Marriage during the best of circumstances takes daily nourishing and fine-tuning. But, right now, we all feel a little caged. So, a marriage struggling with issues feels even more difficult.
Does your marriage feel a little like a car that was once reliable, had that new-car smell, but now seems to demand one fix after another? You go to put new shocks on it only to find out the back-right strut needs repair, too. Nothing seems to be an easy fix. It needs some attention and fine-tuning.
Your marriage may feel like it’s got a case of the clunks right now. Like it has issues that need addressing, but feel too time-consuming and more hassle than you want to deal with.
However, now may be the perfect time to fine-tune your marriage.
Even though when you’re forced, for whatever reason, to spend extra time together, it may exacerbate underlying issues; you also have an opportunity to tackle them, together, one at a time. With minimum former distractions, why not intentionally set aside time each day to work on your relationship? Invest the time to fix the motor now before you find yourself on the side of the road.
To successfully fine-tune your marriage, let’s agree to some ground rules for this healing time.
- Create a safe place free from interruptions.
- Agree that each person practices active listening when the other is talking.
- Promise not to interrupt the other person to refute or justify your position.
- Understand some issues that might arise can’t resolve in one discussion.
- Choose to believe the other person has your back.
- Ask thoughtful, insightful follow-up questions when the other has finished talking.
- Agree that, at any point, you can ask to continue working through the questions later or the next day. No storming off and shutting the other out, but create space for each person to think or catch your breath as necessary.
- Start with written thoughts if it’s easier. Each person takes 10-15 minutes to review the questions and jot down some answers. Then read your responses to each other to open further discussion.
Now, get comfortable. View this time as an opportunity to grow together and learn something new about each other. Remember, every practice moves you toward deeper intimacy in your marriage.
Start here. Ask each other these 15 questions to fine-tune your marriage.
- What do you think our problems are?
- What issues do you think are most important?
- How are we doing with our relationship overall?
- What one thing do you think would make our relationship stronger?
- Are we going through a bad phase right now, or is it something more?
- What do I do that bothers you or makes you feel “less than”?
- Do you love me? If so, what kind of love is it?
- Do you trust me?
- Are you satisfied with our sex life?
- Do you feel accepted by me?
- Do we have anything between us that is unresolved?
- Is there anything you need to tell me but are afraid of how I’ll react?
- Do you consider me your best friend?
- What dreams do you have for our marriage and future?
- Do you believe it would enhance our marriage if we sought counseling?
You cannot fine-tune your marriage if you don’t honestly check-in with each other.
If you don’t know what’s wrong, how can you work on repairing it? You can’t. You drift farther apart. One exciting aspect of marriage is the continual discovery of your spouse’s nuances.
During one of our check-ins, I learned that, too often, I try to fix a problem without hearing Dave all the way through. Does that sound familiar?
When I asked a follow-up question to clarify what he meant by that, I learned that sometimes he simply wants to convey his feelings even though he knows they may not be factual. He already knows the answer but needs to express his feelings and struggles to move beyond the obstacle. When I try to fix the issue, especially if I wouldn’t struggle in that way, I invalidate him. I’m not practicing active listening. In fact, I’m not listening at all when I rush to the solution.
Every person desires to be heard. Fine-tuning a marriage requires meeting that desire for the other.
These check-in times often reveal ways you can help each other process.
One helpful way to process for Dave and me is a type of “codeword or phrase” system. We identified repeated issues we struggled with and assigned them a kind of “hey, remember this?” codeword. It’s a way to verbally raise your hand, call a time out, or toss a yellow flag on the field to get each other’s attention. It is essential to decide on these codewords together. And for them to be positive. You don’t want to poke the other person or be mean. They could be a simple word or short phrase that helps you both know the conversation needs extra care or to head in a different direction.
Here are some examples:
- “Please hear me.”
A clue to actively listen to the emotions behind the words.
- “That 3-year-old moment was brought to you by . . .”
Your clue that you’ve crossed a line to a personal attack or into a temper tantrum.
- “I need to vomit verbally.”
A clue that your spouse needs to say something which may not be the nicest, but you don’t need to fix it or clean it up.
You may also discover some code words to use when your spouse gets into a funk that helps them break out of the negative and back toward the center.
Fine-tuning a wounded marriage, a challenging one, or even a “good” marriage moves you toward a great marriage.
These questions aren’t magic, but the act of listening to each other is powerful. When you take the time to listen to your mate, they feel loved. Cherished. Author, Gary Thomas, writes in his book, Cherish,
“Most marriages survive by gritting teeth and holding on. But marriages can and will not only survive but thrive when husbands and wives learn to cherish one another.”
We cherish whatever or whoever is most important to us. Cherishing your spouse means you learn to listen, ask questions, and find ways each day to show them how precious they are to you. Cherishing another doesn’t mean doing for them what makes you feel cherished. It requires you to be a student of your spouse. You must ask, listen, and know what thrills them and what speaks to their heart.
There will be times when you can’t get past an issue and fine-tune your marriage.
At that point, agree to seek out a good Christian coach or counselor. Often, the pain point most easily resolves with the aid of an unbiased third party. Marriages that desire to be great get professional help periodically. They take their “car” for a tune-up so they can address the oil leak before they burn up the engine!
This week, talk with your spouse about scheduling a fine-tune check-in time. Put it on your calendar as a non-movable appointment. Then, pray and prepare your mind, heart, and emotions to connect with your spouse.
If you need more ideas on where and how to start, especially if there’s been a painful disappointment in your relationship, I’d love to help.