“Lazarus, come forth.” These powerful words of Jesus (John 11:43) resonate in my heart as I consider the state of our Christian marriages. While there are clearly many God-honoring marriages, the sad reality is that a staggering number of marriages in the church are in fact dying or already “dead”—bound in grave clothes of selfishness, deception, and unforgiveness. These lifeless marriages, occupying both the pulpit and the pew, highlight an unprecedented level of emotional detachment in the very relationships intended to mirror God’s unconditional love us. Each of us must consider how to recognize and recover when we are experiencing such a crisis in our own marriage.
A trip to the local bookstore will yield dozens of experts offering explanations for how to recognize a crisis marriage. My own book Marriage ROCKS for Christian Couples proposes an innovative, biblically grounded model for spiritual and relational transformation in your marriage relationship. Most of these models, however, seek to address a single question—how safe do you feel in your marriage?
The question of safety includes, but is not limited to physical safety. For instance safety means “are my dreams safe with you?” It probes whether my emotions are safe with you. Safety is paramount because it is the gate through which trust enters the relationship. In other words, you can never trust a spouse with whom you feel unsafe.
Therefore, one knows that her marriage is in crisis when she feels unsafe in it. Yet, she more likely blames symptoms such as communication difficulties, scarcity of quality time together, and disrespectful interaction. However, underneath all of these challenges is the couple’s failure to cultivate spiritual, emotional, and/or physical safety.
Be encouraged. God specializes in resurrecting that which seems dead. And, it starts by understanding how your marriage is God’s gift to you—one intended to give you the security and confidence to maximally pursue God’s purposes. So, with this sense of purpose, let’s consider what you can do to foster spiritual, emotional, and physical safety in your marriage.
You are first a spiritual being—created by God to accomplish good works (Ephesians 2:10). Since your divine purpose is inextricably interwoven into your DNA, your spirit remains restless when your life journey runs at odds with this purpose.
Couples feel spiritually safe in marriage when each spouse consistently affirms what God is doing in the other, prayerfully intercedes for spiritual authority over destructive forces, and prioritizes each other’s spiritual formation. Crisis marriages lack such spiritual safety and vitality. Honestly, ask yourself this question. How committed am I to serving the spiritual needs of my spouse?
Here are three tips to reinforce the foundation of spiritual safety in your marriage:
- Consider your own shortcomings – all of us have been disobedient to God’s intent for our marriage. Apologize to God and your spouse for your own culpability—without necessarily looking for reciprocity from your spouse
- Be more graceful with your spouse – God imbued your spouse with gifts. Yet, you may diminish the value of these gifts because they look different than your own or because you see the flaws in your spouse’s use of those gifts. Your role in the marriage is to nurture what God desires to do in your spouse by extending to him the same grace that God shows you
- Schedule a regular prayer time together –Prayer is God’s tool to connect our desires to his. While it can be difficult to develop the habit, make a joint decision to pray together every day for five minutes—adopting a posture of contrition not blame
Your emotional profile is a complex interplay of your life experiences, your attitudinal preferences, and your core personality traits. Much like a thumbprint, you have an emotional imprint that makes you, uniquely you.
Couples feel emotionally safe when their emotions are validated rather than constantly under siege to change. If your marriage is struggling with lapses in intimacy, emotional insecurity is the likely culprit. The question to consider is whether you are really more interested in your spouse’s character being conformed to God’s likeness or to your own?
Here are three tips to enriching the emotional safety in your marriage:
- Plan a regular time where your marital growth is the focus – Intimacy only develops as couples consistently spend time together—undistracted. Plan a date night out once a month
- Check the balance of power in your marriage – In balanced marriages spouses feel like partners as respective needs are equally validated. Sin, however, replaces partnership with hierarchy. You restore balance as you allow your spouse’s thinking to cultivate your own perspective in key decisions
- Prioritize each other’s sexual needs – spouses commonly have different sexual preferences and needs. The key, however, is to understand each other’s sexual appetite and then prioritize satisfying that appetite or negotiating a compromise that will leave each of you fulfilled
We all have a primal need for physical safety. Couples feel physically safe in marriage when they are confident that their spouse is intent on “protecting” their vulnerabilities. In addition to the physical body, this safety includes areas such as finances, parenting, and even ministry pursuits.
You know that your marriage is in crisis when you feel that your spouse is your primary threat. The salient question to consider is whether external threats tend to push you towards or away from each other.
Here are three tips to enriching the physical safety in your marriage:
- Rethink agreement – Couples often struggle because they think that they should be “eye to eye” on issues of importance. Couples should be aligned. But, alignment is a daily stance that you take as a couple to pursue a healthy relationship rather than to get your way
- Face the conflict – Keep issues before God during your prayer time. Listen for God’s direction and your spouse’s perspective as you jointly search for solutions that protect your marriage
- Do no harm – Vigilantly monitor your verbal and non-verbal actions so as to not put your spouse in a defensive posture
Jesus is not too late for your marriage. Just as he spoke “Lazarus, come forth” to a lifeless corpse, Jesus is calling to your marriage. Your crisis is a testimony not a tomb. In my own spirit, I hear the Lord’s voice speaking “Marriage, come forth”—releasing your marriage into a new season of safety and miraculous growth from which he can get the glory.