Five things that will take you from “Good as it gets” to “Happily Ever After”

Have you ever asked yourself, “Is this as good as it gets”? If you have, you can bet your spouse has wondered the same thing. You are not sure if perhaps you have fallen out of love or even worse you want out of your marriage altogether.  As B.B.King would say “The thrill is gone”.  You and your spouse may have tried the romantic-get-away-weekend. But you spent good bit of the time arguing about where to have that special “romantic dinner” or worried that what you were doing was not special enough to rekindle the fire. Date night has become errands without the kids and supper at the same tired old restaurant you have been to a million times. Perhaps you have seen a counselor or two, but they told you to communicate better or that you should celebrate your love for one another… thanks buddy, I already knew that. But none of that has created the sparks you have been missing; that gooey desperate feeling you felt when you were dating.

Spoiler alert, those sparks of excitement, that thrill of being in love, and the passion for your spouse that makes everything about being together so wonderful is what keeps the little irritations, little. With out it even a small imperfection in your spouse can seem unbearable. That spark is what makes it possible to believe that things will keep getting better and better and not worse and worse. Its what will keep you together AND happy… With it happily ever after is possible; with out it you will likely not even try.

I have been working with couples for more than 15 years and see this common complaint in an increasing number of couples. Often married couples feel like they have done everything there is to do together; they see their marriage as boring and have grown tired of the same old routine. Even sex has become old and tired. Many couples want to have fun together and recapture the thrill of discovery they felt when they first met. But do not feel the intimacy needed to accomplish it and have just lost the will to even try. In my ministry to married couples, I find that they know what is wrong, they just don’t know a practical, tactical, step-by-step way to find they way back.

Here are five things any couple can do that will help get that spark back:

1) Talk about the problem. That’s right; open your mouth and be honest. Don’t be cruel or brutal but tell your spouse what makes you happy and what makes you sad. Gay and I are constantly finding things out about one another that we did not know and we have been married 36 years. Discovery is exciting but can only be accomplished through honest exploration.

For example, Gay recently told me she wanted to ride an Alpine Luge. We have been married 36 years and I had no idea she was interested in that. As a matter of fact I was surprised in her interest because I had her pegged as risk adverse and more of the indoors type. She is so keen on the idea that she put it on her bucket list. We have not done it yet but the revelation has given us something exciting to dream about and to plan for.  Now even dinner at the White Castle can be a fun date night because we have an adventure to plan.

2) Recognize each other’s value. It has become a pastime in American culture to put down and degrade your spouse. Wives are seen as the “ball and chain” and husbands are portrayed as wimpy or stupid in most of the TV shows. The laugh track cackles on and in the end the insult is covered with some indication that they are only kidding and that they really do love their spouse.  If you have even been hurt, you know that someone telling you they did not really mean it is like calling you stupid. You know you heard their true feelings the first time. Jesus said “for the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Matthew 12:34)

First examine your heart. What you think of your spouse? Are they good looking? A good cook? Perhaps they are a really good driver. These are all things that they can do, not who they are. I love Gay because of who she is not what she can do. She is my wife, my perfect gift from God sent to be my perfect helper. Thank you Lord God for what you did for me in creating her and allowing me to have her. You must value, admire and respect your spouse because of the relationship not because of some physical attribute, skill or action they perform.

So what can you do? Start each day with this simple pray. “Thank you Lord God for considering me worthy of the gift of my (say your spouse’s name).” Nothing more, no need to list all the qualities that God built into them; he already has a list longer than yours.

3) Stop judging one another. The original sin Adam and Eve committed was to eat from the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:17). When they disobeyed and ate from it they took God’s place on the judgment seat and on that day they died (Genesis 2:17). God was and is serious about our not judging one another. He knows it will kill intimacy and in the end destroy relationships. Notice the first thing Adam and Eve did was to hide themselves from one another (Genesis 3:7) and then from God (Genesis 3:10). They were no longer naked and unashamed. It wasn’t that they suddenly became ugly, it was that they were suddenly worried about what the other might think when they looked at them.

Nothing will do more to shut down good communication and agreement between husband and wife than a good dose of judgment. When you read in Genesis2:25 that “Adam and his wife were both naked and felt no shame” it means more than that they had no clothes on. It means they could share their deepest thoughts and feelings and the other would never judge them or make them feel ashamed.

Once Gay asked if I would go check our car for some problem she had read about.  She wanted her family to be safe. I told her “Well that’s kind of a freak thing, it will not happen to us. Don’t worry about it”. What she heard was “Now you’re just a silly woman and should not try to understand such things”.   I had judged her with our even trying.

Keep these thoughts. My spouse is made in the image of God. I am not to judge. Simple enough? But you may need to actually say these things out loud and you may need to repeat them to your spouse so that they can help you. Perhaps go as far as to agree with one another you will tell them when you feel like you are being judged.

4) Set short and long term goals together. We call this casting a vision. This is very important for two reasons. One you will not be wondering through your married life just trying to get by. Instead you will be accomplishing the life you intended. Two, a shared vision creates an atmosphere of agreement.

Casting vision can be a fun time to dream together. Its ok to dream big and then to talk about how you might get there. Remember to include all aspects of your life in the vision. Talk about where you want to be physically, mentally and spiritually both individually and in your marriage. This will help to define who you are as a couple and will create a whole set of sparks you never thought possible.

We always recommended that every couple have a “Book of Agreement” and a individual journals.

The book of agreement is where you keep track of all those things you have agreed to do and be. When Gay and I decided to start the ministry for example, we needed to decide how we would fund it, who we would serve and how we would be organized. When we started talking about it we indeed had different ideas about the right direction. But as we dreamed and prayed and heard from God, we wrote it down in a little spiral bound notebook that has “Book of Agreement” written in pen on the front. This should be a place where you keep track of decisions and agreements. Read Exodus 20, this is where God presents the 10 commandments to the Jews. He did not leave them guessing how they should act… he wrote it down.

Each of you should journal your personal about the journey you are on.  It will serve as a reminder of where you going, where you have been and what it was like getting there. I have journals from as far back as the early 90’s. Every now and then I will go back and read them. They serve as a reminder of how God has been on my side in famine and feat.

5) Redefine PEACE in your marriage. Peace is not the absence of strife. Too often I hear couples report that they never fight and then site the number one problem in the marriage is they don’t communicate. Just because you are not fighting does not mean you have peace. Peace is so much more than that. It is a since of taking charge of your world and knowing who and where you are. To have peace you must have a since of value, a shared vision, open communication without judgment. Don’t settle for lack of strife, strive for real peace.

Jesus is called the price of peace. Think about how he lived his life. He had no home and was not sure whether he would have his next meal but he knew who he was. He was the son of God and acted accordingly. You are a son or daughter of God. Be secure in that and act on it.

There are so many things that bring lack of peace in our lives. We worry about money and how we look and how long we will live. We worry about our rights and how others treat us. Stop it. Instead, start thinking on how you can be righteous; how can you serve others or what nice thing you can say to someone today. If you are seeking these things then all the other stuff you need will come your way on their own. How do I know this? Because Jesus promised it would be that way “But seek first his Kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:33. Oh, and by personal experience, as documented in my personal journals.