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12 Choices for An Extraordinary Marriage (Part Two)

I invited my friend Kristen Hogrefe to share some of her insights into marriage as she and her husband recently celebrated their first wedding anniversary. (Learn more about Kristen’s talented writing and her award-winning novels at the end of this article.*)

In this two-part series, Kristen explains 12 choices that create extraordinary marriages.

Whether you are a newlywed or a seasoned spouse, practicing these guidelines will be a blessing in your home!


by guest writer Kristen Hogrefe

Last week, we saw six choices that can help make our first year of marriage—or any year, for that matter—extraordinary. Today, we’re going to look at six more. Whether you’re engaged, newly married, or married for decades, we can all start today, by God’s grace, to make our marriages the best they can be. (Read Part One HERE.)

#7. Be interested in what interests your spouse.

James tells me he’s read more books since meeting me than he has in the rest of his lifetime. That’s a credit to him for wanting to care about something that interests me. On the other hand, I’ve gotten into mountain biking because of him and really enjoy off-road biking now.

I’m not saying you have to change your interests because of your spouse. Instead, you should expand them so that you each spend more time with your spouse doing something important to him or her. The impact on your relationship will be the best return you can make on any time investment.

#8. Encourage time apart.

Some couples become so absorbed in each other that they completely lose their identity and their friend groups, which is entirely unhealthy. You are still two people. Even though you have mutual friends and are each other’s favorite person in the world, he needs some time with the guys, and you need girl time. James has been wonderful about encouraging me to take a night out with my friends, and I’ve encouraged him to do the same. We’re both better for it.

#9. Always give more and never keep score.

Try to “out give” each other. This is a challenge I’m striving to practice. It means buying the brand of Fig Newtons he likes (even though I don’t) or putting his favorite chocolate chip cookies in the oven “just because.” It means looking extra special just for him or finding a fun way to surprise him.

Secretly, I suspect James is practicing on me too. The other night, my stomach was upset, and even though we had both gone to bed, he offered to get up and get me some Tums and something to drink. (I didn’t want to get up, and I imagine he didn’t either.) But he did. Because loves cares about upset tummies.

A marriage of two givers is a beautiful thing. 

#10. Shoot the little foxes before they reproduce.

“Catch us the foxes, The little foxes that spoil the vines, For our vines have tender grapes.” (Song of Solomon 2:15 NKJV)

Solomon used foxes as a metaphor for any subtle little thing that tries to drive a wedge in your marriage. He understood that “little foxes” can damage tender relationships. Even the biggest fires start with a little flame.

He said to catch the foxes. I say shoot them dead. I’m more convinced than ever that the Devil hates marriage and wants to stir up strife through any little thing he can get his hands on. She forgot to change out the toilet paper roll? So what. You’d have to replace it yourself if you were living alone. He forgot to take out the trash? Take it out yourself. Don’t let little things become big deals. 

One practice that helps is by rehearsing all the kind things your spouse does. If I catch myself starting to complain about something, instead I remind myself, “He is such a good griller. He made me dinner last night.” Or, “I love that he helped me clean the house to get ready for my girlfriends.” Focusing on the positive puts any little annoyances in perspective.

#11. Be your best self.

One of the best gifts you can give your spouse is to take care of yourself physically and stay attractive. You’re doing yourself and your own sex drive a serious favor here too. There is no reason you should gain twenty pounds your first year of marriage, even if one of you is an exceptional cook. Don’t get “lazy” just because you no longer have to fit into a wedding dress. 

I’m sorry/not sorry if I’m hurting any feelings here, because I feel so strongly about this point. As the Bible explains, your body isn’t your own any more. It’s your husband’s too (I Corinthians 7:4). He’s equally responsible for maintaining his body and health as well. No matter how you age or what changes your body goes through, never stop striving to be fit and healthy. That doesn’t mean you’ll be a super model, and please don’t even start comparing yourself to someone who looks like one. It just means you’ll be the best version of yourself.

If you find yourself making an excuse right now, put a pin in it and instead ask, “What CAN I do?” Maybe you can join a gym together or keep each other accountable to eat fewer sweets. We all can do something. The key is consistency and accountability.

#12. Have “an anointed adventure.”

When we were doing marriage counseling, the pastor spoke about the need for “an anointed adventure.” In other words, our marriages should be about something greater than ourselves. He challenged us to think about what that adventure might look like for us.

After talking and praying about it, James and I discovered ours. We want to love people well and have a home that feels like a haven or a welcoming place. Our dream is to one day live on a lake and create our own “retreat” environment. I’m not sure when that dream will be realized or what it will look like, but we’re practicing hospitality where we are right now.

Every couple’s anointed adventure will be different, so don’t compare yours to someone else’s. Remember that God gifts everyone in different ways. Also remember that you and your spouse can still minister separately as well, but choose at least one area where you can serve together.

Closing thoughts

Looking back over our first year together, I almost feel the need to pinch myself at how wonderful it’s been. I want this joy to be yours too, and I hope some of these ideas will help. Of course, difficult times and disappointments will come and probably already have, but let’s always remember how blessed we are to have our spouses. They are a gift. Let’s treat them that way.

What other choices and intentional investments have made a difference in your marriage? Please comment and share!


*Kristen Hogrefe is an award-winning author and life-long learner who enjoys starting her day with Jesus and coffee. Kristen and her husband live in Florida, the perfect setting for their many outdoor adventures.

Connect with Kristen at www.KristenHogrefe.com, where she challenges young adults and the young at heart to think truthfully and live daringly.

12 Choices for an Extraordinary Marriage (Part One)

choices

I invited my friend Kristen to share some of her insights into marriage as she and her husband recently celebrated their first wedding anniversary. (Learn more about Kristen’s talented writing and her award-winning novels at the end of this article.*)

In this two-part series, Kristen explains twelve choices that create extraordinary marriages. Whether you are a newlywed or a seasoned spouse, practicing these guidelines will be a blessing in your home!

by guest writer Kristen Hogrefe

Just over a year ago, my husband and I said “I do.” Like most new couples, we received lots of advice, and we welcomed what wisdom others had to share. 

However, one recurring comment troubled me: “The first year of marriage is hard.” Although I understood that we would both have adjustments to make, I didn’t like this “survivalist” mentality. After all, Jesus came so that we could have life “more abundantly” (John 10:10), and surely that concept applied to marriage, part of His design. But what did I know?

Well, I have good news. The first year of marriage doesn’t have to be hard. In fact, it can truly be extraordinary, but both husband and wife are responsible to each other to make it that way.

#1. Agree that you married the right person.

Once you say, “I do,” this one is signed, sealed, and delivered. In God’s eyes, that person is now the “right person” because you made a covenant before Him with this individual. You can’t make the excuse, “I married the wrong person.” The truth is that anyone you marry will disappoint or upset you at one point or another, and that reality doesn’t make him or her the “wrong person.” 

In short, remove this excuse from your vocabulary. Resist the temptation to compare your spouse to any other person. It’s not a fair comparison, because you don’t know anyone’s strengths and weaknesses as well as your spouse’s. This person, complete with brokenness and beauty, is God’s plan for your life. Relish that reality and that privilege.

#2. Be kind and thoughtful to each other.

This one should be a no-brainer, but if the Apostle Paul felt the need to remind his readers, then more than likely we can use the reminder too. “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32 NKJV)

Marriage brings adjustments. You each bring different life experiences and personal habits into the relationship. Instead of expecting the other person to be just like you, embrace the differences. Also, make room for changes.

When we got married, James moved into my house. Realizing what a big change this would be for him, I rearranged and gave away furniture to make room for his. I also practiced saying “our home” instead of “my home” and tried to look for ways to incorporate his things. 

Everyone’s situations are different, but during those first early weeks and months, be sensitive and aware of simple ways to make the transition smoother. When in doubt, ask what you can do.

#3. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.

My husband and I marvel at how much other couples seem to fight. We’re redeemed sinners like every other Christian couple, but we don’t argue or yell at each other. If we disagree, we talk about it. If we’re having a bad day, we’re honest about it. If we mess up, we have to apologize.

I remember having a particularly rough day at work. Coming out of my office, I found James working on his laptop and told him straight: “It’s been a tough day, babe, and I’m pretty upset about it. Just know that it has nothing to do with you.”

Don’t make your spouse guess if you’re upset with him or not. Be transparent. Once James knew how I was feeling, he was able to lovingly support me through my emotions instead of wondering if he were somehow responsible for them.

#4. Be realistic. Your spouse is not a mind-reader.

Gals, this point is especially for us. We sometimes romanticize our spouses and expect them to know exactly what we want. That expectation is just not realistic. 

A few months into our marriage, I kept seeing these posts from my girlfriends about their guys giving them flowers “just because.” I wished that James would do the same, but then I remembered something my brother once told me. “We guys aren’t mind-readers.”

The next time James asked if there was something he could do for me, I simply said, “I’d really appreciate if you gave me flowers sometime. It might seem silly, but I’d love to get flowers from you.”

He smiled and thanked me for telling him. “I didn’t realize how long it’s been since I got you flowers.” Guess what? He brought home flowers soon after that.

#5. Have adventures together.

I realize the wedding and honeymoon are expensive, but find ways to experience life together. James and I love to travel, so we’ll hunt for cheap-o flights, plan visits to see friends, or even just drive to the beach to watch the sunset. Adventures don’t have to be pricey. You just have to be intentional about planning them.

The time you spend together sharing new or favorite experiences contributes to both of your “love tanks” and builds memories.

#6. Grow together with Christian community and with Jesus.

This one is so, so important. After we got married, we tried several Sunday school classes for couples until we found our Honeymooners class. There is something so precious about doing life with other couples who are walking in your shoes. Also, being intentional about learning together deepens your relationship and fosters healthy conversations. With our class, we’ve gone through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace Academy and are currently in the Love and Respect series by Emerson Eggerichs.

In addition to Christian community, husbands and wives should spend time together in God’s Word and alone with God. This year, James and I have been reading through the book of John and are looking forward to starting a new book soon. We also have our separate quiet times in our own ways. However, don’t fall into the trap of comparing your walk with God to your spouse’s. What matters is that you both invest in God’s Word and are committed to growing in your walk with the Lord, even if your approaches are different.

Also important is that you consistently pray for your spouse. Two resources I’ve found helpful are Jennifer Smith’s 31 Prayers for Your Husband and The Power of a Praying Wife by Stormie Omartian.

Next time, we’ll look at six more choices couples can make to get their marriage off to a great start. For now, which of these ideas is most helpful to where you are right now?


*Kristen Hogrefe is an award-winning author and life-long learner who enjoys starting her day with Jesus and coffee.

Kristen and her husband live in Florida, the perfect setting for their many outdoor adventures. Connect with Kristen at www.KristenHogrefe.com, where she challenges young adults and the young at heart to think truthfully and live daringly.

Marriage according to the Master

summer-fun-on-the-lake-1-834491-mLooking for God’s direction concerning
your marriage? Here is some clear instruction from 1 Corinthians 7—along with some encouragement and challenge, too:

Marriage is not a place to “stand up for your rights.” Marriage is a decision to serve the other….

[I]f you are married, stay married. This is the Master’s command…. If a wife should leave her husband, she must either remain single or else come back and make things right with him. And a husband has no right to get rid of his wife.

… If you are a man with a wife who is not a believer but who still wants to live with you, hold on to her. If you are a woman with a husband who is not a believer but he wants to live with you, hold on to him. The unbelieving husband shares to an extent in the holiness of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is likewise touched by the holiness of her husband. …

bike-friends-1008533-m[I]f the unbelieving spouse walks out, [God calls us to handle this] as peacefully as we can. You never know, wife: The way you handle this might bring your husband not only back to you but to God. You never know, husband: The way you handle this might bring your wife not only back to you but to God.

And don’t be wishing you were someplace else or with someone else. Where you are right now is God’s place for you. Live and obey and love and believe right there. God, not your marital status, defines your life.

“Scripture taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.”

Mighty Men in Marriage

Big boys are everywhere, but where are the men?

Where are the men who stand taller than passivity? Where are the men who are mighty in marriage?

There are such men. There are real men who have the strength to shoulder responsibility, the nobility to keep promises, and the character to carry leadership. Husbands of such greatness are men who “cleave” to their wives. With a commitment to “stick like glue,” these men CLEAVE:

Cover.  The Scriptures teach that a man is to “cover” his wife. He covers her like a roof when he shelters her, and he covers her like an umbrella in the rain when he protects her. He covers her like a blanket on a cold night when he warms her with tenderness and comforts her with care. With his strength and his devotion, a husband “covers” his wife’s physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.

We see this imagery in the Old Testament when Ruth says to Boaz, “Spread the corner of your covering over me” (Ruth 3:9, NLT). In this reference to Boaz’s cloak, Ruth is actually asking for the protective covering that a husband provides through marriage.

(God tells husbands specifically not to “cover” their wives with violence. “For the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I hate divorce  . . .  and him who covers his garment [his wife] with violence” (Malachi 2:16, Amplified).

Lay down. Following the example of Christ Himself, a husband lays down his life for his covenant partner (Ephesians 5:25; 1 John 3:16). He lays down his singleness, his selfishness, and his self-focus.

Encourage radiance. The goal of a husband’s ministry to his wife is to encourage her radiance.  Just as Christ works for the radiance of His Bride, so a godly man nurtures the emotional health and spiritual thriving of his wife.

Eugene Peterson paraphrases it this way: When Christ speaks to His bride, His words “evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They’re really doing themselves a favor—since they’re already ‘one’ in marriage.” (Ephesians 5:25-28, MSG)

Her radiance becomes his joy–it’s a win/win situation!

Always love. Husbands are called to love their wives with agape love, which is an unconditional commitment to give to another. The apostle Paul wrote, “Husbands, love your wives [be affectionate and sympathetic with them] and do not be harsh or bitter or resentful toward them” (Colossians 3:19, Amplified).

Value.  The Scriptures direct men to respect their wives as equals before God:
“[Y]ou husbands must give honor to your wives. … [Your wife] is your equal partner in God’s gift of new life. Treat her as you should so your prayers will not be hindered.” (1 Peter 3:7, NLT)

A successful man values the God-designed strengths and abilities of his wife, as well as her innate worth as an immortal spirit created in the image of God. “The man who finds a wife finds a treasure, and he receives favor from the Lord”      (Proverbs 18:22, NLT).

Enjoy!  “Relish life with the spouse you love,” said wise King Solomon (Ecclesiastes 9:9, MSG).  Any husband is wise, too, who determines to enjoy the unique gifting and beauty of his covenant partner.

The man who CLEAVEs is a mighty man, indeed! To CLEAVE is to move toward unusual greatness and remarkable success, for the calling of a godly husband is nothing less than to reveal the character of God Himself.

 

“Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Genesis 2:24, KJV).

 

How to Change Your Marriage … Right Now

How do you see your marriage–as a power struggle? a fight for your rights? a duty? a trap? Let me suggest a radically different perspective. What if you saw your participation in your marriage as an act of worship? If you will see your “wife-ing” or your “husband-ing” as an act of worship, your marriage will become a whole new thing to you.

Romans 12 tells us to present our bodies to God as acts of worship; we can do this with our marriages, too! We can offer to God our involvement in our marriages as acts of worship. With each action and each thought toward our spouses, we can say to God, “I present this as an offering to You.”

Worship involves choosing and valuing. Husbands can worship God by saying to Him, “I will love this woman by sacrificing myself for her because I choose You as my God and because I value You above all else.” Wives worship when they say to God, “I will respect this man and prioritize his needs because I choose You as my God and because I value You above all else.”

When we “do marriage” as an act of worship, nothing is ever wasted; nothing is ever lost; nothing is ever in vain. Even bitter circumstances are fully redeemed in the sweetness of worship. Ugly hurts are transcended by the beauty of holiness. Acts of love which cost us deeply become the expensive perfume which we are pleased to pour on the feet of Jesus. Every act of genuine worship enriches us; every time we love our spouses as an act of worship to God, we are enriched.

In our marriages, we want “love as worship” to be a consistent lifestyle, not sporadic incidents. We are committed to this worship whether or not our spouses join us in this perspective. Yielded to the Spirit, we embrace our marriages as sacred places of deeply profound worship.

Forget Your Marriage!

Forget your marriage. 

Why would someone who is committed to encouraging marriages tell you to forget your marriage? What I mean is this: Focus on your spouse, not on your marriage.

Trying to achieve a certain kind of marriage can make us crazy! This is misplaced energy; we are actually off-target when we are focused on the marriage itself. We do not take our marriages with us to heaven; we take people with us to heaven. We have been called to love someone, not to create a particular kind of marriage.

Focus on loving your spouse, serving his or her needs as God directs. This will have the effect of blessing your marriage, of course; but you will have a much healthier focus. You can thrive when you let go of trying to manipulate your marriage and instead focus on valuing your spouse. Your spouse is the real treasure, not the marriage itself.

When I say, “forget your marriage,” what I mean is this: Focus on what your loving looks like, not on what your marriage looks like. As we stand before God, we are not responsible for the condition of our marriages; we are responsible for the way we serve in our marriages.

We can torment ourselves by continually measuring our marriages against our version of the ideal marriage. We can live free from that! Instead of evaluating our marriages, we want to evaluate ourselves as husbands and wives. As we ask God for insight into the needs of our spouses, we also ask God to enable us to minister to those needs according to His wisdom and purposes.

(adapted from Radiance: Secrets to Thriving in Marriage)

My New Favorite Book on Marriage

“Yes! Yes! That’s right! That’s it!” That was my ongoing mental refrain as I read This Momentary Marriage by John Piper last week. It is an excellent primer on marriage, dealing with the most basic, most essential, and most profound aspects of marriage, such as the purpose of marriage, the key strengths of marriage, and the roles of headship and submission. I highly recommend this book! You can purchase the book, or you may download the free PDF of the entire book by going to the Desiring God website:   http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/online-books/this-momentary-marriage.

Piper does a great job of emphasizing the foundational truth of marriage, which is that marriage is a picture of the love relationship between Christ and His bride. On that topic, here are several excerpts from This Momentary Marriage:

Staying married, therefore, is not mainly about staying in love. It is about keeping covenant. “Till death do us part” or “As long as we both shall live” is a sacred covenant promise—the same kind Jesus made with his bride when he died for her. Therefore, what makes divorce and remarriage so horrific in God’s eyes is not merely that it involves covenant-breaking to the spouse, but that it involves misrepresenting Christ and his covenant. Christ will never leave his wife. Ever. There may be times of painful distance and tragic backsliding on our part. But Christ keeps his covenant forever. Marriage is a display of that! That is the ultimate thing we can say about it. It puts the glory of Christ’s covenant-keeping love on display.  (p. 25)

Marriage is not mainly about being or staying in love. It’s mainly about telling the truth with our lives. It’s about portraying something true about Jesus Christ and the way he relates to his people. It is about showing in real life the glory of the gospel. (p. 26)

 Marriage is more wonderful than anyone on earth knows. … The reason we need the Spirit’s help [to understand the glory of marriage] is that the wonder of marriage is woven into the wonder of the gospel of the cross of Christ, and the message of the cross is foolishness to the natu­ral man, and so the meaning of marriage is foolishness to the natural man (1 Cor. 2:14).  ( p. 29)

 

A “Word for Your Marriage”

“Welcome one another, therefore, as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:7, RSV).

The apostle Paul gave this instruction to all believers in Christ. But Dietrich Bonhoeffer pointed out that these words also create an excellent guideline for husbands and wives to apply specifically in their marriages.  While imprisoned by the Nazis during World War II, Bonhoeffer wrote a letter to his niece, who was engaged to be married. In “A Wedding Sermon from a Prison Cell,” Bonhoeffer gives this counsel:

Don’t insist on your rights, don’t blame each other, don’t judge or condemn each other, don’t fault with each other, but accept each other as you are, and forgive each other every day from the bottom of your heart. … From the first day of your wedding till the last, the rule must be: ‘Welcome one another… for the glory of God’ ….That is God’s word for your marriage.

What a great application! The Greek word used in Romans 15:7 is proslambano, translated as “welcome” in the RSV, and as “accept” in the NIV. Proslambano means “to take to one’s self; to take as one’s companion; to take or receive into one’s home, with the collateral idea of kindness; to receive, i.e. grant one access to one’s heart.” (www.blueletterbible.org)

Certainly, proslambano is something to offer to our spouses–especially to them! Continually, we can be welcoming to our spouses as we receive their presence with warmth and with gladness. We can receive them with kindness and grant them access to our hearts. Instead of sensing rejection or mere tolerance, our spouses can live “welcomed” by our spirits.

As our spouses interact with us, what do they encounter?

Padlock.

 

 

 

 

Head Signs

Old Testament Nazarites, such as Samson, wore long hair as a symbol of consecration to God. In the New Testament, married women wore long hair as a symbol of marital consecration. The Scriptures say that this sign of submission is important “because of the angels” (1 Corinthians 11:10, NIV). Could it be that godly submission to a husband provides a wife with a spiritual covering which is recognized by angels?

The writer of Hebrews tells us that angels are “ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation” (Hebrews 1:4). Do angels see a spiritual mark, as it were, on godly wives, indicating that these are the ones whom the angels are to serve?

A man who is not considerate and honoring toward his wife loses spiritual strength; his prayers become impotent. (See 1 Peter 3:7.) Perhaps in the same way, a woman who is not submitted in spirit to the needs and glories of her husband loses the personal ministering of angels to herself.

Although the sign on the head need not be literal, the spiritual principle is firmly established: the way we obey God in our marriages has profound implications for our spiritual status—and, therefore, our entire being.