Anyone who has been married for a while knows that a godly marriage takes work.
The Scriptures set the bar pretty high for marriage and point to marriage as a picture of Christ and the church (Eph 5: 21-33). A beautiful example of love and respect is laid out in that passage. But that picture over time in our marriages can get deeply distorted by neglect and even torn up by selfishness if we are not careful. All we have to do is lack intentionality to let work, parenting, selfish pursuits, or the stress of life threaten the health of our marriage.
You often hear about trying to maintain a balance between home and work or leisure and family. That balance is usually measured by time invested. I have come to believe that trying to maintain balance in this way is actually counterproductive. You really can’t compensate by making up time for relational neglect or a lack of priorities. A friend and I were talking about challenges of balance recently and he said if you put your head in the oven and your feet in the freezer your average temperature might be ok, but the damage at the extremes will be substantial.
Running hot and cold in a marriage is not healthy or sustainable.
So, what should replace this balancing act?
I would like to suggest we give up balance and go for healthy rhythms.
The Power of Rhythms
A rhythm for our purposes is defined as a particular pattern, discipline, or habit repeated over time. But like rhythms in music the ebb and flow might change depending on the season you are in. For our marriages to be God-honoring and healthy I would suggest that we need to assess our season and create appropriate rhythms. Whether it is a rhythm of praying together, times of rest and reflection, increased communication as a couple, setting a date night to look forward to, or simply saying I love you more often, we need to establish sustainable ways to stay healthy in our marriages. The power of rhythms is that we aren’t compensating from a place of neglect instead we are building long term habits of health. Applied to our marriage they can impact our daily living as a couple and increase our marital satisfaction.
Establishing Healthy Marriage Rhythms
Consider your existing healthy habits. Perhaps you exercise 3 days a week or spend time in God’s word daily. Now think about your marriage. What are things you do every day, weekly or monthly to keep your marriage healthy? In most cases, this seems hard to quantify because we have unspoken rituals or we just don’t put that much thought into it. The first step to build on any healthy habits is to set aside more time together. Then we set some goals based on how much time we have and what needs attention. For rhythms to be established let me share two helpful concepts, margin, and minimums. Margin is the discretionary time you set aside from the demands of work and the stresses of life. Minimums are the initial goals you set for disciplines that are reasonable and attainable to start with.
A few years ago, I sat down with my wife and we decided we were a bit child-centered in our marriage. Things like taking the kids to the Lego Factory or to one of their sporting events did not qualify as life-giving to our marriage. We needed more margin to go on dates as a couple, which was no longer a rhythm after we had 3 kids. The next step was to say how often. We decided a minimum frequency was every other week. We knew we had to pick a consistent night and put it on the calendar. To be candid this has been hard to achieve, and we eventually adjusted our date night minimum to once a month. Next, we decided prayer at dinner or only in a time of desperation was not growing our spiritual intimacy. We needed margin to pray together as well. This time we decided a minimum frequency was three times each week. We have done pretty well at that, so we have kept that minimum. Both rhythms took planning and for a while dates meant childcare, picking the best time to go, etc. When making your goals focus on your season, what’s realistic to start and what is important to cultivate a healthy marriage (revisit dreams, values, convictions). It may be that you simply start tonight by putting the kids to bed, making a late-night snack and asking each other how you are really doing. Praying together may mean getting up earlier to grab a coffee and going to a quiet place in the house before the rest of your world wakes up. Don’t over complicate it and make it repeatable on a regular basis.
Five Rhythms That Will Bless a Marriage
I want to suggest five daily, weekly and monthly rhythms that can absolutely bless your marriage intimacy. I encourage you to pick a few and start right away.
Say I love you and kiss your spouse goodbye/goodnight
Say thank you and show appreciation for small things
Listen deeply to understand (15 minutes of uninterrupted time)
Own your mistakes and ask for forgiveness
Complement/encourage each other in a meaningful way
Go for prayer walks (minimum 3x/20 minutes)
Go on dates (2 hours with meaningful communication)
Schedule time of intimacy (discuss best times and frequency)
Take a Sabbath together (a day like no other)
Sit down to dinner together (minimum 5 days a week)
Find a live-giving couple to hang with (double date or connect on Skype)
Fast and pray for one mealtime together (have a list, include worship)
Check in to adjust to anticipated seasonal challenges (big rocks)
A family meeting to clear the air, plan and pray (lead it together)
Go over budget and adjust accordingly (get counsel as needed)
Making Your Plan
As you plan out your personalized marriage rhythms together consider the questions below.
- What rhythms need to be added or adjusted (daily, weekly, monthly)?
- What’s one immediate step to improve our communication and connection?
What work or personal habits need to change to accomplish this?
I hope moving from balance to rhythms blesses your marriage as it has ours.