Find the Freedom in Christ to Work on a Better Marriage
- 2007 22 Feb
You can try any kind of strategy to improve your marriage, but nothing will work unless you first get your own relationship with Christ right. Instead of focusing on what to do about your marriage, focus on who Christ wants you to become, and everything else in your life – including your marriage – will be impacted. Once you embrace the freedom Christ offers, you’ll be able to embrace your spouse with more love.
Here’s how you can find the freedom to work on a better marriage:
Pray for the right motivation. If you haven’t already done so, begin an eternal relationship with Christ by inviting Him to become your Lord and Savior. Ask Him to help you show your gratitude for all He has done for you by honoring Him with your marriage. Remember that your spouse is made in God’s image, just as you are. Decide to accept your spouse as God has accepted you. Commit to becoming the type of husband or wife God wants you to become.
Deal with conflict wisely. Recognize that conflict is an inevitable part of life. Understand that you can best resolve conflict successfully when you and your spouse both hear and appreciate each other’s perspectives. Approach conflict constructively by: listening carefully to each other, speaking the truth in love while refraining from destructive words, working together with a cooperative spirit to search for a win-win solution, following God’s leading when making decisions, avoiding attacking each other or becoming defensive, focusing on the issues, and remembering that your marriage is more important than the need to win or be right.
Understand gender differences. Know that men generally long to achieve, produce, and succeed, but women generally long to nurture relationships, care for others, and create welcoming homes. Realize that men tend to share information to try to solve problems, while women tend to share feelings about issues. Understand that men thrive on action, but women thrive on communication. Know that men are sexually aroused primarily through physical images, while women are sexually aroused primarily by loving words and actions. Realize that men need sex in order to feel love, but women need to feel loved in order to have sex. Understand that men will respond to stress by taking time out to be alone, while women will respond to stress by sharing their feelings with others. Ask God to help you appreciate the differences between you and your spouse, and help you use them to encourage and help each other become more together than what either of you could be alone.
Put your relationship with Christ first. Recognize that you have to be complete and healthy in Christ before you can build a whole and functional marriage. Read the many promises in Scripture that remind you that you are accepted, secure, and significant because of Christ’s work on the cross. Make your relationship with Christ your top priority, so you can become the spouse that God wants you to be. Don’t look to the world for fulfillment. Instead, embrace your identity as God’s beloved child who can let God’s love flow through you to your spouse.
Strengthen your character. Expect God to use your marriage to transform you as a person and help you grow to become more like Christ. Understand that the more spiritually mature you become, the more you will be able to love your spouse. Rather than focusing on how you would like your spouse to change, recognize that you only have the power to change yourself, and focus on that. Know that by changing yourself, you’ll be changing the relationship dynamic of your marriage and inspiring your spouse to decide to change. Be willing to forgive your spouse and meet his or her needs, as God leads you to do so.
Speak your spouse’s love language. Ask your spouse which type of language communicates love best to him or her: gifts, service, time, touch, or words. Then do all you can to use that language to show your spouse your love. Tell your spouse what your primary love language is, and explain how he or she can best love you with it.
Don’t let money come between you and your spouse. Acknowledge that all your money ultimately belongs to God, because He alone has made it possible for you to receive and earn all you have. Work with your spouse to become a wise steward of the money God has entrusted to you. Establish a budget together. Ask God to help you become content with whatever you have at any time. Thank God regularly for what He has given you. Give generously to support God’s work on Earth and to help people in need. Reduce your debt until you become debt-free, and stay out of debt. Save for future emergencies. Invest wisely, avoiding get-rich-quick schemes and using your investment money for ventures that bring glory to God. Commit to avoiding greed and being honest in all your financial dealings, and live by the highest standards of financial integrity in your family, church, and job. Make restitution for any wrongs you’ve committed against other people or their property. Don’t oppress the poor or bribe the rich. Refrain from participating in any unethical legal proceedings. Work faithfully and diligently for your income, while also balancing work and rest.
Repent of sexual sin. Remember that your body is a temple of God, because His Spirit dwells in you. Decide that you will honor God with your body, rather than insult Him by using it for sexual immorality. Ask God to reveal every sexual use of your body as an instrument of unrighteousness, and as He brings specific incidents to mind, renounce each one and commit your body to God as a living sacrifice. Reserve the sexual use of your body for your spouse only. If you’ve been guilty of treating other people as sex objects, ask God to help you remember that they are made in His image, and are therefore worthy of respect and dignity. Work to prevent adultery in your marriage by making regular deposits in your spouse’s love bank (meeting their needs) and avoiding withdrawals (disappointing them). If your spouse is having an affair, pray, search the Bible for guidance, ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom, and get counsel from your pastor, a counselor, and perhaps even trusted friends. Ask God to help you become the spouse He wants you to be, knowing that positive changes in you will attract your estranged spouse’s attention and possibly motivate him or her to reconcile with you. If your spouse is not repentant, consider a separation to get your spouse to take the issues between you seriously, but don’t rush to divorce. Always focus on love over anger; love is much more powerful. If you’re having an affair, break it off completely, choosing never to see your lover again. Change your phone number and e-mail address, or even move or change jobs if that’s necessary for you to make a clean break. Take time to grieve the relationship you lost, and heal from it. Expect it to take time for you to earn your spouse’s trust back; be patient and willing to hold yourself accountable to your spouse.
Forgive. Always forgive your spouse for ways he or she offends you. Remember that God has forgiven you, and let your gratitude motivate you to do what He expects – forgive others. Rely on God to help you forgive, knowing that you can trust Him to help you every step of the way. Be honest about how you feel, allowing yourself to feel the pain, hurt, resentment, bitterness, and hate. Then submit yourself to God, and ask for His grace and power to forgive. Agree to live with the consequences of your spouse’s sins against you, recognizing that you can’t avoid them, but you can choose not to let them make you bitter. Release the offense and decide that your spouse is no longer in debt to you for it. Never bring the offense up to your spouse again, in arguments or any other discussion. Whenever your emotions recycle the pain or your spouse keeps offending you, continue to choose to forgive, but make it clear that you won’t tolerate abuse. Get whatever help you need to break free of abuse if it’s occurring in your marriage. Never take revenge; instead, trust God to work in the situation (perhaps through your church, family, or civil authorities) to bring about justice in the right way. Ask God to help you replace your old resentful feelings with Christ’s forgiving love. Deal with painful memories by recalling good memories from your marriage as often as possible. Ask God to help you keep a healthy perspective on your marriage.
Try even if your spouse won’t try. If your spouse isn’t willing to work to improve your marriage, make an effort to do so yourself. Realize that even if your spouse doesn’t come around and your marriage doesn’t get better, you will have become a better person yourself through the process. Remember that Christ lived with pain during His time on Earth, and He understands your pain even when no one else does. Pray for wisdom about how best to try to improve your marriage. Ask God to give you creative ideas to become the best possible spouse you can be, then respond to His guidance by acting on those ideas. Know that you’ll likely get your spouse’s attention by treating them the way God wants you to treat them. Let your actions match your prayers, and allow God’s love to flow through you to your spouse. Don’t accept excuses or blame from your spouse; be loving, yet firm about the need to change your marriage. Get support from some caring Christians as you try to work on your marriage. Ask them to encourage and pray for you. Remember that it took a long time for your marriage to develop problems, so expect it to take a while to resolve them. Be patient and don’t give up. Put on the full armor of God mentioned in Ephesians 6:10-20 to take a stand against evil.
Set your marriage free. Once you and your spouse have become free in Christ, work together to set your marriage free, as well. Make sure you’ve each left your parents and any previous spouses emotionally and bonded properly to each other. Break family cycles of abuse that have been passed on to you from previous generations. Ask God to reveal any self-centered thoughts or behaviors that have kept you from assuming your responsibilities to love and accept one another. Then repent. Break sexual bondage so you can have a healthy sexual union. Release old hurts through forgiveness. Unmask Satan’s deceptions in your relationship and seek the truth that will set you free. Renew your marriage covenant with God and each other. Maintain your freedom in Christ by participating in a healthy church together, reading and studying your Bible daily, praying and seeking the Holy Spirit’s leading together, reminding yourselves of your identities in Christ, taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, sharing your struggles openly with each other so you don’t drift away, taking responsibility for your own spiritual growth instead of relying on your spouse to fight your battles, and working with a pastor or counselor to help you solve persistent problems.
Adapted from Experiencing Christ Together: Finding Freedom and Fulfillment in Marriage, copyright 2007 by Neil T. Anderson and Charles Mylander. Published by Regal Books, Ventura, Ca., 1-800-4-GOSPEL, www.regalbooks.com.
Dr. Neil T. Anderson is founder of Freedom In Christ Ministries and president of Discipleship Counseling Ministries. He has 35 years of pastoral and teaching experience and was formerly chairman of the Practical Theology Department at Talbot School of Theology. Neil has authored more than 50 best-selling books on Christ-centered living.
Dr. Charles Mylander is Executive Director of Evangelical Friends Mission, the missionary sending agency for evangelical Friends In the United States. He is the coauthor with Neil Anderson of Extreme Church Makeover.