CHRISTIAN MARRIAGE ADVICE
Refresh Spiritual Intimacy in Your Marriage
By Jim Burns
Most couples not only do not have a plan to grow together spiritually; they don’t even talk about it. Not long ago, we surveyed subscribers to our Good Advice Parent Newsletter in various areas of marital satisfaction. I wasn’t surprised that the area we found couples least satisfied was that that of spiritual intimacy. One spouse noted, “We both have a strong Christian background but don't really discuss and share openly with each other.” This type of response is common when I speak at conferences or on my radio program. I’ve found that too often, spirituality intimacy in marriage is a back-burner topic at best.
If you are one of the many husbands and wives who crave deeper spiritual intimacy with your spouse, but aren’t sure where to start or what actions to take, let me suggest some tips for you in this area:
1. Don’t Expect Immediate Change
To quote one of my favorite movies, What About Bob?, developing spiritual intimacy is best accomplish through “baby steps”. It is very rare for a relationship to move from lacking spirituality to strong growth overnight. It takes nurturing and pruning over time to have a beautiful garden; in the same way, it takes time and careful cultivation to grow toward spiritual intimacy. So, a good place to start is by planting the seeds of spiritual growth.
2. Pray For Your Spouse
This is a simple suggestion and one that is relatively easy to begin, yet one that many couples overlook. Understand that I’m not talking about hours of prayer here, but simply a daily time to pray for your spouse and your relationship. Paul’s advice to Timothy was to “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (I Timothy 4:7). As you learn to give your relationship to God and start praying for each other daily, you’ll be creating a powerful discipline and habit in your home. Pray for your spouse’s needs and seek God’s will for how you can serve your spouse. Even this one simple act of daily prayer for your spouse will make a difference.
3. Pray Together
If your spouse is open to it, pray together daily. If your spouse is not very spiritually motivated, then keep prayer very short and do it at a meal or another time that seems less intimidating. I know one couple who started praying together every day with the wife simply saying, “God, thank you for our food. Thank you for the children. Thank you so much for Jack. Help us to be a God-honoring couple and family. Amen.”
One day, after months of that prayer, Jack said, “Let me pray, too.” He said, “God, I’m not much of a pray-er but I agree with Janet, and thanks for Janet’s heart for you. Amen, again.” After a while the kids got involved too. After a year Jack and Janet were feeling more comfortable praying together.
I believe the saying is true: “Couples who pray together, stay together.”
4. Worship Together Regularly
A natural part of growing together spiritually is worshipping together. Unfortunately, some couples don’t have the benefit of worshipping together. Perhaps one works or just won’t go to church. This is an area to keep on your prayer list; look for ways to find meaning together when you can.
I know of a husband who agreed to go to church with his wife once a month. Instead of nagging or condemning about the other three weeks, she made a big deal out of that one morning a month by serving fun food and turning it into a pleasurable event. Within the year he was going most Sundays. Today, after many years, he is a leader in their church.
5. Develop Regular Spiritual Growth Time Together
It isn’t easy to discipline yourselves as a couple to spend regular time together focusing on your spirituality. Even though Cathy and I speak and write on this subject, we have struggled throughout our years of marriage in this area. We have tried reading books together and doing Bible study booklets. We have listened to CDs and watched videos together on spiritual growth. We have tried to have a daily time and a weekly time to focus on our spiritual growth. Like so many others, it hasn’t always worked for us.
We’ve always meant well, but no one thing worked for us long-term. Finally, we found something that works for us. We call it our Weekly Time. It’s rather simple, and, and for some it may be too short, but it has worked for us. The important issue is to find something that works for both you and your spouse. It may take some time of experimenting before you find what suits you both. Don’t get frustrated. Keep trying.
6. Develop Healthy, Affirming Relationships with Other Couples
Cathy and I had very few role models when we first got married. We didn’t know many couples we wanted to imitate in our own marriage. One day we were talking about the need to find mentors for our marriage, and a couple from our church came to mind. They had successfully raised three kids and had been married for a number of years. We asked if we could come by and ask them some questions about building a God-honoring marriage.
If we would have said, “Will you mentor us?” they might have said, “No, we don’t see ourselves as mentors.” Fortunately, we didn’t give them the option to turn us down. We simply asked if we could get together. The meal time and conversation was so pleasant and helpful that we asked if we could get together again sometime. Today, this couple would probably say they have been mentors to us, but it didn’t start that way in their minds.
We also believe strongly in peer relationships. Cathy and I were in a couples’ group for several years, and even though each session wasn’t on marriage, it seemed like whatever we were studying in that group came back to our marriages and families. I learned much from how other couples approached their relationships.
7. Develop a Plan
When a couple is living with the same set of blueprints, they do so much better. As you begin to grow stronger spiritually as a couple, you’ll want to create your own. The plan has to work for you and for your situation. I know couples who have taken a five-hour solo/Sabbath time regularly to rest, pray, read inspirational literature, hike, and the come back together to talk about their experience. Another couple I know plans two marriage-focused retreats together a year. Sometimes they go away and have read books together, listened to audio programs, or follow a Bible study booklet. At other times, they attend a marriage retreat or conference with other couples.
Part of your plan might include reading one spiritually-focused book a year, and then set aside time to discuss the book as a couple. Or, you might choose to read one book a year on a marriage topic. The choices are almost limitless. Although, I’ve said it before, let me say it again, your task is to find what works for you both as a couple.
Spiritual growth and intimacy is like anything else. It takes time and commitment. It is more about training than trying, and just like the Scripture says, you will reap what you sow (Galatians 6:7-8). Don’t shortchange yourself or your spouse by not focusing on spiritual intimacy. At the end of your life you won’t be focused on your IRA retirement plan, the kind of house you live in, or what your bank account looks like. You will be interested in a right relationship with God and a right relationship with your loved ones. Why not start focusing on the really important things sooner rather than later?
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