“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” (Ephesians 5:25 NIV).
Falling in love is easy. Staying in love is hard work. It takes deliberate effort to follow through on the vows we make on our wedding day. No matter how well prepared we think we are for marriage, we aren’t—not until we begin to walk those vows out. Whether you’ve said, “I do,” recently or you’ve been together for decades, you can count on one thing—your lives will be full of for better or for worse.
So how can you keep your marriage strong in the better and build it back up in the worse? Love your wife more than yourself. Push your needs aside and instead of asking what she can do for you, ask, “What can I do for her?” The list I’m offering next is only meant as a springboard to answer that question. God knows your wife and your marriage. He put you together, and He wants you to stay together. Ask Him to reveal her heart, then pay attention to what He shows you.
1. Touch Her
Most women crave affection outside of the bedroom. In the beginning of your marriage, you probably didn’t even have to think about holding her hand or rubbing her back. The longer we’re married, the more absent our touches can become. Jobs, kids, and financial stress can take priority over focusing on one another.
But even though life gets busy, her need to feel loved by you hasn’t changed. Look at it from her side—the day you married her, she became off-limits to every other man. Any affection she receives only comes from you. That’s a privilege, not a chore. She’s yours to take care of and love. You get her in ways no one else can have her. Don’t withhold something she needs; make touching her a priority. An unexpected hug can be worth a thousand I-love-you’s. Try it and see.
2. Show Her Respect
When you first met, I’ll bet you asked her where she wanted to eat, what movie she wanted to see, or what she thought about her future. When you knew she was the one, you probably saw her as a partner, an equal, and someone to talk things out with. Her opinions mattered.
Now that you’re married, remember that. Keep listening to her, and value her input. Consider her needs even if you don’t understand them. Remember, she’s just as invested in the life you’re making together as you are, and she wants to feel as if she’s standing by your side instead of walking behind you.
3. Carry Her Burden
We get married for a lot of reasons, but one of them is that we don’t want to go through life alone. There’s something appealing about that picture of growing old and gray together. Part of that appeal comes from having someone else to shoulder your burden.
When life weighs her down, step in and bear some of her load. Give her a chance to rest—emotionally, physically, spiritually. Be there for her, and when it comes time to return the favor, she’ll be strong enough to be there for you.
4. Speak Her Love Language
It’s true that women and men show and receive love differently, but I don’t think it’s about gender as much as it’s about personality. Not everyone speaks the same love language. Chances are, the things that make you feel appreciated and wanted won’t always make her feel the same. When you cart the kids around to give her a break, your heart’s in the right place. But if she really needed you to bring her flowers to feel loved, you’re going to go through a lot of effort to show your devotion and be left disappointed.
Stop, drop, and roll. Stop and pay attention to what makes her feel cherished. What makes her feel like she’s your number one. Drop what you’re doing if it doesn’t match up. Then roll with what you discover. If you’re not an observant guy, cheat. Ask her what she needs. Yes, she may be irritated that you couldn’t figure it out, but she’ll also be touched that you cared enough to try.
5. Let Her Be Herself
You fell in love with your wife for who she was, whether you met her in high school, college, or after. Maybe what first made you fall was her sense of humor, the way she wore her hair, or how you felt when she smiled at you. And you never wanted her to change.
But people do change. Life brings experiences and circumstances along with responsibilities. And we have to adapt, good or bad. Plus, we want to grow as people, and God is pruning us to be our best. Encourage her to pursue new interests, make new friends, and change her style. Love who she was yesterday and be excited for who she’s going to become tomorrow.
6. Give Her Space
When you get married, you naturally spend most of your time together. You live in the same place, have a lot of the same friends, and go to the same events. But even though you’ve merged your lives together, you both still need space.
Give her time to be alone, but also give her the space to do the things that are important to her, even if they don’t interest you. If she feels good about who she is alone, she’ll be able to be a stronger partner when you’re together.
7. Treat Her Better Than a Stranger
Test yourself this week. Watch how you interact with people you’ve just met. Are you polite? Considerate? Do you answer questions patiently? Listen to their opinions? Check yourself when you’re angry? Now compare that behavior with how you act around your wife.
It’s been said that we treat the people closest to us the worst—because we feel safe in our relationships to express how we really feel. Expressing ourselves is fine, but we have a choice in the way we go about it. Why not take the gift you give strangers just for being strangers and offer it to your wife?
8. Expend the Effort
Whoever tells you marriage is an equal partnership hasn’t been married long—or ever. Not only don’t the numbers come in at 100/100, but they rarely come in at 50/50. Marriage, like life, tends to move in uneven cycles. It’s not fair; it will never be fair. But the bottom line is that you expend the effort it takes to keep the relationship going or you don’t. Your marriage works or it doesn’t. It’s good, bad, or neutral. That’s where your control lies—in what you choose to do.
If you love your wife, don’t be satisfied with mediocre. You didn’t walk down the aisle thinking you’d be roommates who barely speak. You wanted better—go after it. Even if she’s given up, chances are once she sees you putting her and your marriage first, she’ll jump in and do the same.
9. Ask Questions
At first, learning about her feels easy. You want to know her favorite food, the movie she’s seen the most, what she wants to do with her life. Getting married opens a new stream of questions as you learn to live together and make life plans.
Eventually the newness wears off and the questions taper. You’re worried about what you need to accomplish at work, checking things of your honey-do list, meeting your financial obligations, and your world isn’t in sync with hers the way it used to be. Stop letting her drift away and start asking her questions. Show her you care about what’s going on when she’s not with you.
10. Be Still and Pray
There’s a time to ask questions. And then there’s a time to just be quiet and be there. You can’t always fix everything, even if you want to. But you’re not out of options when it feels like everything’s falling apart.
Don’t beg her to tell you what she needs. Pray.
Don’t argue over things that will destroy your marriage. Pray.
Don’t push your ideas on her. Pray.
And don’t give up. Ever. Just pray.
**This article first appeared on Crosswalk.com (October 2017).
About the Author: Lori Freeland is an author, editor, writing coach, wife, mom, and creator of imaginary people—not necessarily in that order. An acquisitions editor for Armonia Publishing, former editor for The Christian Pulse, and regular contributor to Crosswalk.com, she writes fiction and non-fiction in several genres and has presented numerous writing workshops nationwide. When she’s not curled up with her husband drinking too much coffee and worrying about her kids, you can find her blogging at lafreeland.com.