There are lots of articles out there about how to “protect” your marriage. We have heard the statistics about wandering eyes and hearts that can lead to affairs, failure and porn addiction. I read a quote on ministry burnout recently that discussed how those of us in ministry can merely “accept” the “distance” that happens in our marriages caused by the drip, drip, drip of schedules, demands and even disillusionment.
There are plenty of ways that “typical” marriages are under stress. Spouses outside of ministry are certainly capable of being workaholics. Financial duress is financial duress. Life issues like sickness, infertility or difficult children are common place. However, what no one really likes to talk about is the “God Card” that is thrown around when your job is ministry. In the name of “the Lord” we too often let others dictate what our marriage and ultimately family life look like.
Through all of this here are some things we have put in practice that truly help protect our marriage. A lot of it has to do with communication, especially when it comes to feelings.
Here are some things I think continue to save our marriage while in mInistry:
Everyone has different styles of communication. Yet, when it comes to ministry issues too often we start adopting the attitude of, “Why talk about it. There isn’t anything we can do to change it anyway.” When something bothers you with your spouse make sure to tell them BEFORE it gets out of hand. Look at it this way. Have you ever had a blister? Did you know they are caused by prolonged friction? There is no way to avoid the friction unless you don’t wear shoes. However, you can change your socks or break in the shoes. Look at the little (or big) frustrations in your marriage. Do they tie back to the ministry? There may be many things that can not be changed. However, there is something that can be done to fix issues. There may be some non-negotiables in schedules and expectations (like there HAS to be youth group on Wednesday), however, where are there areas that you CAN take back for the sake of your marriage. Where are things slowly creeping in to take over? You notice them. Talk it out, with honesty, looking for solutions. What do you need to make your marriage a genuine priority?
It is easy to let frustration turn to bitterness turn to rage. Too often something that appears small (a sink full of dirty dishes) snowballs because of topics left untouched (ministry eats up all of your time.) Then everyone is screaming or brooding or just sitting dumbfounded. Step back, use your words and don’t give up on working it through. Avoid accusations that put your spouse in a defensive posture. Don’t fight to “win.” Avoid using the word, “always.” (This can create a fight in of it’s own.) Acknowledge where you are wrong. Never, ever, go to bed angry. Chances are one of you will wake up angry. Sit down, take a deep breath and use, “I feel like this when this happens.” Most of all say sorry for what you have done.
No one just “falls out of love.” Instead it becomes a series of disconnections that grow into a wide chasm. Keep coming back to each other and choose to love your spouse. Know their “love language.” There are five: gifts, words of affirmation, service, touch and quality time. When we can love on our spouse in the way they need to feel loved it is transformational. Do they need you to listen more. Are they going through a hard time when they need some extra attention? Take the time to truly reach out and make the effort to love your spouse well. Most of all say, “I love you,” often. Use actions and words. One of the top reasons ministry marriages fall apart is the feeling of neglect. When is the last time you just had fun together? Is there something you can do together that might be creative and an outlet (my husband and I run together.)
This will be my mantra forevermore. I can not express the importance of praying with and for your spouse. My husband have been doing this twice a day for almost two decades. It has saved our marriage on more than one occasion. It is a constant reminder to put your life and opinions at the Lord’s feet, that He is in charge and who He is. It then reminds you to get into the Word with them and alone. Most of all it settles your heart on your true first love.
We are taught that marriage is a compromise. The picture we are given is that each of us are standing on opposite sides of the road walking toward each other then we meet in the middle. Instead, it’s selfless. I walk all the way to his side of the road while at the same time he is walking all the way to mine. Too often it doesn’t work like that. That is when we need to readjust and rework it.
Be practical, do what works for your family even if the world thinks it’s crazy. Lay down your pride and remember your marriage goes beyond your ministry. Just don’t let it whittle away. Love isn’t about a feeling, it’s about showing up with selflessness.
What are you doing to protect your marriage and keep it strong?