We at Renew.org want to encourage faithful, healthy marriages. We have found that one of the ways couples can be healthier is by setting some rules for the marriage. Here are seven rules we have found especially helpful in our marriage and in others’ as well.
#1 – Be connected with other couples.
In our last article, we mentioned that one of hidden signs of an unhealthy marriage was having no marital peer friend groups or mentors. If you want a healthy marriage, having some go-to couples that you can truly turn to when your marriage needs some help is essential. You need couples you can text and say, “Hey, can we all get together? Our marriage is kind of stuck right now.” You need couples you can get together with and be completely honest with. Throughout our marriage, we have had both peer couples and older couples counsel us and walk with us through questions and even arguments.
#2 – Have dates.
A lot of marriages end up putting their kids before the marriage to where the health of the marriage gets neglected. To be healthy, it’s a good idea to prioritize time just for each other. Even if your marriage is in a difficult place, making dates a priority can help the heart to follow. And it might not need to be anything fancy or expensive; dates at home can be fine, too. What’s important is that you’re setting aside time to prioritize your marriage.
For busy parents, you may also want to talk ahead of time and plan times of intimacy. In your marriage, being intentional about dates and sex is so much better than letting life happen and crowd out important time with each other. When you have regular dates, your kids begin to realize that marriage is important, and this value they learn from you will help their future marriages be strong too.
#3 – Don’t use divorce as an easy way out.
Even as tough times in the marriage come, never use the language of divorce in an argument. Persevere through. Even just “staying married for the kids” isn’t a good place to settle. You want to keep working to have a great marriage. Continue to engage. It’s true that, because of the hardness of people’s hearts, Jesus allowed divorce as a tragic last option in certain cases (Matthew 19:3-9). But a marriage between two people who are committed to following Jesus can work its way through.
#4 – Pray together.
Our marriage does better when we’re praying together. This means praying together regularly (for example, before bed) as well as praying together when something comes up that needs prayer. When we’re not seeing eye-to-eye about something, one of us might say, “Do you want to pray about it?” Of course, you’ll also want to cultivate a strong habit of prayer on your own. Start your day with prayer and keep God at the center.
#5 – Fight fair.
Marriage fights can be tough. You’re dealing with raw and intense emotions in the most intimate relationship on earth.
In order to know what a fair fight in marriage looks like, here are some things you might experience in an unfair one: You’ll trade accusing language like, “You always . . .!” or, “You never . . .!” There’s usually a total focus on my point of view, without any thought given to the other person’s perspective. There’s the need to win the argument at all costs, regardless of how much the words or tone hurts the other person. Often, in unfair fights, all the unresolved, festering fights which have been bottled up are now spewing out. In such fights, the whole point of the argument can be lost in an attempt to get revenge for the hurt the other person has caused you.
So, what does a fair fight look like?
Well, it’s all about fighting for your marriage rather than fighting in order to win a personal argument. This can mean giving each other time to think before blowing up at each other. Be willing to say, “I’m not sure this is a good time. I’m kind of upset. Can we come back and talk about this when we’re in a better place?” If things are really tense, it’s better to walk away for a few minutes before saying something that could be really devastating.
When you come back to discuss the problem, empathy is key. You’ll want to ask yourself, with genuine curiosity and compassion, “How is this person feeling right now?” This means taking our cue from James 1:19-20:
“Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (ESV).
Sometimes all it takes is humility from one person willing to walk out what Jesus taught in order to deescalate the argument. Humility can turn things around to where you are now both working together to tackle the problem.
#6 – Forgive.
We should come into a marriage knowing that we’re going to fail each other at times. We all fall short and are going to need forgiveness. So a healthy marriage takes humility. It needs the recognition that we are going to need to forgive and be forgiven. Often, forgiveness in marriage means taking a step back and looking at the big picture. According to the gospel, we are forgiven by God of all our sins. And forgiven people forgive people. As people who desperately needed—and received—forgiveness from God, we can stop trying to be each other’s judge, and we can focus on loving each other well.
#7 – Know each other’s love languages.
You want to be able to love your spouse the way they feel loved. In doing so, it’s important to understand that the way the other person feels loved may be very different from the way that you feel loved. So, you’ll want to ask your spouse, “What really makes you feel loved? What fills your tank? What could I do time and time again that you would never get tired of?” Is it dates? Uninterrupted time spent talking with each other? Physical touch? Sushi? Encouraging words? And then make that effort to love your spouse in specific ways that really make them feel loved.
 The concept of “love languages” was developed by Gary Chapman in his book The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts (Chicago: Northfield Publishing, 2010).