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Practicing these six helpful hints will go a long way in maintaining a close relationship with your spouse.
While therapy is certainly a recommended option if you are at an impasse in your relationship, that doesn’t mean you have to spend the rest of your life on a psychiatrist’s couch. The following six tips will help rid your relationship of the negativity that often causes couples to drift apart.
1. Remember your history. Most likely, you and your spouse started out as friends. How would you treat your best friend if you started having relationship problems? Hopefully not by being critical and defensive. What attracted you to each other? What made you fall in love?
2. Talk about positive moments in your relationship. Purposefully identify the good qualities about your partner and speak them aloud. Then build on those moments with caring, kind and considerate behavior and speech. Don’t wait for your spouse to do this first, and don’t gauge your reaction based on what he or she does. Determine to line up your tongue and thoughts according to God’s Word. You have more power to change your own perceptions of your partner than you realize.
3. Build caring behavior into the relationship. There is an old exercise therapists give to marital couples called “caring days.” In this exercise developed by Richard Stuart, each spouse writes a list of things that would make him or her feel good, such as, “Kiss me when you come home from work,” or “Tell me you love me every day,” or “Help with the children’s baths.”
They trade lists, and the other spouse is asked to do as many things on the list each day as possible. The purpose of this exercise is to help couples define and restore caring moments to the relationship.
4. Love your spouse as yourself. This is a guiding principle for all relationships–love your spouse as yourself. If you don’t love yourself, work on that first. Find out what God has to say about you and what blocks you from a positive view of self. Then love your spouse with God’s love. He loves you unconditionally. Do the same for your spouse.
5. Understand the sowing and reaping principle. What we sow we reap (see Gal. 6:7). As long as the earth remains, there will be seed time and harvest. That’s another foundational principle. If you sow words of hurt, insult and harm, you’ll eventually reap them as well. Does that mean your marriage will break up? Maybe not, but you will feel the repercussion of this behavior somewhere in your life because God’s principles work every time.
The best thing is to sow good seeds of kindness, gentleness, love, patience, faithfulness, goodness, joy, kindness, longsuffering, peace, self-control–all the fruit of the Spirit. You will reap a good relationship harvest from these seeds.
If you don’t deal with conflicts, over a period of time bad feelings may build up. Enter the four relationship bad guys: criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling. God tells us not to have a critical spirit, not to feel contempt toward anyone and to solve our differences. When we are disobedient to God, we open the door for problems.
6. Understand the power of the tongue. The Bible is clear about the power of the tongue. Read James 3, and you will learn how the tongue guides your entire body. We are instructed to get control of it, which includes not letting it run rampant against our spouse. Words, as you know, can create deep wounds. We can’t praise God and then verbally blast away at our partner.
The battle to bring a marriage back from emotional distance is fierce because it requires submission to several spiritual principles. Many of us don’t want to submit to what God says about the tongue, behavior and love. It’s hard work to conform to the image of Christ, and we feel our flesh pulling us to behave other ways. But if you want to divorce-proof your marriage, you need to get control of your tongue and not allow “relationship killers” to permeate your marriage.
Adapted from Divorce Proofing Your Marriage by Linda S. Mintle, Ph.D., published by Siloam Press (www.charismawarehouse.com).