Intimacy requires investment. Connection requires cultivation. We cannot expect marriages to grow and strengthen in the course of regular, daily life— or the added chaos of any trial!— if we are not willing to invest time, energy, and servant-hearted love in the relationship.
In the early years of my marriage my husband and I had no clue how to cultivate real connection. It took years of painstaking practice to get a grasp on how to listen, how to empathize, how to compromise, and how to effectively communicate our needs or desires with each other.
It’s not surprising, then, that as we began to face serious trials— our stress levels skyrocketed as our sense of connection plummeted.
Our world crumbling before our very eyes
We were in our mid-twenties when the first of multiple diagnoses struck our family.
I dealt with severe depression, anxiety and panic attacks after the birth of our third child. Then, I was diagnosed with two autoimmune conditions within six months. Not long after, our two-year-old son was diagnosed with a potentially fatal autoimmune condition. A few years later my mother-in-law went into a coma without warning (she was not ill) and passed away soon after. Not much later, our ten year old daughter was given a debilitating, potentially crippling diagnosis.
Yes, in the course of our twenty-two-year marriage our world has crumbled before our very eyes again and again. That’s what the enemy, who comes to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10), would have us believe, anyway.
While our circumstances have not changed and we still face many of these challenges today, my husband and I are living the kind of life that John 10:10 promises— one that is better than we ever dreamed of!
I’ve learned there are four keys to developing real connection with your spouse even when your world is crumbling:
Date nights aren’t just a fun idea or a cute Instagram story. Investing time in your marriage is a crucial part of keeping it alive and strong.
You don’t have to do anything fancy. Having dinner at home alone (if you have kids, put them to bed early) counts! The point is to set aside time each day or week to share your heart, to listen, to be fully present with one another.
This matters more than you know— don’t skip it!
I don’t just mean listening with your ears. I mean listening to the words your spouse is saying, while watching their body language and also asking the Holy Spirit to reveal what isn’t being said so you get a complete picture.
I’ll give an example:
When our youngest son was diagnosed with a potentially fatal chronic illness, my husband and I were both terrified as we learned what needed to be done to care for him. However, most of the tasks (which were required 24/7) were left to me. After months of feeling exhausted, I approached my husband and asked him to step in with more help.
He responded with anger and defensiveness. As I listened to his angry words, I asked the Holy Spirit to help me understand. I discerned that my husband wasn’t angry, he was afraid. He was afraid that if he did something wrong it could hurt our son and the blame would be on him. So, rather than contribute as much as he could to the situation, he had withdrawn.
Being able to discern this changed the way I responded to his anger because I was listening with my physical— but also my spiritual— ears.
The result? A candid conversation about how we could be better partners as we cared for our son— without fear that either one of us was going to mess up or place blame.
Neither spouse should have to be a mind reader. Even if you’ve been married for five, ten or fifty years.
Saying things like “Well, he should have known…” just isn’t fair. If you need something, speak up. If you want something, say so. This may feel vulnerable, but developing a strong connection will require that you tell your spouse what you want or need, without expecting them to figure it out on their own. Your spouse needs to know that they have your permission to voice their needs and desires, too!
I love this quote by Brene Brown that sums this up so beautifully: “Courage gives us a voice and compassion gives us an ear. Without both, there is no opportunity for empathy and connection.”
Take risks in your relationship
Choose to love even on the days that it feels risky, vulnerable, and hard. In my own marriage, I have done this with simple acts of love:
- Surprising my husband by baking his favorite cake when we were in the middle of a days-long-argument where neither of us wanted to give in.
- Showing affection when that was the last thing I wanted to do.
- Making intentional efforts to find words to praise my husband (his love language is words of affirmation) when I was so angry that I really wanted to use my words to tear him down.
Little things like this don’t just add up— they multiply the grace that God has given you to see radical shifts in your relationship. Give all of yourself to your spouse freely. This is how Christ loves each of us (Ephesians 5:1-2).
Commit your heart to using these keys and you will begin to see them unlock new levels of intimacy, connection and growth in your marriage. I dare you to believe it and then watch it happen as you create a new legacy for yourself, your spouse, and generations to come.
Have you heard of the The 31-Day Pursuit Challenge?
Every marriage begins with passion, purpose, and pursuit, but few stay that way. That’s why we wrote Husband in Pursuit and Wife in Pursuit Together, they make what we’re calling the 31-Day Pursuit Challenge. Couples are encouraged take the challenge together. We’re already starting to hear stories of transformed marriages! Are you up for the challenge?