Every year we hear news of another failed PW marriage. How many do you know?
Today we hear of more PW marriages failing than a generation ago. In the past, most PWs came from stable homes, even if their parents weren’t believers. Today a much higher percentage of PWs come from broken home backgrounds. Furthermore, many young people have no model of a strong, healthy marriage. Add to this the stresses of cross-cultural work. A marriage that is shaky at home may stay together because of extended family or available counseling; while the same marriage overseas may break up because of isolation and different social mores.
Let’s consider what is important in a marriage– the non-negotiable needs for a successful marriage, whether at home or living cross culturally.
My husband describes marriage love with a bull’s eye diagram. The outer ring, he calls the fence. It is covenant love. This is the promise we make at our wedding to love, no matter what circumstances may befall. It is the love that we reaffirm every time we choose to do the loving thing for our spouse. It is laying down our lives one moment at a time for the one we vowed to love. Fence love sustains us when the storms of life threaten to swamp us.
The middle ring he calls the friendship. This is the love of true companionship: our common interests; our shared joys and sorrows. It is the time we spend with each other– learning, sharing, and caring. If it grows it sweetens all of our relationship. If it shrinks, through neglect, or turns bitter and unforgiving, our marriage dies.
The innermost ring he calls the fire. This is sexual love. As long as the fire is inside the covenant and friendship of marriage, it is safe. The Creator wisely placed sexual love in a context where it is protected by a covenant and enriched by our companionship. Outside of the other two loves, it is a dangerous wildfire that promises a thrill, but always destroys. Sexual love is exciting and adds spark to our relationship. It will change in intensity and frequency over the years, but it can remain a vital part of a healthy marriage most of our lives together.
With the fence, friendship, and fire of marriage in mind, let’s consider ways to strengthen friendship in marriage.
Forgiveness. In our experience working with couples, the strongest marriage tonic is forgiveness. Couples who have learned the art of asking and granting forgiveness have the healthiest marriages. The shorter the length of time the acids of hurt and resentment eat at the relationship, the more effective is the neutralizing effect of forgiveness. Take seriously the injunction to never let the sun set on your anger, and you will not live with the tension of unforgiven hurts. Only two times in 39 years of marriage have we let anger simmer overnight. We remember because of the strain between us the following day. By the time we dealt with the problem, we couldn’t remember the original offense because so many other irritations had gathered in the stew of wounded feelings.
Friendship requires time. We cannot have a friend if we won’t spend time together. No matter what the culture of the place you are serving, no matter the pressures of your team, no matter what, you must take time with your husband for the sake of your marriage. You may have to explain to the nationals or to your team members why you are taking time to spend as a couple, but in the long-run they will be impressed by the strength and health of your marriage. Take some time every day, a longer block of time each week, and day or so each month as a minimum.
One of our greatest concerns for the pastors in our host country is their lack of family time. They have let their people think they are available 24/7. As a result, every conversation is interrupted by some “need” of the people they serve. There is never a time they can relax and know it is just for them to laugh or play or cuddle or cry together. The building blocks of marriage are scattered and shattered. It is no wonder to us that many of their marriages are broken or crumbling.
Friendship thrives with thoughtfulness. Thoughtfulness asks, “How can I make life easier for you?” My husband shows his thoughtfulness by his phone calls. He calls while he’s out shopping to see if there is anything else I want at the store, when he’s going to be later than expected, and sometimes just to say, “I was thinking about you.” Thoughtfulness is taking into account how our actions affect those around us. Thoughtfulness makes even the most difficult times more enjoyable. Making a habit of thoughtfulness makes our spouse feel important, remembered, and loved.
Friendship is strengthened by thankfulness. We can so easily take our husband for granted. Thankfulness is the answer. Strong marriages are full of quick thank-yous and occasional bigger displays of thanks. Thank him for thoughtful things he says or does. Thank your husband for things he does occasionally that you would like him to do more. Make sure your thanks are more frequent than complaints. Thankfulness is also the antidote to longing for what you don’t have. Being thankful for what you do have keeps you too busy to pine over the unattainable.
A widower once said, “Make sure you say thanks now because the time may come when you can’t say it.” I think that goes for more than just thanks. Marriages grow strong and healthy on encouraging words. A tender word spoken at the right time can help your husband cope with weights he has carried home with him.
So when we see a strong and healthy marriage, we see a couple who have learned to treat each other with forgiveness, thoughtfulness, and thankfulness. They spend time together because they enjoy each other’s company. All couples have periods of stress, but successful couples see their relationship as a haven.
Take a step today toward a stronger marriage. Let’s have marriages that beat the odds. To read more, go to this link: Growing a Great Marriage on Intermin.org.