Marriage counseling with a Christian counselor can be extremely beneficial for couples who have reached an impasse in their relationship. A skilled Christian counselor can help couples to talk about their relationship problems in a safe way, and assist them in developing strategies to overcome these problems. In addition, a Christian counselor can help couples to evaluate their current priorities and point out possible areas of concern.
Make Your Marriage Relationship a Priority
In my work as a Christian counselor, I find that many of the couples I work with are so busy that they have little time and energy to devote to their relationship. Given all the demands they face, many experience great difficulty in setting healthy boundaries. Yet it is crucially important to make your marriage relationship a high priority. Only your relationship with God should take priority over your marriage. Many couples get off track, with too much focus on parenting children, too many involvements in civic or church activities, or poor boundaries with regard to the demands of their work.
In my years of working with couples, I have found that couples often make great gains in counseling sessions, only to lose ground in-between sessions. This has led me to assign activities for couples to do at home in order to help them maintain progress. In this article, I outline a few of these activities that you might want to try.
Prayer is foundational for a great marriage. Studies indicate that the divorce rate for couples who pray together daily is less than 1%. Given that 50% of all marriages end in divorce, this means that prayer is crucial. Ask your partner how you can pray for them this week and then make sure that you follow through.
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God,which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:4-7
Park the Technology at the Door
We live in a world that is saturated with technology, and there are many benefits to this. Nevertheless, I find that many couples allow their smartphones, tablets, or TVs to distract them from real and meaningful connection with their partners. One study showed that heavy social media use, especially Facebook, significantly correlated with partner troubles and future divorce. To avoid this, plan to schedule some tech-free time with your partner. Here are some ideas to corral technology in your relationship:
- Kick the TV out of your bedroom. Research shows that couples with a TV in the bedroom have sex 50% less often than couples with no TV in the bedroom. In addition, the light from the TV does not promote restful sleep.
- Schedule a Tech Sabbath or Shabbat. Imagine a whole day with no buzzing smartphones, and no emails or Facebook to check. Before the Shabbat, agree on what devices you will be giving up and how long the break will last. Pray together for strength to honor God during this time.
- Set your phone on airplane mode at dinner and when you go to bed.
- Set a timer when using social media sites in order to help you limit your use.
- Stay away from all technology for 90 minutes before bedtime. This will help to improve your sleep and give you time to focus on your partner, or on a quiet activity for yourself or with your children.
Greet Each Other
Greet each other when you arrive home. Stop what you are doing and take a few seconds to hug each other and welcome each other home. Your partner will likely feel that nothing else in your day is more important.
Go for a Walk Together
Save your marriage by going for a walk together. I have joked with many couples that I am planning to write a book with that title. Let me explain the benefits of walking with your partner:
- This requires you to set aside 15-20 minutes to walk with your partner, which takes commitment.
- You are together and away from work, household chores, and other distractions.
- You are usually outside in nature, which can be very enjoyable.
- The left-right motion of walking is actually calming to your brain. In this calmer state, you can connect better with your partner.
- Because you are both facing forward, there is less intensity between you and your partner. For couples who have been experiencing conflict, this lower intensity can set the stage for reconnecting by means of light conversation or just holding hands.
- I often give couples a list of conversation starters for their walks. They can pick one light topic and head out of the door. Many couples report that in this less intense, calmer state, conversation will begin to flow more easily. Why not try this with your partner?
The Power of Gratitude
Our brains tend to be more readily attuned to what is negative, while it takes effort and intention to direct our thinking to what is positive. Scripture reminds us:
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, NIV
Gratitude is a great way to focus on the positive in your relationship. Marriage researcher John Gottman posits that couples need to have five positive interactions with their partner for every one negative interaction. As long as there is five times as much positive feeling and interaction between husband and wife as there is negative, the marriage will be likely to be stable over time. By contrast, he found that couples heading for divorce were doing far too little on the positive side to compensate for the growing negativity between them.
How to Express Gratitude to Your Partner
Here are some ideas for how to express gratitude in your marriage. Place a chalkboard or white board in the main living area of your home. Each day, make a point of writing a note of gratitude to your partner – and make it specific for that day. This helps to build a positive atmosphere in the home. Other ways of expressing gratitude during the day can include:
- Sending your partner a quick text: “Thanks for packing my lunch for me.” “I loved spending time with you last night.”
- Leaving a sticky note on the bathroom mirror or on the car seat.
- Packing a note in your partner’s lunch or suitcase.
1. Small Gestures of Kindness Count
Pay attention to what your partner enjoys. If you are at the store, try to pick up a favorite item that they will love – just because! If your partner enjoys coffee, serve them a cup of coffee in bed as an early morning treat. If you know that your partner really dislikes a particular household chore, do that chore for them. Look for other small ways in which to love and serve your partner each day.
What is desirable in a man is his kindness. – Proverbs 19:22
2. Investigate Your Partner
No, I’m not talking about doing a criminal investigation. But when was the last time you updated your mental file about your partner? John Gottman notes that each of us has a mental file with our partner’s name on it. We have filed all sorts of information about our partner in it, especially from when we were first dating. But your file may be out of date.
Here are some ideas for investigating your partner:
- How did he celebrate birthdays in his family?
- What was the funniest Christmas tradition in her family?
- Did he have pets growing up – if so, get him to talk about the ones he liked best?
You can also ask your partner for more current information:
- If he could see any person or group in concert, who would he choose?
- What is the best book she has read lately?
- What restaurant or type of food would he love to try?
- What do you need most from me right now?
- What are you looking forward to?
Go deeper and discuss spiritual matters:
- What area do you feel more challenged in spiritually right now?
- What do you feel God is speaking to you currently?
- What is your greatest fear?
3. Plan a Surprise
I’m not suggesting that you give up your favorite couple-time activities, but rather that you try and mix in some new activities to do. New and rewarding experiences flood your brain with dopamine, which boosts mood. If you do something rewarding and pleasurable with your partner, that mood boost gets linked to him. Much of day-to-day life is routine, but novelty and surprise can really spice things up in your marriage. Here are some suggestions:
- Pack a picnic and eat dinner at a new park.
- Arrange for the children to stay elsewhere one evening and have a romantic staycation right in your own home.
- Buy tickets to an event you know your partner will enjoy.
4. Games On
If finances are tight or a sitter is not available, why not dust off the scrabble board or backgammon set and play a game. Or get a deck of cards out and play a favorite card game.
5. Weekly Check-In
Set aside a time each week to talk about the upcoming week with your partner. What does your partner’s coming week look like? Are either of you going to be out of town? Is there an unexpected meeting one evening? Ask your partner if you can do something to help to lighten his load this week.
6. Walk Down Memory Lane
Pull out your photos or videos and have some fun remembering a trip or event from the past.
7. Touch More
Skin-to-skin contact is a great way to build closeness and even increase sexual desire. Such contact releases the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin, frequently called the love hormone, has a calming effect on the brain in addition to helping us feel more attached and empathic to our partner. Make a point to hold hands, sit close together in the evenings, and give frequent hugs. Also, consider sleeping in the nude. What better way to have skin-to-skin contact?
8. Go to Bed at the Same Time
Many couples that I work with are in the bad habit of going to bed at differing times, which can give rise to numerous problems. Partners can become more disconnected, and they miss an important opportunity for touch or sexual intimacy. Some partners use this alone time to develop unhealthy relationships on social media or with pornography. Most partners do not intentionally get entangled in these issues, but late night loneliness can provide opportunity for temptations. Do yourself and your marriage a favor and develop the habit of going to bed at the same time.
9. Invest in Your Marriage
If you are looking for additional ideas to strengthen your marriage, I encourage you to read The Love Dare by Stephen and Alex Kendrick. It is filled with ideas for ministering to your partner on a daily basis.
If you incorporate some or all of these activities into your day-to-day life, I believe you will experience more satisfaction and intimacy in your relationship. Couples I have worked with often report that marriage counseling provides greater gains when they are also intentional about doing daily activities between sessions. If you have children in the home, they will always be observing your interactions with your partner. You are their main model for how to have a healthy relationship, so make sure that you are modeling what is good.
Many Christians are very intent on serving God through involvement in ministry, and this can be wonderful. Yet many Christians overlook the important ministry to their partner that can take place right in the home. A pastor friend of mine liked to challenge couples with the idea that their most important ministry was, in fact, in the home. If you want to have an impact across generations and perhaps even change the relationship patterns in your family, then invest time and energy in your marriage. Your child’s future spouse and your grandchildren will one day thank you for this.
Christian Counseling for a Healthy Marriage
If you are looking for a solid Christian counselor to help you make your marriage more vibrant, I would love to work with you. I work from a Biblical worldview and have many years of experience working with couples to improve their marriage. If your relationship is suffering from years of neglect, the devastation of infidelity, or other difficult issues, there is hope for you. Working with a Christian counselor can help you to set your relationship back on the right path. I offer a risk-free first session and can be contacted at Seattle Christian Counseling.
“The Moment,” courtesy of Sean McGrath, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “Hand-in-Hand, courtesy of jill111, Pixabay.com, CC0 Public Domain License; “Couple at the Park,” courtesy of ilraul, CC0 Public Domain License; “Lovers,” courtesy of Splitshire.com