Weave your souls together. Seek to connect with each other through communication. Spend lots of time talking and listening to each other. Engage in open-ended, curious conversation. Expect that it’s always possible for something good to result from your dialogue.

Honor the differences between you and your spouse by realizing that they’re healthy – not bad or dangerous. Esteem each other instead of tearing each other down. Put aside your presumptions so you can genuinely experience your spouse’s perspectives. Allow those perspectives to stretch and humble you. As your spouse’s sense of reality collides with yours, pray for it to help you understand more of how God views your lives together.

Don’t hide your thoughts, feelings, or desires from each other. Don’t blame or belittle each other. Don’t distort or obscure the real issues. Consider how compromise can help you weave a new pattern from different strands in your relationship.

Own your own failures and your spouse’s hurt. Be willing to forgive each other. Approach God in prayer together and ask for His perspective and the grace to work out hopeful solutions to your problems.

Take time regularly to get away from distractions and converse with each other, just the two of you. Schedule and protect the time. Think about how you can use the time for meaningful reflection – not just passively sitting in front of a movie screen together, but actively talking and listening about topics that matter to you both. Tell each other stories from your past and present, and listen well so you can gain a deeper perspective on your spouse than you had before. Share your dreams for the future with each other. Risk opening your hearts to each other in both pain and triumph.

Cleave to each other. Recognize that sex is a gift from God that should be honored and cherished as bearing His glory. Understand that trust between you and your spouse is vital for a healthy sex life, since it is impossible to surrender to sexual intimacy when tense or fearful. Get rid of bedroom ghosts like fear, anger, and disgust by working through the issues underlying them and pursuing healing together.

Ask God to give you the humility you need to be open, honest, and vulnerable in your relationships with Him and your spouse. Slow down, eliminate distractions, and live in the present moment so you can better appreciate sex with your spouse. Be playful and generous with each other. View good sex as a foretaste of heavenly worship.

Care for your marriage as if it were a garden. Understand that your marriage relationship is a living organism that, just like a garden, needs regular care to survive and grow. Care for your marriage daily by setting aside time to talk and pray together. Know that if you don’t keep up daily routines to stay connected, weeds will take over your marriage. Ask God to give you hope to wait for good results to emerge from the slow process of growth in your marriage. Be willing to do the hard work of making sacrifices to serve each other so you can each enjoy blossoming maturity.

Adapted from The Intimate Mystery: Creating Strength and Beauty in Your Marriage, copyright 2005 by Dan B. Allender and Tremper Longman III. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Ill., www.ivpress.com.

Dan B. Allender (Ph.D., Michigan State) is president of Mars Hill Graduate School near Seattle. A speaker and writer, his other books include The Wounded Heart, The Healing Path, How Children Raise Parents and To Be Told.

Tremper Longman III (Ph.D., Yale University) is Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, Ca. He is the author of How to Read the Psalms, How to Read Proverbs, How to Read Genesis and Literary Approaches to Biblical Interpretation, and coeditor of A Complete Literary Guide to the Bible.