Would you like to have a resilient marriage? The word resilient means to “spring back into shape, to be elastic, and to have the ability to recover after being pressed.” So, after reading that definition, would you like to have a resilient marriage? Do you want to have a marriage that recovers from whatever attacks it? That can be especially important in today’s world. But how do spouses build a resilient marriage?
First off, you work at it. It’s not something that comes easily. It takes commitment to maturity and intentionality to make it happen. It’s like what Gary Thomas said, “A good marriage isn’t something you find; it’s something you make.” Those with resilient marriages have done what it takes to survive their storms. We all have them. But we don’t all survive them.
And those storms seem to be stepping themselves up. This is especially true since the beginning of this year. We are continually stunned at the multiplied challenges that people are encountering this year. We’re talking about real tough stuff. Many are dealing with life and death issues, along with others. The Corona Virus is just one of many ongoing “challenges.” That’s why it’s so important to work towards having a resilient marriage. If we aren’t intentional in building up resilience, these challenges can break even the best of marriages!
Having a Resilient Marriage
So here are a few points on this matter that we believe you will find helpful as you apply them.
• Those who have a resilient marriage “don’t fall prey to misconceptions about marriage.”
“One thing that can damage our resilience is the mistaken notion that a good marriage equals a calm and peaceful one. … It amazes me that in this day when marriage ministries and materials are so prevalent, couples still believe a great relationship will be a peaceful one. They often feel invincible—especially in the early stages of marriage. This can lead them to deny the impact of stress and family history. Many couples mistakenly think that loving each other means always getting along. But conflict is an inescapable part of marriage if the couple expects their relationship to grow and mature.” (John H. Thurman Jr., gleaned from the article, Seven Secrets to Building Resilience in Your Marriage)
Now, this doesn’t excuse sinful behavior. You need to deal with sinful behavior. But you don’t have to let it take your marriage down. You CAN grow and mature through conflict. But you have to participate in the growing process. You don’t have control over what your spouse does. But you do have control over what you do. We all stand before the cross alone. We’re accountable only for our own behavior.
And yet, we’re the first ones to admit that we don’t always argue in healthy ways. Both of us have acted self-centered at times (especially in the earlier part of our marriage). And we should know better! Even so—we do sometimes give into our sinful natures. However, we continually lean into growing in Christ. He helps us in this maturing process. As we individually grow in Christ, our marriage grows healthier and more loving.
On this same point Francine and Byron Pirola wrote the following:
“Marital resilience starts with a well-grounded understanding of what marriage is and what it isn’t. A lot of couples get themselves into trouble because they expect marriage (that is their spouse) to make them happy. So when they are not happy, they project their unhappiness onto their spouse. This stresses the relationship. … But if you expect your spouse to make you happy, you’ll be disappointed. Plus you will put an unhealthy burden on your marriage. So here’s the big insight:
“Marriage isn’t meant to make you happy; it’s meant to make you holy. In other words, marriage is a pathway to holiness. It’s a mechanism for personal and spiritual growth. This means that at times it’s going to stretch our tolerance and test our patience.” (From the Smartloving.org article, “Marriage Resilience”)
That’s such a good point!
• Spouses in a resilient marriage dial down their criticism of one another.
“Many people value criticism in the early stage of a relationship. But they become allergic to it over time. Remember this: No one can survive in a marriage (at least not happily) if they feel more judged than admired. Your partner won’t make use of your constructive criticism if there is not a surrounding climate of admiration and respect. (Harriet Lerner, from the article, 12 Simple Steps for a Sustainable Marriage)
I learned that principle years ago. I was very disrespectful towards Steve earlier in our marriage. And it definitely caused a lot of damage to our relationship. Somehow God got through to me that I had no right to act disrespectfully towards my spouse. No matter what he did or didn’t do—that didn’t give me an okay to treat him in demeaning ways. I now make it my mission to treat Steve respectfully.
Sometimes I jump all over the edge on this one. But thank God, He lets me know this is wrong. When I listen, this has been most helpful. I usually step back from that line to preserve our relationship. And again—this helps.
When you dial down criticism, you are giving your spouse grace. It’s the type of grace that you want from your marriage partner. This goes along with the next point:
• Spouses in a resilient marriage offer grace to each other.
“The definition of the word resiliency, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is ‘an ability to recover from or adjust to misfortune or change.’ Don’t be so rigid in your expectations of each other you have no room to adjust in the moment of adversity. Offer grace to your spouse and work together to establish a resilient marriage! Build your marriage on the foundation that permits you both to rebound from adversity and remember why you started your journey together.
“The driving motive behind any two-people willing to work through adversity in a relationship is love. How tough is your love? Today, consider ways you can strengthen the pillars of your marriage: love, trust, communication, forgiveness, and intimacy.” (Adam Davis, from his article, “Forging Resilient Marriages”)
Give your spouse the grace that God gives you.
• Couples in a resilient marriage “remember good things about their marriage and each other.”
“’He’s a good father to our boys,’ Sara mentioned when I asked them to list each other’s qualities. ‘And he’s patient. He puts up with my quirks.’ ‘I love how loyal and passionate she is,’ Larry added. ‘Sometimes she goes overboard; but I know her heart’s in the right place.’ …Resilient couples choose to focus on the good as opposed to camping out on the bad.” (John H. Thurman Jr. from the article, “Bounce Back!”)
Philippians 4:8 comes to mind. When we’re caught up into a negative thought pattern this scripture has helped us tremendously. But also have to we apply what it says:
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.“
That particular scripture is my (Cindy’s) life verse. God knows I need it. I can fall into grabbing onto a negative mindset quite easily (too easily). Sometimes God will bring that scripture to mind when I focus too much on Steve’s faults. Focusing on our spouse’s faults can overshadow their good points. When I fall into this negative pattern God reminds me of my own faults. (And I have many of them.) He then encourages me to focus on Steve’s good qualities. And believe me… he has a LOT of them.
When I do this, it’s amazing how my mindset points back into a positive direction. That doesn’t mean that I overlook or excuse poor behavior. But I don’t get stuck there. And this leads us to the next point.
• “Resilient Couples Reinterpret Past Failures and Use Them as Growing Points.
“In other words, they look at past mistakes in order to make positive, life-changing applications.” (John Thurman)
When we do that, we become growth focused. And that’s a great goal to point towards having!
“In a growth-focused marriage each partner takes responsibility for what God wants to do in his or her life. Whenever there is an ‘issue’ they actively seek to apply Psalm 139:23-24: ‘Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me; and lead me in the way everlasting.‘ Their first prayer is, ‘Lord, change me.’ (Gary & Carrie Oliver from their article, “Ready, Set, Grow.”)
This leads us to the next point. In a resilient marriage couples:
• Don’t play the blame game.
“It’s easy for spouses to blame each other when a relationship hits a low point. But blaming almost always leads to counter-blame. And this ultimately leads nowhere. Resilient couples, on the other hand, look inward when things aren’t going well. They ask themselves, ‘What could I have done differently in that situation.’ Or ‘What can I do now to make amends?’ Instead of waiting for the other person to extend an olive branch or change his or her behavior, resilient spouses are proactive in terms of getting things back on track. Taking the high road is more important than being right.” (Michele Weiner-Davis)
And lastly, the following point has also helped us:
• A couple in a resilient marriage can find humor in tough situations.
We jump all over that one! We’ve talked repeatedly about this in other Marriage Insights. But here are two additional things to consider:
“Daily pressures and responsibilities related to finances, childrearing and workplace demands sometimes lead to conflict and tension. A hallmark of a resilient marriage is a willingness to laugh. Couples use humor to halt unproductive communications. A couple I worked with noticed that if their fights were spiraling, it often helped if one was willing to break the tension by smiling, opening their arms and exclaiming: ‘Let’s hug it out!’” (Elisabeth LaMotte)
“Laughter can take care of many ills. It tears down walls. And it repairs what appears to be hopeless. Our Lord is a God of joy. Let His grace, love and humor be the glue in your marriage. You will then behold the abundant riches, which come from a lifetime committed to your spouse.” (Lynn)
We hope that you will work together to make your marriage resilient. Make sure you have a healthy view of marriage. It won’t solve your every problem. But it’s a great platform for partnering through the storms we encounter. Get help when you need it. Don’t wait until your marriage becomes explosive. Dial down the criticism. And look for the good. Use past failures as “growing points.” Don’t use them as weapons. Find ways to laugh together. And please give each other the grace you want from your spouse and receive from Christ our Lord!
Cindy and Steve Wright
To help you further, we give a lot of personal stories, humor, and more practical tips in our book, 7 ESSENTIALS to Grow Your Marriage. We hope you will pick up a copy for yourself. (It’s available both electronically and in print form.) Plus, it can make a great gift for someone else. You can then help them grow their marriage. And who doesn’t need that? Just click on the linked title or the picture below:
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