Where is your marriage? You may find yourself in one of several seasons.
- Are you newly married, just getting started, and nervous you won’t “do this marriage thing” right?
- Are you coming off a major transition—having a child, moving to a new city, or adapting to an empty nest—and not sure that what worked well for your marriage then will be a good fit now?
- Are you in a rut? Has marriage become too functional—everything is getting done but the joy you want for your marriage seems to be slowing fading into the background?
- Are you coming off a season of crisis or conflict—knowing that you want to do things different than before but not sure how to make sure different is also better?
Regardless of your situation, it’s never too early—or too late, for that matter—to build habits that will strengthen and grow your marriage.
Habits Don’t Always Equate to Boredom
But, you might be thinking, don’t habits squelch spontaneity and make life less fun? I mean, I get it. Life would be more effective with better habits, but would it be more enjoyable?
Those are fair questions. By personality, some people instinctively love the order and predictability of habits, while others feel squelched by routines. There may be one of each in your marriage. While this idea is more exciting to some than others, every marriage benefits from being intentional about cultivating healthy relational habits.
The reality is that you are going to forge habits in your marriage, whether you intend to or not. Habits happen as we do life. In the months ahead you are either going to intentionally cultivate habits that foster a healthier, more God-honoring marriage, or hope you don’t drift into habits that result in imbalanced priorities and subsequent conflicts. Habit-forming is inevitable, but intentionality can make it beneficial.
There’s No Perfect Recipe
Whatever your season of life or condition of your marriage, remember that there is no such thing as a cookie-cutter recipe for blissful marriage habits. A dozen couples reading right now could assess their marriages and express these habits differently. That is a testimony to God’s creative design.
One thing is guaranteed, however: if you neglect the principles here, it will be difficult for your marriage to thrive. Does that mean every healthy couple is as intentional as we invite you to be here? No. By godly examples, common sense, and trial and error, many couples develop the kind of habits we will discuss. The benefit of considering these things now is that you won’t have learn them from years in the School of Hard Knocks.
When rightly understood and applied, habits foster creativity. This is good news for those who love to think outside the box. For example, when a couple forms the habit of a regular date night this, if done well, sparks creativity. No longer is energy spent wondering, “Will we go on a date?” Instead, the anticipation of a regular date advances the question to, “What will we do this time?” or, “What will grow our relationship?”
Habits become ruts when they become mindless. We want to avoid mindless monotony and being slaves to routine. That is why we won’t talk about rote habits (i.e., brushing your teeth everyday) as much as we will meaningful practices (i.e., exercise) that allow for a variety of expressions that fit your marriage and allow for diversity in implementation. As you read, you should find lots of room for creativity and adaptation over time.
Five Essential Practices for Couples
So, are you ready to think about developing new relational habits? We’re going to consider five basic categories of healthy marriage habits, covering a wide range of personal, relational, and spiritual needs:
Stewarding the Basics
The idea of stewarding comes first because it reveals that all of life, including marriage, is a gift given to us by God for a purpose. Our goal with “stewarding the basics” is to discern how God would have us care for our marriages to accomplish his purpose in each member of our family, in each season of life.
Thriving prompts us to remember that, unlike God, we are finite creatures who require certain essential elements in order to be healthy. Even before humanity was sinful (Genesis 3), we were finite (Genesis 1 and 2). People needed sleep and food even before there was a reason to repent. Here we will challenge each other to care for ourselves physically and emotionally so that our shortcomings in marriage do not stem from a lack of basic personal care.
Honoring calls us to be mindful that we are not just finite, but also sinful people who do not naturally think of others first (Romans 3:23). We want our way and are too often willing to mistreat those we love to get our way (James 4:1–6). That’s not a pretty picture of the human heart, but it’s an accurate one. Any discussion of a God-honoring marriage must be rooted in this kind of gospel-dependent self-awareness.
The idea of knowing points out that marriage requires us to be lifelong students of an ever-changing spouse. You may have heard it said, “You will be married to dozens of people over the course of your marriage.” Life changes both of you. Loving your spouse entails perpetually learning what is more important, most challenging, and most satisfying for him or her.
Worshipping opens our eyes to see that life is not a meaningless game where the people who have the most fun and experience the least pain win. Our lives were designed to glorify God. When we lose sight of this, godly habits begin to feel like a competitive disadvantage or an arbitrary theological list of rules.
Be Both Intentional and Creative
You will notice that this list begins with stewardship and ends with worship. This order is intentional. Now that we understand the purpose and order behind these essential practices, we can explore how we can build habits to reinforce them.
In each of these five areas, have fun. Be creative. God gave you marriage as a gift. God delights in seeing us cherish and enjoy the gifts he gives. Never replace the Giver with the gift at the forefront of your affections. Instead, honor the Giver by cultivating all the joy he wanted you and your spouse to have when the gift was given.
Excerpt adapted from Building a Marriage to Last: Five Essential Habits for Couples ©2020 by Brad Hambrick. May not be reproduced without prior written permission.
BUILDING A MARRIAGE TO LAST: FIVE ESSENTIAL HABITS FOR COUPLES
Where is your marriage? Newly married, in a rut, coming off a major transition, or coming out of a period of crisis or conflict? Regardless of your situation, it’s never too early—or too late, for that matter—to build habits that will strengthen and grow your marriage.