When Joel and I got married in 2000, we had no idea of the storms ahead. No. Clue. Whatsoever.
Early on in our marriage, Joel lost his job because he wasn’t willing to compromise his ethics to get ahead. So while he pursued an apprenticeship, our family lived meagrely — even under the poverty level — for eight long years.
During this time we also dealt with significant difficulties within our immediate and extended family.
And then, the big one hit: at age 35, I was diagnosed with an incurable cancer.
With my death looming in the forecast, our perspective on life, each other, our family and all that really mattered took a 180-degree turn.
I’m here on the other side, living proof that your marriage can survive even the fiercest of hurricanes. In fact, we’re beyond just surviving. Our marriage is like a massive, strong indestructible umbrella, a safe place to huddle under when the storms hit.
So how did we get to this safe spot?
1. We Know Our Limits
Oftentimes, we think “happily ever after” means getting all our needs and desires fulfilled by our spouse. We expect him or her to play a role that can only be filled by God. Though spouses come with benefits — companionship, sexual intimacy, financial security, humour for the hard days, a shoulder to cry on and practical advice — any one person’s capacity to completely fulfill all our needs is sorely lacking.
Jesus was let down by people multiple times. People will let us down too, but God never will. Jesus spent long amounts of time in the Father’s presence, being filled with the Spirit. That’s how he endured walking this earth. And that’s how he tells us we are to live (Matthew 6:33, John 15:1-5, Luke 10:38-42). He doesn’t want us to depend on others, but on him — he’s the only one who will meet all our needs.
2. We Serve Each Other
Although only God can completely fulfill our souls down to the last drop, we’re not off the hook in serving one another. It brings God joy when we reach beyond ourselves to meet others’ needs. And he commands us over and over to do so. (Fifty-nine times to be exact!) Here’s a few: love one another, be devoted to one another, instruct one another, serve one another, forgive one another, carry one another’s burdens, be kind and compassionate to one another, spur one another on toward love and good deeds, encourage one another, and pray for one another.
When we depend on God to fill us and when our focus is not on ourselves, but on loving and serving others, that’s when we thrive. Philippians 2:3-4 says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” In marriage, that means putting our spouse first.
3. We Work as a Team
The truth is, marriages fall apart when our pursuit is: How do I get my needs met? The most successful marriages ask the question: How can we win as a team? And sometimes that means: My will dies. My spouse “wins.” When your spouse wins, you win too! Does your spouse feel like his or her best interest is your priority? Do you find it’s unacceptable for your spouse to feel like a loser? Does your spouse feel like a winner? If so, you are winning!
In marriage, we’re a team. Think about a sports team. Teammates communicate with each other, plan their game collaboratively, coordinate their efforts, share the ball, pass to the teammate with the clear shot or the one with enough strength and skill to make the goal. They come to each other’s defense. They push through cooperatively, until they’ve completed the task together.
What would it look like to work together as a team in your marriage? Envision this: communicating everything with each other, planning your “game” collaboratively, coordinating your efforts, sharing the workload and household chores, coming to each other’s defense when attacked, respecting each other’s feelings, appreciating that your spouse does things differently than you. As a team, seeing your spouse’s perspective and uplifting your spouse’s spirit is worth more points than being right or having things done your way.
4. We Pray
Even when you’re trying to work as a team, there will be conflict. It’s just a fact of life! Pray. Many couples find if both spouses are praying about a decision, God gives them peace about taking one direction over another. The answer doesn’t always come right away. Keep at it. Continue asking God for unity in the decision. Talk about it with a pastor, mentor, counsellor or other couples who have demonstrated wise decision-making. Sometimes others can see more objectively because they don’t have feelings distorting their view.
Will the decision you make positively affect one spouse while leaving the other in the dust? Ask yourselves which direction moves the whole marriage and family forward.
Storms are brewing! Don’t wait until the rain hits to start strengthening your marriage. Start the teamwork drills now, so when the storms do come, the protective umbrella of your marriage is ready and strong.