Written by Dr. Brenda Neyens
Prior to the outbreak of COVID19, marital counseling had already been a high priority for the counseling team in The Core (counseling and care ministries) at King of Kings Church. We have the honor and privilege to help two people build a more harmonious life together. This of course includes helping couples overcome minor problems and even major difficulties. And when permitted, to help them grow in their relationship with Jesus.
As a result of this pandemic, marital challenges may become even more intense with two people being together 24/7. This living arrangement may or may not include children and additional family members. This is a lot of energy and diverse temperaments shoved together. Not to mention, as part of our human nature, whenever we feel stuck or trapped in a predicament our anger and frustration may be worsened. Essentially, we feel backed into a corner. In this case, hard pressed to find some personal space in order to re-group.
If you are struggling in your marriage, all the way up to and including full on discord, the first thing I would ask you to consider is your willingness to receive marital counseling. With the availability of tele-health, marital support is available without even leaving your home.
Truth be told, most of the couples who are reporting a higher level of marital satisfaction during this difficult season with stay at home orders, are those who have received marital counseling, mentoring, or attended seminars and classes. They are putting to use their marital tools that they have already learned. The things that work for them. But this does not mean that they are not experiencing the stress of our current situation, the strain on relationships is real. Although, of course, social media may make it seem like everyone is doing great but you.
Whether or not you choose marital counseling, there is something that you can do to both lower any tension in your home and to strengthen your bond. You can commit to the following: “be for one another.” With zero intention of minimizing the complexities of any marital issues or emotional pain that may be present in your home, this specific commitment is intended to increase the harmony within your home.
Essentially, this pledge fuels an increased positive regard between two or more people. You most likely have heard this phrase in response to COVID19: “we are in this together and we will get through this together.” This is something I am encouraging you to embrace on behalf of your household.
This is a positive step that you can take in response to any degree of negative relational patterns which also may be worsened by the pandemic. This overall suggestion may be perceived as ignoring or suppressing any marital problems, and while I can understand that sentiment, this idea is actually intended to strengthen some common ground and offer some relational success to build upon before you tackle any of the hard stuff. It can provide some much needed momentum and confidence for a family.
“Being for one another” also exists within many platonic relationships, such as players on a sports team, siblings, friends, and co-workers. Basically, any time individuals are working together for their common good or for collective goals and dreams. Since a marriage entails so much more than all of these connections combined, it is even more important to be on the same team so to speak.
For the application of this sentiment within the bounds of a healthy marriage, I am asking you to take a closer look at one aspect of your relationship: your friendship. Most couples have declared at some point in their courtship that they are marrying their best friend. Essentially, they are stating that they have found someone who they can count on above everyone else.
My hope and prayer for you is that strengthening this aspect of your marriage creates a ripple effect. Through this, the aim is not to minimize the fullness of your relationship into one area. Most definitely it is not to suggest that being “only” friends is a healthy marital goal.
Practically, what does it mean to adopt this attitude and what are some tangible steps?
First and foremost, pray individually and collectively for Jesus to strengthen your bond of friendship. Ask Him to rekindle a sense of being best friends. Above everyone else, that you are “for one another.” I suggest turning to Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” As a follow-up prayer petition: “Lord, help me to be tenderhearted towards my spouse.”
In order to do this, set aside any high expectations that you may currently have for your spouse; rather, focus on their actions and intentions as your friend. Let’s take a look at a few qualities of friendship and how to nurture them in your relationship. Once again, the goal is to increase positivity, not to diminish or lessen the marriage covenant to a “mere friendship.”
Accepting: Don’t pressure your spouse into doing something they are not ready to do, but rather, encourage them to share their strengths with you and the family. If it is currently difficult to identify some strengths, recall when you were dating your spouse, what were some attributes or abilities that caught your attention? Focus on these areas. Friends share their gifts and talents with one another. This may require a self-examination of a critical attitude towards your spouse. It is possible that where gratitude for contributions once resided, that now criticism for their efforts has taken hold. Be gentle with yourself if this has happened. Jesus can help you to be more tender-hearted and see contributions in a new light.
Non-judgmental: Listen to each other and try to put yourself in one another’s shoes. Do you recall when you were dating? A lot of that conversation was focused on getting to know one another and understanding one another’s belief system. Perhaps it is time to revisit these types of conversations again? Those ones in which you did not assume that you knew what the other person is thinking. But rather, you intently drew them out and discovered more aspects of their personality.
Share with one another your recollection of those times in which you discovered common views and also when the views of your partner stretched your vantage point in some wonderful ways. Nostalgia is a wonderful gift in relationships.
Respectful: Mutual respect is one of the most powerful traits of friendship. Through the grace of God via prayer and even repentance, make a commitment to express kindness towards your spouse through both word and deed. Kindness is never wasted, and it requires less energy than actions of disrespect or withholding. I know that I can get caught in a mindset of determining who does or does not deserve my best. Instead and through the gift of God’s grace, I/you can act with consideration regardless of our circumstances.
Please be aware of your own internal dialogue. If you are beating yourself up, it is only a matter of time until this spills over and onto others. Spend some time talking with a same gender friend who builds you up without tearing others down. If you do not have a person who can fulfill this role, please seek individual counseling. We can help with your self-talk.
Finally, examine all your other relationships and place every adult into one of two categories. Are they an advocate for your marriage or are they someone who allows you to consistently bemoan your spouse and they even join in? Make a decision to spend less of your time with marriage detractors and more time around people who are championing your marriage. Let’s face it, under this season of social distancing, your negative thoughts are already going to get more air time than they would normally. For the sake of your marriage, especially while you are in close quarters and everything seems worse than normal, you do not need naysayers adding their two cents to the mix. You need people cheering you on and gently reminding you that there is hope and a light at the end of this tunnel. Even if the tunnel seems really long.
Also and in line with some solid advice we keep hearing during this pandemic, don’t set really high goals right now. Yes, even when it comes to your marriage, unless you are seeking the help of a mentor or a counselor. This is simply a hard time to be at our best. Be gentle with yourself and your spouse.
On behalf of the entire team at The Core, we are praying for your marriage. Also, we welcome your individual prayer requests. Plus, we can help to connect you to a marriage mentor or a counselor for individual and marital counseling.
Please email Pastor Leroy Gerner at email@example.com to get connected to some additional marital support. Please send him your prayer requests. In addition, check out all of our resources at thecoreomaha.com.
Brenda is a licensed counselor and Spiritual Formation Director at King of Kings Church. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org