Thriving couples are for each other. When you truly believe that the people around you are for you, something within you relaxes. You hold your head a little higher and start acting like the person you truly are.
Here are five ways that people in thriving marriages serve one another.
1. Enter Their World
Learning how to shift the focus off ourselves and toward serving each other is not an easy task. It’s an ongoing process. Early on in marriage, the concept of consistently and intentionally serving the other person can seem so foreign. We’ve lived our own independent lives and done our own thing for so many years, then suddenly two become one, and it’s “die to yourself” time. It can be difficult, laying down our own needs, desires, and agenda to consider those of another, even someone we dearly love. But what we have discovered is that as it becomes a part of our life rhythm, choosing to see and meet our spouse where they’re at and serve them there is where the greatest joy is found.
Entering someone’s world, thinking of their needs, and meeting those needs in creative ways doesn’t come naturally to most of us. But at the core of any thriving marriage are two people who pay attention to the other person’s world and choose to meet specific needs there.
Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom. — Galatians 5:14, MSG
This is where the journey gets really personal. Each couple is unique, and the meaningful ways in which you can serve your requires getting to know your spouse, taking time to truly listen to their lives and enter their world. What do they love? Where could they use a break? When is the last time you gave them your full, undistracted attention? Asked about their dreams? Their loves? Their spiritual journey? It is virtually impossible to love the spouse will look radically different from how Jenni and I serve each other. This rhythm of serving people around us well if we care nothing for their world and their loves. Serving our spouse builds a bridge from our life to theirs. We love them by entering their world.
Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. —Matthew 23:12
2. See Truly
As the saying goes, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” Contempt is one of the greatest predictors of divorce. Contempt occurs when we allow ourselves to focus so habitually on the faults of another that in our minds, that person becomes the problem. Ask God to enable you to see the good, to see your spouse as He does. Just like you and I, they are not the sum of their faults. And they do not belong to you, in fact, but rather have been entrusted to you as a gift to love and to care for. Loving our spouse well begins with shifting our perspective to view them as a remarkable gift to treasure rather than a heavy burden to bear.
Give, and you will receive. You will be given much. Pressed down, shaken together, and running over, it will spill into your lap. The way you give to others is the way God will give to you. Luke 6:38, NCV
When I break out of my self-absorption and see my spouse as the remarkable person they truly are, created in the image of God, suddenly I am motivated to soak up every moment I’ve been given with them. Each day becomes a gift. I am now enabled to see with fresh eyes the ways I can put their well-being above my own, ways I can serve, care for, and bless them. But the first step is entering their world. What do they love? What makes them come alive? What do they dream of doing? How can I help them make those dreams a reality? As theologian and pastor Tim Keller says, “Serving your spouse . . . means showing that you are committed to his or her well-being and flourishing. This kind of love is given when you seek to help your spouse develop gifts and pursue aspirations for growth.” Not only will serving your spouse in this way restore the bond you have together, it will also renew your own joy as you experience the pleasure of helping someone else and watching them grow and flourish. There’s nothing like it. Give it a try.
3. Empty Yourself
Thriving couples we’ve encountered along the way seem to possess an acute understanding of this “emptying.” A cultivation of humility. They understand what it means to pour themselves out in seemingly small moments that add up to a truly great work, a thriving, rich relationship. They’ve learned somewhere along the way how to rely on the sustaining strength that only comes from the Lord rather than trying to merely scrape by on their own. Each time we pour ourselves out for our spouse, choosing to allow our agenda, our plans to be altered so that we might serve them, we are not only contributing to their joy and well-being but laying brick upon brick to build the thriving marriage we long for. A truly great work. But it is found only on the other side of emptying ourselves.
4. Listen Well
As we step into the rhythm of serving our spouse, we must learn how to listen. It’s impossible to truly love someone, to serve their deepest needs, unless you get to know them. Taking the time to listen to your spouse communicates desire, conveys respect, and can even restore dignity. When I stop what I’m doing, put away my screen, and take the time to listen to what my spouse needs to share, I am communicating to them, You are valuable to me, and I care. Your life is worth knowing, worth way more than any distraction vying for my attention right now.
Feeling heard and understood causes us to feel safe. Empathy has a calming effect. According to psychologist Dr. Henry Cloud, “We can’t begin to solve problems until there is a sense of trust, and trust is established when we feel listened to.”
Listen to your spouse’s words— and listen to their life. Ask God to open your eyes to ways you could serve your spouse that would be particularly meaningful to them. Listen for what they’re going through, what they care about, and listen to what they need. Maybe they have a sore Listen to your ankle from a sprain that happened while run- spouse’s words— nine months ago, and serving them looks like and listen to picking up a brace from Walgreens and leave their life. ing it on their nightstand. Maybe by Thursday, they’re completely worn out, and serving them looks like offering to watch the kids while they meet a friend for coffee or just go for a quiet walk through the trees. Serving could even look like stopping to pray for them when they’re having a hard day.
When we posture ourselves as a servant toward each other, train our eyes to see in a different way, and take the time to listen to what our spouse truly needs, we develop a rhythm of serving that changes the trajectory of our marriage.
5. Lend Your Strengths
Look for a moment at some of the main areas of contention between you and your spouse. There’s a good chance that underneath the tension, you’ll find a mismanaged use of strengths.
For example, some friends of ours who work together found a regularly occurring conflict every time they attempted to co-lead a staff meeting. (Attempted being the operative word.) She has the gift of words; he has the gift of discernment. Each sufficiently lacks the other’s gift. She loves to use her gift with words to wisely instruct, offer kind encouragement, and tell meaningful stories. He likes to get right to the point. What she struggles with, from time to time, is discerning when it’s time to stop sharing and let someone else have a turn to talk as well.
What her gift lacks, however, her husband possesses in abundance. He has the unique ability to observe and sense what’s happening in others— in this scenario, when their staff members’ eyes have glazed over and they’ve stopped listening.
If this couple could leverage each other’s strengths, acknowledging and valuing each other’s gift, they could be an incredible team. He could lean on her gift with words to help accurately express what needs to be clearly communicated to their staff, and she could lean on his discernment to know when it’s time to stop talking and allow others to share.
Notice that accessing this dynamic starts with acknowledging and affirming our spouse’s gifts, rather than railing on their weaknesses. For example, if this husband says, “Would you stop talking already?” to his wife in the middle of their staff meeting, how do you think she’ll respond? Not well, probably. If instead, before the meeting, he took the time to go over what needed to be shared and asked her to use her wonderful gift of words to communicate it, the meeting would be way more effective, and they would grow in their relationship and their ability to function well together as a team.
This is what it looks like to lend our strengths to one another.
Chris and Jenni Graebe are lifelong learners intent on discovering the core rhythms of thriving relationships. Chris and Jenni are the cohosts of the Rhythm of Us podcast, where they interview countless couples to discover what makes relationships thrive. They are authors of The Rhythm of Us: Create the Thriving Marriage You Long For. Chris and Jenni have been married for 17 years and live deep in the trees of Franklin, TN, with their five children.
Taken from The Rhythm of Us: Create the Thriving Marriage You Long For by Chris + Jenni Graebe. Copyright © 2021. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
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