Dealing with the stresses of life can make any couple feel like they might explode. All kinds of pressure can bring a marriage to the boiling point: An illness or accident. A job layoff. An overloaded schedule. Major car or house repairs. Children at odds with each other.

You may feel dangerously close to erupting from the pressure in your life, but you don't have to let it tear your marriage apart. Here are some ways you can successfully manage pressure to protect your marriage:

* Choreograph a healthy marriage rhythm. Think of life like a race, and consider your spouse your teammate in the race. Work on running together, at the same pace, and in the same direction.

* Identify the current pressure level of your marriage. Working independently of your spouse, honestly consider how much pressure is building up in areas such as these: your finances, your children's schedules, communication between the two of you, handling conflict, the health of each household member, your house, your car(s), your expectations for your marriage and whether they're being met, dealing with aging parents, dealing with in-laws, your prayer and worship time together, your sex life, your parenting values and whether they're in sync, the past and its hold over each of you, etc. After each of you rates the level of pressure you feel from these areas (and any others), compare your answers and rank the top three problem areas for each of you. Then honestly discuss what steps you might take to start reducing the pressure in these areas.

* Determine your family's core values. Pray for God to clearly show you how He would most like you, your spouse, and your children invest your time, energy, money, and aspirations. Know that you can't do it all, and don't compare yourself to other families. Ask God to show you the unique purpose He has for your family. Ask yourself what you hope the legacy of your marriage will be as God helps you determine your family's core values.

* Embrace contentment. Realize that people who are driven by a desire to acquire or achieve more inevitably learn that enough is never enough. Honestly discuss with your spouse how much pressure you feel to buy more when it comes to things like your house, your car, appliances, furniture, gadgets, clothing, and travel. Also discuss the pressure each of you feels to achieve at work, school, in church, and in your community. Choose to be content with your current circumstances, and ask God to give you the grace to live out that choice.

* Make time to reflect on your life on a regular basis. Spend time in silence and solitude to gain a clearer perspective on your life together. Every day, carve out at least a few minutes to get away from distractions (perhaps by just going out in your backyard alone), listen for the Holy Spirit to speak to you, and ponder what you hear. Every week, schedule a date night with your spouse to engage in meaningful conversation, sharing your hopes and dreams with each other. You can also use that time to plan for the coming week together. Twice each year, take a trip without your children for at least one night (preferably two or three). Use that time to ask God to revitalize your marriage.

* Build margin into your family life. Give yourself the wiggle room you need to handle life's interruptions and unexpected demands. Don't be afraid to say "no" so you can say "yes" when it really counts. Talk about what your family's schedule will be during weekdays, weeknights, and weekends, and reach a mutual agreement on it. Don't travel or make any commitments to local activities until you've discussed the potential plans with your spouse and reached an agreement about them together.

* Observe a Sabbath rest. Choose one day out of every week - Sunday, or another day - to rest from your work and focus on worshipping God.

* Fulfill your marriage vows. Expect trouble in your life, remembering that Jesus Himself said we will all experience trouble in our fallen world. Decide that, no matter what happens, you will honor your promise to God and your spouse to remain faithful in your marriage. Ask God to help you forgive as often as you need to and give you fresh grace to stay closely connected to your spouse.


Adapted from Pressure Proof Your Marriage, copyright 2003 by Dennis and Barbara Rainey. Published by Multnomah Publishers, Inc., Sisters, Or., www.multnomahbooks.com.

Dennis and Barbara Rainey are cofounders of FamilyLife, a division of Campus Crusade for Christ. Their books include the 2003 Gold Medallion finalist Growing a Spiritually Strong Family and the bestseller Two Hearts Praying as One. Dennis cohosts the daily radio program FamilyLife Today, heard by about four million people each week. The Raineys have six children and three grandchildren and live in Little Rock, Arkansas.