To love and to cherish is one of the highest callings we make in our adult lives. The giving of ourselves to someone who is uniquely different is a commitment that requires continual nurturing. So how do we grow our marriage to become a deep well of satisfaction, security, comfort, and love? Each relationship will have its own nuances that make it unique; however, there are at least 10 principles that encourage deep connection.
1. Ask your spouse’s perspective; don’t assume the worst. Familiarity makes it easy to slip into a pattern of believing we know what our spouse is thinking or feeling. The truth is, our perception is usually influenced, at least in part, by our own experiences. We tell ourselves we know what is happening in our partner’s heart and mind because we’ve seen a pattern. What we forget is the pattern always involves our own responses that color the outcome. How do we know what’s actually stirring in our lover’s heart? We ask. And before we assume the worst, we trust their deepest intention is for us and our relationship. 1 Corinthians 13: 4,7 “Love….always protects, always trusts”
2. Share your inner world and “true self” with your partner. The most intimate relationship we will know on this earth is the one we share with our spouse. This was by design. Sharing our true self creates close connections and causes us to flourish. So often, our past experiences encourage us to hide behind walls fortified by fears of rejection or insecurity. True intimacy, however, requires risk. Our greatest security comes from deeply knowing and being known and accepted by the one we love. 1 Corinthians 13:12…” then I shall know fully even as I am fully known”
3. Speak with respect and care to them or about them, protecting their reputation. To protect our relationship, we must speak to each other with words that are affirming, not critical or harsh. When angry or hurt, we are especially vulnerable. Unfortunately, we do not often see this principle modeled around us. In a culture that profits from sarcasm, ridicule, and finger-pointing, we must guard our hearts by choosing to listen intently, clarifying where we are unsure, and speaking in love. We must also take great care when discussing our spouse with others. Are we portraying them in the best light, or are we careless with our words? 1 Corinthians 13:4,5,7 “Love….is not proud or rude…it always protects.” 1 Corinthians 13:4,5,7
4. Make memories together. Big trips or small moments can all be opportunities for intimacy and shared meaning. Cherishing your spouse involves making deliberate attempts to focus on each other in ways that nourish your relationship for a lifetime. Sometimes this might involve more lavish expressions like taking that trip you’ve been saving for. But often, memories can be made in your own home. Sure, getting dressed up and dining at a nice restaurant can lead to a memorable evening, but so can making s’mores in the backyard, cuddled up by the fire. Are you and your spouse intentional about creating warm, loving moments that are special just because the two of you are there together? Song of Solomon 4:9 “You have captivated my heart…”
5. Savor your shared experiences. To savor is to “perceive…. with relish” and is a term that gives the impression of deep enjoyment. Can you recall the times when the two of you have grown closer because you’ve been through something together? Maybe those times have been pleasant, like vacations or the birth of children. But often, facing challenges together can bring great depth to a relationship. As couples struggle through difficulty, they develop a new understanding of and trust in each other. Challenges can range from sleepless nights with sick children to building or remodeling a home or surviving a debilitating illness or personal loss. Reflecting on and savoring the life you’ve lived together can bring a sense of warmth and closeness. Philippians 4: 8 “…”Fix your thoughts on what is true and good and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely, and dwell on the fine, good things in others. Think about all you can praise God for and be glad about.”
6. Resolve issues quickly and intentionally. It’s easy to slip into a pattern of ignoring issues or having the same arguments again and again. Keeping such practices alive can erode even the best of marriages. A lack of resolution can lead to more destructive behavior in the short term and bitterness in the long term. If we are quick to address our hurts or the missteps in our interactions with each other, we are more likely to experience strong, healthy relationships. When you are upset, do you discuss your feelings together? Do you apologize when you are wrong? Are you specific in naming the offense and how it hurt? Often, we fear the vulnerability required to resolve conflict. But being open-hearted with your spouse builds trust, reducing friction later on. 1 Corinthians 13:4, 5″Love…keeps no record of wrong”
7. Practice physical touch. Did you know that physical touch can decrease rates of depression while increasing a sense of well-being? Something as simple as a hug, holding hands, or putting your arm around someone your love can boost your body’s happy chemicals while also strengthening your bond. Non-sexual, affectionate touch can increase intimacy between a couple, causing them to feel closer. The tingles you get when he touches the small of your back? The warmth you feel when she grabs your hand? Those are the physical signs that your heart is happy. Song of Solomon 8:3 “His left hand is under my head, his right hand embraces me”
8. Express love and gratitude regularly. The expression of love and appreciation is another proven mood booster that has additional benefits to your relationship. In couples where mutual affection and appreciation are shown, satisfaction is higher. When partners know they are valued, their trust and security with each other increase. Think of how good it feels to know your spouse appreciates you for who you are. Being thankful sends the message that you notice your partner and that their presence in your life is important to you. Have you let your spouse know how much you value them lately? Song of Solomon 4:7,9 “You are altogether beautiful, my darling; there is no flaw in you…you have stolen my heart.”
9. Respond to each other’s needs. One of the signs of a healthy marriage is the assurance that comes when partners are there for each other. When we anticipate each other’s needs, we show how much we care. And nothing is as soothing as when we reach for our partner, knowing they will be there. When you have a physical or emotional need, does your spouse make themself available to you? Do you lovingly reciprocate when needed? Do you really “get” each other, giving support and acceptance even during the hard times? Song of Solomon 3:2 “I will search for the one my heart loves”
10. Make each other a priority. Balancing our time is becoming increasingly difficult. However, making sure your spouse knows their well-being is a priority in your life can be key in feeling secure even in the “busy” seasons of life. Making your love a priority means more than just the amount of time spent together. In some couples, there is a spouse who travels yet they continue to feel genuinely connected. In others, both work from home and are together all day but seem to “miss” each other. A better barometer of making each other a priority may be whether your focus is on each other’s highest good. Are you “for” each other and not just “with” each other? Do you have each other’s best interests at heart? Is your focus on your spouse or your own interests? Do you make decisions based on each other’s likes/dislikes, desires, and opinions, or does it feel like one person is more important in the relationship? When couples prioritize each other, they find that as they consider their partner’s needs, their partner is considering theirs. Mutual love, consideration, respect, and caring – can you think of anything more fulfilling? 1 Corinthians 13: 4,5″Love…is not self-seeking”
The state of marriage is indeed a high calling. However, when entered into by two people who nurture their relationship, making it a “home” of safety, comfort, and love, it becomes a shelter for our hearts that provides deep satisfaction and security.