In ten years of marriage counseling, I’ve noticed certain problems that tend to be present in almost every marriage that is either in trouble or headed for trouble. Here are some tips that if sincerely followed, would eliminate many of those problems and make your marriage more successful and your faith stronger. Some are practical and some are spiritual. I hope they will all be valuable.
1) Try to avoid eating at restaurants as often as you can. The cumulative cost of eating out all the time is astronomical and will always blow-out your budget, and worries and arguments about money are one of the greatest causes for marital strife. It’s also unhealthy. Buy economical groceries once a week and prepare food. Speaking of budgets, work out a budget and stick to it, doing so will help you to avoid a lifetime of arguments. Simply spending till you don’t have any more money or credit to spend will inevitably make your life and your marriage a mess.
2) Eat your meals together as a family at a table and not in front of the television. Use the time together for discussion and finding out how people are doing. Nothing knits a family together more closely than regular good and edifying conversation.
3) Make sure you are doing family worship (devotions) together every day. Try to attach it to another thing you do habitually like eating. All you really have to do is read the bible, or devotional material based on the bible, and pray together. Get your kids used to this habit. They learn both the importance and manner of worshiping God in the home from their parents, not at church.
4) Make the Lord’s Day a day for rest and worship, not work or frenzied recreation. Spend that day together as a family in bible study, in church, in reading and meditating and resting. Don’t destroy the peace and spiritual growth that comes from a godly Sunday by “planning” all sorts of activities or going out.
5) Here are a few simple rules for friendships. Hang out with people who are good influences, who strengthen your marriage and your faith, rather than pulling both down. Also, never take “relationship” advice, especially when it goes against the desires of your spouse, from people who have failed to keep their own marriages and relationships together. The same goes for parenting – listen to the people who have raised children you’d be happy to have as your own children. Oh, and people of the opposite sex should never be your “best friends.”
6) Final surrender decisions like Divorce and Bankruptcy seldom if ever make the people who opt for them happier. Years of counseling have confirmed this. They usually only lead to bitterness and more of the same problems that caused the original divorce or bankruptcy. Your best option is ALWAYS to fix the problems that are pressing you towards divorce and bankruptcy!
7) Few things in life will be as valuable to your marriage as belonging to a strong, biblical church, and having a pastor and elders who preach and teach the word and know you and are very concerned for your spiritual growth. Also, you will usually find that it is in church that you find the friends who can do you and your family the most good, so NEVER move to a community where you won’t find a good church, It’s never worth it. Also remember, the strongest church in the world will only be valuable to you in direct proportion to the amount of time you spend in it!
8) Remember that the only real impediment to having a happy marriage is the condition of your heart! The poorest Christians in the worst of worldly circumstances can have a happy marriage if their hearts are fixed on Christ and they are both living for and serving one another as an act of devotion to their Savior. On the other hand, the richest people in the world will inevitably have a miserable marriage if they are both living for and serving themselves and expect their spouse to serve them as well.
9) Remember that your Spouse is not God and can never replace Him or do the things that only He can do. Your spouse cannot fill the God shaped vacuum in your heart, answer your prayers, meet your spiritual needs, give you the spiritual strength to face the challenges of daily life, or open the gates of heaven to you. If you expect your spouse to do any of those things, you are looking in the wrong place and will always be disappointed.
10) Remember that the keys to happiness or depression lie within you, not in the circumstances around you. Changing your external circumstances such as your house, your job, your dog, or even your spouse will never create real and lasting joy. So if your answer to discontentment and unhappiness is to change the things around you, you will find that while you may be happier for a little while, the discontentment always returns. If you are ever going to overcome discontentment, the thing that needs to be changed is the condition of your own heart[i].
11) Sooner rather than later, sit down with your spouse and figure out who is supposed to do what. Not defining household duties and then doing them is a cause of innumerable unnecessary arguments and hurt feelings. And remember, regardless of who does it, someone is going to have to do every chore, or the household won’t function. This includes cooking and cleaning.
12) Remember, marriage is a marathon, not a sprint, and this race will take you through deep valleys and over high mountains. Marriage is the lifelong union of two sinners living in a fallen world who are daily engaged in spiritual warfare. There are going to be a LOT of unhappy days, and sometimes even weeks or months, but if you are ever going to make it to the sunlit uplands you need to learn to persevere. If you keep giving up when things get hard, you’ll never make it out of the valleys. Trust in Christ, and depend upon Him to give you the strength!
[i] If you are wondering how to diagnose the true condition of your heart, ask this question first, “What is the true goal of my life?” If your answer is something along the lines of “To glorify God and enjoy Him forever” or “To run the race to heaven looking to Jesus the Author and Finisher of my Faith every step of the way!” your heart is sound and you are on the right track. However if your answer is “To be happy” or “To have fun” or “To be famous or rich or admired or successful” then at a fundamental level, YOU and not CHRIST are the center of your heart. To put it bluntly, you are your own idol, and you make a lousy God. Serving yourself will never make you really happy. Loving the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind and your neighbor as yourself will!