I like the word cultivate. We don’t build a great marriage, we cultivate one. We foster an environment in which the relationship with our spouse flourishes. The problem is, we often don’t stop long enough to cultivate.
If your marriage was a veggie patch, I wonder how many weeds there would be?
If your marriage was a fridge, I wonder how many rotten items would be hiding up the back.
If your marriage was a BBQ, when’s the last time you cleaned the drip tray?
Forgive me, I shouldn’t write articles around lunchtime, but you get the point. Do we put effort into our marriages?
We spend so much time driving our vehicles, updating our twitters feeds, being stressed at work, answering emails, cooking dinners, solving conflicts and changing dirty nappies, that we neglect the very relationship that helps us flourish.
I’m no marriage expert. In fact my wife might read this and say, ‘So, did you actually read what you wrote?’ I understand that, but after 12 years of marriage, and the privilege of officiating weddings and running marriage counselling courses, I have some credibility on the subject.
Here are some tips for cultivating a healthy marriage:
Appreciate the other’s personality
My wife (Jo) and I have learnt to recognise / identify our different personalities. I like to be somewhere 12 minutes early, and Jo doesn’t mind if she’s 5 minutes late. I tend to be more structured in my thinking and Jo is more creative. I would rather write a book, and Jo would rather paint a picture. I would rather have the toilet seat up and… Well you get the point. Understand that you bring your personality to the relationship and it’s not the only personality that has value! Identify, understand and value your partner’s personality.
Keep the lines of communication open
In the early days of my relationship with my wife, we could drive long distances and not talk to each other. I mean, I was right and she didn’t want to admit it (insert sarcastic font here). The more we learned to forgive quickly and absolve our differences, the quicker the silences have become. The question is not whether you should argue, but how willing you are to forgive and give up your own point of view. You may think you’re right: quite often you’re not, and you’re just too stubborn to admit it.
Keeping the lines of communication flowing is vital to a healthy marriage. If you stop talking, you stop sorting out issues. The next step is becoming passive aggressive. You bottle it all in. Then when the button finally gets pushed, it’s like a bottle of coke that’s been shaken and someone releases the lid. Your hurt and pain and resentment just sprays everywhere.
Discovering the love languages
I cannot turn back from learning Gary Chapman’s 5 love languages. It can revolutionise a marriage. Consider these five things:
1. Word of Affirmation
2. Quality Time
3. Receiving Gifts
4. Acts of Service
5. Physical Touch
When you feel loved, you probably have experienced one of the five above mentioned characteristics and in fact one of those is your primary love language. Personally, I love words of affirmation. I feel really appreciated and loved when my wife says, ‘I think you’re amazing Pete.’ You can do the dishes for me if you want (acts of service), but I feel most loved when I receive those words.
Have you met someone that always wants a hug? I mean, not just a warm and fuzzy hug, but one that sucks away all your energy and causes you to lose circulation in your arms. That person’s love language is physical touch.
We each have a primary and secondary love language. We also tend to express love the same way we prefer to receive it. The issue is this: If you love quality time, you automatically think spending quality time with your partner is going to show love and affection. It might; but your partner might also be thinking, ‘I wish he would just give me a bunch of flowers already!’
Discover your love language and that of your partner.
What baggage do you bring?
If you grew up with low self-esteem, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you bring that into your relationship. If you were hurt when you were younger, you bring that too. If you had strict parents you bring that to your parenting. We each bring our own suitcase of the highs and lows of life into our marriage. Build your awareness of how you react and why you react in certain ways.
Do you get stubborn too easily? Are you too quick to sweep the conflict under the carpet? Do you overreact? Do you feel the need to always be right? Check your baggage. Try to leave some of it at the door.
Cultivating a healthy marriage takes time. Place God at the centre of your relationship and be willing to dig around the weeds in your own life, in order that you might allow a great marriage to thrive and flourish.
If you’ve got your own great tips on cultivating a healthy marriage, let me know:
Pete Brookshaw is the Senior Minister of The Salvation Army Craigieburn. He has a Bachelor of both Business and Theology and is passionate about the church being dynamic and effective in the world and creating communities of faith that are outward-focused, innovative, passionate about the lost and committed to societal change. He has been blogging since 2006 at www.petebrookshaw.com about leadership and faith.
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