We know that the strength of our culture is the strength of our homes. But doesn’t it seem that we too easily take family relationships for granted? While we work to cultivate business relationships or outside friendships, sometimes we fail to give the same level of investment to the people who matter most to us.
Thirty-five years ago, my wife Terrie and I had been married about a year and a half when we were offered a free trip to Hawaii. I was still in college, and we were expecting our first baby. We had no money, so a free trip to Hawaii was like a dream come true.
The trip involved a timeshare promotional package, which meant we had to listen to a sales pitch upon arrival. But it also meant that if we would listen to additional promos every morning, we got “free” daily excursions. You better believe we did it, too! When you are broke, ninety minutes is a small price to pay for a ride in a glass bottom boat or a free rental car.
The hotel was nicer than anything we had stayed in. It included a gourmet breakfast, which took care of one meal each day. The peanut butter and bread we brought in our suitcase helped with another meal. The pineapple pickers were on strike, so for one dollar we could go into the field and pick three pineapples, which gave us our third meal.
You might think that all this strategizing and planning and sales pitch listening would make our vacation less enjoyable. Actually, although we’ve had the opportunity to go to Hawaii several times since, we’ve never had more fun there than during that first vacation when we worked so hard to enjoy it. The effort we had to invest increased our anticipation and experience.
Family relationships are like that, particularly marriage. Many couples want marriage to be like a luxury vacation that costs nothing and requires nothing of them. They assume that good marriages just happen and struggling marriages are the result of incompatibility.
Yet, nobody assumes this in relation to any other area of life. We work hard to develop skills, to advance in a career, to perfect a hobby, even to plan a vacation. Good marriages also take work. They require the purposeful pursuit of one another’s heart, the willingness to give and receive total acceptance and unconditional love, and an unchanging commitment to one another.
All relationships built to last must indeed be built—one investment at a time. What do these kinds of investments look like on a day-to-day basis? Here are three great places to start:
Communicate often. Relationships are built on communication, and this is especially true when it comes to marriage. Every couple communicates well while they are dating—it is natural to want to share with someone with whom you are developing a heart connection. But all too often, spouses neglect taking the time to communicate after marriage.
Spend uninterrupted time together. Life has a way of becoming increasingly busy. As we find ourselves with less and less margin, we begin to triage and get into the habit of only attending to the most urgent responsibilities. The problem with this is that relationships rarely become urgent until they are imploding. It is far better to make regular time together one of the ongoing commitments of your life.
Look for ways to serve each other. You’ve heard the phrase “expectations ruin relationships.” Nowhere is this truer than in marriage. Rather than looking to your spouse for how he or she can serve you, ask yourself how you can serve your spouse in a way that will meet their needs. Even Jesus came to serve and to give His life as a ransom for others (Mark 10:45). Focusing on your needs will bring discontent with your spouse’s shortcomings to meet them. Focusing on meeting your spouse’s needs will bring joy and will strengthen your relationship.
Dr. Paul Chappell is the pastor of Lancaster Baptist Church and the president of West Coast Baptist College in Southern California. He is releasing a new book on marriage this fall titled Are We There Yet? Follow him on Twitter @PaulChappell and find him on Facebook.