When my husband and I first got married, we lived in a tiny, garden cottage in Johannesburg, South Africa. It was about the size of a studio apartment, and it didn’t give us much room to get away from one another. We also had cockroaches, ants, and rats living in the ceiling. Being situated in a garden—and with bamboo growing along one side—it was to be expected. And, it was really quite charming otherwise.
Like many newlyweds, we fought. We’d been through pre-marriage counseling and devoured marriage books; we read our Bible and prayed together. While what was written on those pages was being transferred to us, it wasn’t transforming us.
We wooed each other, and then we hurt each other. We gushed love sonnets, and then we screamed. He was South African; I was American—we were different. We had different backgrounds and upbringings, experiences and expectations.
Two Flawed Humans Trying to Express Christ’s Love
We’re two flawed humans, so we knew life would be hard at times. We knew it’d be filled with repentance and apologies along with deep intimacy and companionship. But, we also knew we weren’t fully expressing Christ’s love for one another.
After two and a half years of being married and living in South Africa, my husband got his visa, I got pregnant, we sold everything, moved back to the United States, we both changed careers, our finances took a terrible hit, and we were left standing in a puddle of drastic change and uncertainty.
With all of that transition, we really struggled to fully express Christ’s love for one another—it was tough. Sometimes, I went to bed thinking that I really loved our newborn baby, but I didn’t much like her daddy. I loved him; I was committed to him, but I was hurt, bitter, and angry.
We’re fast approaching our five year wedding anniversary now and through all of the transitions and growing, God’s been faithful to keep our young marriage happy. We’ve sustained the fire and been able to celebrate it, which gives us hope that whatever is to come will only draw us closer to Christ and each other.
5 Things Not to Do to Keep Your Marriage Happy
We’ve navigated through tough stuff, but by His grace it hasn’t destroyed us. In the midst of everything, we’ve been able to search out God and thus find each other, once again. With that being said, here are five things not to do to keep your marriage happy:
1. Don’t stop praying for your spouse.
“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” (James 5: 16)
Even when we’re hurt, we don’t stop praying for one another—we can’t. Because, it’s in the confessing and praying that the healing happens. It’s in the praying that power is released.
I try to find creative ways to pray for my husband. I keep a small prayer journal for him. I date each prayer and keep filling up the pages. Once it’s full, I’ll give it to him and start another one.
Some time ago, my mom, sister-in-law, and I sewed prayers and scripture into our husbands’ pillows. Written on tiny scraps of paper, we tucked handfuls of them deep into the stuffing, so the only rustling at night would come from prayers coming in contact with the surrounding darkness, not a pillow full of paper.
While the creative stuff is just a fun way to package a heartfelt plea, it’s the heartfelt plea that’s important. It’s what keeps us.
2. Don’t hold a grudge.
A grudge is just persistent resentment towards a person due to pain or hurt. And, that grudge can grow and fester until it bleeds even more hurt into a marriage.
It’s humbling and it’s hard to say, “I feel right, but I’d rather be one—together—than right.”
It’s hard. But, the Holy Spirit is the overcomer of hard things.
“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4: 30-32)
3. Don’t say no to making love.
Don’t say no to the pursuit of making love in your marriage. Making love together is about a whole lot more than physical intimacy, but physical intimacy is the coming together, the coupling, the connecting.
You can “make love” by making a cup of tea for your spouse, but making a cup of tea and creating space to physically connect results in different emotions, a different level of uniting.
“The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. But this I say by way of concession, not of command.” (1 Corinthians 7:4-6)
This verse can be hard and controversial. The word “authority” throws us for a loop because most of us have negative associations with the term. The idea of someone else having authority over our bodies is hard because many have had people abuse their bodies, misuse them, and claim them. It wasn’t a gift given or an offering; it was taken.
In the above verse, the word yield means to give. When I give my husband a physical gift, I give it to him to use as he pleases. It brings me joy to see him delight in it. That concept is hard with sex, because—I believe—sometimes we’re still afraid our husbands will misuse our willingness, make us feel used, or hold this scripture over our heads as a demand.
God steps into marriage and tells us that we need to give our bodies to our husbands and our husbands need to give their bodies to us, but, as Paul writes, “by way of concession, not of command.” We give as an offering.
4. Don’t underestimate the God inside of your spouse.
We can’t underestimate how God speaks to our spouses; we can’t underestimate the level of relationship they have with our Creator and the level they’re in tune with the Holy Spirit—even when we might feel like they’re lacking.
There are times when my husband wants to take us in a direction that I’m not necessarily prepared for. He hears me out and prays and always when I step under his leadership, we’re okay and better for it, even if we walk through rough waters to get there.
If there’s anything that God has taught me, it’s not to underestimate the God inside of my husband. If you find yourself feeling like you can’t trust your spouse’s decisions, because you feel he or she has misled you in the past or you don’t believe he or she is searching the scriptures or listening to God’s voice, I’d refer you back to number one: don’t stop praying.
“That Christ may make His home in your hearts through faith.” (Ephesians 3:17)
When we first believed, when our spouses first believed, Christ came to live in us, in them. We can limit Christ by ignoring Him and thus He cannot be fully expressed or glorified. And, we might feel as though our spouses are ignoring Him, but we can believe that God is sovereign, that He possesses the ultimate power.
5. Don’t stop speaking life.
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.” (Proverbs 18:21)
We can speak life over our spouses, not calling out their flaws, frustrations, and weaknesses, but calling out the gifts and the goodness that God has deposited within them.
We can speak hope and life and faith over them instead of death, darkness, and destruction.
It’s as simple as saying something like, “You always remember to return our movies or feed the fish; you have such a gift of responsibility.” I say this to my husband often, because I struggle with these things. When I compliment my husband’s strengths, rather than comment on his shoes in the middle of the floor, it empowers him. When he does the same to me, it empowers and encourages me; I feel supported.
A pastor once told us that as we each take steps closer to God, we inevitably take steps closer to each other. It’s like we’re on opposite sides of a triangle— as we move up the sides, we move closer. I like that analogy. As we move up and look up, we get closer. And, He keeps us—keeps our marriage—happy, keeps it sacred, and keeps it hopeful and peaceful even in times of pain and growth.
Holly Mthethwa is passionate about sharing God's word in everyday life. She has been a missionary advisor in Peru and India, led bible studies in the U.S. and South Africa, and is the author of the Christian memoir, HOT CHOCOLATE IN JUNE: A TRUE STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND RESTORATION. She resides just outside of Washington, D.C. where she lives an adventure with her husband and daughter. Holly writes regularly about faith, family, and moments that have hooked her heart at www.ruggedandredeemed.com.
Publication date: April 18, 2016