15 TIPS FOR A STRONGER MARRIAGE
by Eric Elder
Last week I shared 7 tips with you for how to have a stronger marriage. This week I was going to share 7 more, but have decided to give you just 4 today, because I want to be sure you have time to read and consider deeply how you might apply each of them to your own life. Then at the end of the series I’ll share 1 final tip of just 3 words that can serve as the glue to hold all of the other tips together.
Again, if you know of others who are newly married, nearly married or would like a boost in their marriage no matter how long they’ve been married, I hope you’ll pass these tips along to them. (You can still read Part 1 with the first 7 tips at this link.)
With that in mind, here are tips 8 through 11 for how to have a stronger marriage.
8) Be willing to live for your spouse. I spoke to a man who was divorcing his wife. She wanted to move to another state to fulfill some of her dreams, but he didn’t want to. They were at a stalemate and this was the last straw. I asked him, “If someone threatened to kill your wife, would you be willing to die for her?” “Yes, of course,” he replied. Then I asked, “If you would be willing to die for her, would you be willing to live for her?” We talked again shortly thereafter and he put his faith in Christ. He reconciled with his wife and they moved across the country. As Jesus told His disciples:
“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
Then Jesus proved His love for His friends by laying down His life for them.
Surprisingly, “laying down your life” doesn’t always mean giving up your own dreams and plans, too. For Jesus also said,
“For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will find it” (Matthew 16:25).
Sometimes it’s by living your life to help your spouse achieve their dreams that you’ll be able to fulfill your own dreams even better. If God is the one who has put particular dreams and desires within both you and your spouse, then He’ll find a way to accomplish those dreams and desires for both of you, too.
9) Help your spouse achieve their goals. This may sound like the previous tip, but the difference is that sometimes you’ll have to take the initiative to help your spouse achieve their goals. It just may be that God has put you in their life just for this purpose, because He knew they would need your unique help. After God created Adam, He said:
“It’s not good for the Man to be alone; I’ll make him a helper, a companion” (Genesis 2:18, MSG).
One of the main purposes for marriage, according to God, is so we won’t have to do life alone; that we’ll have a helper and a companion along the way.
Lana was both of those things to me: a wonderful companion and a terrific helper. She helped me do things I could never have done on my own, whether it was building a family or launching a ministry or giving me regular feedback and encouragement on my writing and speaking and planning and dreaming. At the same time, I was able to help her achieve some of her goals. Over the years, however, I realized that she still had other dreams and desires for her life which would never be realized if I didn’t step in to give her a boost. She wanted to do missions work in Africa, visit the Holy Land and make a movie about the life of St. Nicholas.
But with all of her other responsibilities, those dreams seemed either distant or impossible. So I sat down with her and began to pray about each one, asking God how I could help her achieve her dreams. By the end of her life, I was able to help her take a missions trip to Africa, visit the Holy Land twice and write out the story of the life of St. Nicholas, which we planned to use as the basis for a movie someday. When we found out that Lana had cancer, I can’t tell you how thankful I was that I had stepped in to help her fulfill those dreams while she was still able to do them–and I’d encourage you to do the same.
10) Remember your marriage is a calling, too. I think a word of caution is in order here, too. Be careful when considering giving up one type of “calling” to follow another. I shared my story with a group one day about quitting my job and going into full-time ministry. A woman came up to me afterwards to tell me how excited she was because God was calling her to do the same thing. After congratulating her for being willing to take this step of faith, I asked her what kept her from doing it before. She said, “Well, my husband won’t like it because I’m going to have to move and leave him behind.” “As in divorce?” I asked. “Yes,” she said, and she looked at the floor. I said. “Don’t forsake one type of calling (her marriage) to fulfill another. If this is from God, He’ll help you to do both.”
Your marriage is a calling just as much as any other kind of “calling.” When I quit my job and went into full-time ministry, I knew for me that meant living on faith for all of our financial provision (we all live on faith, actually; it’s just that sometimes we’re more acutely aware of it than at others). But I also knew I was called to my marriage with Lana as well. So I wrote Lana a letter so she could hold onto it and remind me if necessary, telling her that even though I felt called by God to do this ministry, I also felt called by God to marry her and to take care of her as best I could. I committed to her, right at the beginning of our ministry, that if ever she felt she wasn’t being cared for because of the ministry that I was doing, then I would quit doing ministry or find another way to do it so that I could care for her better.
I didn’t want to shortchange one calling to fulfill another. As the Bible says rather forcefully:
“Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8).
Lana never had to exercise her right to pull me out of ministry, although she came close to it a few times. And when she did, we prayed and I filled out applications for other jobs. God always made a way for me to fulfill both callings, however, so I could keep loving her well and keep doing ministry well. I knew that if God had called me to both, He would help me to find a way to do both. But I also knew that if I had to neglect one calling to fulfill another, then I was probably doing something wrong.
11) Remember that God is the provider for you both. If you haven’t noticed, each of these tips builds on the others. While there’s a lot that you can do for your spouse, you can’t do everything! There are some things only God can do. Ultimately, He’s the one who provides for you both. As the Bible says,
“The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it…” (Psalm 24:1a).
When I was first dating Lana, we relied on each other for everything: our conversation, our intimacy, our affirmation, our affection. But when God broke us up for a period, we learned to rely on Him as the ultimate source of everything in our lives, including each other. When we finally came back together and eventually got married, we had a new awareness that God was the source of all we needed, even if He used one or the other of us to meet that need. He was the source of it all.
I was reminded of how much God loved Lana one morning after we had had a funny conversation the day before. Her car had broken down and we needed to get another, but there was no way we could afford it. She told me the kind of car she really wanted to get. She had never cared about makes or models before, just whatever would get her from Point A to Point B. When I looked at the prices of used models online, I thought, “Good luck with that!” A friend of ours told us when he sent his daughter off to college, the only thing he had to help her out were his prayers and these words: “The same God who takes care of me will take care of you.” God did His part, my friend did his part and my friend’s daughter did her part. 4 years later she had a college degree. So that night as I prayed for Lana and the car she wanted, I said at the end, rather jokingly, “Well, you’ve got my prayers! The same God who takes care of me will take care of you!” Then I rolled over and fell asleep.
The joke was on me, though, when the very next morning I pulled into the parking lot for a men’s group at church and a man pulled in right after me–driving the very same car that Lana had told me she wanted. He had never visited the group before and I had never seen another car like this around town before. It was the exact same make, model and color Lana had wanted! I told him my wife was talking about getting a car just like that, and he said he was actually thinking of selling it! I had to shake my head and confess to God that I had forgotten how much He loved Lana–even more than I did–and that He was the one who provided for her, just like He provided for me. Although we didn’t buy that man’s car, God made a way for us to buy another one, the same model, make and color, within just a few months of my prayers. God really does love our spouse even more than we love them, and He loves to surprise and delight them, just as He loves to surprise and delight us.
Sometimes we make the mistake of trying too hard to please our spouse, only to fall short again and again, when what we really need to do is to trust God that He will provide for them, even when we can’t. So do your best, and trust God with the rest.
That’s it for today, and probably more than enough “home work” for this week! Next week, I’ll share more tips with you, then wrap it all up with 3 words to tie all the other tips together.
(P.S. Last week I noted a prayer of blessing in the Bible that Lana regularly prayed for me and the kids, but I referenced the wrong book of the Bible. The prayer is found in Numbers 6:24-26, not Deuteronomy 6:24-26, just in case you’re looking for that prayer!)
As a thank you for your donation of any size to our ministry, we’d be glad to send you a paperback copy of another book I’ve written on marriage that focuses specifically on intimacy. If you’d like a copy, just visit The Ranch Bookstore online to make a donation of any size, and we’ll ship a copy to you anywhere in the world. Your gifts help us to keep sharing about Christ with others, and we’re happy to send you a gift in return!