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This picture was taken of my husband, Danny, on our very first trip together, roughly sixteen years ago. We had been dating for a couple of months at the time. He took me to Wildseed Farms in Fredericksburg, TX, where they have a butterfly habitat (pictured above) and large fields of gorgeous wildflowers. We also hiked Enchanted Rock that day (a 425 ft. pink granite mountain, a Texas Historic Landmark). It was a beautiful, memorable trip.
My heart still “feels butterflies” when I think of my Danny and of all the wonderful memories we’ve shared together over nearly fifteen years of marriage. I love him more today than I ever have, and our relationship is stronger and closer today than it has ever been.
But it wasn’t always like that…
Marriage is hard. Actually, marriage can be really hard. Especially when marriage partners are very different from each other and have different opinions and communication styles. Especially when you throw careers, child-rearing, every-day stressors, and unforeseen life struggles into the mix. Even for like-minded couples, there will always be ups and downs, highs and lows. No marriage is perfect.
I still remember our very first date. Danny was attending Fire Academy at the time, and during dinner on our date, he dived into a conversation with statistics about how most firefighter/first responder marriages end in divorce. I remember thinking to myself, that’s not exactly something you want to share on a first date!
To be honest, Danny and I have had our share of relationship struggles over the years, especially before and after our 10-year mark. We both had crazy work schedules, where we were often apart for days at a time, and we experienced some unforeseen life hurdles, which added to the every-day stress of working and child-rearing. Those years were especially trying for us, and it showed us that we needed to make some personal changes if we wanted our relationship to thrive and to reflect God’s design and purpose for marriage.
So, here we are, many years later, staying strong… closer than ever… and we give God all the glory and credit.
How are we stronger and closer? Because we chose to do better. We chose to love, cherish, honor, and forgive, even on the hard days. We chose to make practical changes in our lives (changes with jobs, schedules, and priorities) and introduced helping strategies (counseling, marriage books and retreats, increased fellowship with other Christians, etc.) to strengthen our relationship.
I once read somewhere, “Marriages don’t just happen; they are made.” They take hard work. It is a daily commitment.
Remember the “butterfly feelings” I mentioned earlier? Love isn’t about feelings. Love is a choice. Infatuation and admiration are feelings. But love is a verb. And we can choose love because God first loved us. Moreover, He shows us how to love.
THREE BIBLICAL ACTIONS TO STRENGTHEN YOUR MARRIAGE
Over the years, especially in recent years, God has helped Danny and I learn some important truths (outlined in the scriptures below) and action steps for our marriage relationship. Here are three of those action steps:
1) CHOOSING GRATITUDE AND EXPRESSING APPRECIATION
God wants us to be thankful and to express thankfulness for all things.
“Rejoice in the Lord always! […] Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7)
Likewise, in a marriage, it’s important to express thankfulness for and to each other, and often. To focus on our blessings. To know, that even during the hard days, there have been and will be good days.
The more you think about— and express thankfulness for— what you appreciate about your spouse, the more those “butterfly feelings” re-surface in your heart, filling you with affection and admiration for them.
Thank them for the little things. Learn your spouse’s love language, and then tell and show them how you appreciate them. Try to maintain a positive and cheerful home where appreciation and gratitude are freely and often expressed.
“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Colossians 4:6
“Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” (Proverbs 16:24)
2) CHOOSING UNCONDITIONAL LOVE
God has helped Danny and I to try to see each other through His eyes and to know that we are each a treasured child of God, flaws included, and that God wants us to cherish, love, and honor each other. It’s not always easy to do sometimes (we’re human and have selfish desires, after all), but God makes it possible to love others selflessly.
Society tells us to use the “give-and-take” or “50/50” approach. Tit for tat. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. God, however, shows us the truth of unconditional love. Both spouses putting in 100% and going above and beyond what is asked or expected of them. Granted, we are human, and we can’t always give 100% of ourselves at all times. But we can try to give our best, whatever that “best” looks like on any given day. That’s where grace comes in. That’s why good communication, partnership, and mutual respect are so important.
All people are imperfect. All people are flawed. But a marriage founded in Christ is where two imperfect people can intimately and graciously practice God’s perfect love.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22)
3) CHOOSING TO FOLLOW GOD. HE IS OUR TRUE SOURCE OF JOY!
And third, our faith in God has helped us to know that only He can truly meet our deepest needs. Only God can give us purpose and fill our emptiness.
“You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.” (Psalm 16:11).
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
When we place our burdens at the foot of the cross, God fills us with joy and peace, which we can then pour into our marriage. We can share our burdens with our spouses, yes. We can ask them to walk alongside us and help us, yes. But our spouses can’t heal our brokenness; only God can. Our spouses can’t meet our every need; only God can. Our spouses are our “helpmates” and “partners”, not saviors.
When your heart is right with God and filled with His love, you are better able to love your spouse the way God wants you to love them.
WHAT IS YOUR STORY?
I know this isn’t everyone’s marriage story. And I know some people have had to end their marriage for legitimate reasons. I am not passing judgement on anyone who has had to end or pause their marriage. We are all human. We all carry different struggles and burdens.
** Also, please hear me when I say it’s not ok to stay in an abusive relationship. You can try to heal the relationship with professional counseling, yes. But if you are feeling physically unsafe, or if the emotional and psychological abuse continues despite your efforts to heal the relationship, please distance yourself from your abuser until (and if) it is safe to return. And there may be situations where it will never be safe to return; in those situations, it may be necessary to end the relationship. Here is an abuse hotline if you are currently in an abusive relationship: 1-800-799-7233 or https://www.thehotline.org. There is hope and help available. **
For everyone who is reading, I pray God will help you strengthen your marriage, whether you’re in a good place, a rough place, or just starting out on your journey. Each day is a new day. A new day to try again. A new day to love and forgive. With God’s help, you can move your relationship forward and upward (towards Him). God is faithful to those who seek Him.
Below are some books— all of which Danny and I have read (and re-read)— that can help you on your marriage journey. If you have any additional resources to share, please comment them below. Danny and I are always looking for ways to strengthen our marriage. All relationships have room for improvement because all relationships face different challenges over different periods of time— people and relationships in and of themselves are ever-evolving.
Remember, the biggest source of strength you can draw upon is your own personal relationship with Christ. When we draw near to Christ, we learn how to love and forgive, which are vital in a marriage relationship. Yes, there are lots of practical tips you can learn about relationship dynamics, effective communication, love languages, how men and women interpret and feel things differently, etc.
But the biggest takeaway is this— CHOOSE love. CHOOSE forgiveness. CHOOSE God. Every day. Because God first loved and forgave us.
View our “For Spouses” Resources Page for more books and resources!