In the tech world, if a device isn’t working properly or living up to its expected performance, performing a reset will often times fix the problem. It’s not that the device is broken or needs replacing, but because of delayed maintenance or an accumulation of unneeded files the device needs to be cleared and reset. Most times, a good reset will do the trick.
I believe everything needs to be reset from time to time. Even marriages.
The best of marriages get in funks every once in a while. You love each other, but maybe you’re in a season of not “liking” each other. Or, maybe an accumulation of stress, busyness, or unfortunately, just everyday life, has led to your marriage being neglected. Conflict isn’t being resolved, communication is sporadic and surface level, your scheduled date night is only an overlooked calendar event, and you and your spouse feel more like roommates than soul mates…or possibly, worse.
Many marriages ignore these issues and expect them to go away on their own. But, distance creates more distance and neglect, and before you know it neglect turns in to contempt (which John Gottman’s research shows is the #1 predictor of divorce).
If your marriage needs a reset, let me encourage you to start with pursuing these 5 things for 30 days. If you’re still struggling after 30 days, please reach out for help so we can help you and your spouse understand what might be standing in the way of you experiencing a healthy and vibrant marriage.
Commit to Connect
Something supernatural happened when you stood across the altar from your spouse and said, “I do.” God took 2 people and He created one. He made you one flesh with your spouse. Check out how Genesis 2:24 puts it, “For this reason a man should leave his father and mother, and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”
Although God makes you one flesh on the wedding day all at once, it is also something that needs to be pursued for the rest of your marriage. You are already spiritually one flesh, but you need to pursue becoming one flesh emotionally and physically for a lifetime. It’s the “already” and “not yet” of one flesh. Becoming one flesh is an event and a process.
Before the wedding day, you were living just for yourself. But from that day forward, whether you acted like it or not, you were living for two. Your behavior and actions have always impacted more than just you, but after marriage your actions and behavior represent and impact you both equally (if not in the moment, they will eventually).
What’s the application? You should never stop pursuing connecting with your spouse. The greatest work wasn’t done on the wedding day, the greatest work is done in the marriage days that follow. The day you stop pursuing and living out the spiritual reality of one-flesh with your spouse is the day you start drifting away from each other. This natural drift creates dissonance, or a lack of harmony, in your relationship because 2/3 of you (emotionally and physically) is moving in a different direction than what has already been established and declared spiritually. Something that wasn’t designed to be separated is being torn apart. The spiritual ligaments are being stretched and pulled in a way that weren’t designed to be stretched and pulled. Marital harmony happens when you and your spouse pursue connecting with each other on all levels: spiritually, emotionally, and physically.
Good things will always compete with connecting with your spouse: kids, career, house responsibilities, family, etc… All these things are good things, but if any or all of them take the place of spending time together as a couple these good things become a threat to your relationship.
In today’s culture, it takes a radical and unwavering commitment to spending intentional time together with your spouse to continually and increasingly become one flesh. Go ahead and put your next date night on the calendar right now! Even better, make it a recurring appointment on the calendar that doesn’t get overlooked.
Commit to Communicate
Connecting, or spending time, with your spouse is required to reset your marriage. But time in and of itself isn’t enough to do the job. Quantity time is required to experience moments of quality time together. And that’s the goal. Quality time together requires good communication.
When was the last time you had meaningful conversation with your spouse? Not just cliche conversation talking about the weather or the logistics of who’s going to take or pick up the kids from football and dance, but REAL conversation. You know, the type of conversation that you used to have in the early days of your relationship. Conversation where hours seemed like minutes and left you feeling known, heard, and secure.
Let’s face it. These types of conversations “just happened” and were the norm in the early days of your relationship. But as time went on, hours of long free-flowing conversations became shorter and fewer and far between.
As you spend more time together, you get more comfortable with each other, and sometimes have less to talk about. It happens to the best of couples, but smart couples recognize the natural but destructive drift in to diminishing conversation and do something about it. I’ve heard it said that what comes natural in dating has to become purposeful in marriage. As the years go by, you have to be even more intentional to pursue quality conversation with each other.
One of the best ways to spark authentic conversation that results in connection is to ask good questions. Tedd Tripp says it this way, “The finest art of communication isn’t expressing your thoughts, it’s drawing out the thoughts of another.” The key to keeping great communication alive in your marriage is to learn the art of asking good questions.
Two of the best questions you can ask your spouse are, “What do you think about…?”, and then in response to their original answer ask, “What else?”. Affirming the first answer and asking the 2nd shows value to your spouse and shows them you want to hear more. In many cases, asking, “What else?” 2 or 3 times will get below the surface of the 1st answer and get to your spouse’s heart of the subject. And that’s the goal! Your goal in communication is to draw out the deepest thoughts and emotions residing in your spouse’s heart. Asking “What else?” gets the job done.
We’ve also compiled a list of 25 questions to ask each other to keep your communication fresh. If you really want to go over and above, here’s 365 questions you can ask your spouse (or yourself) to create some good conversation and connection.
This year, commit to ask better questions of your spouse. On your next date night, come prepared with some fresh questions. You’ll be glad you did.
BTW, when you’re on the receiving end of a good (or bad) question commit to give more than a surface level answer to your spouse. Try to share from your heart (your opinions, emotions, your dreams, your fears, and everything that you are). And whatever you share, communicate 100% of the truth with 100% respect. Or simply put, always speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).
Commit to Confession
There is 1 thing all couples who sit on my couch have in common. And, it’s the same thing that is present with any couple having relational issues. It’s a cancer that is destroying so many marriages from the inside out one home at a time. What is it? Unresolved conflict.
Here’s the deal. We’re never going to get rid of conflict. All couples will experience one degree of conflict or another. When you join 2 people together who have different personalities, perspective, pasts, and any varying degree of personal problems, there’s going to be some sparks that will fly from time to time. The key is not to try and get rid of conflict. The goal is to handle conflict right when it comes. All marriages fight. Good marriages know how.
So how do we handle conflict right and prevent it from becoming unresolved? Three things: don’t be surprised by it (all couples fight – see above), understand its purpose, and practice and create a culture of confession.
Could there be a good purpose for a bad conflict? Yes! Even though it might not seem like it in the moment, I want to suggest God is up to something good in your conflicts. Here’s how it works: The greatest good we can do in this life is love God. The most significant way we can love God in the context of marriage is to love our spouse. And in order for us to grow in love for our spouse, we have to become aware of areas we’re not loving them well. Conflict typically reveals where two people are falling short in loving each other, thereby giving us God’s To-Do list for ways we need to grow in love.
Get this. Conflict is actually an opportunity for two people to grow in love for God and each other.This is the “good” God wants to accomplish. Conflict reveals what’s still wrong with us and gives us an opportunity to change to become more Christlike. I’ve heard it said this way, “Marriage is God’s workshop for change.”
Embracing this purpose for conflict should always lead you to ask yourself the question, “How have I fallen short in loving my spouse in this argument?” (By the way…there’s always an answer). As you search your own heart and God reveals how you’ve been wrong (Psalm 139:23-24), confess to God (Psalm 51:4) and your spouse (James 5:16). This is much easier said than done, and there is much more that I’ve written elsewhere about the importance of confession and how to do it right that I’d highly encourage you to read, but for now please get that personal confession is the ultimate antidote to unresolved conflict.
Left unchecked or handled incorrectly, unresolved conflict will become a wall of hurt between you and your spouse that will shut down your best attempts at experiencing mutual care and love. But, remembering and practicing the three principles above have the potential to turn even the biggest of conflicts (and relationships) around.
What do you need to confess to your spouse today?
Commit to Community
I read recently about a study that was done that revealed one of the first subtle but significant indicators preceding a backsliding follower of Christ is a move away from his/her community. Wow. Let that sink in. Friends are important!!
Look at how Hebrews 3:12-13 speaks to the importance of community, “See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”
The first part of the passage is a personal warning about turning away from God. But then look at how the solution spelled out in the last part of the passage involves other people! This passage and others emphasizes the importance of community in our pursuit to live a godly life. We need community. And although marriage is God’s most significant form of community (for those of us that are married), marriage is too small of a community to experience marital and spiritual health the way God designed.
Jim Rohn has said, “You’re the product of the five people you spend the most time with”. What 5 people do you spend the most time with (outside of your marriage)? Do you want to become more like them or less like them? I believe if you change your community you can change your life.
Shortly after Star and I re-committed to each other and to God we had to make a VERY hard decision to distance ourselves from our long-time friend group. We loved our friends and our friends loved us, but we didn’t want to become more like them in a lot of areas. There were some things about them that were great and admirable, but other areas of their lives were a significant source of temptation for us that were dangerous on our path to recovery. Although hard in the moment, I believe that decision paved the way for us to break completely free from some of our destructive habits that were responsible for almost destroying our marriage.
Who is in your life that you need to spend more time with? Who in your life do you need to spend less time with?
Commit to Christ
One of the biggest mistakes I made when pursuing Star during our separation was pursuing her more than Christ. Why did I do that? Because in that season, my marriage was the most important thing to me. In fact, my marriage was too important.
Marriage is important, but it shouldn’t be the most important pursuit of your life. The most important, most central, most motivating and empowering thing you can pursue in your life is Christ. Pursuing Christ more than your marriage can be THE game changer in your marriage. I don’t know if I can emphasize this enough, and I can’t tell you how much it grieves me to hear how few people actually put Christ at the center of their marriages. I believe one of the reasons people don’t pursue Christ first is they don’t understand his relevance in the everyday moments of marriage. Read on…
A very prominent speaker was recently asked by a guest at a conference, “You have so much going on in ministry with a very tight schedule, how do you invest in your marriage.” He answered, “We’re all busy, so time together is obviously key. But the most significant thing I do for my marriage is to daily connect with Christ. A good marriage requires love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. All of these things come from the Spirit of God and not from my own spirit. So in order to demonstrate these things on a daily basis to my wife, I have to walk with the Spirit on a daily basis.”
Pursuing Christ is the most relevant and impactful thing you can do to reset your marriage. A couple of the best ways to do this is to spend daily time with God and to pray with your spouse daily.
Where to Start
If your marriage needs a reset, it won’t happen by chance. You can’t do a proper reset on the run. It also won’t happen only with the best of intentions. You have to put legs on your desires. Start by putting a regular date night on the calendar for the year. I suggest every week, but if that’s not possible for whatever reason, schedule something on a recurring basis. Something that you’ll be able to make happen at least 80% of the time.
Then, build on that. Start to practice one of the above each day. Start small and work towards creating a culture of connection, confession, community, communication, and connecting to Christ each day. If you do, the best days of your marriage are ahead!
Hans co-founded Marriage Revolution with his wife, Star, in 2010. He counsels couples in The Woodlands, TX, speaks at marriage conferences around the country, and provides leadership and direction to Marriage Revolution.