Pastor, you are far busier than you ought to be. Be honest. Maybe the church you shepherd has placed unrealistic expectations on you and your time, or maybe you’ve placed those expectations on yourself. But regardless of the root cause, you are likely spending more time shepherding the Bride of Christ than your own bride.
All around me, I see ministry marriages that are either in trouble or on the verge of being in trouble. So, what are some simple steps you can take to help heal/save/protect your marriage?
Well, let’s go ahead and agree that the gospel is central to a healthy marriage. In fact, the gospel is the key to a happy and healthy marriage.
For this reason, I assume that you and your spouse are regularly participating together in corporate worship and that you frequently engage in private worship/devotion as a couple. If not, these are bedrock practices of gospel-driven obedience and I suggest you adopt them immediately.
Assuming these are in place, there are still practical habits and healthy rhythms that husbands and wives can adopt to cultivate stronger marriages. While I am not an expert on marriage, I am an expert on my marriage. So, take my words as exhortations based upon my limited experience and apply what is useful to your own unique situation.
Here are just a few of the habits that have been beneficial in my own marriage:
1. Go to bed at the same time.
I'm surprised by how many couples go to bed at different hours (though this is sometimes unavoidable due to outside factors like work schedules if both spouses are employed). Pastor, one of the best things you can do to encourage a "one flesh" mindset in your marriage is to go to bed when your wife goes to bed. When wives go to sleep and husbands stay awake watching TV or cruising the internet, only trouble awaits. In a small way, routinely going to bed at different times creates the sense that each spouse is living a separate life. Go to bed at the same time.
2. Get the TV, smartphones, and computers out of your bedroom.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t take a book to bed. I’m saying that if you find yourself taking something to bed to distract you from the presence of your spouse, trouble is brewing. I love technology more than most (yes, think Kip from Napoleon Dynamite), so I understand how hard it can be to leave your iPhone in a different room. But if you find yourself needing to connect with other people on social media, while laying next to your wife, something is “off.” You are missing out on valuable time to connect, talk, and pray together. The marriage bed should be a place of bonding, not a place to "veg out." One of the best rules we ever established in our home was to keep electronics out of our bedroom. The bedroom ought to be a sanctuary, a place for husbands and wives to shut the world out and focus on one another.
3. Assume the best about your wife.
I regularly talk to ministry couples that are at odds. Too often, the heart of the problem is a lack of trust. Sometimes this battle with mistrust is related to sins from their past. However, most of the time, the lack of trust is rooted in narcissism and self-centered attitudes. Only a total narcissist assumes that their spouse is always out to get them, yet ministry couples are not immune to this kind of reasoning. I have talked with couples that literally believe the other person purposefully leaves the toilet seat up or forgets to deadbolt the front door in order to attack them! Assume the best about your spouse; you are far less likely to be in conflict. Pastor, your schedule is already so busy, don’t waste valuable time with your wife by being in conflict.
4. Sacrificially serve your wife so that she can assume the best about you.
Make every effort to out-serve one another. Make it apparent that you die to yourself every day, for the good of your wife. Give grace and mercy as you pursue speaking only words of truth, life, love, and affirmation. Live a life that would cause your wife to assume the best about you.
5. Speak only positive words about your wife.
You may think that complaining about your wife with your friends is just venting...it isn't. You are creating cracks in the foundation of your marriage. You are also demonstrating your narcissism. When complaining about your wife, you are lording yourself over her (as if you are doing her a favor by enduring her). Talk that way long enough and you will begin to believe it and your marriage will end. Always speak words of life about your wife.
6. Speak only of your wife as beautiful.
I’m not proposing you never call your daughter(s) beautiful or that when performing a wedding ceremony you cannot speak of the “happy groom and beautiful bride.” I am saying that there ought to be some level of sacredness concerning the way you recognize your bride’s beauty. There will be periods in your marriage when your schedule will cause your wife to feel neglected, as if you’re chasing another bride (the church). One way to affirm and privilege her place in your life is by refusing to speak of another woman as beautiful. Your wife is beautiful and that is the end of the matter. As much as you can reinforce her uniqueness in your eyes by what you do or do not say, the better.
Brothers, the church already has a groom (Jesus). She doesn’t need another, but your bride does need you. I strongly encourage you to have an open-and-honest conversation with your wife, pronto! Ask her if she feels neglected, how she would gauge the health of your marriage, and to identify some things you can do to better cherish her and express love for her. It’s not complicated! I promise! Simple, gospel-reflecting habits, along with some robustly masculine intentionality, are at the core of loving your wife well.