This is the second part to this post. The first part is available here
Following on from this, here are a few ways I believe that as Christians we can work to build marriages that are built to last:
1. Expect difficulties, and plan accordingly
While it is not very romantic to think of potential difficulties that might arise in married life, it is definitely realistic to anticipate that they will come. Because they will. The problem though is that you do not know which specific difficulty will arise. So you could plan from this perspective: ask yourselves this: “what kind of foundation will help us to triumph over any type of difficulty?” Perhaps a practical way to approach this would be to consider some of the typical issues that couples face in marriage: money, sex, children, inlaws – (inflaws, as I initially typed accidentally – my typing often creates such wonderful puns!) – unexpected crises, communication – then think, what attributes would help us to excel if we had to face this or that – then work to build them up, work to plan around natural deficiencies.
For instance, money is often recognised as the primary reason for marital breakdown in the West. While I do not care about how much money he has, or what job he does, as long as we have a roof over our heads, the bills are paid, and I get to see him, if I felt that my husband was spending money irresponsibly, then that might make me feel upset. I know that patience with him is one thing that would help me not to aggravate the situation. However I also know that I am not the most patient of people. To get around this, I might plan to learn to go on a “calming down” walk when my husband starts annoying me, when I feel as if I am about to lose my temper. Then when I am thoroughly cooled down, instead of challenging him with the issue, and running the risk of getting upset, I could instead write down what is bothering me, and take a few days to deal with the issue in prayer. By this time I should hopefully have been able to develop a little maturity about the issue at hand, and together we should be able to find constructive ways of dealing with the problem. Perhaps within marriage itself you might throw out fifty percent or even more of the solutions that seemed so brilliant while you were still courting. I’ll probably remember how much I hate going for walks – especially when it is raining! However I think the exercise of doing this together in the first place will be a great aid to your marital unity and that itself will be a great foundation for dealing with tricky issues in marriage as they occur. (What would be really cute would be if he unceremoniously invited himself along for the walk too, and somehow we managed to forget that we are mad at one another, and it turned into a spontaneous date thing, and we came back home laughing and holding hands!)
2. Work on your communication
I strongly believe that before marriage the would-be spouses should take some serious time to build a deliberate framework for how to communicate. Key issues to look at: how to disagree, how to graciously express disappointment with one another, how to calm down when you are both furious to be able to deal constructively with difficult issues, how to look beyond difficult issues to focus on the strengths of your marriage. If you practise all of this hard enough before your marriage, and it becomes second nature to you both, then in marriage you would have an immediate advantage because when times of difficulty come you will be able to automatically behave constructively to deal with the issue in a way that strengthens your union rather than pulls it apart.
3. Be honest and transparent about your failings, and pray for one another
Speaking as a human being, I know that there are some things I just will not be able to tell my husband, no matter how close we are. I would express to him that this is the case. I’m sure that this will also be true from his own side. However I would seek to be open and transparent about everything else. If I know his failings then I can pray about them to God. I can also make allowances for how he might behave in certain situations, and plan around this. I can pray for supernatural strength to deal with these particular issues. He can do exactly the same for me. So if a crisis comes about as a result of one of these failings our marriage to a certain extent will already have been strengthened against these issues.
4. Be honest and transparent generally
Honesty and transparency are totally vital in your relationship. Anything else is simply defeating yourself. If you are not totally honest with one another then you do not have a real foundation from which to build. It is like you know you need to lose weight, but you deliberately lie to yourself that you are only 2 stone overweight, when you are actually 5 stone overweight. Real progress only comes with honesty. This can be extremely hard to achieve in relationships. Part of the reason I am so candid on this blog is to forcibly train myself to make candour a habit, to make the task of being honest and open with my husband a lot easier. That said, I still know that there are some things I will only ever be able to reveal to God, who already knows them anyway!
Perhaps one way to practise dealing with issues would be to share small crises that you are each going through. Perhaps another way is to keep a diary of things that happen, things that you do. In a way, before you get married, you are not fully accountable to one another. Perhaps you could practise this full accountability. Have sessions where you are very honest with one another, going over things that have recently happened, how you dealt with them, how you could have dealt with them better: “I know you are going to hate this…” I think that if you did this honestly for three months, then this would work to very quickly pull out the romantic fluff from in front of your eyes. However, you probably would not want to marry one another either. Is this true of marriage, that it is something that few people would do if they had the full information?! But then you might consider that 3 months of candour would probably put you off anyone, so if you do want to end up marrying anyone at all, it might as well be this someone! Then you might proceed onto marriage after all, but with a rather more realistic expectation.
6. Make leeway for growth,
As a couple before marriage I think you could also try to think of a way to make room for growth. Together you could recognise that “some crises will get the better of us”. Sometimes we will lose our tempers, or refuse to speak to one another for days. I’ve just remembered that the Bible says “Do not let the sun go down on your wrath” Ephesians 4v26. In that case, perhaps we have to make up our minds that no matter what, we must, absolutely must, clear up any argument without letting it run on to the following day; even if we cannot agree, we can still affirm one another as loving best friends. And beyond that, you could also plan “How could we grow? Whether we have failed at one crisis, or whether we have sailed through effortlessly – or whether we have not even actually faced any crisis – how could we keep getting stronger and closer?” Because you will be thinking of this before marriage, then once again, it will probably be true that your eventual actions within marriage will be considerably different from what you had planned or anticipated before marriage. Perhaps you could have a monthly debrief or perhaps one spouse might call for a meeting after a difficult time. It might be true that one spouse might feel that the marriage has just been through an earth-shattering crisis, where the other spouse perceived nothing at all. Either way, you could keep constantly asking yourselves – how could we grow? How could we overcome this in the future, without resorting to a heated argument? What could we do to affirm ourselves and our love for one another now?!
16 Confess your trespasses[a] to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.
Image of construction tools from http://www.freepik.com