2 Indicators of a Selfless Christian Marriage

“The common denominator between these two actions is they are selfless disciplines that help keep love alive.”

I’m a huge believer in the power of words in marriage. In fact, I believe your marriage will never rise above your words. Your words have power. They carry meaning, have weight and convey emotional tone—good and bad. And just because you use a lot of them doesn’t mean you excel at communicating them.

Couples will often say to me, “We are great at communication because we talk all the time.” But talking doesn’t automatically equate to “good communication,” just as much as hearing someone doesn’t equate to “good listening.”

Your words will have one of two impactful effects: They will tear down or build up. It’s why I so often bring up this great Scripture from Proverbs:

The tongue has the power of life and death. (Prov. 18:21)

Your word choices both reflect the quality of your relationship and determine the trajectory of it. They (words) decide whether your marriage will continue to wither away or proceed toward health. And the only way to manage them is to develop the self-discipline of stewarding what you say through the simple 3 T’s of communication.

Before we were married, it seems that we carried a few more self-disciplines than we do now. Why? We wanted to make a great impression during the courtship process. But, as many couples do, we can lapse a bit and take our marriage (or our spouse) for granted.

Think about the relational dynamics in some of the couples you know. Ask yourself about those that seem to be making the healthiest steps forward. Whether a couple has been thriving for years or attempting to make strides toward growth, you’ll see not perfection but a rise in some disciplines that foster marital vitality.

When it comes to our words, I’ve personally noticed two specific disciplines in action.

1. Listening

I submit to you that one of the best “word disciplines” is listen before you speak. Listening is the discipline of giving ear to your spouse’s concerns. Listening is not allowing your spouse to talk just so you can formulate a comeback. It’s receiving what they’re saying while looking at the world through his or her eyes. It is taking the time to grasp what they are feeling while understanding what it is, specifically, they’re asking for.

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I feel that we live in a culture where we are far more concerned about being understood than giving ear to someone else. And it seems that only those with the loudest voices or most creative words get heard.

I meet far too many couples who act upon what they “think” their spouse needs instead of simply listening to what his or her spouse is saying. And if you’ll listen, you may realize that their first need is to be listened to and, secondly, the needs you are assuming they have may not even be on their radar.

Seek to understand, then to be understood. Be slow to speak and quick to listen. Most of us don’t struggle with finding the right words, we just struggle with listening to them.

2. Encouragement

This might be the most undervalued self-discipline I have come across. Criticism and sarcasm have become more of a social norm and have leaked into our marriages. Far too often, I hear people say, “The only time my spouse communicates is when I’m doing something wrong.” How did we get to the place where we think negative reinforcement outweighs encouragement? Building up your spouse is so very essential, but it’s also simple.

Showing gratitude for the little things:
“Thanks for noticing …”
“When you said/did … it meant the world to me.”

Appreciating the mundane, everyday stuff.
“Thank you for working so hard for our family.”
“Thank you for providing.”
“Thank you for being you.”

Noticing things your spouse thought you overlooked.
“I love how you …”
“It meant a lot to see you do/make/say …”

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Sending notes/texts throughout the day.
“Miss you … love you … thinking about you …”

Encouragement is high-octane fuel. When you are rewarding effort, celebrating progress and feeding hope, you are positioning your marriage to run at peak performance. Does it automatically make you healthy? Not at all. Like a car, there’s still a responsibility to operate it correctly. But that option won’t be there if you don’t put in the right gas. Nobody should out-encourage you when it comes to your spouse. The encouragement you speak puts the right fuel in your marriage to be able to face whatever situation that comes your way.

The common denominator between these two is they are SELFLESS disciplines that help keep love alive. It’s this selflessness that we see modeled in Christ. He didn’t just give to us regardless of how we would respond, he did it joyfully (Heb. 12:2). We can see how centering our lives in Christ and living through his example is pivotal for keeping and making marriages like new. In Christ we are promised new hearts (2 Cor. 5:17), having new outlooks that free us to selflessly and wholeheartedly listen to and encourage our spouses.

Dave Barringer (@PDBarringer) is the lead pastor at Kalamazoo First Assembly of God in Portage, Michigan. He blogs about pastoring and marriage at PDave.me.