40 Graces in Marriage

We had only been married a few months when another couple close in heart and only a few years ahead of us got divorced. They were headed for ministry together. We had looked up to them. And it BLEW.OUR.MINDS. Things were sour behind closed doors? It woke us up to the reality that this amazing marriage we found ourselves in at the ages of 20 and 21 might not always be easy or blissful.

The first thing we did was pray. For real. We prayed for our marriage aloud together every night. The wake-up call that was first sparked by grief and fear became a grounding force of reverent reality that if our union was gonna last, it would only do so by the grace of our Heavenly Father.

So we prayed, and we continued in that pattern for the next 5 years. Every night.

A mentor heard us mention this in conversation and asked us what we prayed for. We told him, 
"That we would be drawn closer to each other as we draw close to Christ. That He would be the center of our marriage."

This year we hit 20 years. Our prayer times have changed as our rhythms have changed, but we still pray together.

As we've prayed, the Lord has been so kind to guide us and teach us. That's why when we tell people that our marriage is better now at 20 years "by the grace of God," we mean it. It's not a "by the skin of our teeth" kinda saying. We literally mean that He has given us graces (undeserved gifts) because of His kindness and love.

I've compiled a list of just 40 of those graces that God has guided us to over time--ways that we can reflect His love to each other, ways to experience this one-ness of marriage. I'm certain there's many more, but these are sharable. 

This list is not meant to be prescriptive; I'm not telling you that this is a must-do-recipe for a healthy marriage. Instead, I'd say the only prescriptive thing is to pray for your marriage. If you both know the Lord, pray together as well as separately, and if you are the only one in your marriage who knows Jesus personally, then still pray faithfully and long for your marriage. I'm confident that God will lead you to graces within your own relationship.

40 Graces in Marriage

1. Kiss goodnight, every night.

2. Good morning embrace, every morning.

3. Say thank you for the mundane things, repeatedly. "Thanks for taking out the trash."

4. Sit at the table together for dinner.

5. No digital discussions about thoughts or feelings. Keep it face to face always.

6. Don't go to bed angry even if it means staying up late.

7. Set a curfew for serious/potentially divisive conversations (to avoid staying up really late to resolve conflict). Ex: "We need to refigure the budget. [Realizes it's 9:30PM] Let's chat about that on Friday."

8. Set aside quality times of the day to talk, not just for serious matters, but for daily enjoyment convos too. Redirect the kids during these times. They are learning that mom and dad are important to each other.

9. Make decisions together, united. When presenting ideas, present them unitedly. "We've talked about it and decided that it's best to do vacation at home this year," rather than, "I know we wanted to go on vacation, but your dad says there's not enough money."

10. Never say something negative about spouse to someone else. Never.

11. Set times for prayer (as an individual, as a couple, as a family).

12. Apologize. There is always a sin to own up to.

13. Learn from other couples. Be encouraged, be inspired, be challenged. Don't compare.

14. Read the Bible again and again. Daily meditate on it.

15. Forgive. Give grace even when it's undeserved (that's what the word means).

16. Release expectations. Rely on God to fulfill all those inner spaces, freeing up your spouse to be the person God designed him/her to be.

17. Pray for God to provide good friendships for your spouse, and then let them go hang out with those friends. No guilt tripping for spending time outside of the house.

18. No bossing. No "asking permission." Consult, consider, yield = yes.

19. No parenting. Ex: sigh and pick up their mess + mini lecture about tidiness. Instead serve. Respectfully share feelings during designated times (mentioned in #8).

20. Don't keep a list of offenses. (1 Cor. 13:5)

21. Pray God's blessings of protection and provision for your spouse. Avoid praying for God to change "bad" traits, instead pray for God to mold them and grow them how He wants. Release control of your spouse to the Lord.

22. Learn about love languages and selflessly give love.

23. Value family time by not packing the schedule with too many things. Keep some evenings free. Try to keep one day of each weekend unplanned. This will mean saying no to other people, not pleasing everyone, and risking reputation. It's worth it.

24. Show respect: Tone, body language, eye contact. Even when you don't feel like it. Especially when you don't feel like it.

25. Stop everything to greet each other when arriving home. Put away screens.

26. Do the chores that are most appreciated by the other person.

27. Honeymoon again. Or at least have some date nights even if you stay at home and spend zero dollars.

28. Marvel that God saw fit to bring you together as one. Marvel that HE created marriage as a reflection of your relationship with Christ.

29. Quitting isn't an option. Parting ways = not an option. Look for solutions without this one on the list of possibilities.

30. If quitting isn't an option, don't mention it. Never threat it. Don't say the word. Don't even include it with an "if" or in sarcasm. Seriously, never.

31. During an argument, or even an escalated fight, don't leave the premises. Take some time to cool off in a different space, but don't drive away. Show your staidness by staying.

32. Know your limits so that you stop yourself before exploding. There will be trial and error.

33. See your spouse's strengths amidst the weaknesses. See the strength OF the weakness--the reverse quality is probably the very thing that drew you to him/her in the first place. (Ex: You love his sense of humor but are mad that he's never serious. You love his work ethic and leadership but resent that he's career-driven. Remind yourself of the qualities you love and admire. We learned this on the Weekend to Remember marriage retreat).

34. Don't be ashamed to seek counsel, but first invite the counsel of the Holy Spirit because sometimes that's all that you need.

35. 100% honesty. No lies, no deception, no omitting info.

36. Goal when listening = hear the other. Avoid topic shifting. Don't bait with your questions. Genuinely listen so as to better understand.

37. Don't make a way for temptation. No ongoing relationships or private communications with someone else. No screen time that incites unholy desire or pulls your heart's affections elsewhere. Give full disclosure with each other about what you're viewing and who you're talking to.

38. Keep private life active.

39. Keep private life selfless.

40. Keep private life private.

Ongoing process

We're not perfect at these. Even while typing this list, there are a few of them that I notice are harder for me, but I keep them before myself in prayer and action. There are some that I look back on and almost giggle/smh at how much we've both grown. There are some for which I praise the Lord that they are just second nature, the culture of our family, and we don't have to struggle through them. 

I'm looking forward to the coming years together as I know the Lord will continue to grow us, mold us, and give us more graces. 

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