I was recently talking to a friend of mine who suggested that laughter is often a very good indicator of how well the marriage is going. When the silliness slows down, it may be because you are in a season of suffering, but it may also mean you’ve exited a season of peace and trust. The couple that laughs together lasts together.
This insight got me thinking: what are some other questions that can help diagnose the health of our marital life? Here are ten that may prove useful.
1. Do you pray together? This may be the hardest one, so I’ll put it first. While I do know of good marriages where the husband and wife don’t pray together nearly as much as they would like, I don’t know any bad marriages where the husband and wife pray together all the time.
2. Do you still notice each other? I don’t remember much about the movie Dave (the 90’s flick about a lookalike who stands in for a deceased president), but I remember a scene where the pretend president (played by Kevin Kline) is caught staring at the legs of his “wife” (Sigourney Weaver). Later it is revealed that she knew from that early moment that this man was not her real husband, because her real husband (who died having an affair) hadn’t looked at her legs for years. Okay, it’s not a great movie, but it’s not a bad lesson. Is there any chance anyone would ever catch you noticing your spouse as attractive?
3. Do you ever hold hands? In the movies? On the couch? Walking around the block? During prayer at church? In the car? We all love to see old couples holding hands. It always made me feel good as a kid to see my dad reach for my mom’s hand while driving (yes, it was sometimes dangerous). If this simple act of affection is missing, more may be missing than you realize.
4. When is the last time you said “I’m sorry”? Not as an excuse. Not with a snarl. But a sincere, tender, broken-hearted apology.
5. When is the last time you said, “Thank you”? I’m not talking about politeness when passing the salt. I’m talking about a specific expression of gratitude for doing the dishes, for letting you sleep in, for working hard to provide for the family, for watching the kids all day, or for making your favorite meal.
6. When is the last time you planned a surprise? A few weeks ago I got my wife flowers for no particular reason. It just felt like it had been too long since I had gone out of my way to give her something nice. Do you still surprise each other with gifts, with special outings, with a kiss out of the blue, with coming home early (or staying up late)?
7. When is the last time you embarrassed the kids together? Children should roll their eyes from time to time because of how silly mom and dad can get. They should see you dancing, see you kissing, see you acting utterly goofy. The kids will hate it, but deep down probably love it too. Children need to see their parents having a grand time together.
8. When is the last time you went out and talked about something other than the kids? You don’t have to spend money. You can go on a walk, grab a swing, or drink water (it’s always cold!) at Panera. Just get away from the kids and try not fixate on them when they’re not there.
9. What would others think about your spouse just by listening to you speak about him or her? We all have occasions where we talk about our spouse to others–in a small group, at a prayer meeting, to another friend, to a family member, to the pastor. If someone could overhear everything you said about your husband or wife in a month, and then they met your spouse for the first time, would they be surprised by the person they found? From your conversation, would others guess that your spouse is a prince of a guy or queen of the harpies?
10. Do you think more about what you aren’t giving or about what you aren’t getting? We all get hurt in marriage. We all get disappointed. Stick with someone until death and you are bound to be wronged a time or two. But as you think about what needs help in your marriage, are you fixated on your spouse’s deficiencies or your room for improvement? To love like Christ is to commit to loving well even when we are not loved as we deserve.