Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Tony and Lauren Dungy’s new book Uncommon Marriage: Learning about Lasting Love and Overcoming Life’s Obstacles Together (Tyndale House Publishers, 2014).
While it’s a significant accomplishment just to stay married in American culture (where more than half of all marriages end in divorce), it’s even better to build a marriage that keeps growing stronger over time. That’s what God hopes you and your spouse will do. You can do much more than simply try to hang onto your marriage; with God’s help, you and your spouse can grow closer to him and each other every new day of your lives together.
Here are 14 ways to build a lasting marriage:
Trust God to lead you well into an unknown future. You and your husband or wife can’t possibly know what future circumstances you all will encounter during your lives together – but God knows. No matter what happens to you all in the future – good or bad – place your trust fully in God to guide you through it well. Every day, ask the Holy Spirit to give you wisdom, so you’ll both know how best to deal with each situation you encounter.
Surround yourselves with a strong support network. Develop close relationships with friends and family who also trust God, and support each other in ways that strengthen each other’s marriages: prayer, encouragement, accountability, and practical help when needed. Participate in a healthy local church together and build close relationships there, as well.
Keep communication lines open at all times. Make sure that you and your spouse are communicating honestly and openly about the decisions that each of you face on a regular basis. Don’t surprise your spouse by deciding something that affects both of you without first discussing it together. Check in with each other for regular conversations to stay in sync with each other.
Respond with love and respect when you disagree. Whenever you and your spouse disagree about something – which will happen sometimes, since you’re different people with different points of view – focus on understanding each other’s perspectives rather than trying to figure out who’s right and who’s wrong. Listen to each other carefully and value each other’s opinions. Try to reach a mutual agreement. But if, after discussing the issue lovingly and respectfully, you all can’t agree on it, the husband should make the final decision according to what he thinks is best, keeping in mind that he should love his wife sacrificially, take her perspective seriously, and strive to meet her needs in the decision process.
Keep dating each other. Make time in your schedules regularly to go on dates together so you can enjoy fun and relaxing time as just the two of you. Keep in mind that your dates don’t have to be complicated or expensive. Your marriage can benefit from dates as simple as evening walks around your neighborhood or lunches out while your kids are in school or on play dates.
Pray together regularly. Establish and maintain a habit of praying with your spouse for wisdom, direction, and strength in your marriage – and to communicate with God about specific concerns that each of you have. Try to pray face-to-face whenever possible, but when it’s not, pray over the phone together.
Draw upon each other’s strengths to work together well as a team at home. Don’t force each other into rigid roles based on what husbands and wives traditionally do at home. Instead, assign each other the household tasks that you each can do best, according to the abilities that God has given you and your spouse uniquely. So if your wife is better at mechanical repairs than you, let her fix whatever breaks down at your house. If your husband is better at cooking than you, let him prepare your family’s meals. Discover how you both function best and use those strengths so your home will function well.
Choose your battles wisely. Let minor irritations in your relationship go, keeping in mind that you each have idiosyncrasies and weaknesses, and giving each other grace. Use time and energy only on disagreements about major issues that you all really need to work through and resolve for the health of your marriage.
Encourage to follow dreams. Bring out the best in each other by encouraging each other to pursue the dreams that God has placed on both of your hearts. Don’t let one spouse’s dreams get neglected; aim to be fair and equitable about how you allocate your shared attention, time, energy, and money so that both of you can pursue your God-given dreams.
Trade anxiety for peace through prayer. Whenever situations make you or your spouse anxious, pray about them, trusting God to intervene in those situations and guide and empower you to deal with them well. As you trust God, he will give you peace.
Control your anger. Be careful not to hurt your spouse through the ways you express your anger (such as by speaking harsh words or throwing objects). Ask the Holy Spirit to give you the self-control you need to direct your anger in healthy, productive ways (like motivation for solving problems) rather than in destructive ways. When you’re arguing with your spouse and are having trouble controlling your anger, take a break and resume discussing the issue later when you’re not too tired or stressed.
Fall back on your commitment when your feelings falter. As your marital love matures, the intense romantic feelings you had for each other initially will fade, because they’ve already accomplished their purpose of getting you all to focus on each other. Going forward in your marriage, build your love on the commitment you and your spouse made to each other, which is much more reliable than your feelings.\
Grieve your losses with grace. Expect to suffer difficult losses together sometimes in this fallen world. Whenever that happens, deal with each other gracefully, supporting each other with whatever you all need to grieve in your own ways while relying on God to help you through the process.
Keep learning, growing, and adjusting together. During every new day of your marriage that God gives you and your spouse, choose to follow God as he leads you on new adventures, so you both can become the people God intends you to become.
Adapted from Uncommon Marriage: Learning about Lasting Love and Overcoming Life’s Obstacles Together, copyright 2014 by Tony and Lauren Dungy. Published by Tyndale Momentum, an imprint of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Ill., www.tyndalemomentum.com.
Tony Dungy is a #1 New York Times bestselling author whose books include Quiet Strength, Uncommon, The Mentor Leader and Uncommon Marriage. He led the Indianapolis Colts to Super Bowl victory on February 4, 2007, the first such win for an African American head coach. Dungy established another NFL first by becoming the first head coach to lead his teams to the playoffs for 10 consecutive years. Dungy joined the Colts in 2002 after serving as the most successful head coach in Tampa Bay Buccaneers' history. He has also held assistant coaching positions with the University of Minnesota, Pittsburgh Steelers, Kansas City Chiefs, and Minnesota Vikings. Before becoming a coach, Dungy played three seasons in the NFL. Dungy has been involved in a wide variety of charitable organizations, including All Pro Dad, Abe Brown Ministries, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Athletes in Action, Mentors for Life, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and Boys & Girls Clubs. He also works with Basket of Hope, Impact for Living, the Black Coaches Association National Convention, Indiana Black Expo, the United Way of Central Indiana, and the American Diabetes Association. He retired from coaching in 2009 and now serves as a studio analyst for NBC's Football Night in America. He and his wife, Lauren, are the parents of nine children.
Lauren Dungy is an early childhood educational specialist, best-selling author, and frequently sought-after speaker. She is also a devoted wife and mother. A graduate of Duquesne University with a degree in elementary education, she taught school in her hometown of Sewickley, Penn., and volunteers as a reading specialist in the Title I schools in Tampa. The vice president of the Dungy Family Foundation, which is committed to strengthening families and helping individuals acquire the life skills needed for success, Lauren has a great passion and love for children. She works closely with several adoption agencies and women's shelters in the Tampa area. She is heavily involved in her church. Lauren and her husband, Tony, have been married for 31 years. They are the parents of nine children.
Whitney Hopler, who has served as a Crosswalk.com contributing writer for many years, produces a site about angels and miracles for About.com. She is author of the inspirational novel Dream Factory (which is set during Hollywood's golden age) and writes about the power of thoughts on her “Renewing Your Mind” blog.
Publication date: January 19, 2015