The older I get the more I realize that hard work pays off. If you want something great, you have to put in the effort. When someone promises a quick fix, be skeptical and keep your hand to the plow. Marriage is no different. If you aren’t investing in your marriage, you can wake up one day and wonder how the distance happened or how the bitterness festered.
We are called to keep our hearts with all diligence (Prov. 4:23). It seems like this can be especially difficult when you are raising young children. Sometimes you are literally being kicked apart in the night, and being pulled opposite, interrupting directions all day! In later years the evenings can become filled with chauffeuring adolescents to their various endeavors, and you can become ships in the night, barely finding out how each other’s day was. I understand why the empty nest years could be challenging. I don’t want to get to that part of my marriage and wonder who I am living with or what we could be talking about.
Do you get your car oil changed? Teeth cleanings? Annual doctor visits? Most of us do those routine tasks, and yet many neglect the most important roles we serve. Should we wait until our marriage “Check Engine” light is on before we seek help or better communication? No, we need to be diligent in our priorities. And marriage falls right after our relationship with Christ. Laura wrote a great post about being best friends with your spouse. This is a great way to bless your marriage. Cultivating that friendship is key to a marriage that stands the test of time. Perhaps you are on that route, or perhaps you are having some communication issues right now. Either way I think you’ll be blessed by my favorite, simple tip to improve a marriage. I don’t know how I decided to do this, but I can tell you that it is powerful, quick, and effective!
1. Get a 3 by 5 index card, and give it to your spouse.
2. Ask, “What are five things I can do each day to really bless or serve you?” Give him a few minutes to write.
3. Do the items on the list as much as possible. (You don’t have to do them every day. You are just striving to bless him as much as you can.)
Jesus repeatedly called us to serve one another in love. Marriage should wholeheartedly reflect this aspect of our Savior. However, it can be tricky to serve your husband when the needs of little ones are often more inescapable and imperative. Knowing the most impactful ways to serve your husband can help you prepare to do it each day.
Most likely, your husband will ask you to write down five items too. Great! What if he doesn’t? Ask yourself, “Is he not asking me because he is clueless right now, or does he really not care?” If he is clueless, say something like, “Honey, would it help you if I shared with you what really blesses me?” If you truly think your spouse doesn’t care about your needs or wants, keep your mouth shut. Just pray. As you serve him, his heart will probably change. If it doesn’t, I’m so truly sorry. You, however, should continue to try to serve your husband. Your kids will be blessed by your example, and you may be just around the corner from some serious heart change in your spouse. Just as we continue to discipline our children when we don’t see fruit, we are called to serve and love our husbands even when it isn’t reciprocated. So.much.easier.said.than.done. If this is your situation, find someone who will be your prayer warrior. You need a friend to carry the burden with you.
Here is one reason why this exercise is so powerful: We sometimes serve our spouses in time-consuming, challenging ways that mean nothing to them. Usually we serve in ways that we want to be served in. Most likely though, you are married to someone very different than you (God likes it that way! It’s stretching and sanctifying.) This means they want to be served in different ways. Other times, we just misunderstand their cues. For example, I put a lot of effort into feeding my family. I strive to make every meal healthy and delicious. It was my understanding that Travis had high standards for our meals as well. I arrived at this conclusion because he is always very thankful at dinner time. He has this little sigh he does when he takes the first bite and he likes the meal. Every time I hear it, I know I’ve succeeded. He seems to be exasperated whenever dinner is a little later than usual. (Also, his mom is a wonderful cook, so I figured it was his expectation for me to be as well.) Well, we did this index card exercise and “delicious dinner” wasn’t #1. It wasn’t #2. It didn’t even make the list. At first I was shocked. You know what did make the list? “Bringing me a glass of water or something to eat when I don’t even ask.” This almost made me angry. What?! I spend hours slaving in the kitchen, and a 30-second task means more to you?! I figured that he didn’t know what he was talking about. For the next few meals, I took it easy. I baked breaded chicken breasts from Costco, sweet potato fries from a bag, and steamed some broccoli. I waited for the sigh. To my shock, I heard it. I could barely hold back. I may have made it to halfway through the meal before I asked him, “Seriously?! You really don’t care what we have for dinner?!” He promised me that it didn’t matter to him, as long as it was on time. (Some of you may have met Travis or may have read my recipe for Steak Chili, and you will know that statement is a bold-faced lie if it doesn’t come with several caveats. Travis is a picky eater, but as long as I avoid a few of his nemeses, I am in the clear.) Do you think I had a little extra energy that night to bring my husband a glass of water? Yes, yes I did. And now when I’m tired in the kitchen at the end of the day, I can’t think “If only Travis didn’t require such extravagant meals.” He truly does appreciate great food, but he doesn’t necessitate it. It isn’t on his top five. I still try to make food that blesses our family, but it isn’t just for him.
When I wrote down my top five it included him rinsing out the cloth diapers. I was getting so tired of this task, and it turned out he didn’t mind doing it at all. Boy was I thankful that he took this one over! He didn’t have to do it every day, but each time he did, I felt loved.
I would recommend doing this exercise about every six months. Your lives change, your kids’ stages change, you change. You see, I really took the “Bring me a glass of water or something when I don’t ask” request of Travis’ to heart. You know what happened, he told me all our evening snacks were making him fat! He asked me to halt the treats. (Women are not the only moving targets!) It makes sense though. When we are served consistently in a way, it doesn’t seem as appealing. A new desire can pop up, and it keeps marriage interesting if we’re intentional.
Can I be honest? Travis and I have been miscommunicating a lot this week, especially today. He has been very stressed at work, and I’m tired from the sicknesses that have been running through our home. I was scheduled to write a post on marriage (Nice timing, Lord! No coincidence, I’m sure.), but I truly didn’t want to write this tonight. However, I can tell we just need to do this exercise again. Our lives have changed since we last told each other how we want to be served. I’m thankful I know a very simple way to do so.