As a counselor with a family oriented ministry, I often meet couples who are struggling in their relationships. Often times, from their perspective, the situation is hopeless and they feel or think that there is only one of two alternatives to take: divorce or separation. Usually what I see is hope. I see hope because they have taken the initiative to call Rekindle the Flame Ministries to set up an appointment to see a Christian counselor. As I listen to couples quarrel and explain to me their “irreparable” situation, generally speaking, I have discovered there are six initial steps they can take in order to begin to turn their situation around.
The first step is to help them to see the value of being patient with one another. The Apostle Paul, in the book of 1 Corinthians, tells us that “love is patient.” What usually happens is that couples have allowed the busyness of life to make them intolerable of other people. This includes their spouse. Work, church responsibilities, school schedules, etc., often take precedence in our lives, and we neglect the most important appointment (second to God) that we must make — time with our spouses.
Couples (especially husbands) need to realize that they are called to dwell with one another with understanding (1 Peter 3:7). This can only happen in an environment where two people see the value of being patient with each other and taking the time to really open the lines of communication with each other. This requires a determination and application of consistency as well. As husbands and wives, we must realize that our spouses are not perfect, and be willing to work through the differences and challenges that present themselves in a prayerfully patient manner. As we do so, God will begin to effect the change that is needed in our relationships.
The second item that is of essential importance is communication. Recent divorce statistics tell us that 80% of all marriages that end in divorce are due to ineffective communication. It is amazing to me that, although we have become a high tech society with advanced communication devices, we live in a time in which communication skills are probably at their worst. Let’s face it, today’s technology has created a very impersonal environment in which people don’t have to talk face-to-face with each other or can tune each other out very easily. This environmental thwarting of communication skills has greatly affected the marriage relationship. Couples should do all they can to work on and achieve good open-communication skills. This leads me to my next point.
When communicating with our spouses, we must be “swift to hear, and slow to speak” (James 1:19). Good communication starts with learning how to listen to what the other person is trying to say. The best way to accomplish this is to agree on a time and place to communicate. Second, you must then agree on which person will talk first limiting each person’s turn to no more than about 20 minutes (I advise you to limit your discussion to one or two issues apiece, or you will drown yourselves in too many issues to address at once). After you agree upon these two things, each person must then commit to allowing the person to talk, uninterrupted, while you take notes on what you believe you hear the other person is saying. Write each issue down, and then when the person is done sharing his or her feelings, repeat what you have written down to see if you have understood the concern(s) correctly. Adjust your understanding as the other person clears things up for you. The objective is to get a clear understanding of the issue(s). Each person should take a turn doing this. When you are done, each person should have written out a list of concerns that need to be addressed. Now comes the good part.
The fourth step is to begin talking about possible solutions to each concern. Each person should share a possible solution, and it should be written out. A critical principle here is never to minimize or belittle a solution that is bought to the table. Never, never make fun of what another believes may contribute to solving a problem. Simply write the solution down and ask why they believe the solution they have provided can assist as a remedy to the problem. I have found that when people believe that their ideas are respected as part of a process, it builds positive relationships. After both sides are done, you should agree on which solution(s) is (are) best for each given concern that was presented. A critical piece to this step is to come up with an agreeable plan(s) to address each concern and solve your “problems.”
The fifth step is to begin to have what I call “a date night.” In most cases the busyness of life leads many couples to stop giving each other the time necessary to nurture their relationship. The results are deleterious as love for one another slowly grows cold. We cannot expect to maintain a marriage relationship without nurturing one another. Without the proper nurturing, what happens is that resentment and bitterness grow in the heart. I have discovered that many problems in marriage are the result of the lack of time essential to a good and godly marriage. To prevent and/or reverse the damage done by this lack of time each week (or as often as you can), take turns preparing some time that you will spend together. To make it more exciting, allow for suspense. To do this, set a principle in place that allows for each person to arrange the time, place, and activity of the “date” without telling the other person the details. Seek to please your spouse as you make these arrangements.
The final piece in beginning to revitalize your marriage is accountability. In any attempt to grow or change, accountability must be involved. Mature individuals must learn that we are accountable to God and to one another to fulfill the commitments that we say we are going to keep. Couples must lay out a plan of accountability as a means to check on their progress as well as to keep them realizing the seriousness of their relationships. Too many times even in Christian churches and homes, people exert an independent rebellious spirit that says, “I am accountable to no man [or woman]!” At other times the other extreme is exhibited where we feel that we cannot address the issues at hand because of the “who am I to say anything?” syndrome. This is wrong as we must speak the truth and address the issues that are getting in the way of having a God-honoring marriage. However, we must always speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).
Revitalizing a marriage takes good, hard, godly work. As we cooperate with the Holy Spirit, we can be patient with one another. We can also allow the Spirit to open our hearts and lives to effective communication. As God does this in our lives, He can aid us to be quick to listen as He leads us to a plan that will best remedy and improve our marriage relationship. This plan should include allowing God as well as each other to hold us accountable for the commitments that we make. As we employ these principles in a Christlike spirit, we will see how love truly conquers all (1 Corinthians 13).
Pastor David Guerrero is the founder and director of Rekindle the Flame Ministries. RTFM is a non profit 501(c)3 Christian organization that seeks to aid the body of Christ in experiencing transformation of life through faith-based counseling, life coaching, seminars, training, and newsletters. Please contact us at (715) 310-2196 or on the web at: http://www.rekindletheflameministries.org for more information how we can help you or your organization.