Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A Better Marriage

Find the Freedom in Christ to Work on a Better Marriage

You can try any kind of strategy to improve your marriage, but nothing
will work unless you first get your own relationship with Christ
right. Instead of focusing on what to do about your marriage, focus on
who Christ wants you to become, and everything else in your life –
including your marriage – will be impacted. Once you embrace the
freedom Christ offers, you'll be able to embrace your spouse with more

Here's how you can find the freedom to work on a better marriage:

Pray for the right motivation. If you haven't already done so, begin
an eternal relationship with Christ by inviting Him to become your
Lord and Savior. Ask Him to help you show your gratitude for all He
has done for you by honoring Him with your marriage. Remember that
your spouse is made in God's image, just as you are. Decide to accept
your spouse as God has accepted you. Commit to becoming the type of
husband or wife God wants you to become.

Deal with conflict wisely. Recognize that conflict is an inevitable
part of life. Understand that you can best resolve conflict
successfully when you and your spouse both hear and appreciate each
other's perspectives. Approach conflict constructively by: listening
carefully to each other, speaking the truth in love while refraining
from destructive words, working together with a cooperative spirit to
search for a win-win solution, following God's leading when making
decisions, avoiding attacking each other or becoming defensive,
focusing on the issues, and remembering that your marriage is more
important than the need to win or be right.

Understand gender differences. Know that men generally long to
achieve, produce, and succeed, but women generally long to nurture
relationships, care for others, and create welcoming homes. Realize
that men tend to share information to try to solve problems, while
women tend to share feelings about issues. Understand that men thrive
on action, but women thrive on communication. Know that men are
sexually aroused primarily through physical images, while women are
sexually aroused primarily by loving words and actions. Realize that
men need sex in order to feel love, but women need to feel loved in
order to have sex. Understand that men will respond to stress by
taking time out to be alone, while women will respond to stress by
sharing their feelings with others. Ask God to help you appreciate the
differences between you and your spouse, and help you use them to
encourage and help each other become more together than what either of
you could be alone.

Put your relationship with Christ first. Recognize that you have to be
complete and healthy in Christ before you can build a whole and
functional marriage. Read the many promises in Scripture that remind
you that you are accepted, secure, and significant because of Christ's
work on the cross. Make your relationship with Christ your top
priority, so you can become the spouse that God wants you to be. Don't
look to the world for fulfillment. Instead, embrace your identity as
God's beloved child who can let God's love flow through you to your

Strengthen your character. Expect God to use your marriage to
transform you as a person and help you grow to become more like
Christ. Understand that the more spiritually mature you become, the
more you will be able to love your spouse. Rather than focusing on how
you would like your spouse to change, recognize that you only have the
power to change yourself, and focus on that. Know that by changing
yourself, you'll be changing the relationship dynamic of your marriage
and inspiring your spouse to decide to change. Be willing to forgive
your spouse and meet his or her needs, as God leads you to do so.

Speak your spouse's love language. Ask your spouse which type of
language communicates love best to him or her: gifts, service, time,
touch, or words. Then do all you can to use that language to show your
spouse your love. Tell your spouse what your primary love language is,
and explain how he or she can best love you with it.

Don't let money come between you and your spouse. Acknowledge that all
your money ultimately belongs to God, because He alone has made it
possible for you to receive and earn all you have. Work with your
spouse to become a wise steward of the money God has entrusted to you.
Establish a budget together. Ask God to help you become content with
whatever you have at any time. Thank God regularly for what He has
given you. Give generously to support God's work on Earth and to help
people in need. Reduce your debt until you become debt-free, and stay
out of debt. Save for future emergencies. Invest wisely, avoiding
get-rich-quick schemes and using your investment money for ventures
that bring glory to God. Commit to avoiding greed and being honest in
all your financial dealings, and live by the highest standards of
financial integrity in your family, church, and job. Make restitution
for any wrongs you've committed against other people or their
property. Don't oppress the poor or bribe the rich. Refrain from
participating in any unethical legal proceedings. Work faithfully and
diligently for your income, while also balancing work and rest.

Repent of sexual sin. Remember that your body is a temple of God,
because His Spirit dwells in you. Decide that you will honor God with
your body, rather than insult Him by using it for sexual immorality.
Ask God to reveal every sexual use of your body as an instrument of
unrighteousness, and as He brings specific incidents to mind, renounce
each one and commit your body to God as a living sacrifice. Reserve
the sexual use of your body for your spouse only. If you've been
guilty of treating other people as sex objects, ask God to help you
remember that they are made in His image, and are therefore worthy of
respect and dignity. Work to prevent adultery in your marriage by
making regular deposits in your spouse's love bank (meeting their
needs) and avoiding withdrawals (disappointing them). If your spouse
is having an affair, pray, search the Bible for guidance, ask the Holy
Spirit for wisdom, and get counsel from your pastor, a counselor, and
perhaps even trusted friends. Ask God to help you become the spouse He
wants you to be, knowing that positive changes in you will attract
your estranged spouse's attention and possibly motivate him or her to
reconcile with you. If your spouse is not repentant, consider a
separation to get your spouse to take the issues between you
seriously, but don't rush to divorce. Always focus on love over anger;
love is much more powerful. If you're having an affair, break it off
completely, choosing never to see your lover again. Change your phone
number and e-mail address, or even move or change jobs if that's
necessary for you to make a clean break. Take time to grieve the
relationship you lost, and heal from it. Expect it to take time for
you to earn your spouse's trust back; be patient and willing to hold
yourself accountable to your spouse.

Forgive. Always forgive your spouse for ways he or she offends you.
Remember that God has forgiven you, and let your gratitude motivate
you to do what He expects – forgive others. Rely on God to help you
forgive, knowing that you can trust Him to help you every step of the
way. Be honest about how you feel, allowing yourself to feel the pain,
hurt, resentment, bitterness, and hate. Then submit yourself to God,
and ask for His grace and power to forgive. Agree to live with the
consequences of your spouse's sins against you, recognizing that you
can't avoid them, but you can choose not to let them make you bitter.
Release the offense and decide that your spouse is no longer in debt
to you for it. Never bring the offense up to your spouse again, in
arguments or any other discussion. Whenever your emotions recycle the
pain or your spouse keeps offending you, continue to choose to
forgive, but make it clear that you won't tolerate abuse. Get whatever
help you need to break free of abuse if it's occurring in your
marriage. Never take revenge; instead, trust God to work in the
situation (perhaps through your church, family, or civil authorities)
to bring about justice in the right way. Ask God to help you replace
your old resentful feelings with Christ's forgiving love. Deal with
painful memories by recalling good memories from your marriage as
often as possible. Ask God to help you keep a healthy perspective on
your marriage.

Try even if your spouse won't try. If your spouse isn't willing to
work to improve your marriage, make an effort to do so yourself.
Realize that even if your spouse doesn't come around and your marriage
doesn't get better, you will have become a better person yourself
through the process. Remember that Christ lived with pain during His
time on Earth, and He understands your pain even when no one else
does. Pray for wisdom about how best to try to improve your marriage.
Ask God to give you creative ideas to become the best possible spouse
you can be, then respond to His guidance by acting on those ideas.
Know that you'll likely get your spouse's attention by treating them
the way God wants you to treat them. Let your actions match your
prayers, and allow God's love to flow through you to your spouse.
Don't accept excuses or blame from your spouse; be loving, yet firm
about the need to change your marriage. Get support from some caring
Christians as you try to work on your marriage. Ask them to encourage
and pray for you. Remember that it took a long time for your marriage
to develop problems, so expect it to take a while to resolve them. Be
patient and don't give up. Put on the full armor of God mentioned in
Ephesians 6:10-20 to take a stand against evil.

Set your marriage free. Once you and your spouse have become free in
Christ, work together to set your marriage free, as well. Make sure
you've each left your parents and any previous spouses emotionally and
bonded properly to each other. Break family cycles of abuse that have
been passed on to you from previous generations. Ask God to reveal any
self-centered thoughts or behaviors that have kept you from assuming
your responsibilities to love and accept one another. Then repent.
Break sexual bondage so you can have a healthy sexual union. Release
old hurts through forgiveness. Unmask Satan's deceptions in your
relationship and seek the truth that will set you free. Renew your
marriage covenant with God and each other. Maintain your freedom in
Christ by participating in a healthy church together, reading and
studying your Bible daily, praying and seeking the Holy Spirit's
leading together, reminding yourselves of your identities in Christ,
taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, sharing your
struggles openly with each other so you don't drift away, taking
responsibility for your own spiritual growth instead of relying on
your spouse to fight your battles, and working with a pastor or
counselor to help you solve persistent problems.

Adapted from Experiencing Christ Together: Finding Freedom and
Fulfillment in Marriage, copyright 2007 by Neil T. Anderson and
Charles Mylander. Published by Regal Books, Ventura, Ca.,

Dr. Neil T. Anderson is founder of Freedom In Christ Ministries and
president of Discipleship Counseling Ministries. He has 35 years of
pastoral and teaching experience and was formerly chairman of the
Practical Theology Department at Talbot School of Theology. Neil has
authored more than 50 best-selling books on Christ-centered living.

Dr. Charles Mylander is Executive Director of Evangelical Friends
Mission, the missionary sending agency for evangelical Friends In the
United States. He is the coauthor with Neil Anderson of Extreme Church

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