Karen and I can annoy each other. We’ve been married for so long we know what buttons to push—and what buttons never to push. But sometimes we annoy each other just because of some stubborn habit. A few of these habits are so ingrained in us that we have learned to not only live with them but in a weird way they have become endearing. It’s part of what makes Karen “Karen” and Crawford “Crawford.”

Habits. We all have them. Some good, some bad, some just irritating. Dr. Gary Chapman, author of The 5 Love Languages®, has written about how his wife, Karolyn, does not close drawers. A small thing, but annoying to her husband in the early years of their marriage! But in time he learned it was just easier to close the drawer rather than have a silly argument.

We all have habits we need to get rid of. And we all need to cultivate good habits. The challenge is identifying the good habits and then disciplining ourselves to consistently practice them so that over time they become an essential, natural part of our lives and behavior.

Karen and I want to identify and underscore three enduring habits that each couple together must press into and make “second nature” in order for our marriages to reflect God’s purpose and mission for this and future generations. The habits we want to highlight are those that are anchored in our character and our relationship with the Lord. That’s not to say that stuff like consistently picking up after yourself, paying your bills on time, or keeping your mouth closed when you eat are not good habits to practice. But we want to focus on those habits that give enduring life to the marriage.

The consistent pursuit of Christlikeness, the consistent cultivation of character and integrity, and giving and receiving the gift of forgiveness are foundational habits that bring richness, trust, and intimacy to the marriage.

First, we consistently pursue Christlikeness individually and as a couple

This is both a goal and a habit. The first thing every morning, Karen can be found sitting at the kitchen table with her open Bible and her prayer journal. She is nurturing and feeding her soul. She is listening to the Lord as He speaks to her heart through His Word, listening to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. She is talking to the Lord in prayer about the challenges she is facing, the needs of our family, the cares and concerns of others. And I know she is praying for me.

I, too, have a similar routine. Many years ago, I made a commitment to the Lord that before I spoke to anyone else, I would speak to Him in prayer. Every morning I spend time reading His Word and, most mornings, capturing in my prayer journal what I sense the Lord is saying to me. I pray for those who are hurting, have needs, and are facing challenges. And I pray for Karen. How I treasure these daily appointments with the Lord. The more time we spend with Him, the more we want to be with Him and to be like Him. Jesus becomes the joy and passion of our lives.

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Second, we consistently focus on character and integrity.

Character and integrity are the building blocks of trust and confidence. But—they don’t come naturally to us. Yes, when we trust Christ as Savior and Lord He forgives us of our sin and makes us His child. But He doesn’t remove our ability to sin or the inclination to sin. We have to cultivate an appetite for obedience, for consistently doing the right, godly thing. Again, character and integrity are not givens. They must be developed. And in marriage, we bring who we are, and who we are not, to the relationship. We should never stop working on developing wholeness and transparency in the marriage.

Third, we consistently face the reality of our humanity with a willingness to forgive

But what do we do when we mess up, when we have made poor choices and even betrayed the confidence and trust of our marriage partner? There is grace and mercy with our great God.

Karen and I know couples that have made painful, heartbreaking choices. Some have committed adultery. In another case, the marriage was shaken because it was discovered that the husband was embezzling funds from his job. And so on, all the poor choices and bad decisions we fallen humans make. But thankfully, in many of these cases God brought repentance and reconciliation. When these spouses turned to the Lord, not only did they find forgiveness, but they also received God’s enabling power to repair and rebuild their character.

Finally, this models to our children and grandchildren that we are always forgiven sinners, and it is God’s amazing grace that gets us to where we need to be. So to sum up, the consistent pursuit of Christlikeness, the consistent cultivation of character and integrity, and giving and receiving the gift of forgiveness are foundational habits that bring richness, trust, and intimacy to the marriage.

Adapted from Your Marriage Today…And Tomorrow: Making Your Relationships Matter Now and For Generations to Come by Crawford and Karen Loritts , Copyright ©  Moody Publishers. Published with permission.

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