Work on Your Marriage at Home

Marriages regularly fail.

At the same time, most people who are getting married think that their marriage is the exception. They don’t see a big threat. Even those who are in higher risk groups for divorce don’t think that their marriage is a high risk marriage.

If we are going to avoid failing, we have to recognize that it could happen. We have to believe the threat in order to avoid it.

On the other side, there are many marriages that do not end in divorce that are not going well or are on life support. The husband and wife are essentially roommates.

How do we move past these threats to flourishing marriages? We have to work at it. It won’t change overnight, but it can happen with time and effort.

Here are a few things that you can study and talk about at home that I believe will help you move toward a flourishing marriage.

I organize this material into three sections: awareness, negotiation, and marriage virtues. The first section includes some exercises you can do to help you come to more awareness about who each of you are and where you come from. The second section includes the main questions that have to be negotiated as a couple comes together. The third section is instruction on how to become better marriage partners through trust, love, and respect.

Section 1: Growing in Awareness
1. Understanding your aspirations. Spend some time thinking about these questions. First, if you had a week with no responsibilities, what would you do with your time? Second, if you did not have to provide for yourself and could retire today, what would you want your life to look like.

Explanation: we often get stuck in just doing things because they need to be done. We focus on the urgent at the expense of the important. This exercise helps us get at what is most important to us and what we would really like to do with our lives.

2. Do a genogram or family tree. Start with at least all your great grandparents. Then, work your way on down to the present generation. Add details such as dates of birth, death, marriage, work, etc., as you feel led. Questions to ask: what does this show me about the patterns of my family? Who is missing? Who were we close to and why? Look for patterns in the family. As an additional step, go and visit all these people together. Try to talk to as many of them one-on-one as possible.

Explanation: we are family beings. Families follow patterns that get programmed into us. No matter what happens, families remain a significant part of our lives.

3. Take some personality tests and talk about them. I personally like the Meyers-Briggs. Other people prefer the Enneagram. I would do them both. You can take a free Meyers-Briggs test here. You can take an inexpensive Enneagram test here.

Explanation: as a married couple, you will share many things in common. You will also have differences. These tests are not infallible, but they will help you talk about and understand some of your differences. The more you understand the differences, the more you can understand how to come together.

4. Understand your anxious responses. Think of some times when you got very upset. Then, as objectively as possible, write out exactly what each person did. Take special note of how you responded. Did you respond in anger? Did you go to silence? Did you try to solve the problem? Did you start complaining about other people? Did you go to someone else and tell them about the problem you were having with that person? Look for patterns.

Explanation: we have two settings: calm and anxious. When we are calm, we can do a lot of constructive things. We can think. When we get anxious, our body changes and we move into automatic reactions. Understanding what those are and when they happen is crucial to navigating difficult times.

5. How you experience love. Think of a time when you felt most honored, loved, and cared for. What makes you feel loved and respected?

Explanation: we experience love and respect in different ways. It’s easy to project our own way of experiencing love onto others. Like an idiot, I once said, “We don’t care that much about Valentine’s Day.” The “we” was me and my wife. I was projecting my feelings of it onto my wife. She actually really valued it. I totally missed that it meant a lot to her. That’s why we need awareness.

6. Tell Your Story. How does each spouse think of the story of how they came together? Let each person tell it. What memories do you have of your courtship? How did you come together? What did you do together?

Explanation: your story helps bind you together. Understanding how each person sees it can help you understand the present and relate better together. Plus, it’s often fun. It can also be helpful for bringing out areas where you disagree.

Section 2: Negotiation
In this section, we consider a variety of questions that come up in the context of marriage. Very often, we assume answers to these questions or think that there is just an obvious answer. This is almost always inaccurate to some degree. If we talk about these things, we often talk about them when the situation is heated. Why not do it early, before these things become an issue?

It’s easy for a couple to fall into a pattern where one person takes the lead role and the other takes the adaptive role. My wife and I easily fall into this pattern with her as the adaptive one. Another pattern is where both spouses like to avoid conflict. This is not all bad, but it can create problems. It’s always better to bring one’s full person into the relationship. One way to get around these patterns is to have each person write out their answers to these questions separately. If you get through this and find yourself in total agreement, then that in itself is very interesting. That will also tell you something about your marriage that is worth exploring (see exercises above).

The fact is every marriage involves negotiation of a relationship pattern. The question is whether you will do it well or do it badly.

Here are the most common questions that I have seen.

  1. What about religion? What place will it have in your lives? Will you pray and read the Bible together? Will you attend church? Which church?
  2. What place will your extended family have in your life? What does that look like? How often and when will you get together?
  3. What do holidays look like? Where will you go? What will you do?
  4. What do you think of vacations? What will your vacations look like? What is your preferred vacation?
  5. How will the household tasks be divided? Who will do what and when? Consider cooking, cleaning, outdoor work, etc. Read my post on how I learned to do this better here
  6. Who will keep track of the finances? How much should you save? How much money should you spend and on what?
  7. Do you want to have children? How many?
  8. When you have children, how do you divide the child care?
  9. What place do friends have in your life? Are you OK with your spouse going out with friends without you? How often?
  10. What do you like to do on weekends or with your non-work time? Do you prefer to stay in? Do you prefer to go out? Have people over?
  11. How much should you work and why? Who should have a career and why?
  12. How do you make decisions when you disagree?

These are some of the main ones. If you can think of other ones, I would love to hear about them in the comments section.

Section 3: Developing the Virtues that Make Marriage Thrive
1. Trust in God. Almost all marital issues are rooted in trying to make your spouse a greater source of your security, acceptance, meaning, and comfort that you should. People are just people. They can give us these things but in limited ways. God is our ultimate source of value, security, purpose, and comfort. Read the details of this here.

2. Prioritizing the Marriage. A second thing that harms marriage is a failure to properly prioritize the marriage. This does not mean the marriage is the only relationship, but it needs to have a priority, a first place, among human relationships. In this article and the sermon below I discuss the Biblical basis for this important aspect of marriage using God’s description of marriage: “the two shall become one flesh.”

3. Love and Respect. Ephesians 5:33 says, “However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” I use this passage and the explanation of it by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs in his excellent book, Love and Respect to explain the virtues that husbands and wives need to make their marriage flourish.

The first video describes a loving husband. Eggerichs uses the acronym COUPLE to explain how husbands can love their wives. C=Closeness, O=Openness, U=Understanding, P=Peacemaking, L=Loyalty, E=Esteem.

The second video describes a respectful wife. He uses the acronym CHAIRS to help us understand what respect is. C=Conquest, H=Hierarchy, A=Authority, I=Insight, R=Relationship, S=Sexuality.

4. I explain the benefit of respecting your husbands and loving wives in the article linked below. If either spouse can step outside of themselves to give the other what they need, they can start a positive cycle that reinforces itself and blesses each of them. Read it here.


Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash


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