Define your expectations wisely. The tension between the two of you is often caused when either you or your spouse brings selfish expectations to your relationship and those expectations don’t get met. Ask God to give you the humility you need to admit that some of your expectations are selfish. Pray for the ability to trust God more so you can anchor your expectations in your hope in Christ.

Instead of trying to control your spouse to get what you want, pray for the Holy Spirit to bring about true transformation in his or her life. Let go of unreasonable expectations and focus on what God wants for your spouse – and for your marriage – instead of your own agenda. Accept reality while clinging to God’s promises. The more you and your spouse can adjust your expectations, the more you can live as one in Christ.

Deal with hot button issues well. Once you recognize what you and your spouse’s respective hot button issues are – like sensitivity about your weight or the lack of a particular skill – deal compassionately with each other about them. Ask God to help you stop being defensive when your spouse brings up a hot button issue. Do all you can to encourage your spouse when he or she is dealing with a hot button issue. Forgive each other when you all approach a hot button issue in the wrong way. Build trust in your marriage to build oneness together.

Build a Christ-centered marriage. Remember that you’re Christians first and a married couple second. Make God your top priority – even above your spouse – and encourage your spouse to do the same. The better each of your relationships are with God, the better your relationship with each other will be. Realize that, no matter what your personality types, you can enjoy a great marriage if you both imitate Christ and honor Him as the center of your marriage. If you do so, His love will flow through your lives to each other and bring you into greater unity.

Participate in Christian community. Connect with other people who are connected to Christ by becoming active in a local church and building meaningful friendships with other believers there. It’s much easier to break destructive patterns in your marriage with the help of other Christians than it is just working on the problems yourselves in isolation. Don’t live in secret; be willing to open up your lives to others you trust. Ask God to give you the courage to confess your sins and struggles to Him and others who can help you overcome them. As you make progress, the transformation in your lives will inspire others to pursue the healing they need in their own marriages.

Adapted from Just How Married Do You Want to Be?: Practicing Oneness in Marriage, copyright 2008 by Jim and Sarah Sumner. Published by IVP Books, a division of InterVarsity Press,    

Jim Sumner is on staff at NewSong Church in San Dimas, California.

Sarah Sumner (Ph.D., Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is special assistant to the dean/strategic development and professor of theology and ministry at the Haggard School of Theology, Azusa Pacific University, in Azusa, California.