I’ve been asked a lot about marriage recently—especially by those with kids still at home. Perhaps it’s because it’s the summer and everyone is together with school out. Whatever the reason, marriage and family matters are a primary context in which the Gospel is lived out and shapes us on a daily basis. Few things in this world matter more.
There are the key things I and any Christian pastor would communicate as of first importance: Keep Christ central, serve one another, and speak graciously to one another, among other things. Those are more important than what I’m about to share. These are minor points, but things Emily and I have done that have blessed our marriage as we’ve sought to keep Christ first, serve one another, etc. There are more than these. These are but a sampling. Some were passed down to us by our parents. Others, we’ve figured out on our own by mistake or by setting some goals for our marriage we’ve kept over the years. I offer them to you for the blessing of your marriage or that of another.
Here are seven (not so) small things we’ve done that have blessed our marriage.
- We communicate love to our children constantly, but make it clear our marriage is the priority. Our three kids may be 1b-d in our lives, but mom comes first in my eyes. This goes both ways—I’m first in her eyes. For those thinking your kids will be devastated to know parent earth doesn’t revolve around them, they will enjoy the security that comes from experiencing a mom and dad committed to each other. It also makes me less likely to use my kids in an “emotional triangle,” in which I use them as a way of dealing with unresolved conflict between me and my spouse. The child-centered family is a much bigger problem in today’s world than the child-neglecting family–which is why the peak divorce season after the five-year mark is when the first child leaves the house. We’ll be together long after the kids are grown, and we’d like to enjoy those years
- We don’t allow the kids to sleep in our bed. If they are in bed with us, it hurts sleep patterns for all involved, facilitates continued dependency, and…well…no sex is happening. If they are sick, we’ll go to them. If they get out of bed, we’ll put them back in their bed. After 14 years of marriage and three kids, we’ve made hundreds of trips back and forth to their rooms. But, I wouldn’t trade the healthy differentiation that exists between them and the marriage bed.
- We refuse to fight after 10pm. At some point we noticed 90% of our fights happened late at night, when we were spent. So, we decided if we looked at the clock and noticed it was after ten o’clock, we’d just cut off the disagreement right there. This has served us well. When we veer from it we notice, we get back to it quickly. Institute the 10 o’clock rule, and see if it doesn’t make a difference. By the next morning, if it still bothers you, you’ll approach it cooled off from a night’s sleep. Half of the arguments will never be had…because you’ll forget why you were upset to begin with.
- We date each other once a week–at minimum. You can get creative with this. We’ll do this by going out, staying in, doing breakfast, lunch, or dinner. There are many ways to make this work, but let me encourage you to make it work somehow. Also, getting together with other couples doesn’t count. It’s fun, but it doesn’t build your marriage the way one-on-one time does.
- The kids are sent to bed, or their rooms to read by 9pm (or even 8pm) every night. When they are younger, you can do 8 o’clock. We may expand this as the kids get older, but Emily and I want a couple of hours together, just the two of us, before bed. This is time is for us to be together, not to pay bills, etc. We are an early rising family, so we know we’re getting up by 6am every day. In order to be lucid, we need to be in bed by about 11pm. So, that means 9 is room time.
- We don’t say “no” to sex unless we have to say, “no” for some compelling reason. The Bible talks about this in 1 Corinthians 7, and yet it’s all but ignored by some Christians. We are all probably aware of how this can be used in an abusive, sinful way. However, my experience is more Christians are living in rather radical disobedience to this admonition than are using it to manipulate or abuse their spouse. Both are sinful. One is a more common problem than the other. I know many (not some), Christian couples who have gone months and even years without coming together and believe they are in alignment with God’s Will all the while.. Needless to say, those marriages suffer greatly. Sex is far more than this, but it is, among other things, a reconciling act, an expression of intimacy and one-fleshness, and a whole heck of a lot of fun. When you pass on sex, you pass on this. Depending on the reasons, you may also be passing on obedience to God.
- We are slow to judge marriages, including our own. This doesn’t mean we don’t reflect on it or are unwilling to help others as God provides opportunity. It means after a while you realize no one’s marriage is perfect all the time–and most will go through some rather severe weather over the years. So, we work on ours, and advise others not as experts but fellow travelers. We also try to do so out of Scripture seasoned with our experience, not our experience seasoned with Scripture.
I hope some of these will bless your marriage as they have ours. They may not work for you, but they’ve worked for us so far. What else might you add? Any feedback on these seven?