The goal for every married couple should be to enjoy a blissful purposeful relationship of heaven on earth. A marriage filled with various manifestations of the fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), and filled with glorious manifestations of God’s grace and His presence. We understand from Scripture that the love of God is the bond of perfection; “But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.” Colossians 3:14. However because of our flesh, too often we shut the love of God out and begin to act based on our feelings, and perceptions which can be easily deceived. If these fleshly (sense ruled) attitudes are not properly dealt with, strife and envy begin to sip in, compromising the bliss that is supposed to be enjoyed in marriage (or any relationship). With strife and envy comes confusion and every evil thing (James 3:16). The following is a list of things that will help preserving the presence of God in any relationship, as well as keeping the flow of God’s love in your marriage. Applying these principles is guaranteed to improve your relationship.
1. “I’M THIRD” attitude
My family has been associated with Kanakuk Kamps in Branson MO for about four years now, Ola as a camp physician, our older boy (my little boy starts next year) as camper and myself as a tag along (good time to write for me). This camp started in 1926 and is presently run by Joe and Debbie Jo White. The camp has a theme that campers have memorized and it is part of their lives; “God First, Others Second and I’m Third”.
Many young men and women have imbibed this theme and put it into practice in their lives, and that include a camper who later became a fighter pilot in Vietnam. As stated in his eulogy. His plane was spiraling down after being shot; he fought hard so the craft won’t plunge into a village avoiding the death of many villagers. He was successful, he died alone. He got an award from the US Air-force. They found the I’m third creed written in his pocket.
This creed of “I’m Third” was said by Christ in Matthew 20: 27, whoever wants to be the first must serve others. As husbands and wives, a marriage would be a thing of joy, if we imbibe this wonderful principle of “God first, my family second and I’m third” philosophy in our decision making. Meaning before we make any decision, we first seek if that decision would honor God, then how that decision would affect our husband or wife, the children and then ourselves. Without sounding like a saint, Ola and I practice this and we are teaching our kids this principle. Our moving to Midwest America is a classic example of such decisions.
I have watched many old movies, Dancing in the rain, Sound of music etc and missed many ball games during our family nights; because of the I’m third principle. That is a lot to give for your family, and it really hurts, especially during play-offs.
“Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another” Romans 12:10
2. Be FRIENDS not ENEMIES
To improve your marriage relationship, you need to resolve conflicts quickly. Conflicts in marriage are inevitable, in my opinion is that if they are dealt with properly they help the marriage grow. Without good conflict resolution policy to guide the home, it is very easy for couples to see each others as enemies. I have seen this with different marriages worldwide. Conflicts take a fun twist in Nigeria, as “seers” tell husbands and wives that they are each others problem and impediment to progress.
Knowing that conflicts and conflict resolution is part of life. Knowledge of this will certainly help in improving your relationship. Couples should NEVER see their spouse as an enemy in a battle, rather as a friend who is showing tough love or does not know how to speak the truth in love. With different personalities and diverse family of origin, we are bound to look at life differently. Some women might be more competitive than others, while some men might be more dominating than necessary, that doesn’t mean they want to kill their husband or wife.
It took me a while but I finally came to the conclusion that my wife does not hate me. As a public speaker, Ola has an annoying habit of correcting my grammar and trying to make me look good in public. I initially took offence to her corrections and we would fight over it, especially when flying or driving home from that conference. One day while I was meditating on a bible passage in my office, the light bulb went on in my head that, she did not hate me, rather she wanted the best for me but her choice of words and her personality made her corrections (or suggestions) combative. That day when she returned from work, I told her how I felt and went on to give her the right to “correct me officially”, this has helped me psychologically and it has also improved our marriage, as we both now know that the other person meant well but their approach could be better.
The important thing with this principle is that, it has to be imbibed from the beginning before things get out of hand. For older marriages, it might take more work but you need to start cultivating this attitude.
“Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful” Proverbs 27:6
3. Knowing that good marriages don’t just happen they are BUILT
I have since discovered that the marriage institution cannot just run itself. For a marriage to improve and grow, it needs constant nurturing the same way a good church needs a good leader to keep the focus, or an upright leader in a good government to give direction to the people.
Commitment to build a good marriage is very essential. I have one simple rule whenever I’m privileged to counsel with people (especially Americans), I ask that divorce be taken out of the options we are going to consider as we seek a solution with the help of the Holy Spirit, even if it eventually came to that (usually out of selfishness either on both side or from one of them). I have recommended and will continue to recommend separation with a view to work (not separation to seek a new boyfriend or girlfriend) on the marriage in cases of physical abuse.
A good relationship or marriage is built on the foundation of Christ, 1 Corinthians 3: 11 “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ”. Apostle James in his letter to the church made this statement “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you”? The building of any marriage is based on the “how”, the “efforts” and the “willingness” of a husband and wife conforming to each other’s desires to form a unified vision this new unit. These desires originate from each person’s family of origin and individual personalities. The materials needed for building is what this whole series is about.
It has been said that there are three stages in a marriage. The Romantic love stage – usually the stage before conflicts starts, the Negotiation stage – the issues are confronted and dealt with, and the Commitment stage – when you are no longer a threat to each other and a lasting commitment bond is formed. How long you stay in the first two stages depends on your commitment to building a strong marriage.
“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. “ Ecclesiastes 4:9
4. Establish TRUST
You can have a better relationship by establishing trust. Trust in a relationship is the bond that binds people or a set of people together. Trust is built and earned over time and it cannot be enforced. When trust is broken, it usually would take some time for it to be built up again. When broken, it becomes a, you give and I take situation. Without one person willing to give and another willing to take, it would not work. There are practical things that can be put into place to establish trust.
To establish trust, you need to:
- Have NO SECRETS (nothing hidden from your spouse)
- Share everything with her/him.
- Limit what you share with people. When trying to impress people, many husbands/wives say unpleasant things about their spouse, in that person’s absence.
- Be best friends.
- Make conscious efforts to be together.
- Have Joint Account (It would help enforce trust).
When you start to keep secrets, it means you are doing things you should not be doing. Let your spouse know everything that is going on in your life, which is how to be one. A practical way of doing this is by having a daily time of about 30minute – One hour together and a weekly date of at least three hours. This enable you have emotional connection.
When you share your problems with people (especially those that can’t help), you are doing a lot of harm to yourself and your spouse. You might have said bad things about your spouse to so many people and then things starts to get better, then it becomes a shame for you to get back because you have said all this bad things about him/her.
The obstacles to trust in any relationship include:
- Being Ambiguous (don’t say I’m going out, say exactly where you are going)
- Taking each other for granted
- Keeping secrets
When trust is broken through adultery, persistent lying, or other means. It can always be re-established but it would take time. First, we have to imbibe the spirit of forgiveness, secondly, the person who broke the trust must be contrite (repentance – I’m sorry, forgive me and I won’t do it again), then set practical goals, like you have to call me four times a day, you must be back home right after work, you cannot have contact with someone of the opposite sex that I don’t know and many more practical stuff.
If you are dealing with a persistent trust breaker, please seek professional help either spiritual or emotional.
“So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” Matthew 19:6
5. LOVE and RESPECT
Anyone who has done marital counseling either as a professional or a lay person would attest to the fact that the bottom line of any marriage problem (though shaded in many forms) is lack of love being shown to the wife and lack of respect being shown to the man.
If you want a great marriage and you are a woman start learning how to respect your husband and if you are a man learn to love your wife. Respect and love come in different forms, How Ola wants love shown to her is not how my mom wants it shown to her. How I want respect shown to me is different from what my dad wants.
To the Women: You need to understand that wanting respect is a thing that God wired into a man’s DNA (not scientifically proven) even as a child. My older son (10 years old) engaged his mom in a conversation, I had no idea what they were talking about, all I heard was my wife say “you are my son and I am not answerable to you”. Men don’t want you challenging their opinion; all you need do is share your own opinion. When sharing what you think, avoid doing it forcefully.
Don’t tell him what to do, men hate that. Suggest! Suggest! Suggest! And pray that he makes the right choice. If you make more money, don’t remind him of that constantly and tread gently with him (he is already emotionally battered by that). There are ways you can make him do what you want, instead of forcing your way through (read 1 Peter 3: 1-6 on how to do that).
To Men: Just like you are wired to want respect; she is wired to want affection from you. Having studied the Bible a lot in the area of matrimonial relationships, I have not found a place where the woman is commanded to “Agapao” the man, instead we men are told many times to do that (Agapao – unconditional love in Greek). Affirming your wife is one way of loving her, giving her a good massage or just holding her without asking for sex is another thing women love. Most women I know want their spouse to show the love and affection to them in public or in the presence of other people, not just in the confines of the bedroom.
Note of caution on love and respect. While a wife cannot “nag” love out of a man, the man cannot “beat” respect out of the woman.
I trust that with the application of these you will see improvements in your marriage. I will be looking forward to hearing your comments and feedback!
If you would like to know some more about how you can improve your marriage, see 5 more things