I was exhausted, and quite honestly ready for bed. Yet, my wife was relentless.
"Honey, I really want to go out to one nice dinner with you before we leave town. Please, will you get dressed up?" she pleaded.
Never mind that it was already 9:30pm and I just finished working one of the longest and hardest weeks of my life at a conference out of town. Granted, the week went well and I was glad to have Christi with me, but this last task was one I was reluctant to fulfill.
I'm glad I did. It is still one of the most memorable and elegant dinners we’ve shared together, one we won't soon forget. Though I didn't want to go, I did it for Christi. By putting her desires before my own, I died in my marriage that night. And the result was an unforgettable experience together.
I believe that’s part of what Jesus meant when he compared our relationship with him to that of a marriage—that his death for you and the new life that resurrects from it apply to our marriages as well.
When we choose to die to ourselves for the sake of our spouse (which never feels good in the moment), the experiences and memories that come from it can breathe new life into our marriage.
In no other circumstance do I relate to this principle more than the middle-of-the-night newborn months of life. When our baby girl—who has her days and nights mixed up right now—starts crying 45 minutes into my night shift—for the third time in the same night—I’m looking at my wife sound asleep thinking, “Really? How do you not hear her?”
Just being real here, death by sleep deprivation would be a miserable way of dying.
Back on point: When I get up begrudgingly through the night to tend to our newborn, I’m usually short and insensitive in how I respond to Christi the next morning. If we don’t address the pattern right away, we find ourselves fighting against one another and not for one another.
And Lord knows, there’s no greater opponent to the life of a marriage than an 8-pound newborn.
After experiencing every hour-on-the-hour last night, I can say I’m writing with a grateful heart, because though Christi and I are lacking sleep, there’s life resurrected in our relationship, because we’re both pulling our weight—not just for the sake of our baby girl, but for the sake of our marriage.
Here are a few ways you can die in your marriage and breathe new life into your relationship.
1. Become Teammates: Both the Bible and marital research show the importance of dying to self and working as a team to resurrect memories and meaning in life. In fact, Dr. John Gottmann summarized his 30+ years of research into a book called, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. One of the principles he emphasizes is to “create shared meaning.” I absolutely love this.
Gottmann writes, “Marriage isn’t just about raising kids, splitting chores, and making love. It can also have a spiritual dimension that has to do with creating an inner life together—a culture rich with rituals, and an appreciation for your roles and goals that link you, that lead you to understand what it means to be a part of the family you have become.”
You will not create shared meaning if you’re on different teams. You are a family—die daily for one another, not something meaningless. Resurrection never comes when you die for the wrong thing.
On a side note, if it's your spouse who needs to read this, start by reading the post How to Change Your Spouse.
2. Step out of your comfort zone: Create memories together by doing things your spouse loves to do. Even when it’s an effort or an activity you don't enjoy, put their desire above your own. It is not about the actual event, it is about the bond that grows out of it.
3. Honor and adore: Do one thing each day to show your spouse honor and adoration. Leave love notes. Speak highly of your spouse in front of others, especially your kids. Get up in the middle of the night and tend to the baby. Do one selfless act that will brighten their day.
Research shows that when fondness and admiration are missing from a marriage, it cannot be saved.
On the contrary, when you adore and honor your spouse, you yourself can reap the benefits. Dying in your marriage actually resurrects an environment of safety and love that motivates your spouse to respond with reciprocal fondness and admiration.
When we die to self, we ultimately bring forth life in our marriage. It's the upside-down Kingdom of God and resurrection in action.
Questions for Discussion:
- What are things I have done for you that make you feel loved and adored?
- What is one thing you enjoy that you wish I would do with you?
- How do I (or do I not) show gratitude when you "die" for me?
Joshua Straub, Ph.D. is an advocate for families and parenting in the 21st century. He loves coming alongside families to provide encouragement, support and practical counsel. Josh loves combining scientific research with biblical wisdom to provide the best-of-all-worlds perspective on raising stellar kids, having an awesome marriage and enjoying life while doing it. You can read more of the boring professional stuff about Josh and his books here, if you’re interested. Together with his favorite writing partner and wife, Christi, Josh has fun parenting their son Landon and daughter Kennedy. For more encouragement and ideas on marriage and parenting in the 21st century you can join Josh and a growing tribe of awesome families at www.joshuastraub.com and follow him on Twitter @joshuastraub or Facebook.