Tom and Susan have a strong marriage – full of love and laughter, vibrant, intimate, satisfying.  And they know it will last a lifetime.  But that’s not how they would have described their relationship even a few years ago.   There was a lot missing in those days.  They were drifting and distant and felt more like roommates than lovers.

What changed?  Susan told me about one VERY vital and important step they took when it was evident their marriage was really struggling.  That step was to change their influences.

“You are the same today you’ll be in five years except for the people you meet and the books you read.
– Charlie Tremendous Jones

The Bible definitely speaks to this.  Proverbs says he who walks with the wise becomes wise.   The Psalmist proclaims: “Oh the joys of those who do not …join in with mockers.”  Tom and Susan decided they needed more ‘positive’ marriage influences than ‘negative’ ones. This set them on the path to where they are today.  Now their relationship is not only very rewarding for them but also an example for others as they mentor those around them.

What can you learn from them?

Take time to assess the influences in your life.  Influence makes a BIG difference!

Decrease the negative

Do you have more ‘positive’ marriage influences or ‘negative’ influences? What do you watch, read, listen to and who do you spend most of your time

“We are the reflection of the five people we associate with the most”
– Gregory Scott Reid.

So, does this mean you drop your friends and switch jobs to get away from bad influences?  Probably not…though it might be worth considering. More likely it will be a combination of reducing those negative influences while also increasing the positive.

Increase the positive.

Gain more positive influences.  I recently asked a couple I was counselling how others around them were responding to their upcoming marriage. There was a glance between them and then she said, “Actually all the comments have been jokingly or seriously negative about marriage.” All of them?! I was surprised and yet I began to realize just how common this is in our culture.

Pursue and develop closer friendships with those who are positive about marriage and want to see their relationships grow.  This may mean seeking out new people to spend time with. Pull back from people, including co-workers who degrade their spouse and speak negatively of marriage in general.

While you are taking time to assess your influences check your own words as well. How do talk about your spouse and what are your thoughts? If you want to control your emotions, you need to control your thoughts. Drop the negative and increase the positive.  A great way to do this is to keep a record of rights.  Record in a gratitude journal all the good things about your spouse.  You can start with current things you appreciate or things that attracted you in the first place.  Writing it down is another way to reinforce the positive.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”  Philippians 4:8

Back to Tom and Susan.   They say over time they began to consciously spend more time with couples who were intentional about growing their relationship.  This not only made a big difference in their marriage, they also gained lifelong friends. These relationships provide healthy checks and balances and stimulate learning and growth as you journey together. Perhaps what one couple is facing today, another faced a year ago.  This creates opportunity to grow from others’ experience and brings hope.  Isolation can be pretty dark and overwhelming.

We all need help. Marriage works best in community –  when we journey together with friends through the ups and downs.  We have several friends celebrating their 25th and 30th wedding anniversaries, some even longer.  Notice I said celebrating. Of course there are those who have endured but many of these couples are truly celebrating their long relationship.  Early in our marriage, a friend who was celebrating his 30th anniversary told me: Marriage keeps getting better and better.”  What an encouragement to me. Today as they approach their 50th anniversary, it’s evident that statement is still true.   That’s who I want to hang out with!

Who or what is has the strongest influence on your marriage?

Here’s a challenge: For one week check your influences; media, co-workers, books, and friends. Are they more marriage positive or negative?

Follow-up by making some necessary changes.  Finally, track and celebrate the positive results for your own marriage.  The gratitude journal would be a great place to start. It may be simple but over time, it can transform your marriage.  Remember that changing direction by even one degree on a compass will – over time – completely change your destination.  If your destination is a strong marriage  – full of love and laughter, vibrant, intimate, satisfying – start with a degree of change.  A positive change.

Written by Neal Black

Neal Black

Neal works at Power to Change developing leaders. His passion is to challenge people to listen to God and develop their giftedness as they follow where Jesus leads. Neal and June speak at One Day events for FamilyLife. They love to communicate God’s game-plan for relationships with humour, energy and lots of stories!