The most important human relationship you’ll ever have is with your spouse. Protect it at all costs.
We tend to protect things that are important to us. In the past, a wealthy man might build a castle to contain his wealth and household. Today, we don’t do anything important (or expensive) without some form of insurance. Significant purchases all require it in some form, apparently. We buy home and contents insurance to protect our stuff and the dwelling that contains it all, health insurance for our bodies, life insurance to cover those we leave behind in the case of our death—even travel insurance, to ensure we get our money back if something goes awry when we’re away from home.
But what about marriage insurance? In a day and age where some people are still paying off their weddings as the divorce papers are being processed, how can we protect and insure our marriages? Let’s face it—marriage is the biggest investment you’re ever likely to make. It costs a lot of time and money and if it fails, it is likely to cost even more! When a marriage breaks down, it is not only the couple who are hurt but their children, their families, their friends and even their church, social club or school community.
A biblical framework
In the Bible, marriage is often used as a metaphor for the relationship between humankind (or the church) and God. It is a relationship that God seeks to protect. He wants it to succeed and treats it as vitally important—so much so that the daily prayer the Israelites would pray, and what Jesus calls the first and greatest commandment, incorporates a formula to protect it: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your mind and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5).
This love that is referred to is a self-sacrificial love, an attitude of honour, respect and mutual admiration. Love is a choice. You can choose to create an atmosphere, an environment, that helps your marriage thrive and prosper. There is no formula for protecting a marriage as each couple and their experience is different. However, keeping the aforementioned verse in mind, let’s see if we can find some principles to help us.
Protect your heart
The heart is the seat of human emotions (not just the four-chambered pump that forces blood through your vessels). Protecting your heart means informing your emotions. I’ve heard many people say they love their spouse but they’ve fallen out of love. That means they are allowing emotions to cloud their judgement. Most affairs don’t start with sex—they start with emotional attachments to someone who is not your spouse.
Emotions can be controlled. That is a sign of maturity and growth. You don’t roll on the floor and throw a tantrum if you don’t get your way, do you? In other words, set up boundaries around your heart. Don’t share intimate thoughts and feelings with someone who is not your spouse, especially in a one-on-one setting. That is, of course, unless the person is a trained therapist or health professional.
On the flipside, your spouse should know all your emotions, all the intimate details of your inner life. Make a commitment today to be completely open with your significant other. And commit to being a safe place for your significant other to be open with you!
Protect your mind
The mind is the seat of your thoughts. Jesus showed that thoughts and intentions were important when He equated anger with murder and lust with adultery. These often originate in our thought life when we entertain things that are contrary to building up our marriage. The worst mistakes often begin in the mind.
Where are your thoughts focused? I heard a statistic recently that 100 per cent of young boys around the age of 11 have now been exposed to porn. It is pervasive and invasive and can cause a lot of damage to relationships. If one partner is addicted to porn, they will not find their spouse satisfying—which, by the way isn’t just a biblical suggestion: it’s a mandate (Ecclesiastes 9:9). They will entertain fantasy above the real thing. So, control your thoughts.
But more than just trying to stifle bad thoughts, make sure you train your thoughts on your spouse. How often do you go through your good memories in your mind? Do you focus on trying to think of all the good things they’ve done for you recently? It’s easy to fall into patterns of negative thinking. It’s easy to compare and keep tallies in our mind for all the things we’re contributing and all the things they’re not. Allow your mind to develop admiration and fondness for your spouse. Think positively of them and your interactions will grow more positive as you go. You can’t change another person but you can train your mind and your focus on your spouse.
Protect your soul
This one is important. The soul is the seat of your spiritual life. Picture it like a divine spark or flame that animates the rest of your body. When the flame is fed and well-tended, it spreads light and warmth to the rest of you. If it’s neglected, it will grow cold and dark. When you are connected to another person in a relationship, they can also feed or destroy your flame.
Something that helps your flame to flourish is sharing goals, beliefs and vision with your partner, for what your life together will be like. These core values, what you believe and want to align your life with, are really important because if you ignore or compromise them, your flame will dim and you will struggle to be happy. You might become resentful or bitter. Don’t get me wrong, sacrifice and compromise are good things. In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr John Gottman’s research proves that 69 per cent of problems in a relationship are unsolvable. In other words, you don’t have to agree on everything. But on the big foundational beliefs of your life, you should be able to find some agreement.
You and your spouse may have differences of opinion, culture and family of origin. In fact, after you’ve been married a while, you may find that nearly everything is different, even things that you thought were the same. But if you are heading in the same direction, you can look past the little disagreements and both your flames can burn brightly.
Prayer together can be a great activity to share hopes and dreams, have quiet time and ask for help, guidance and strength for your relationship. Have conversations to understand how you are both thinking and feeling about world events, things that happen in your family and in your lives. And have a community of strong relationships around you.
Protect your strength
Strength is found in our hands and arms, often in our actions. So what are you doing to protect your marriage through your actions? This refers to proximity and placement.
Do not use your actions to be flirtatious or touch someone beyond appropriate physical interactions. A handshake or even a hug can be fine but don’t hug for too long and don’t go around giving massages or playful touches. If you make some of these boundaries in the physical space, you will help protect your marriage.
Use your strength to serve your spouse instead. Spend quality time with them. Massage them, do chores, cook and make them gifts with your own hands. Use your strength to serve your spouse and you will find your love will deepen.
For your health
Marriage has been shown to be the most stable relationship for good health and financial status. It’s important enough to be protected. Setting boundaries around what is and isn’t acceptable is a good idea.
If we set boundaries around our emotional, mental, spiritual and physical life, then we are not only investing in our relationships but we are protecting them—for ourselves, for our children and for all those who come into contact with us.
Jarrod Stackelroth is editor of Signs of the Times Australia magazine and lives in Sydney, Australia, with his wife and toddler. A version of this article first appeared on the Signs of the Times Australia/New Zealand website and is republished with permission.