my Masters degree, my wife worked and supported us. Then I graduated and got a job, our income increased our responsibilities increased, we had more money and had to be responsible with what we had. Then came kids, we adopted 2 boys, and man did life change then. As a couple we had to adjust to different responsibilities, less time together, less freedom.
Flexibility allows a marriage to stay fresh and close as life changes around you. The other option is to allow each episode in life to cause problems, to complain about a lack of time together or a lack of money or having to be tied down with the kids. I watched my parents relationship change when my mom got sick. They couldn’t travel anymore or do the things they were doing in retirement, but they were flexible, made the best of the situation and continued to love one another through life’s challenges.
As life changes, you have to adapt. Why do many relationships end after a job loss, the arrival of a child, financial issues… because one partner could not adapt to the new reality. A relationship cannot be fresh if you have one partner who resents your bills, the fact you can’t afford what you could afford two years ago, constantly complains about your change in schedule, and so on. That kind of complaining and inflexibility can demoralize your spouse, who can feel like they have failed you somehow. No, your relationship will not be like it was. The point is to be flexible enough to make it better no matter what has taken place.
Here’s the question… do you truly love your spouse or do you love the lifestyle you live? My spouse needs to know that I love her, and am flexible enough to love her as life changes.
A wedding anniversary is the celebration of love, trust, partnership, tolerance and tenacity. The order varies for any given year. Paul Sweeney
8) Money is a tool, not who rules
Ah, now to money. The number one cause of marital break up is issues relating to money- who makes it, how to spend it, bills to pay and so forth. This principle is very simple- take care of your money, don’t think your money takes care of you. When money becomes king in a household, that house is headed for trouble. Why? Isn’t money important? Frankly, no. Money doesn’t make me love my wife, money didn’t make me fall in love with her and most of all money isn’t the God who led me to marry her. Money is a tool in our hands, not the crown and scepter that have authority over my marriage.
Perspective is everything here. The money that you make is a blessing from God, He is the one who gives you “power to get wealth” (Deut 8:18). It is unfortunate that the very thing God intends as a blessing to us, we turn into a destructive force to split apart marriages and families. I have lived through very tough times financially, very lean times where we could not afford to do much other than barely pay our bills and eat at home. Just like with other things we have talked about, this is a choice. Choose a money policy for your marriage- how will you make large financial decisions, give yourselves an allowance to each have some spending money, how often will you go out to eat and so on. Stick to it. But most of all, remember, the reason you got married was not to get rich or because you thought it made good financial sense… at least I hope not… you got married because you were in love. To keep a marriage fresh, money has to serve you, not you serve your money. Whether you have a little or a lot, make a conscious decision that money will never come between you and your spouse.
9) Talk is gold, not cheap
Communication- the second biggest reason that couples end up splitting… they don’t communicate. Now guys, I know that some of us are not great at “communicating our feelings”, and this is not meant to make you feel less than manly, but you have to open up to your spouse. Ladies, talking to your girlfriends about your husband is not the same as having good communication with your husband.
Good communication is born out of trust. Trust your spouse enough to talk, about more than the weather, politics or what is happening at work. Talk about how you see things in life, talk about how God is working in your life, talk about what you are praying for, talk about how things make you feel, talk about your past, talk about your fears, your dreams… just talk. Some would say that talk is cheap, that action is the only thing that counts. To keep a marriage fresh, to keep it up-to-date, your communication has to keep up with where you are as a person. If you are feeling stress, don’t wait until it boils over into an action that you will regret. Talk it out, share how you are feeling, so that if the stress does get to you and you do boil over, at least your spouse will know where you are coming from. Good communication will lead to fewer problems, and if you do have a problem, easier and quicker solutions.
10) Two become one, not three or four
One of the most basic scriptures in the Bible that talks about marriage comes from Genesis 2
23 And Adam said: “This is now bone of my bones And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.” 24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.
The idea is that in marriage the two people, the male and the female, are joined in a union by God in which they become one.
This same idea is carried over into our salvation. Listen to what Paul says in I Corinthians 6. He is teaching on righteousness, that a righteous person cannot be joined to unrighteousness, because He is one with the Lord.
15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not! 16 Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For “the two,” He says, “shall become one flesh.” 17 But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him.
These are the only relationships that we, inside, become one with. Our spouse and God. Outwardly we become one with the body of Christ, but inwardly it is God and our spouse. These are the two closest and dearest and important relationships we have. Now let me be very blunt here… you do not become one with your children and no they are not a more important relationship that your marriage relationship. Too many today have this completely backwards, we become one with our children and put our spouse on the back-burner. The best thing you can do for your children is to show them a strong, healthy, loving and fresh marriage relationship.
If you are too busy with your kids to have time and energy to be intimate with your spouse, it is your kids who have to give, not your spouse. If you are too emotionally drained from dealing with children to be supportive of your spouse, then it is time to prioritize who you give your emotional energy to. Is it hard to do this? No. As someone has so rightly said, “my kids are with me for 20 years, I have to live with my spouse for a lifetime.” Yet too many marriages are sent into near disrepair because one or both spouses are too focused on children, and ignore the very person that they are one with.
To keep a marriage fresh, keep your priorities right- God and spouse, those that you are one with, those that your heart and spirit are joined to, the relationships that will help you keep all other relationships strong… then your kids.
May your marriage be a blessed place of freshness and life. If you are looking for a spouse, may these things energize you and encourage you to build a lasting marriage. God’s best to all.