They’ll tell you marriage isn’t easy, that it’s like a mirror held up to reveal your finer moments and your less-than-fine faults. And you nod your head before saying “I do” simply to oblige.
But truth be told, you think it can’t be that hard. Not for you. You may have disagreements, but you’ll navigate troubled waters with ease. In the newness of the relationship, your heart pounds with excitement for this person, and the thought of having to work at the marriage seems a trivial over-exaggeration.
Or so it seemed then … years ago.
Today, my husband and I celebrate nine years of marriage, and in those nine years, we have discovered that marriage is indeed hard work. With three little ones six and under, a job that requires him to frequently travel, the stress of busy schedules, the rigor of homeschool days, outside-the-home commitments, sleep-deprived nights with sick kids, meal-planning, housekeeping, lawn work, and more, everyday demands can take their toll on a marriage.
And when you’re deep in the throes of real-life obligations, you realize they’re right: Marriage is indeed hard work. But nothing worth having ever came easy, and the same is true for marriage. Because when you nurture your relationship, the reward is rich.
So today, as we celebrate a near decade of married life, I want to share nine insights I’ve come to realize in nine years of marriage to the man I call mine. It has been a beautiful adventure thus far, and there is no one I would rather share this journey with. May these insights encourage you too and hopefully provide some inspiration to help you preserve what’s sacred in your own marriage.
1) Understand that there is a battle raging, and you are in the cross hairs. Marriage is under fire, and there is an enemy that seeks nothing higher than to destroy the family, because if he can destroy the family, he can destroy that sacred institution God designed way back in the beginning of this humanity story. So if you want to stand your ground in your marriage, you must stand your ground against the enemy. Acknowledge that there is a battle raging and you and your spouse have a target on your back. If you have kids, it’s an even bigger bullseye. Yes, there will be difficult days, months, even years, but know with absolute clarity that when those days come, although your enemy is a formidable foe, our God is bigger, and He is the victor!
2) Pray. Once you understand that your marriage plays out on a battlefield, you realize the most important thing you can do for your spouse and yourself is to pray. Pray that The Lord would put a hedge of protection around you and your spouse. Pray that He would hem your marriage in. Pray that He would thwart the schemes of the enemy. Pray that He would help you to see how sacred the relationship is, and how to best serve and protect it. Pray individually and pray as a couple, because there is immense power in a husband and a wife joining together in prayer.
3) Resolve to persevere through the hard times and emerge victorious. The difficult, disenchanted times will come. The test of your marriage will not be whether or not they arrive, but how you handle those times when they show up. Do not sweep disenchantment, discontentment, or disengagement beneath the rug. Do not turn a blind eye to the tempering of emotions, the casual distance growing into a chasm. Resolve now to address those issues and to emerge on the other side victorious. Because trials can strengthen your marriage and unify you as a couple, or they can tear you apart. Commit now to working through the hard stuff, emerging stronger, and letting redemption be a part of your story.
4) Honor intimacy. For several years now, my husband and I have taught a class on intimacy to engaged couples. What we have learned in teaching that class has been so encouraging. For one, intimacy in marriage is a gift that binds you to your spouse in a way nothing else can. Physical intimacy is designed to unite you one to another in body and spirit. Nothing else can do that; no other act can seal you one to another. And in the beautiful, baffling way God designed men and women, physical intimacy serves as a gateway that allows men to connect emotionally with their wives. This emotional connection then gives the wife the desire to invite physical intimacy. Physical intimacy is a gateway to emotional connection and vice versa; the two are not mutually exclusive. When you honor physical intimacy you open up a gateway to deeper emotional intimacy that further binds you one to another. It is a sacred act. Honor it, and enjoy it.
5) Make your spouse a priority over your children. This is a hard one for me, I’ll admit. Because it’s easy to let the demands of a busy family supplant the importance of nurturing the marriage, especially when young kids are underfoot. But your marriage needs and deserves just as much attention as your children, and it’s this relationship that will remain even when the kids have left the nest. So hard as it may be, make your marriage a priority over the kids. It was there first, and it will be there when the kids are grown.
6) Invest in the relationship. Wherever your investments are, your heart will follow. So invest in each other. Invest your time and your resources, and your heart will follow suit. Make the effort to go on dates; turn off the TV and talk face to face when the kids are in bed; hold hands; write notes; sit on the back porch and have a glass of wine in the evening or coffee in the morning. Invest in each other with the same fervor you would invest in a job or a recreational pursuit, and the yields will be rich indeed.
7) Find like-minded couples to walk this journey alongside you. Having friends with whom you can be honest and transparent regarding trials and triumphs in your marriage is so important. These couples can provide accountability and counsel, as well as friendship and support. They can pray for you when you’re in need, and they can rejoice when your marriage is thriving. And as you get to know these couples, they will also serve as examples of God’s redemptive hand in marriage. Because we all have our own stories, and sometimes simply knowing a couple has been where you are and made it through is the hope you need. If you don’t have solid couples in your life, make it a priority to foster these relationships. Find a community group in your church, join a couple’s Bible study, reach out to a few couples whose relationships you respect and see if they’d want to do this thing called life alongside you and your spouse. The reward will be well worth the effort.
8) Discover and meet your spouse’s love language. If you haven’t yet read “The Five Love Languages,” do yourself a favor and download the book. It is exceptionally insightful in helping you to understand the unique ways you and your spouse give and receive love. For example, my husband’s number-one love language is acts of service; mine is quality time. Thus, it helps me to understand that my husband perceives love from me when I do something to serve him. Likewise, service is his natural inclination towards expressing love to me. I on the other hand, express and understand love through quality time. If my husband seeks to spend time with me, I feel loved. And when I give him my time, that is my way of communicating love to him.
These are two very different expressions of love, and if we didn’t understand each other’s love language, our natural inclinations could cause tension. But knowing that my husband’s love language is acts of service helps me to interpret his service as an expression of love. And when I try to order our weekends so we’re spending time together rather than pursuing our individual interests, my husband knows that this is one of the ways I express my love to him.
9) Lastly, do not compare your marriage to others. Comparison is the thief of joy, and it will steal the light and life right out of your marriage if you let it. Everyone has rough spots, every couple has to navigate disagreements and difficult times, the problems arise when we compare our difficult times with another couple’s apparent wedded bliss. Your marriage is your own. It is not your best friend’s, your parents’, your favorite blogger’s, or your has-it-all-together next-door neighbor. God has given you and your spouse a unique set of gifts and traits that combine to make for one unique, beautiful marriage. So take your eyes off what’s-his-and-her-name and direct your view to your own spouse. Look to see the beauty, the blessing and the redemption in your own marriage.
All in all, marriage is a picture of our eternal relationship with God; after all, he calls the church his bride. And the fact that we get to partake in a relationship that mirrors Christ and the church on a microscopic scale is an immense privilege and a profound mystery! Marriage is meant to reflect and reveal the goodness and grace of God to the world. It’s a relationship He has created for His glory, as well as our enjoyment and sanctification.
As The Gospel Coalition put it: “Marriage is one of the means that God has ordained to sanctify us. God is not satisfied with us merely having a ‘good’ marriage. God wants to use our marriage to conform us more and more into the image of Christ. God has a rescue plan for your marriage. His goal is not simply to rescue your marriage. His goal is to use your marriage to rescue you.”
Although marriage is hard, the investment yields a ten-fold reward. Submit your relationship to The Lord and pursue him as a couple, and you will find your story to be one of adventure, rescue, and redemption.
What do you think? Have you had rough patches in your marriage? How have you navigated those and what have you learned about marriage in the process? Join the conversation in the comments or over on the F&C Facebook page.
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