Halfway through our marriage, Ken and I fell into a pit.
In that pit, we developed goals that have and continue to carry us through, by the grace of God. This pit, most would say, would destroy a marriage.
I have a picture of Ken and I in a deep, muddy pit, too deep for us to crawl out. Tangled roots sticking out. We dig our fingers into the mud and attempt to climb out, but it's no use.
God reaches down into the pit and pulls us out. On the way up, we get scraped by tangled roots and covered with more mud. Over the next year and half, God washed us completely clean and gave us a new start and renewed vision for our marriage.
Our goal became to not just "stay married", but stay married and love it. Yes, we want to honor God, knowing it's his best plan for us. But we also know just staying married and despising each other doesn't honor God.
"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I [Christ] have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly." John 10:10
We had experienced the "stealing, killing and destroying" while going down the wrong path, so it made sense that turning around 180 (repentance) and following Christ in our marriage meant to stay married abundantly.
While in our "pit", we admitted that neither of us liked where we were, but we also agreed that we didn't want to just reconcile our marriage; we wanted to make it great. One long-term goal in our marriage is to reach our empty nest years, giddy with excitement over the time we will get to spend together. That means we can't neglect each other for the next 16 years. It means we take a marriage class every year. It means we go out on dates. It means we get help and support when we need it. It means we find common interests and set goals of things we'd like to do together. It means I get to love Ken in new ways all the time.
Here are 5 things that God used to redeem our marriage and continue to make it better every year. I would advise these (and do) to any couple seeking advice in a struggling marriage, or to couples in a rut in a good marriage.
1. The Church
Each following point was birthed from the church. I'm referring here to our local family of believers, with whom we served, lived life and worshipped. At the time, we were in Vegas and at Canyon Ridge Christian Church. It wasn't the church "machine" or the church building, but the people: elders, pastors and other members who came around to support us when we were caving.
By the way, they wouldn't have known we needed help if we didn't ask for it. Your pastor isn't psychic. Our church didn't just have intuition that we needed help. We decided not to keep our mess in the dark. We "outed" ourselves and admitted we needed help.
"Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed." John 3:20; "Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them." Ephesians 5:11
2. Marriage Mentors
Our church set us up with 2 different couples who were older than us to meet with us every few weeks, specifically to talk to us and walk us through marriage issues. Now, Ken and I seek out people with strong marriages and have no problem asking for advice or support. I must add that Ken and I both have parents who have modeled a strong marriage. They also supported us and loved us through our best and worst.
3. Accountability Friendships
These were our closest friends who knew all our business! In an accountability relationship, your friend knows your struggles and specifically asks you how it's going, how you've failed, and how you've overcome. Find these trusted friendships; they keep you in the light. There is no room for hiding secrets in the dark. I would say accountability friendships are the most crucial relationships in a Christian's life. They have been in ours. I John 1:9
4. Professional Counseling
Our church set us up with some short-term professional Christian counseling. (There are some nutsos out there, yes even Christian nutsos, so do your research and find someone good and well-recommended.) After God pulled us out of the pit, our counselor took us by the shoulders, helped us get our bearings, and set us in the right direction. In marriages that are suffering greatly, a third-party is critical for helping each spouse see his or her own issues. The next-best thing (or perhaps THE best) is a 12-week course called "Dynamic Marriage", which leads to my next help...
5. Marriage Courses and Conferences
Dynamic Marriage, Radical Marriage, Love and Respect, Family Life Weekend to Remember, even Financial Peace University, which is truly a marriage class! These are some of the marriage events and classes we have taken. These have allowed us to connect with other couples who share our goals for a strong marriage. They equip us with tools we use to improve ourselves and our marriage, prevent certain problems, encourage, and prepare us for issues we will face down the road.
Lest you think I'm wearing rose-colored glasses, Ken and I don't prance around the house on tiptoe, sprinkling love dust everywhere. We get stuck in ruts, on each other's nerves, focused on our own agendas, busy with the kids, work, and school. But we have these tools in place to help us recognize when we get off track and to get back on to our goals.
I want Ken to look forward to coming home after work. I want to treat him in a way that will make him proud he married me and not ever question his judgement to propose 15 years ago. I cherish the little notes Ken leaves for me, sometimes in the funniest places. I love getting butterflies when he's coming home after being gone on a business trip. Why not set the standard high for our marriage?