How to improve your marriage

Margaret and I have been married now for over 50 years. It's been a bumpy ride at times but we've come through and learned a lot on the way. As voluntary counsellors with the Manna House Counselling Service it was our privilege together to counsel many other married couples about difficulties in their relationship. We've noticed that a number of issues that were significant for us also keep cropping up as we counsel others. So here's our advice:

1.  Be committed.
For Christians, our commitment to each other refrctsf God's commitment to us. Love your partner for Jesus, even if you don’t feel you can love them for themselves.

2.  Keep talking.
Don’t expect your partner to be a mind reader. Let them know what you want, what you expect, how you’re feeling.  Make time to spend together.

3.  Keep listening.
A listening ear is the best gift you can give anyone. Give your partner your full attention. Reflect back what you think they are saying to show you’ve understood. Don’t start working out your reply before your partner has finished talking.

4.  Keep forgiving.
Remember, God only forgives you on condition that you forgive others.

5.  Submit but don't be a doormat.
Marriage is a partnership. The Bible exhorts you each to submit to the other but that doesn't mean being walked all over.

6.  Share your feelings without blaming each other for them.
Don’t say “You’re making me angry,” say “I’m feeling angry.” 

7.  Keep your love bank account in credit.
When you do something that makes your partner feel loved, it’s like making a deposit in a bank account. Your credit with them goes up.

8.  Make deposits in the right currency.
Everyone has their own love currency (sometimes called a love language). For example  “Come and help me” can mean “I need you and I like doing things with you” or it can mean “You're my slave”, depending on the situation and the love currency of the person you say it to. One way it’s a deposit, the other way it’s a withdrawal. It’s easy to show love in your own love language or love currency. It takes special thought and understanding to translate (change) it into your partner's.

9.  You can’t change your partner but God can.
When talking to them doesn’t help, talk to God about them.

10.  You can change yourself with God’s help.
Sometimes changing your own behaviour can change the dynamics in a marriage in such a way that your partner changes too.

11.  Talk like adults and play like children.
If you are always complaining or telling your partner off, you’ll come across as a nagging or angry parent who is treating them like a child. Don’t be surprised if they throw a tantrum like a hurt child in response. Talk to each other intelligently and politely as equals. You don’t have to be adults all the time though; let your inner child come out to play with each other sometimes.

12.  Keep your sense of humour.
It always helps to see the funny side of things – and there usually is one!

13.   Rely on God for love, affirmation, comfort, security and self worth. Don't expect your partner to provide you with these.  Love your partner out of the security of being loved by God yourself.

14.  Don't be too proud to seek help together if you are facing difficulties.