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Breathing Life Back Into Marriage

March 2019 RCB.png

By Ryan C. Bailey

Jack and Jill have been married for years. Jack runs his own company and Jill keeps more than busy taking care of the house and shuttling the kids to all their church activities, sport trainings, music lessons, play dates, etc.  
 
They are both exhausted and are trying to keep their heads above water.  
 
When they talk it is often about the tasks of life, who is going to take care of what and when. 
 
They do a fairly good job catching each other up on what is going on in their respective areas. However, gone are the days when they used to dream together about what life could be like. Life has gone from exciting possibilities to stale normalcy.
 
They used to have a date night, but the daily needs of their lives have sucked the time out of that weekly event. Also, work has gotten more complicated for Jack and he is spending more and more time at the office or thinking about the pressures of running his business.
 
Jack and Jill genuinely love each other. Neither of them wants out of the marriage, but they are stuck in a cycle of disconnection that happens often in life.
 
The absence of genuine, deep, heartfelt connection has created an ache within them. Jill is more aware of the ache, but Jack can sense it too. Neither of them really knows how to address it. When Jill mentions it, it feels like the discussion could easily turn into an argument where she doesn’t feel heard and Jack doesn’t feel understood. So she has stopped bringing it up. 
 
Despite their love for each other they are just going through the motions. If they thought very deeply about the state of their marriage, it would really hurt. Instead, they’ve made excuses. They’ve settled. Gone are the vitality and passion they once enjoyed about being Jack and Jill.
 
How do they get all of that back?  Is it even possible, given all they have to do?  
 
The first sentence in Genesis 1:26 makes clear that Jack and Jill together, as man and woman, image God (“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’”). If they are supposed to image God, what does that mean?
 
God exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all loving each other, fulfilling their roles, maintaining fantastic boundaries, all while being connected at the heart level.  
 
That heart level connection with another is essential.
 
Think of Adam before Eve.  
 
Adam had the perfect life. He was ruler over everything, got to interact with the animals, and had great food. He got to walk and talk with God as a regular part of life. Yet Adam was alone. How could he be alone if he had God with him? 
 
The reality is that he was built to image God. That means he was built to have a deep heartfelt connection to someone who was like him. God made Adam to need that connection.
 
No wonder when God created Eve and presented her to Adam, Adam immediately broke into poetry!  Gen. 2:23: Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bonesand flesh of my flesh;
 
Can you hear the fulfilled longing in the words “at last”?
 
Notice the closeness of the connection, “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh”.  
 
Jack and Jill got a taste of that connection while they were dating and during the best times of their marriage, but now over the years, as the circumstances of life have crept in, they’ve lost it.
 
The good news is that they can get it back. If your marriage is in the same place as Jack and Jill’s, know that you can get it back, too.
 
How?
 
1. You need to make the marriage first, above the kids and business, but second under God.
 
God designed marriage to be above the children and our work. Gen. 1:28 shows that man and woman together were supposed to rule over everything (V.28: And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”).  If they were supposed to rule over everything and they were supposed to multiply, that means that they were also supposed to be first over those things.
 
Many times parents put their kids over their marriage. Many times they put their work over their marriage. Where in Scripture can we find that that would be a good thing?
 
Kids actually feel more secure when the marriage is first.  
 
They also are blessed with a ton of benefits that come with it.  
 
However, we must remember that God is a jealous God and He insists on being first (Gen. 1:3 3 “You shall have no other gods before me.”). A problem for those who have good marriages or even great marriages is that we can sometimes put our spouses ahead of God. Why pray when we can just roll over and talk to our spouse? 
 
God is so gracious to insist that He is first. If He is not, we can come to idolize our marriage, and put pressure on our spouse to fulfill us in ways that only God can. When we married we took vows to God. This means that our marriage is about us and our relationship with God more than our relationship to our spouse.  
 
Scripture commands us to obey God regardless of how our spouse performs. This doesn’t mean that we are to be doormats and not set boundaries. However, it does mean that we are to obey God and how He says we are to love and respect our spouse.
 
2. You need to make small incremental investments and sacrifices for the marriage.
 
The more you invest and sacrifice for someone, the more you grow to love them.  
 
Sometimes when a marriage grows stale and needs to be revitalized. The more each spouse can find small, meaningful ways to invest and sacrifice for the other, the more the marriage sparks, and eventually the passion, vitality, and joy are rediscovered.  
 
The idea here is to focus on small, consistent investments and sacrifices rather than the grand-slam home run kind of investments and sacrifices.
 
For example, a husband I worked with decided to wake up 15mins earlier and make coffee for his wife and bring it to her just as her alarm went off.  
 
The wife shared with me that just that one gesture brought more hope to her than anything else either one of them had done in years. Through that small gesture she got a glimpse that he was fighting for the marriage, something she had questioned if he was willing to do for years.
 
Finding small ways to invest and sacrifice for the marriage needs to become a lifestyle, not only something you do when the marriage grows stale!
 
3. You need to remember the times when your connection was tight.
 
In the Old Testament God is constantly calling His people to remember different significant events that mark His faithfulness to them. In marriage we often need to do the same thing, especially when it comes to remembering times when, as a couple, we felt tight with each other.  
 
At first, couples can feel pain when they recall those times of being connected, and compare it to what they are feeling from each other now. However, that pain can shift once the focus is on connection again and both individuals have an understanding that this connection is possible.
 
Moreover, as they share the details of what it was like to feel connected to each other, it often brings those feelings back into the present.
 
For example, let’s do this with a different emotion... Think of a time when you were really laughing hard, cracking up like crazy. Now really get into the details of that time and remember what was said/or done with as much detail as possible. What happened as you did that? You probably started to smile or possibly even laugh again.  
 
You can produce a similar effect if you focus on the details of when you felt a tight connection to your spouse.
 
If you are struggling to feel connected with this exercise then focus on forgiveness.
 
4. You need to forgive each other for whatever wrongs have not been forgiven.
 
Many times in a stale marriage there have not necessarily been “made for tv” kinds of offenses committed between spouses. However small the offenses are, if they have not been forgiven then they are actively in the middle of the marriage, making it difficult for the two of you to connect. This is also true for the bigger offenses that have caused deeper rifts between spouses. 
 
Forgiveness is critical for life to come back to the marriage.  
 
Make a list of the things that have not been forgiven. Then make a list of the hidden messages that you’ve come to believe that are in the middle of the marriage. For example, I have a client who was severely abused as a child. The client forgave the physical and emotional abuse that they had received, but they still felt stuck. It became obvious to them they had not forgiven their father yet because they would often find themselves having arguments with him in their head.
 
Then, when asked what was the hidden message they believed they received through the interactions with their dad, the client said, “In order to be loved I must be ideal.” Even though the father never said that to them, they still believed it because of how the father treated them.
 
When they forgave that unspoken message, they shared that they felt 100lbs lighter; they had fully forgiven their father.
 
5. You need to learn to communicate in the other’s style.
 
I have been amazed by how much can change when couples learn about each other’s personality types and love languages.  
 
I am certified in Myers-Briggs (MBTI) and a standard part of my practice is to have couples take the Myers-Briggs Step II assessment before I meet with them the first time.  
 
After reading each other’s results, I have had a few clients call me back and cancel their first session with me.
 
They shared that the MBTI was incredibly enlightening. They used to think some of what their spouse was doing was incredibly offensive and possibly intended to harm them. Instead, when they learned that some of those behaviors are hard-wired into their personality and they are attempts to do good for the relationship, not harm it, their perspective on those behaviors changed.  
 
We then dove deeper into how to communicate in a way that matches each other’s style, and practiced it until both were hearing the other clearly.
 
This is also highlighted when couples learn each other’s love language. They can adapt their style to show the other love in a way their spouse can most easily receive it. This, of course, takes practice when the love languages do not sync automatically. As long as an individual is making sincere attempts and their spouse can see that, it can easier to offer grace when it does not exactly work.
 
If there have been a lot of unresolved hurts, then it could be that initially, grace is not shown. That’s when a couple needs to return to a focus on forgiveness.
 
If your marriage is stale, know there is hope. If you feel like your marriage is beyond stale and is on the brink of ending, please note there is hope if you both want it. I’ve worked with over 1500 couples. I have seen some incredible comebacks in two decades of counseling. In some cases, I would never in a million years have predicted that they would have come back the way they did.
 
In my own story I watched as each of my parents were married three times. All the divorces happened before I was 16. As an intuitive kid who could read emotions a little too well, I hated the pain my parents went through. Frankly, I hated the pain I went through as I felt powerless to affect my parents’ choices.  
 
When couples share that after forgiving each other, understanding one another, investing in one another, and learning to communicate in a style that matches the other, they now have a better marriage than they could have ever imagined - there is no greater joy that I can experience. Frankly, that is part of why I love my job so much. It is incredible watching God work to restore, revitalize, and redeem marriages.

Your best marriage is ahead of you, not in your past.