Recently, our community experienced the outer bands of Hurricane Irma. Though we didn’t suffer a direct hit, as expected, we spent the days before the storm preparing for the winds and rain that were threatening our homes and families. I began to wonder, “Do we spend the same amount of intentional energy on protecting and safeguarding our marriages?”
Though the news doesn’t cover it, and it is unlikely that we will see hourly visual updates on the projected paths of the storms brewing in our lives, threatening winds and rains threaten our marriages on a daily basis. God promises protection in the storm (Isaiah 4:6). Below is a storm preparation plan for your marriage.
Churches, prayer groups and individuals prayed, and we saw the power of those prayers when Hurricane Irma shifted west, spending much of its time in the ocean rather moving directly up the middle of Florida. Pray together daily. If you pray at meals, make sure you are intentional about your prayers. Share what is on your heart, and ask for God’s guidance and presence in your relationship. Short devotionals are also a great way to focus your hearts and minds on God and guide your prayer time. Praying together as a couple is an important way to continue to ensure that God’s spirit is woven into the fabric of your relationship.
Discusses finances and create a budget
The number one reason cited for divorce is finances. Debt creates financial burdens that cause anxiety, anger and stress. Take the time to talk about your financial hopes and dreams, your spending habits, and your expectations and needs. Based on your discussion, create a budget. There are numerous programs that can help you create a plan for your finances or deal with debt. I’ve personally benefitted from Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace program. It is a great way to learn about your individual styles and needs and work together on crafting a budget. If you are already in debt, Crown Financial Ministries and other organizations offer programs and strategies to help couples eliminate debt.
Create emotional and physical intimacy
Research shows that you need to offer four affirming or positive comments to make up for every disparaging or negative comment. It is human nature for us to focus on the negative. Ninety percent of communication is nonverbal, so it’s important to be thoughtful about whether your facial expressions and body language are communicating love and openness or disdain and disconnection.
Be intentional about showing kindness and offering affirming words that encourage your wife or husband. Reach out and hold your husband’s hand as you walk together or sit on the couch. Rub her back or make eye contact and touch his arm in a loving way as you pass by one another in the kitchen. And don’t forget sex. In a recent study of over 30,000 Americans, researchers found the relationship between weekly sex and marital happiness. More than once a week did not lead to significant increases in happiness, but less than once per week correlated with a decline in happiness. Find time weekly for physical intimacy.
Identify roles and responsibilities
Research shows that couples that identify clear roles and responsibilities are more successful than those that do not. Some chose to divide responsibilities based on traditional gender roles while others chose to select home and family responsibilities based on strengths, talents or personal preference. (Romans 12: 5-8) What’s most important is the roles are clear. One of the best ways to make this happen is to brainstorm all of the tasks that need to occur on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis and assign the roles individually or by category, so it is clear who is responsible for which tasks. Some couples might even schedule when the tasks will be completed so expectations are clear.
When (not if) one of the spouses is not able to fulfill their role that day or week, can you give her/him the benefit of the doubt that their intentions to serve the home and family are good? None of us will fulfill our responsibilities or be the man or woman of our dreams every day. Give grace, just as God forgives our mistakes and misgivings daily. (Matthew 7:12) It is out of a heart of gratitude to God that we are able to show grace and mercy to the one we’ve devoted our life to loving. Beyond extending grace, you might even offer to help your husband rake the leaves or surprise your wife by getting the laundry done while she is at the grocery store.
Bear each other’s burdens
Take time to listen to one another. (Galatians 6:2) Most people just want someone to walk alongside them in a challenging situation. Just “bear” or hold the feeling or concern with her or him. Romans 12:15 invites us to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” One of my favorite prayers of St Francis of Assisi finishes with, “O Divine Master, let me not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are bon to eternal life.”
Create a marriage mission statement
Successful organizations have a mission statement that determines their identity and purpose, core values that guide their decisions, and behavioral standards that guide their actions. Building a thriving marriage is similar to building a successful marriage. God has brought you together for a purpose. What will your legacy be? What values are most meaningful to you? Identifying those values or principles as a couple – one body in Christ – will help you be intentional about how you use your time and resources and will serve as a guide when making difficult decisions. Finally, I encourage anyone I work with to create a set of standards that will guide their behaviors. Team standards for married couples help both spouses understand how each person can be successful in meeting the other’s needs and being a good team member within the marriage.
Plan regular date nights
Take the time to get to know one another and connect with one another emotionally, mentally and physically. Rather than going to a movie where you barely speak to one another, go to a park or a place you both enjoy and ask each other questions about what brings you joy and dreams you have for the future. Take an online personality assessment, identify your strengths at strengthsfinder.com, identify your love languages at 5lovelanguages.com, or enjoy a light game of “Would you rather?”
Be intentional about having fun together and building a strong foundation for your marriage. When the storm comes, you will be prepared with a plan and be ready to stand firm.
Terry Morrow Nelson, Ph.D. is an assistant dean and assistant professor at Nova Southeastern University. She is also president of the Partnership for Leadership and Transformation. Terry is happily married with two small children.