10 Ways to Help Your Spouse Grow as an Individual

10 Ways to Help Your Spouse Grow as an Individual

After 28 years of marriage, my husband and I have settled contentedly into a good balance of marital and individual growth. While this may seem elementary on the surface, this is no simple task. Most couples—especially young couples with small children—struggle with the tension of growing in relationship together without getting lost in the marriage or neglectful of self. It’s easier to spot problems in the marital relationship (it’s always the other person’s fault!) than it is to work on our individual issues. I remember many times reading a book and leaving it open to a highlighted section, hoping my husband would read and apply the truth to his own life.

Big surprise: My plan didn’t work. And it caused tension and arguments.

If healthy individuals create healthy spouses, then healthy spouses also create healthy marriages. We all know we can work on ourselves. But how do we develop a home climate where both spouses can grow? How can we help our spouses mature without antagonizing them?

Here are 10 ways to help your spouse grow as an individual without jeopardizing marital stability:

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  • 1. Pray for your spouse regularly.

    1. Pray for your spouse regularly.

    “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16)

    Speak words of destiny for your spouse to the Lord. Call out blessings. Confess your spouse’s sins on his/her behalf. Pray for protection, conviction, encouragement, friendship, purity, and calling. When you ask the Lord to pour out His blessing on your spouse, you are acting out faith and hope. Your prayers will cause you to believe that your spouse can grow and will be successful. You will become invested in watching God work in his/her life and be present to assist and encourage the change. This mindset will help eliminate the desire to nag or manipulate behavior.


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  • 2. Forgive your spouse.

    2. Forgive your spouse.

    “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15)

    Forgiveness hinges on your personal faith in God’s authority and His ability to bring about justice and blessing in His perfect timing. The tricky thing about forgiveness is that nobody wants to forgive until the other person apologizes and proves they’ve changed. But that’s not the forgiveness Jesus talks about. Jesus commands his disciples to forgive like He does: Give undeserved grace, as many times as it takes, regardless of the other person’s heart. (Caveat: forgiveness is not the same as condoning or excusing sin or living in co-dependency. You should not live in an abusive or dangerous home environment, but you can choose not to live with bitterness.)


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  • 3. Develop spiritual growth opportunities together.

    3. Develop spiritual growth opportunities together.

    “And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience.” (Colossians 1:10-11)

    Often, couples grow spiritually at different rates. One loves having devotions, but the other struggles. Take time to understand your learning style (reading Scripture vs. listening to it) and personality differences (the stage vs. the background). Give each other space to grow individually. It’s a good idea to serve in an area of giftedness (singing vs. setting up chairs) as well as develop an area of service together (like greeting, kids’ ministry, or a mission trip). Be creative by exploring the various ways you can both better relate to God and other believers. The freedom to learn and serve will cause both of you to grow in your faith and your intimacy with each other.


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  • 4. Speak truthfully and clearly.

    4. Speak truthfully and clearly.

    “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” (Ephesians 4:15)

    Say what you mean, and mean what you say. Your spouse cannot read your mind. Even after years of marriage, your spouse may not realize that you prefer quiet instead of questions, or a party instead of going away. Rather than risk both of you feeling disappointed and frustrated, articulate your expectations about everything. When something irritates you, kindly explain why; otherwise, you risk having an argument later, when more irritants add to the list. As loving partners, you want to make your spouse happy; why not clearly express what will accomplish that? Hidden expectations are not romantic—they’re foolish.


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  • 5. Encourage exploration, discovery, and learning.

    5. Encourage exploration, discovery, and learning.

    “... so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.” (Colossians 1:10)

    We stop growing when we stop learning and experiencing new things. Couples who travel, join clubs, take classes, read, meet people, and learn new hobbies are couples whose marriages stay fresh and exciting. Each partner is growing as an individual and feeling accomplishment in achieving new things. Exploration also provides opportunity for endless new conversations, a growing friendship base, and more chances for couples to find new past-times they can experience together. Preventing your spouse from experiencing any sense of wonder or discovery can cause boredom, anger, and secrecy. On the other hand, it’s dangerous for spouses to develop alternative lives with friends unknown to the non-participating spouse. The goal here is to grow alone and together, not to outgrow each other or grow apart.


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  • 6. Show respect through your words and actions.

    6. Show respect through your words and actions.

    “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” (Romans 12:10)

    This is a simple concept but a difficult response. Most people believe that respect is earned through hard work and flawless behavior. Actually, respect is a decision to treat others how you want to be treated, to value your spouse as a child of God, and to believe he/she is capable of becoming all that God has planned for him/her. You can also show respect by listening attentively, without criticism or judgment. This shows your spouse that you welcome new ideas and perspectives, and that you are both engaged in continual growth. Listening respectfully keeps you from pigeonholing your spouse into a single persona; it gives him/her permission to change.


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  • 7. Be positive.

    7. Be positive.

    “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

    Panic, drama, and worry destroy confidence in each other and in God. During any difficult situation, instead of freaking out and believing the worst-case scenario, make the decision to build your faith by turning to Scripture and speaking God’s Words to each other. Choose to believe that God is good, He does good, and He will work all things for good on your behalf. Just remember that God works and thinks differently than we do, so patience will be required. Nothing comforts or builds confidence during trials as much as knowing your spouse believes in you and believes in your future together.


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  • 8. Value strengths and encourage weaknesses.

    8. Value strengths and encourage weaknesses.

    “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor; If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)

    This doesn’t mean you flatter your spouse or be insincere. Flattery doesn’t lessen insecurity; it actually strengthens it. If your spouse feels discouraged or ill-equipped for a job, voice your belief and support, pray over the situation, and speak God’s truth. Untrue praise causes more anxiety about measuring up to an impossible standard, and insincerity makes you an untrustworthy confidante. Speak words of life and destiny, and if your spouse is willing, help him/her to overcome weaknesses (without belittling, nagging, or judging). Ask how you can help; let your spouse make suggestions for how you can do that.


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  • 9. Share dreams, heartaches, and burdens.

    9. Share dreams, heartaches, and burdens.

    “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)

    Intimacy is achieved through bearing the heart. This involves risk. If daily conversation is not safe and encouraging, neither of you will risk sharing your greatest fears or hopes with each other. To build trust, you must lovingly communicate through all the mundane tasks of living; this paves the way for deep intimacy of the soul. Then, when your spouse reveals his/her deepest fears and most traumatic secrets, you will be prepared to love and encourage, rather than react in horror or judgment.


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  • 10. Work on your own issues.

    10. Work on your own issues.

    “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. ’Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?’” (Matthew 7:2-3)

    It’s easier to find fault in your spouse’s character than in your own. But the best, most proactive decision you can make in your marriage is to let God change you, regardless of how much your spouse is growing. Every day, ask God to reveal the lies you believe and the sins you commit. Confess and forsake them. Replace bad habits with good habits. Live in a continual state of spiritual improvement. Growing stronger in Christ is the best support you can give your spouse or your marriage.


    Sue Schlesman is a Christian writer, teacher, and speaker. Her blogs, fiction, and non-fiction reach a wide audience. You can find her philosophizing about life, education, family, and Jesus at www.susanwalleyschlesman.com and www.7prayersthatwork.com.

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