Guest Post: Janel Breitenstein is a married mother of 4 who writes frequently for FamilyLife. Janel and her husband John currently serve with eMi in Uganda. You can visit her blog at

It was one of the most pressing seasons for our marriage.

We were facing a trifecta of major life decisions—only one of which included the continent we’d be living on. And our marriage that had been marked by teamwork and partnership now found our opinions diverging in opposite directions.

To say we were stressed was more than an understatement.

The most pleasantly surprising discovery of such a rocky stretch:  Despite our completely opposing opinions, by God’s grace, we remained an intimate team.

Choosing to move toward my husband, rather than emotionally holing up inside, felt like a herculean effort at times (e.g. when I may or may not have wanted to hurl sharp objects in his direction). But working to be 100% married is always a good decision.

Sure, some marital stress is avoidable! But painful times are inevitable. How can you stay close when the going gets rough?

  1. Strategically have fun together. With all that’s hitting your relationship, you need a little positive (or even neutral) equity, some good connection time in the bank.
  2. Pray together.
  3. Create times to talk when you’re emotionally healthy—not withered and irritated. Choose the best times of your day, not the worst, to process what’s going on.
  4. Choose “charitable judgments”. When your spouse has done something and you don’t have all the information, choose to believe the best about their character.
  5. Intentionally move toward your spouse, not away. Isolation helps neither of you. Choose to cling to each other.
  6. Go on a date. If you need to, set a few boundaries to keep the problem(s) you’re facing in their place: Maybe they’re only restricted to twenty minutes of discussion, or no discussion at all. The goal of this night is to be life-giving, and to nurture your marriage.
  7. Set the [Ephesians] 4:29 rule: You’ll only let words come out of your mouth that build one another up, as fit the occasion, so they can give grace to those who hear.
  8. Ask yourself good questions—and answer with Scripture. A few to start with: What am I afraid of? Why are you downcast, O my soul? What are my hopes set on? Whose opinion of you counts? (For more great questions, check out David Powlison’s X-ray questions. Fair warning: They’re designed to reveal the depths of our hearts. Be willing to compare their answers with what God yearns for and commands in your life.) Some honest, nitty-gritty soul-probing may reveal what stands between you and your spouse.
  9. Write a sincere note to your spouse with the sole purpose of affirming him or her and your relationship.
  10. Out of love, and joy, offer your mate something that feels truly sacrificial: a massage, time to share without rebuttal, a night or weekend alone to think and pray. (Hint: Use your mate’s love languages as a tip-off to what would mean the world to them.)
  11. Use 2 Corinthians 10:5 and Philippians 4:8 as the guardrails for your thought life when mulling over the issue(s), take every thought captive and make it obedient to Jesus Christ. Are your thoughts true? Noble? Right? Pure? Admirable? Excellent? Praiseworthy?
  12. Give. Serve. Whether it’s some time cuddling on the couch, a bouquet of flowers, or eighty-sixing a sinkful of dishes, make little gestures that communicate you understand your spouse’s burden, and you still “see” him or her.