In the previous issue of the Good News, we shared a very common story of Zack and Ally, a couple living the Marriage Selfie life; appearances say they are amazingly happy in their marriage and successful in life. Sadly, social media has allowed us and sometimes pressures us to create “fake news” images and stories of relationship wellness and fulfillment, pictures of what we long and hope for versus the reality of where many of us live. I recently had a man share that his wife posted a picture of their family vacation that looked like they were blissfully happy. He said he was dumbfounded when he saw it on his feed because it was one of the darkest days in their marriage.
Like Zack and Ally, most of us can relate to driving to church and fighting on the way, but once the car door is open we are all smiles and the fruit of the spirit is in full bloom. We’re human and flawed, so it happens. The challenge is how do we guard our marriage from a moment of “fake news” becoming a lifestyle of “fake news marriage selfies” that gives birth to a hardness of heart toward our spouse? Hardening in this sense meaning unresponsive, lacking sensitivity or spiritual perception.
As followers and seekers of Christ, we know that often what we feel, think, and the way we respond to our spouse isn’t Christlike. The Holy Spirit convicts us when we’re out of step. He doesn’t keep us guessing about His will. The Scriptures are full of wisdom of what we should do, but it’s our choice to listen and heed His leading. If we’re not reading our Bibles, but we’re attending worship services, we are still hearing it from the pulpit. We know we’re supposed to be physically and emotionally faithful to our spouse. We know we shouldn’t speak with contempt and disdain to our spouse. We know what we shouldn’t do. We know God hates divorce. We know what we’re supposed to do. We know our marriage is supposed to be a reflection of the image of God. We want things to be different, but we don’t know how. Do we live emotionally distant lives? Do we just suffer in silence? Do we grit it up and gut it out? Is that what God wants for us? Is that what obedience to Christ looks like? For life to be so short it feels very long in an empty marriage.
To quote O.S. Hawkins, long time pastor at First Baptist Church Fort Lauderdale, “Doing comes before being.” Our feelings will wax and wane and are tied to physical, psychological and social factors. We can’t help how we feel, but we do have a choice in how we behave. God commands us to love our neighbor. I can’t command my feelings. But we don’t have to feel love in order to give it. Giving love is tied to behavior, and if your behavior becomes more loving, your emotions will eventually catch up with your actions; doing comes before being.
What do I DO so we can BE?
How do I love you when I don’t even like you? How do we stop the cycle of rejection? How do we soften our hearts toward one another? How do we begin to restore emotional intimacy? How do I guard my heart from another? Here’s one of the How’s for the DOING.
Time, Talk and Touch
There are 3 T’s of a healthy relationship: Time, Talk and Touch. The level of harmony or brokenness in your marriage will determine how you begin; you may not be ready for touch and that’s ok. If your marriage is deeply distressed, we recommend that you hit pause and agree to refrain from any conflicted conversation for a minimum of two weeks. Begin with the touch of your hand or caress if your relationship is open to touch followed by a moment or two of time and a few words (talk), of something very simple: APPRECIATION.
Everyone responds to a genuine word of appreciation. We all need affirmation at some level. In the beginning you may struggle to think of something you can genuinely express appreciation for. It doesn’t have to be a “big deal” statement. It can be as big as “I appreciate how well you care for our children” to as small as “I appreciate you taking out the trash.” No “buts” are allowed. I.e. “I appreciate you taking out the trash BUT you forgot to take the canister to the road for pick up.” This is a no, no!
The best scenario is for the expression to be an “eye to eye” moment. If you’re traveling on business or separated, send it over a text, face time, skype, zoom or google hangout. If you have a tendency to forget then set an alert on your phone as a reminder. Technology removes all the obstacles and most of the excuses.
One genuine word of appreciation on a daily basis is the first step to positively impacting your marriage regardless of the age and stage of your relationship. Over the years we have watched couples open the doors of reconciliation, resolution and restoration with a genuine word of appreciation on a daily basis.
Eventually research always backs up the Bible.
What does the research say?
In a 2015 Journal Personal Relationships, the study found that couples who showed higher levels of spousal gratitude were less prone to seek divorce. When couples express gratitude or show appreciation for each other, it can counteract or buffer the negative effects of conflicts. According to researchers, feeling appreciated and believing that your partner values you have a great impact on how you feel about your marriage and your commitment to making it last.
What does God say?
“Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs it down, but a good word makes it glad (Proverbs 12:25).
“But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called today, so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13).
“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” (Proverbs 25:11).
Education and spiritual inspiration without application will never produce transformation. The choice is yours.
The next article will be The Power of Us: Communication with touch points to keep you emotionally connected. Have questions or a topic you would like to see addressed? Contact Lisa at [email protected].
Lisa May is the Executive Director of Live the Life South Florida. Live the Life exists to strengthen marriages and families through healthy relationship education beginning in middle school through senior adults. For information visit LivetheLife.org.