“I shouldn’t have to ask.” Your spouse can’t read your mind, so he or she doesn’t automatically know what you need.  If you need something from your spouse, you usually do have to ask for it – and sometimes you have to ask several times until your spouse fully listens and understands. 

Pray about your need first; then ask your spouse. Make suggestions instead of demands. Be flexible and don’t push for a decision until he or she is ready.

When your spouse brings a request to you, don’t get irritated or defensive. Instead, be thankful that your spouse cares enough to work on your relationship. Listen carefully, giving your spouse your full attention and refraining from making judgments or drawing conclusions until he or she is finished speaking. Seriously consider what your spouse is asking. Think and pray about it. Ask questions to clarify what your spouse needs. Remember that God calls you to put other’s needs above your own.

“Conflict is bad.” Conflict can be disruptive and scary, but like a good thunderstorm, it can clear the air. If you and your spouse use conflict constructively, it can help you each solve problems in your marriage and grow as people in the process. The key to effective conflict is learning when to engage and when to walk away.

Avoid destructive types of conflict, like criticism, contempt, defensiveness, stonewalling, and blaming. Use conflict to help clear contaminants out of your marriage and move you both in a positive direction. Follow these guidelines for fighting fair: Start the argument with a positive, respectful approach rather than with loud words, harsh statements, or judgmental accusations. Don’t deny problems. Choose your battles, letting minor issues go. Schedule important discussions for the right times and places.

Avoid trying to do deal with issues during times of great stress or grief, and create an environment where you can be calm and not disturbed. Listen well. Don’t use sex as a weapon in your arguments with your spouse. Never threaten divorce. Control your anger. Call a time out if either you or your spouse is becoming too angry, but be sure to come back later to discuss the issue again.

“A crisis means we’re over.” Every marriage experiences problems. Whenever you and your spouse encounter a crisis, it doesn’t mean that your marriage is over. In fact, a crisis can actually strengthen your marriage if you trust God through it and learn from it. Pray for the help you need during a crisis. Commit to doing whatever it takes to work through the problem at hand.

Establish mutually agreed upon rules of interaction, such as no shouting or blaming. Cut off relationships with other people who have a negative influence on your marriage. Ask God to give you the discernment to know what to say and what not to say, when to speak, and how to say what you need to say.

“All pain in our marriage is bad.” Pain is never pleasant to go through, but it can actually be a gift because it directs your attention to problems that need to be solved. When your spouse is in physical or emotional pain, never underestimate how much he or she may be struggling. Support your spouse without judging him or her; understand that your spouse won’t be able to respond to you normally when in pain. Pray for your spouse. When you’re in pain yourself, let your pain drive you to rely more closely on God and discover His grace.

“Marriage is just too hard.” While marriage is definitely hard sometimes, it doesn’t ever need to be too hard. Start making small, consistent investments in your marriage every day to make your marriage easier. You and your spouse can make deposits into each other’s emotional bank accounts by doing or saying loving things for each other. Do what you can to cut down on the withdrawals you each make from each other’s emotional bank accounts (ways you hurt each other).

Spend time doing simple activities together that you both enjoy, like walking or writing letters. Invest the time and energy necessary to keep romance alive in your marriage. Pray together and for each other often. Instead of relying on your own limited strength to maintain a close marriage, rely on God’s unlimited power to guide and help you every day.

Adapted from The Marriage Turnaround: How Thinking Differently about Your Relationship Can Change Everything, copyright 2009 by Mitch Temple. Published by Moody Publishers, Chicago, Ill.,  www.moodypublishers.com.

Mitch Temple serves as the director over marriage programs at Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He represents Focus at national events, seminars, media interviews, and radio programs. Mitch is a published author in various professional journals, and co-author of two marriage books. He served for 23 years as pulpit and counseling pastor, specializing in crisis, business, and marriage and family-related issues. He and his wife of more than 25 years have three children and live in Colorado.