Over the years, I have had the privilege of officiating the weddings of numerous couples. In the capacity I served, I didn’t always get to do serious marriage counseling, but I was always given opportunity to provide some sort of guidance and to share nuggets of wisdom. As this week’s blog focus is on relationships, I thought I would share some of the things I’ve shared with couples over the years that I think are helpful. If you are not married, whether you plan to be someday or never, these tips are still applicable and relevant beyond the marriage relationship.
1. You Are the Boss of Your Own Happiness
It is no one else’s responsibility to make you happy. Even if your spouse promises to love and respect you all the days of his/her life, he/she was never created to complete you. It doesn’t matter how romantic that sentiment might sound, no one outside of God can truly complete you. As such, your happiness is not his/her burden to bear. Sure, we should seek to bring joy to the lives of those we love and do whatever we can to minimize our offensiveness, but ultimately, we all have to choose whether or not joy will be our disposition and no one can make that decision for us.
2. There is Only One Holy Spirit, and You Are Not It!
This follows along the same line as #1 above. In the same way that it’s not your job to make your spouse happy, even if you can try to add to it, it is also not your job to manage his/her spiritual life. Trust me, I know this can be hard, especially if you feel like he/she is missing the mark, but here’s the thing, taking on the role that only the HS is meant to fill is exhausting, not only for you, but also for your spouse. Instead of trying to be the HS, lift up your spouse before the HS in prayer. God loves your spouse more than you do, and He knows exactly how and when to arrest his/her attention. Trust God and express your trust through prayer and patience.
3. When Stopped at a Stoplight . . .
Now that you are married, your attentions belong to your spouse. When you are single, you are attentive to the gazes and interests of outsiders, it’s part of the process. You go out, hoping to get noticed by an attractive stranger or maybe pique the interest of a cute co-worker or longtime friend. You are dialed-in to the responses of the opposite sex. But once you are married, all that awareness has met its objective, and your attention is to be focused on your spouse, responding to his/her cues. And the work you used to put into appealing to the opposite sex, in general, is now meant for your spouse alone. Your sex appeal is directed toward your spouse, as are your affections.
A simple thing I’ve done for years as a matter of principle and as a reflective exercise is this: when I’m at a stop light, especially one with multiple lanes, I refuse to look at the people in the cars around me. Here’s why. Even as a married woman there are times when I want to know I’ve “still got it.” This, in and of itself, isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but my validation as an attractive woman comes through my marriage. If I don’t want my husband walking around gaining confidence by the gazes of other women, I should not be doing the same. Seeking attention outside the marriage relationship is not healthy, no matter how insignificant it might seem, like sitting at a stop light. It should not matter if the stranger in the car does a double-take at me or not. Therefore, I don’t even want to be aware of it or not. So don’t even go there. Besides, that man in the other car could be someone else’s husband and should I notice his gaze to linger a little longer or should he flash me a smile, my confidence was boosted by the flirtatiousness of someone else’s husband. That’s not cool. So, once again, I don’t even go there. I do this same thing when at the mall, going to the movies, and even at church. I’ve made it a habit to be aware of my surroundings but not to linger on the faces or postures of the opposite sex for my attentions are for my husband and are found in him alone.
“I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine . . .” ~ Song of Solomon 6:3 (see also 2:16)
4. Feed Your Spouse’s Dreams with the Same Passion You Feed Yours
Achieving goals and making dreams come true is sometimes easier when you have someone doing it with you, especially if your spouse’s dreams are the same as yours. However, sometimes realizing your dreams is made more complicated and difficult by adding someone else into the midst of it all because your dreams aren’t the same. Your passions might run counter to your spouse’s. Time, finances, geography, whatever, limit the attainment. One spouse’s goals are put on hold while the other person goes forward with gusto, but pursuing one’s passions is not a competition, it’s a journey you take together. If my husband has a dream, it would be unfair of me to hold him back from pursuing the thing God placed in his heart to do and be and vice versa. Matthew 22:37-40 tells us to love God and to love our neighbors AS (in the same way, to the same extent) as we love ourselves. Your spouse is your neighbor; therefore, marriage means rooting for one another as loudly and as often as you would want them to root for you. It means praying and planning for the dreams of our spouses in the same way we pray and plan for our own. If you’re willing to see your spouse’s dreams die so that yours can be realized, this is not as it should be, and I encourage you to ask God to change your heart and then begin cheering on your spouse.
5. A Word on Compliments and Criticisms
These two things are important in marriage, but they need to be managed differently. Here is a quick guide:
+ Compliment more than you criticize (WAAAAAY more, like, at least 10:1).
+ Criticize in private. NEVER criticize in public.
+ Compliment equally in private and in public. One thing to consider, if you only compliment publicly, then your compliments might begin to seem insincere as if you’re only using compliments to impress other people rather than make your spouse feel special.
6. Your Spouse Wasn’t Created To Be Your Everything
This kind of resembles #1 and #2, but I want to make a distinct point here. Your spouse was not created to be your everything and vice versa—only God can fill that role. That’s why we need to build and maintain relationships other people. For example, my husband is really great at many things and I love him for a number of reasons, but deep, extensive conversations that energize me drain him after 3 seconds. Sunday afternoons spent on the couch watching football or baseball are weekly events for him that require appetizers and special meals and game jerseys. For me, Sundays afternoons are meant for napping. This is why we have friends and we support friendships. I need people who engage in deep discussions, and my husband doesn’t have to be one of those people. And my husband needs people in his life to share his love of sports with, but I don’t have to be one of them. We do have things we do together, but it doesn’t have to be everything. So if you have something you enjoy doing but your spouse doesn’t, cut him/her some slack and find a buddy to share that activity with. Just make sure your spouse is your most constant partner in life.
7. Share Your Spiritual Life
This is wide open in its application, but it implies that you have a spiritual life. Share with your spouse what is happening in your heart. Talk about your fears and how God is with you in the midst of them. Confess your failures and allow your spouse to see your vulnerability. Go to church together. Maybe work your way through a devotional written for couples. Pray together. Talk about your God moments around the dinner table. Use Monday night dinner as a time to reflect on the Sunday sermon. Listen to worship CDs in the car and sing them out loud. Whatever it is, whatever you do, make God a real part of your marriage and your home. Don’t stay silent. Don’t keep your spiritual life private. Be intentional about it, and in due time, if you do not give up, God will become your habit and your hallmark.
There are so many more things I could add to this list, and I’m not even sure these are the most important, but they are practical, and I think they are beneficial. I invite you to share some relational nuggets of wisdom that you have found to be helpful in the comments below.
I leave you today with one of my favorite wedding benedictions, a lighthearted pronouncement of blessing. May it inspire you today and make your heart smile. Feel free to change the words and make it personal, declaring it over you, your spouse, and your life together.
May God bless you with hope enough to keep sunshine in your love, and fear enough to keep you holding hands in the dark; may God bless you with unity enough to keep your roots entwined, and separation enough to keep you reaching for each other; may God bless you with harmony enough to keep romance in your song, and discord enough to keep you tuning your love so it becomes sweet music to all who may hear it. God’s blessings to you and your love, Amen.