A blueprint is good to have when you build a house, and we have been writing about timeless principles for marriage based on God’s blueprint. But when you go into finishing, decorating, furnishing a house, the individual tastes, lifestyle, functions have to be worked out among those who will live in that house. Usually, that is where many conflicts and disagreements could arise, negotiations and compromises need to be made to have a house where everyone could live together harmoniously. In the same way, living out biblical principles and blueprint in day-to-day affairs could be very challenging. Add to that the fact that many external forces and storms could threaten the marriage. Preoccupation with work, recreation, interests, technology, and others could turn into extramarital affairs when they consume one’s time and energy leaving nothing much for the spouse or family. Internal threats could include selfishness, unspoken expectations, and one’s own ability/inability to relate and communicate deeply with one’s spouse. So what things could we do to strengthen our marriages in such times?
Build the habit of talking and listening to one another. Communication is said to be the lifeblood of any relationship. Talk about big and small things. Keep no secrets except for work or counselee-related confidential matters. Share about news, opinions, ideas, thoughts, emotions, family, and spiritual matters. Do not allow a wall of silence, secrets, disconnection, distance build between you as a couple.
Forgive each other as often as it is needed. Forgiveness – admitting wrong, asking and granting forgiveness – is essential to keep the relationship running smoothly. We are selfish, sinful creatures and the marital and family relationships are where our sinful nature and tendencies are most often manifested. Do not sweep things under the rug, do not give the silent treatment, do not avoid or take your spouse’s feelings for granted. I talked about this in my column last March 29 and April 5 issues.
Adjust your lives and priorities according to the season of your marriage and children’s lives. Marriage means a lifetime of adjustments, but the early marital years and the child-rearing years could add strain or potentially drive a couple apart it if the relationship is not continually worked on to become strong. Children, regardless of how time and heart consuming they may be, should not be the center of a marriage. They should also not be an escape for a problematic one, as some couples turn to the children for their emotional needs because the spouse is not doing so. Attention should be given to the marital relationship through the demanding season of the child-rearing years. Sometimes, career may need to be given up during this season by one of the couple so time, energy and efforts are saved to hold together the family. Children do grow up and leave and one can pick up again what one has sacrificed for a time. The reason we feel strongly about this is that my husband and I have known couples and families who did make those kinds of decisions and sacrifices for the sake of the marriage and family and have done well by their children and eventually their careers as well. And we also know of couples that did not make adjustments and have become very successful in their careers, but are living apart. Successfully weathering the storms one meets in family life need clear focus and priorities, sacrifices for the greater good, and continued hard work on the relationships within the family.
Surround yourself with a supportive group of couples and families you can depend on for comfort and wise counsel in difficult times. I remember prayng for a “commitment friendship” kind with another couple/family when we were newly married and starting our family. We went to lamaze pregnancy classes together and our children became friends especially in their toddler years. More got added, or replaced when they moved, throughout our childrearing and now grandparenting years. In those commitment friendships, we could ask one another the difficult questions – such as, how are you doing in your sex life, what are the challenges you are facing now, what are you struggling with? Having a supportive community is essential to survive and succeed in our family life.
Seek professional help when necessary. Family life is riddled with joys and heartaches, and physical and emotional trauma cannot be prevented and do happen. In such times, do not hesitate to seek help. We have sought professional help for our daughter at a time when she and us needed to understand what led her to make the choices she did. There is no stigma to admit something is wrong so appropriate solution is applied. Your marriage/family are much more precious than pretending things are alright.