A sign over the front door of a women’s spa read:
“Leave your baggage at the door,
This is a place of love and rest.”
I got to thinking about how appropriate that sign would be over my own front door as a reminder of how to enter my home. Especially because of the baggage my husband and I have unintentionally let through the front door over the years -- baggage that we’ve learned can reside in the walls of our home and eventually build walls between the two of us.
After nearly 30 years of marriage – including 20 years of my husband and I counseling other couples on how to maintain a closer connection – I’m convinced that it’s the simple unintentional things, after awhile, that become huge offensive things that slowly undermine the security and health of a marriage. Like one dropped stitch that will eventually cause an entire sweater to unravel, one critical word, one careless act, or one forgotten gesture can lead to resentment that eventually unravels the foundation of your relationship. Likewise, when baggage from wounds and present irritations goes unchecked, it can wreak reckless words, unintended silence, or hurtful behavior we aren’t even aware of. But those behaviors can be reversed.
If you’ve brought baggage into your home through the years, from something in your past or just day-to-day frustrations in your present, you can still learn to check it at the door and improve the overall atmosphere of your home so it resembles a place of love and rest.
1 Corinthians 13:5 tells us that love, among other things, “does not act improperly,
is not selfish, is not provoked, and does not keep a record of wrongs” (HCSB). Although we are not to keep record of our spouse’s wrongs, if we are aware of our own wrongs, relationally, we can start reversing those unintentional actions and rebuild the relationship with simple acts of love.
That’s what my husband and I learned to do. And you can do it, too, through these eight ways to remove the baggage and rebuild love:
1. Re-examine your greetings and goodbyes. How do you greet someone you love whom you haven’t seen in a while? And how do you tell them goodbye if you know it will be awhile before you reunite? Even if you see your spouse every day, and have for years, your greetings – and goodbyes – are still important. Take note of how you greet each other when you or your spouse enters the front door. And how do you respond when you or your spouse leaves the house? How you greet each other in the morning as you wake and how you sign off at night before you sleep are important, too. When you and I are careful about our entrances and exits – and our spouse’s – we can ensure a more loving atmosphere in our homes.
2. Resist the urge to be critical. It is in our sinful nature to be critical, and we can say hurtful things without even realizing it. So here’s how to reverse that. Take Ephesians 4:29 to heart: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Put it into practice by going an entire day without saying anything to your spouse except praise. The weight of negativity is lifted most easily through the cheerfulness of praise. This works for both the one giving praise, as well as the one receiving it.
3. Release your expectations. This is huge. We have so many expectations of our spouse and whether we verbalize them or not, they know when they’ve disappointed us. Practice the Bible’s definition of love that “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7) by realizing only God – and not your spouse – can meet your emotional needs. Encourage your spouse with the words, “I love and accept you for who you are, not who I’ve been trying to make you become.”
4. Reach out, physically, with a simple touch. Kiss and hug each other every morning before one of you leaves the house. Reach across the table or the couch to hold your spouse’s hand, even if only for a few moments. Reach over to rub the shoulder of a disgruntled spouse even if they appear unapproachable. Research shows that marriages who practice this simple daily discipline of affectionate touch are much healthier than those that don’t.
5. Remember the good times, not the bad. As parents, we can all recall cute, memorable, heart-tugging moments when our children were young, and those memories keep them close to our hearts as they age. Yet why do we not hold onto those heart-touching moments with our spouses, as well? Scripture tells us love “keeps no record of wrong” and the sooner we choose to forget the painful times and just hold onto the good memories, the sooner we can move forward, out of a place of resentment and into a place of renewal. For me, this means asking God to remove the hurtful memories or offenses I blew off yesterday so they don’t creep back into my heart and mind today. By releasing our hurts to God, we can make room in our hearts for healthier actions that the Spirit prompts us to perform.
6. Rally around your spouse. When you talk up your spouse in front of your children and others, it not only presents you as a united front but it says to your spouse “I’m on your team” and “I support you.” You can also do this by writing a random Facebook post saying “My husband is amazing. He just is.” Or “My wife is still the one – for a million reasons.”
7. Remove the zig-zag. I learned in geometry that the shortest route between two points is a straight line, yet we zig zag in our relationships. We all start out heading in the same direction because we can’t imagine being apart. Yet we begin to proceed in different directions, even when living under the same roof. Different schedules, different interests, and different priorities eventually lead to different destinations and eventually, indifference. To remove the zig-zag, begin asking your spouse daily, “How can I pray for you?” or “How can I help you get closer to where you eventually want to be?” And if the pressures of life have made you – or your spouse – a bit distant lately, offer verbal affirmation that you are still on your spouse’s team and your heart is still going in their direction.
8. Revisit fun. You might be thinking you and your spouse don’t have fun together anymore. The fun is still there. You just have to revisit it or reinvent it altogether. Think about what made the two of you laugh and recreate it. Revisit memories that drew the two of you together. Reinvent some new, exciting habits like 5-minute back and neck massages during your spouse’s favorite television program. Your spouse wants to feel desired, so write your sentiments on a sticky note and place it where only your spouse will see it and blush. Start a weekly date night incorporating something each time that once meant something to one or the two of you. Be creative and make it happen.
Cultivate a closer connection with your spouse by removing the baggage and rebuilding love. Sometimes it’s as simple as developing new habits out of impulsive acts of love.
Cindi McMenamin is a national women’s conference and retreat speaker and the author of several books, including When Women Walk Alone (more than 120,000 copies sold), When a Woman Inspires Her Husband, and When Couples Walk Together:31 Days to a Closer Connection, (which she co-authored with her husband, Hugh). For more on Cindi's books and ministry, or to download free articles of encouragement to strengthen your marriage, parenting, or individual walk with God, see her website: www.StrengthForTheSoul.com.
Publication date: September 1, 2015