“I promise to love you when it’s easy and when it’s an effort,” I said, beaming at my soon-to-be husband. As I repeated part of our wedding vows, a chuckle echoed from our family and friends.
I’d heard my whole life that marriage takes work. At that moment, though, I couldn’t imagine loving James would ever require that much effort. After all, God said it was “not good that the man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18), so he made Eve for Adam. Marriage was God’s good gift to his image-bearers.
Fifteen years later, I know two things are true. Sin’s curse didn’t change God’s purpose for marriage. Marriage is still God’s gift to us. But also, two sinners living one life for God’s glory won’t happen unintentionally. It takes work.
Your Portion and Your Toil
Recently as I was studying Ecclesiastes, I noticed Solomon acknowledged both these truths in one sentence: “Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun” (Eccles. 9:9).
Your spouse is part of your portion—a gift from God for you to enjoy.
Your spouse is part of your toil—a relationship that will require your effort.
Most often, these truths are shared separately. When life is good, we say marriage is a gift. When life gets hard, we’re reminded marriage takes work. But in the real rhythm of life, it’s far more beneficial to recognize both these truths in the same breath: marriage is a gift from God, and we must work for it.
Two sinners living one life for God’s glory won’t happen unintentionally. It takes work.
Work isn’t a bad thing. Work is part of how we reflect God’s image. I love how Charles Spurgeon put it: “Man was not created to be idle, he was not elected to be idle, he was not redeemed to be idle, he was not quickened to be idle, and he is not sanctified by God’s grace to be idle.” In his goodness, God didn’t include idleness in his design for marriage either.
Here are three ways to enjoy your spouse and do the work a good marriage requires.
1. Grow in love for the Lord.
We’re not capable in our own power of mustering up the love God has extended to us. If we desire to love our spouse with the love God initiates with us—love that’s unconditional, sacrificial, relentless, patient, and kind—we must go to God to get it.
Prioritize the spiritual disciplines that stir you up to love and good works (Heb. 10:24–25). Be a disciple who makes disciples. Immerse yourself in God’s Word. Worship with other believers. Talk about God’s goodness and faithfulness. Pray. Serve in your local church. Take God’s Sabbath command seriously.
When something feels off with your spouse, take it to the Lord instead of rushing to blame. Ask God to reveal sin you need to repent of. Request eyes to see your spouse the way God sees him or her. Beg God for wisdom and discernment as you engage with your spouse. Pray for God to give you the right words to say, and ask God to make his presence known in your home. Then ask for courage to obey whatever God shows you.
These practices may not be your typical marriage advice, but they should be! Whatever grows your love for the Lord will also grow your love for your spouse.
2. Make time for fun.
It’s common for married couples to function more like roommates than husband and wife. It doesn’t start that way. But especially after you add kids on top of individual responsibilities, a husband and wife can easily run full speed ahead in separate lanes, simply dividing up the chores, errands, and roles. Even if everything is getting done, your marriage likely isn’t thriving if you’re completely missing each other in the process. It’s hard to consider something a gift that you never take the time to enjoy.
A few ideas: Take up a new hobby together. Try a new restaurant or recipe. Flirt in front of your kids. Support one another in your careers and interests. Laugh. Go for walks, dream together, and talk about what God is teaching you. Encourage each other. Send your spouse a quick text during the workday to share something you love about him or her. Take a personal day together on a random weekday when school can be the babysitter. Intentionally create space to enjoy one another.
3. Change your expectations into gratitude.
The initial excitement of living life together gives way to routine. Familiarity is beautiful, but it can also lead you to assume your spouse will do things you once admired. Comfort can cause you to expect from your spouse what once made you grateful.
Here’s the caution: when admiration and gratitude are replaced by assumptions and expectations, you become both oblivious to your spouse’s strengths and acutely aware of his or her flaws. Daily repetition of this behavior makes you believe the lie that your marriage is far worse than it actually is.
Refuse to let the traits that drew you to your spouse in the first place become reduced to expectations.
Pay attention to what your spouse does for you the way you did when your relationship was new. From the big things like her love for the Lord and the gifts God gave her to the small things like his willingness to do the dishes and how he makes you smile—notice and be grateful. Refuse to let the traits that drew you to your spouse in the first place become reduced to expectations. Gratitude and expectations lead to extremely different results—and you want the gratitude result.
Marriage is a gift, and it takes work. Both are true, and both are for our good.