Ministering Comfort

Research shows one of the core risk factors for first responders is the pace of their work. They face highly stressful and risky calls and this tempo can take its toll. One study showed 69-percent of EMS professionals didn’t have enough time to recover between traumatic events. As a result, depression, stress and posttraumatic stress symptoms, and many other functional and relational conditions have been reported.

(source: SAMHSA Disaster Technical Assistance Center Supplemental Research Bulletin, “First Responders: Behavioral Health Concerns, Emergency Response, and Trauma,” May 2018)

Photo by   Tim Eiden   from   Pexels

Photo by Tim Eiden from Pexels

This, of course, not only affects the first responder, but also his or her spouse and family. But there are ways we can help each other persevere through trials.

First, don’t try to “fix” your spouse, which is the way many of us respond when our spouses are hurting or in crisis. Tears or a tirade mean something is wrong, and if something is wrong, it needs to be fixed. So some dutiful spouses start clicking off solutions: “Why don’t you try...?” or “If only you would...” or, “Get busy and...” Eventually, your spouse may need a solution, but not when he or she is feeling the first pain of a problem.

Second, don’t try to correct your spouse. Some husbands and wives assume that their spouse’s trial is the result of a mistake or a sin. So they try to remedy the situation by setting things straight: “What’s wrong with you? Get hold of yourself. You wouldn’t feel this way if you...” And even if there are sins or shortcomings to deal with, when your spouse is in pain is not the time to deal with them.

Third, don’t try to talk your spouse out of his or her pain. Don’t say something like, “It’s alright, Honey. Things aren’t as bad as they seem. Everything will be okay. Look on the bright side. God works everything out for our good.” At that moment, everything is not alright for your mate. True, God can and does cause all things to work together for good (see Romans 8:28). But your spouse may not be in the mood for a pep talk.

What you can provide is just what your spouse needs in that moment: comfort. Simply wrap your arms around your spouse, or hold his or her hand. Later, you can move forward in taking an active role in helping your mate heal his or her pain. But that first response should be to draw close to your hurting partner and provide the ministry of comfort.

Over the long haul of a lifetime marriage, each of you will experience a variety of pains: physical, emotional, relational, spiritual. When your spouse is hurting, no matter what else he or she needs to get through the trial, your dear one needs your comfort.

In your marriage relationship, you are the primary conduit through whom God desires to comfort your spouse. You should be “first on the scene” with expressions of genuine sorrow and comfort. Our friend, Dr. David Ferguson says, “The ministry of comfort is not about trying to ‘fix’ people, correct them, or motivate them with a pep talk. Such efforts may help at times, but they do not bring comfort. The God of comfort gives hope and strength and eases pain in a hurting person when we compassionately mourn that hurt with them.”

You and your spouse can persevere through anything in your marriage journey when you let God use each of you as ministers of comfort to the other.

Don't Just Survive - Thrive!

We know military men and women experience a lot of stress. You might say it “comes with the job.” But the spouses of those active duty and reservists also experience a high amount of stress. According to a survey sponsored by the Department of Defense, military spouses experience high stress. The survey found that they often face anxiety during their spouse’s deployments.

92-percent of the mates of reserve members said they experienced an increase in stress levels. For 88-percent, deployment also brought feelings of loneliness. Half of active duty spouses said their personal life stress level was higher than usual.

(source: Kristin Lam, “Military Spouses Experience High Stress, Survey Says” USA Today)

So how do you cope when the stress is high, but you want your marriage to not only survive – but thrive?

Marriages that go the distance and thrive are marriages where husband and wife serve each other by putting each other first— after their allegiance to Christ. Serving love means that you place a higher priority on meeting your spouse’s needs than on meeting your own. We don’t want to sound like prophets of doom, but our research and experience have convinced us that if you don’t put your spouse first, it may eventually cost you your marriage. It’s that important.

The success of a marriage—or any relationship, for that matter—really goes back to Paul’s straightforward words in Philippians 2:3: “Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourself.” This doesn’t mean that we must adopt and nurture an inferiority complex. It doesn’t mean thinking less of ourselves than we should as God’s dearly loved and valued creation. Rather, it means seeing ourselves as we really are in Christ and regarding others as even better.

Paul goes on to explain where this attitude comes from: “Your attitude should be the same that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God. He made himself nothing; he took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form. And in human form he obediently humbled himself even further by dying a criminal’s death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).

Who is greater, you or Jesus? Who deserves more honor and glory, you or Jesus? Who is stronger, more compassionate, more faithful, more wise? Clearly, it’s not you. Jesus is number one in all of creation. And yet he thought of you as better than himself when he became a man and died to meet your need for a Savior.

This is the attitude you are to adopt toward your spouse. The contrast is not as dramatic, of course, since you are not perfect and neither is your spouse. But when you think of your spouse as more important than yourself, you won’t have any trouble putting him or her first in your life. You will lovingly serve your spouse by doing for him or her what you wish others would do for you if you were in the same circumstance.

Here are some practical guidelines for putting your mate first:

Assist your spouse with his or her more menial tasks, such as making the beds, taking out the trash, cleaning, yard work, or whatever. Wherever the task might go smoother or faster with two people working and you are present and able to help, jump right in.

Communicate how important your spouse is when you talk about him or her instead of grabbing the spotlight for yourself. Always speak positively and constructively about your spouse around your children. When you are with other adults, make a point to bring up complimentary tidbits about your spouse. And you should share your positive comments as generously in private—alone with your spouse—as you do in public.

Never berate, demean, or humiliate your spouse in public or private.  Such words and actions fairly shout, “You are not important to me!” This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t confront or correct in appropriate ways. On the contrary, such activities—when they are done lovingly—can also convey your spouse’s great importance to you. In effect, you are saying, “I love you too much to let you continue in a wrong or harmful direction.”

Try to outdo your spouse with courtesy and kindness. One couple we know practices this guideline in restaurants, among other places. Josh knows that his wife, Carrie, likes to sit where she can see the people, not where she is staring at a wall. So when they are escorted to a booth, Josh always directs Carrie to the side of the booth with the best “view,” where she is facing the most people, even if that means he can see only a wall beyond her. Carrie occasionally protests, offering Josh her favorite seat. But Josh enjoys treating Carrie to a view seat, and Carrie loves the fact that her husband is so tuned in to her interests.

Make time alone a priority. Nothing says “You are number one in my life” like putting your spouse first with your time. And nothing communicates second-class status (or third or fourth) more than elevating your schedule and activities above time spent with your spouse. We’re not talking about spending every waking moment together, of course. But you are wise to carve out significant portions of your week for one-on-one conversation, where you are focused on one another instead of work, a hobby, the TV, childcare, or even a church function. This may require some practical scheduling on your part, but don’t overlook the spontaneous, such as, “Let’s get a babysitter to watch the kids for a couple of hours and just go for a drive together.” Check out our book 40 Unforgettable Dates with Your Mate for some great date ideas!

If you want your marriage marked by serving love, you can start by putting your spouse first.

Is My Faith Important to My Marriage?

What is the role of faith in marriage?  Let’s look at what Scripture says about it.

Photo by  Ben White  on  Unsplash

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

The Bible admonishes us to be “equally yoked” (2 Corinthians 6:14). That means your common denominator is a relationship with Jesus Christ. Many dating and engaged couples don’t realize how important this is until they get on the other side of marriage and they hit the wall with conflict after conflict after conflict.

You need the Lord Jesus as the glue to give you the faith and the strength to humble yourself and get through to the other side of the conflict. When Jesus Christ is in the middle of your marriage—in the good times and the bad times—you experience a depth and richness that you could not have otherwise.

The importance of spiritual connection is infinite and unimaginable. More, it is vital in a healthy  marriage. Yet many Christian couples we talk to wish they had a deeper spiritual life together. They know how important it is, but somehow they just never get around to making it happen. Their intentions are good, but their excuses (“I don’t have time for spiritual things,” “I’m afraid God will expect more than we can do,” “My spouse isn’t interested”) easily override their intentions.

There are so many homes—even Christian homes—where the spiritual connection is dead and the marriage is naturally following. We find so many couples living in a daze, wondering what piece of their marriage puzzle is missing.

Every couple needs soul-to-soul closeness. If you want to enjoy the deepest level of connection in marriage, you need to develop spiritual intimacy in your relationship. There is nothing weird or mystical about spiritual intimacy. It’s simply a marriage of three—an intimate relationship between God, a husband, and a wife. Profound intimacy happens when two hearts, two bodies, two souls connect with the God who created them and designed marriage.

There are going to be times in your marriage when you’re driving down the freeway with one hand on the wheel and the other hand on your forehead, and you’re thinking, I can’t take one more step in my marriage. No one understands what I’m going through. This is so big, I don’t even know how I’ll survive.

When you have faith in the Creator of the universe, then you can survive. In fact, you’ll do more than survive the losses, hurts, financial failures, and the things that life brings. Your marriage will be richer for the trials. That is the role of faith in your marriage. When you bump up against a trial, you’re not alone. You go to God and say, “Help me, God. Help me understand what you want me to do in this situation. Help me know how to help my spouse. Help me learn what you want me to learn through this.”

*For more practical marriage advice, check out The Great Marriage Q&A Book. It's available in our online bookstore!

A Marathon in Tandem

According to a recent Pew Research report, a record number of adults in the United States—1 in five adults age 25 and older—have never been married. But there does seem to be at least one group of young adults who are bucking the trend: The U.S. military is still characterized by high—and early—marriage rates. According to one study, military men are slightly more likely to be married than civilian men and junior enlistees are “nearly twice as likely to be married as civilians aged eighteen to twenty-four years.”

What accounts for the difference? According to a recently published study, there are three structural elements of military life that act as marriage catalysts: War-zone deployment, relocation assignments, and the institutional support and socioeconomic stability of the military.

(source: “The Military and Marriage” by Meghan Duke; October 7, 2014 Institute for Family Studies, https://ifstudies.org/blog/the-military-and-marriage)

Photo by BookBabe

Photo by BookBabe

No matter the reason for your marriage, we know you’re in it for the long haul. And as a believer in Christ you should know the Christian life is a marathon, not a sprint. What’s the difference? Think about the running events in the Olympics as an example. The sprints are between 100 and 400 meters in length, little more than a quarter mile, once around the track. A marathon is 42.2 kilometers (26 miles plus 385 yards). Sprinters burst from the starting line and run at top speed a race that is measured in seconds. Marathoners pace themselves to run with concentration and endurance for two to three hours. Sprints require leg power; marathons require great lung power and capacity.

As a Christian, you may feel like a sprinter at times, racing through a myriad of tasks, responsibilities, and deadlines. You say things like, “I just have to make it through this week,” or “If I can just hold it together until the kids are out of school.” But in reality, Christ has called us to remain faithful and obedient over the long haul, through the grueling marathon of a lifetime. You can see it in the following passages:

“Remain in my [Christ’s] love.” (John 15:9)

“By God’s grace, remain faithful.” (Acts 13:43)

“[Christ] will keep you strong right up to the end.” (1Corinthians 1:8)

“Let this encourage God’s holy people to endure persecution patiently and remain firm to the end, obeying his commands and trusting in Jesus.” (Revelation 14:12)

Christian marriage is a marathon in tandem. You and your spouse have linked hearts to serve God and get through life—with all its joys and pains—together. Your long-distance race isn’t about winning as individuals; it’s about helping each other go the distance and finish well. And aren’t you thrilled to have a running mate, a partner, and a helper?

You have probably discovered by now that the love that brought the two of you together—that passionate, fiery, romantic love—may be alright for a sprint, but it’s not enough to get you to the finish line. You need passion, fire, and romance, to be sure. But you also need persevering love, long-term concentration, dedication, patience, and endurance. Here are several important qualities of persevering love:

Total commitment.

The starting point for persevering love is an all-out commitment to each other. It’s the tough stance that says, “Our marriage is bigger than any issue. No matter what is arrayed against us, we will stand together. Neither of us will ever go through a trial alone. We will stay the course—not because we have to, not even because we promised to. Rather, we will hang in there because we care for each other more than anything in this world.”

Unconditional acceptance.

Persevering love says, “No matter how good or bad you look, no matter how much money you make or lose, no matter how smart or feebleminded you are, I will still love you.” That’s the essence of our wedding vows—for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health. Unconditional acceptance chooses to continue loving even when life dumps on us a world of excuses for falling out of love.

Deep trust.

Persevering love is the product of deep trust between you and your spouse. Trust says, “I will

depend on you to guard my heart and my life, to fight beside me always.” You may need a lot of people to pull you through a crisis. But more than anyone on earth, husbands and wives should rely on each other. This level of trust grows richer over time and under the pressure of trials, as you each prove yourselves trustworthy to each other.

Tenacious endurance.

Every kind of trial in life—emotional burdens, financial difficulties, spiritual doubts, physical pain, relational stresses—presents a new opportunity for you and your spouse to hang on together. Commitment helps you stay connected to each other through trials; endurance is the determination to outlast the problems, to help each other get to the other side. Think of the intimacy and friendship that can develop in your relationship when both of you are committed to getting through every trial.

Abiding faith.

In order for your love to finish well through life’s pressures, it needs to be grounded in a sincere, abiding faith in the God who designed marriage. Any of us can stubbornly pursue a lifestyle that our culture deems important and live independent of God. Sometimes a severe trial moves us to let God have his way with us and to see what truly matters in life. We often don’t really appreciate the important role faith plays in our marriage until a crisis forces us to throw ourselves on God.

Diligent preparation.

Whenever you and your spouse find yourselves in a lull between the storms of life, take the opportunity to prepare for potential stormy weather ahead. The lull between the storms is the time to shore up your marriage. Work on a Bible study together. Take a second honeymoon—or third, or fourth. Read some good books on marriage enrichment and discuss them together. Attend a Christian marriage conference together. Seek out a Christian counselor and ask him or her for pointers on how to deepen your friendship for the long haul. The more you invest in your marriage between the storms, the better prepared you will be to endure the storms together—and even come through them stronger.

*For more helpful insights on how to connect with your spouse, check out Renewing Your Love: Devotions for Couples in our online bookstore.

Is 50/50 Really Fair?

We’ve heard this question before from couples preparing for marriage: “We plan to have a 50/50 marriage—making sure everything is equal. That’s the most fair, isn’t it?”

Photo from Pixabay

Photo from Pixabay

But here’s the truth: One of the biggest problems among the couples we talk to is husbands and wives who measure out their need-meeting service for each other in reciprocal portions. The best many marriages ever do is operate according to the popular “50/50 plan,” the “I’ll-meet-your-needs-if-you-meet-mine” philosophy. In this plan, marriage becomes an issue of trade-offs and compromises, with spouses keeping score so one person never gets or gives more than the other. The goal is to meet each other halfway.

To be fair, some couples who live by this rule are generous to each other and even moderately happy. But apportioning love usually doesn’t result in spouses feeling honored and understood. The problem usually arises when neither of you can agree on where
“halfway” is.

Listen to the following story we heard on our radio program:

Tom and Sue both grew up watching their mothers get trampled by their demanding fathers. So when Tom and Sue married, they vowed that they would evenly divide all tasks and responsibilities between them. Household work would be split down the middle. They insisted that their 50/50 relationship would be 100 percent fair. It sounded logical and workable. It sounded like they would be able to maintain control without either of them getting trampled. Instead of creating a fair environment, however, this 50/50 plan became like a slave driver. They argued about who washed the dishes last—or who did the laundry or who cooked. Sue’s weekend with her college roommates was matched minute-for-minute and dollar-by-dollar by Tom’s hunting trip with his buddies. They tracked their child-care duties as if they had a stopwatch ticking in their heads. When Tom came home from work, Sue said she was off duty. They also kept track of the money they each earned, the running totals clearly distinguished in separate bank accounts.

Can you imagine the tension between Tom and Sue? Control and comparison tore them apart. A friend of ours calls these couples the “ledger people.” They keep track of everything, compare and weigh their lists, and then proceed to hurt each other with angry words when the “ledger” doesn’t balance.

Would you want to live like Tom and Sue? Do you want to wait for your spouse to give in and serve first? Do you want to compare what you’ve done for your spouse to what your spouse has done for you? Do you want to be “ledger people”?

There’s a better way. It’s the 100/100 marriage, which is God’s design for a husband and a wife. Listen to what Paul said: “For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word” (Ephesians 5:25-26).

When a husband loves in this way, he chooses to serve his wife because of his desire to be obedient to God’s design for him. He is stirred not only by pleasing her but also by pleasing God. The same is true of the wife. When you serve each other, trying with 100 percent of yourself to love and serve your spouse, you will find joy and fulfillment beyond what you can imagine.

*For more practical marriage advice, check out The Great Marriage Q&A Book. It's available in our online bookstore!

Defend Your Heart - And Your Spouse's!

Research on first responder marriages is still fairly limited, and we’ve seen that research on first responder marriages has had mixed conclusions. For instance, some studies show law enforcement divorce rates are as high as 75 percent while other studies show law enforcement divorce rates are lower than the national average. The differences may be due to different research methodologies used in each study, or the studies being conducted on different size departments in different parts of the country. Despite the differing numbers, there is one common theme between the studies: Law enforcement job stress brought into the marriage does cause marital issues.

(source: “Married to the Badge: Stress in the Law Enforcement Marriage” by Mark Bond) 

Photo by   Natalie   from   Pexels

Photo by Natalie from Pexels

The truth is, even without that extra stress - every day you’re at risk for a heart attack. Not the medical variety - but the spiritual kind. That’s why it’s so important to heed Solomon’s warning in Proverbs 4:23— “Above all else, guard your heart, for it affects everything you do.” If we don’t guard our heart, we leave it vulnerable to attack.

A heart under attack can result in serious damage to your relationship with God and with your spouse. It is vital that you guard not only your own heart but also the heart of your dear one. Guarding love is an important facet of a growing, fruitful marriage.

What’s so important about the heart? Solomon said it clearly: “It affects everything you do.” Jesus gives us even more insight: “A good person produces good deeds from a good heart, and an evil person produces evil deeds from an evil heart. Whatever is in your heart determines what you say” (Luke 6:45). The heart has everything to do with everything you do—including your marriage.

First, the heart is central to our faith and salvation. Paul wrote, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved” (Romans 10:9-10). We couldn’t know God apart from faith, and the heart is the seat of our faith.

Once we have exercised saving faith, we must guard our hearts against doubt and disbelief that would rob us of our first-love relationship with God. Don’t dilute what God has begun in your life and wants to do in your life by leaving your hearts and faith unguarded. The writer of Hebrews warns us, “Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12).

Second, the heart is central to the fruitfulness of the Bible in our lives. When Jesus explained the parable of the sower and the soils to his disciples, he said, “The good soil represents honest, good-hearted people who hear God’s message, cling to it, and steadily produce a huge harvest” (Luke 8:15). A guarded heart is like a well-tended garden where maximum growth can occur.

When we fail to guard our hearts, we may muddy the effectiveness of God’s Word in our lives. In this parable, Jesus explained, “The seed that fell on the hard path represents those who hear the Good News about the Kingdom and don’t understand it. Then the evil one comes and snatches the seed away from their hearts” (Matthew 13:19). Don’t limit what God can do in you and through you, especially in your marriage relationship, by leaving God’s Word unguarded in your heart.

Third, the heart is central to our high call to love God and people. When asked which of the commandments was greatest, Jesus replied, quoting the Old Testament, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37-39). An unguarded heart is vulnerable to anything and everything that flies in the face of biblical love. Jesus warned, “From the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all other sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander” (Matthew 15:19).

Loving God and loving others—including our spouses—is an issue of the heart. Paul wrote to Timothy, “The purpose of my instruction is that all the Christians there would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and sincere faith” (1Timothy 1:5). Peter instructed believers, “See to it that you really do love each other intensely with all your hearts” (1Peter 1:22). If you leave your hearts unguarded you are in danger of straying from your primary biblical assignment to love God and love each other.

How do you guard your heart? By being super-cautious about what you allow into your heart and mind. Learn to resist and dismiss any thoughts that lure you away from the centrality of faith in Christ, the Word of God, and love. You also guard your heart by monitoring your activities. Don’t put yourself in places or situations where you are too weak to resist temptation. And guard your spouse’s heart by helping him or her stay far from spiritual and moral compromise. Two healthy hearts make for one exciting and rewarding marriage.

*For more helpful insights to connect with your spouse, check out Renewing Your Love: Devotions for Couples in our online bookstore.

Make Time - and Space - for Communication

Something central to a first responder or military marriage is that the service person stays focused and many times that can create a hard shell that keeps their spouse out, and the pain of what they’ve experienced in.

Photo by   Rosemary Ketchum   from   Pexels

When that hard shell is there a number of things can occur:

  • It doesn’t allow you to grow because you’re spending so much emotional energy “stuffing” your experiences.

  • It diminishes the connection with your spouse and the opportunity for your spouse to help you carry the load.

  • It breaks down connecting emotionally, sexually and spiritually.

  • It leads to independence instead of interdependence.

To break open that shell can be risky. It leaves you exposed, but it also gives you the opportunity to express your needs to your mate. That means you have to strengthen the wall protecting you both as a couple, so you can put down the wall between you – then you can connect.

In your connection with each other, you build the interdependence that is foundational in a healthy marriage. We call this TWO-getherness.

We’ve learned that one of the best strategies we can offer couples id the modeling of not only finding time but also space for their marital communication that gives a sense of both predictability and expectations that can be met.

Let’s start with timing. The rhythm of every family and even the same family during different seasons of life can have a major impact on when they communicate. Of course, we communicate all the time with both words and facial expressions – but often we lack the intentionality or purposing to share and invest in our marital relationship.

  1. Take your temperature. Ask each other, “How am I doing? What do you need more of? Less of? What should I keep doing?”

  2. The first 90 seconds of when you connect at the end of the day is critically important. Make sure you are being intentional. Turn off all technology and focus on each other. Make eye contact and add touch!

  3. Share where and when you’re going to communicate. Talk with each other and decide where you’ll be together to talk and when that is going to happen. Identify a time that works for both of you. Be flexible when you need to deviate from that time, but make certain you’re clear that if you can’t talk now, when you will talk.

And what about the space? For the two of us, we have always had two chairs where we sit down together for intentional communication. These are not chairs where we watch tv, or eat or pay bills – but two chairs that are specifically just for us to be together and connect. You may have two chairs or a spot on the back porch or a place in the basement. The location itself doesn’t matter as much as finding a spot that is set aside for intentional communication – a spot for just the two of you.

Each time you come together in your spot, take at least 20 minutes to be together there. That gives you time for each of you to share and catch up, to listen and respond and hopefully to move beyond information sharing and go deeper.

*For more practical marriage advice, check out The Great Marriage Q&A Book. It's available in our online bookstore!

We're on the Same Side

Do you sometimes find yourself competing with your spouse over who is right or whose way will prevail in a decision or conflict? This type of friction is present in many marriage relationships.

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When conflict arises, many couples are quick to take opposite positions on the “battle line.” Husband and wife see each other as adversaries to be defeated. We’re out to score a victory for “our side,” to show the enemy who’s boss, to make sure our cause is vindicated—even if it’s only where we squeeze the toothpaste tube.

We have borrowed a saying from our friend Dennis Rainey that we often share at our marriage conferences: “My spouse is not my enemy.” Isn’t that a freeing thought? Marriage is not a war. Personal preferences are not beachheads to be conquered at all costs. Differences of opinion are not battles to be won. Hey, you’re on the same team! Conflicts and difficulties are things to be worked out together in a spirit of teamwork and cooperation for the mutual good. Yet so often we chip away at each other, jostling to come out ahead. And we end up offending and hurting each other in the process.

Here is a starting point for any confrontation, a starting point that virtually guarantees your confrontation won’t turn into a battle. Begin with these four words: “Let’s pray together first.” These words will not only disarm any conflict but also set the stage for a constructive, decision-making discussion.

“Wait a minute,” you may be saying, “are you suggesting we should stop to pray over stuff as minor as which way to hang the toilet tissue and which end of the toothpaste to squeeze?”

To be sure, you need to be praying about the significant decisions you must make, such as a possible job change, where to attend church, whether or not to homeschool your children, major financial decisions. But you probably don’t need to pray specifically about minor details like toilet tissue and toothpaste. However, usually lurking behind even these small conflicts is an issue of control: Who will decide between two relatively equal but minor options? Whose preference will be honored? At this point, a moment of prayer can unify the two of you and clarify your goals.

Prayer makes a positive impact on the resolution of conflict. It welcomes into the debate a third party—Jesus—and determines that you are willing to play by his rules. When you both decide to meet on Jesus’ turf, you are naturally opening yourself up to the Word of God and the Holy Spirit as the grounds for making your decision and resolving your conflict. You will be challenged to ask, “What does the Bible say about our situation? Are there clear commands we need to obey? What other biblical principles apply to the issue?” When you look to God’s Word, you level the playing field by welcoming God’s solution.

When you find the courage to say, “Let’s pray together first,” be prepared to say a few more things in order to clear up the conflict and heal any hurt you may have caused.

“I was wrong.” When the Holy Spirit reveals your part in offending your spouse, it’s not enough to say, “If you think I did something wrong, let’s talk about it.” Nor is it appropriate to say, “I don’t think it was such a big deal, but if you think it was...” Tell it as it is with statements like these: “I was wrong”; “What I did/said was wrong”; “I offended you, and it was wrong”; “I need to talk to you about what I did to hurt you.”

“I’m sorry.” Admitting you were wrong is very important, but you also need to express your sorrow over the hurt your wrong behavior caused: “I was wrong, and I’m so sorry that I hurt you.” By expressing your sorrow, you demonstrate empathy for your hurting spouse.

“I don’t ever want to hurt you this badly again.” Saying you were wrong is a statement of confession. Saying you are sorry is a statement of contrition or sorrow. They must be followed by a statement of repentance, which expresses your desire to turn from your hurtful ways. “I don’t want to hurt you again” is a way of saying any hurt you cause is unintentional and distressing to you. Repentance opens the door to deep healing.

“Will you forgive me?” Here you place yourself at your spouse’s feet, taking the servant’s position. It is a demonstration of your humility. Anything less than acknowledging your wrong, your sorrow, your repentance, and your humility is cheap forgiveness. The full approach, which is bathed in prayer together, is forgiving love at its best.

If there’s a conflict brewing in your marriage, take the initiative today to bring the two of you together in prayer and find a resolution that will heal that hurt.

*For more practical advice on connecting with your spouse, we'd recommend the Renewing Your Love devotional. It's available in our online bookstore!

The Danger of Unhealed Hurts

We know military families face stressors civilian families don’t. Military families move an average of every two to three years, and face unpredictable schedules of deployments and separations.

Photo by   burak kostak   from   Pexels

Photo by burak kostak from Pexels

In the average marriage, many things can come up to cause hurt. In a military marriage, you face all those things and more. Research has shown that active-duty military families can have a “spill-over” effect of anxiety which flows from the marital system into sub-systems and even extended family systems.

(source: Daniel Dashnaw, “Military Marriage Counseling and Marital Conflict,” https://couplestherapyinc.com/military-marriage-counseling-and-marital-conflict/)

Unhealed hurt from a conflict in your relationship can trigger anger. Anger is a secondary emotion, typically following hurt, disappointment, or fear. It’s what grows out of the offense and the hurt when they are not dealt with quickly. Unleashed anger only makes things worse in a conflict and becomes another hindrance to resolving it peacefully. 

When we talk about anger in a marriage relationship, we share what we call the “baked potato syndrome.” Picture a big, brown russet potato in the oven. You turn on the heat and the potato begins to warm. Given sufficient time, it bakes to a fluffy white inside, ready for butter, sour cream, chives, and bacon bits. But if you forget about the potato and let it bake too long, it could explode and make a mess in your oven. This illustrates what can happen when offenses, hurts, and anger are allowed to heat up through lack of loving action. The result can be a disaster.

You will be better equipped to deal with anger in your marriage if you understand the different types of anger and identify why you respond the way you do. There are three varieties of the “baked potato” of anger: situational anger, displaced anger, and chronic anger. Each one has a different cause.

Some anger responses are situational, triggered by specific events. You can almost predict it: When a certain something happens, one of you reacts with anger. Behind every eruption of situational anger are offenses and hurts that have not been resolved. The sooner you close the loop on offenses and hurts, the less damage you will suffer—or inflict—from anger.

Another variety of anger is one counselors refer to as displaced anger. Rather than confronting and dealing with the direct cause of the anger in a situation, the offended spouse expresses his or her feelings indirectly. Displaced anger may not be as damaging as other forms, but it still leaves a painful open loop in the relationship.

A third type of anger resulting from unhealed hurts is chronic anger. When an open loop is not closed in a timely manner, the hurt and anger are often shoved to the background and ignored. Because it is unresolved, this anger can flare up again and again. Buried wounds and anger generate an assortment of psychological and physical stresses that can ruin a person’s perspective on life and eat away at the soul. People with chronic anger are like loose cannons, ready to blast away whenever someone unwittingly touches off the fuse.

Unless you and your spouse learn how to work through your hurt and anger, you will likely find yourself on an emotional roller coaster that never slows down. Stuffing anger into some dark corner of your heart may temporarily help you skirt past a conflict, but the anger doesn’t go away. Venting anger through a verbal tirade, an argument, screaming, crying, or slamming doors may help you let off a little steam, but it won’t solve the root problem and you will explode again and again. The longer you allow the cycles of stuffing and exploding to continue, the more you will hurt yourself and your spouse.

Much of the hurt and anger you experience in your marriage relationship are the result of unresolved conflicts between you and your spouse. They are all part of open loops, and the longer the loops remain open, the greater will be the turmoil in your marriage. Closing every loop as soon as possible is vital to divorce-proofing your marriage. And dealing with those hurts and resolving them will help you and your spouse grow closer in your relationship.

*Our book, Healing the Hurt in Your Marriage, can help you understand different conflict styles and teach you how to move toward forgiveness and healing!

Dual-Military Marriages Face Unique Stressors

The number of dual-military married couples has gone up over the past few years. There are now about 84,000 service members who are married to another military member. Because of this increase, a Pentagon advisory committee issued a report in 2017 calling on the Department of Defense to do more to accommodate the needs of dual-military couples.

The good news: Many couples report that, despite the challenges, they’re satisfied with both their military careers and their dual-military marriage. In fact, a handful of studies have found there’s not a greater rate of marital discord for dual-military couples.

But a report from the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services does not that dual-military couples are subject to “unique stressors in navigating their work and family roles because they must contend with family separations resulting from deployments, temporary duty, and Permanent Change of Station.”

(source: “Troops are Marrying Each Other More Often, Creating New Challenges for the Pentagon,” by Steve Walsh, Texas Public Radio: https://www.tpr.org/post/troops-are-marrying-each-other-more-often-creating-new-challenges-pentagon) 

For all couples – military, non-military, dual-military, first-responder – developing a healthy marriage relies heavily on two vital elements coming together.

First, at some point you must draw a line in the sand. In so many words, proclaim to God and to each other, “We are committed to building a Christian marriage and family. Divorce is not an option. We will have nothing of the world’s approach to marriage. We are committed to keep our love fresh, new, and growing—for the sake of our marriage, for the sake of our children, and for the cause of Jesus Christ. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” In the way you talk to each other—today and every day, you affirm the fact that you would choose each other all over again. You say to each other, by words and actions, “You are my one and only.”

Second, God took you at your word when you said your wedding vows and is working through you to fulfill that commitment. Your marriage will grow deeper and stronger because God will empower you to strengthen your marriage. The two of you are not alone in this battle to ward off the world’s twisted view of marriage because yours is a marriage of three—you, your spouse, and Jesus. We urge you both to settle for nothing less than God’s best in your relationship.

Here are some other guidelines for building a thriving marriage:

  • Assist your spouse with his or her more menial tasks, such as making the beds, taking out the trash, cleaning, yard work, or whatever.

  • Communicate how important your spouse is when you talk about him or her instead of grabbing the spotlight for yourself. Always speak positively and constructively about your spouse around your children. When you are with other adults, make a point to bring up complimentary tidbits about your spouse. And you should share your positive comments as generously in private—alone with your spouse—as you do in public.

  • Never berate, demean, or humiliate your spouse in public or private.

  • Try to outdo your spouse with courtesy and kindness.

  • Make time alone a priority. Nothing says ‘You are number one in my life” like putting your spouse first with your time. And nothing communicates second-class status (or third or fourth) more than elevating your schedule and activities above time spent with your spouse. You would be wise to carve out significant portions of your week for one-on-one conversation

  • If you want your marriage to thrive for the long haul, you can start by putting your spouse first.

*For more practical marriage advice, check out The Great Marriage Q&A Book. It's available in our online bookstore!