“For richer, for poorer.”
“In sickness and in health.”
“Till death do us part.”
The two of you started off with the best of intentions, but something went awry. Once the newness wore off and the pressures of life set in, your bond began to unravel. It may have set in very quickly, or it might have taken many years, but eventually the stress of jobs, babies, bills, and married life took its toll on your relationship.
What do you do when your marriage has crumbled? How do you piece the fragments back together? What happens when your “I do” turns into “What do I do?”
Marriage Renewal Can Save Your Family from Divorce
We have come to accept that God can save any marriage. It may be hard to believe that right now. There may be a lot of pain between the two of you. One or both of you may have said some very hurtful things. But in spite of the pain in your past, any marriage can be salvaged. It requires a tremendous level of grit and commitment, but a genuine marriage renewal is possible. In addition to our own story of marriage renewal, we have met couples and walked alongside couples that have successfully renewed their marriages. Marriages are being saved every day. Yours could be the next success story.
Three Ingredients for a Successful Marriage Renewal
Renewing your marriage isn’t easy. It’s a lot of hard work. But it also isn’t complicated. All you really need are three essential ingredients.
- God at the center – The most important asset your marriage has is faith. I won’t tell you that a marriage can’t be saved without a deep and abiding faith in God, but I will tell you that we have yet to encounter a successful renewal without it. (Jeremiah 32:17, Matthew 19:26)
- Two willing people – One person can’t save a relationship by themselves. It takes two willing partners to do the hard work needed to renew a marriage. Both of you must be willing to work, willing to listen to each other, willing to change, and willing to fight for your marriage. As long as you are a team, the two of you can resolve any issue in your relationship. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)
- Stubborn love – Love isn’t about goosebumps and butterflies. Romantic comedies give a false perception of real love. Marriage is less like Hugh Grant and more like Bear Grylls. You need a stubborn, tough-as-nails, love full of grit and determination. (I Corinthians 13:8)
The Marriage Renewal Process
As we describe in our up-coming book, The Phoenix Marriage, the marriage renewal process consists of three phases.
- Phase 1: The First Forty Days – Initially you need an intense focus on your relationship. During this phase you prioritize your relationship above anything else. Spend time together and reconnect as a couple. Developing your communication skills, avoid negativity, speak kindness and optimism into your union, and rebuild your friendship. For some this is difficult, but for many this initial phase can be exhilarating and refreshing.
- Phase 2: Healing and Rebuilding – Moving beyond the initial burst of activity in renewing your marriage, you must now begin the more long-term process of healing and rebuilding. You likely have a lot of hurt to unpack. The process of healing wounds is not a neat and clean one, because wounds heal crooked. This phase can be difficult to handle as the two of you experience emotional cycles and work through months or years of pain and neglect. Take it one day at a time and lean on the three ingredients we discussed earlier (God, your willingness to work as a team, a stubborn and unshakable love).
- Phase 3: On-going Investment – Eventually the tone of your relationship will shift from healing and rebuilding to continual marriage renewal. Emotional episodes and relationship repair will occur less and less. At some point you will transition toward on-going maintenance and investment in your relationship. This level of engagement will be less than the first two phases, but far more than the level of investment you made before your renewal. Successful relationships require work. Never stop pouring love, honor, and grace into your marriage.
Marriage Renewal Ground Rules
If your marriage renewal is to be a success, the two of you must identify and agree to follow a fundamental set of ground rules.
- Rule #1: Emotions are always good – No matter how hard it may be to hear your mate express the way he or she feels, you must realize that emotions are never “wrong”. There are certainly healthy and unhealthy expressions of emotion, but emotions themselves are ALWAYS valid.
- Rule #2: Raw communication is encouraged – Everyone says they want honesty, but some truths are hard to hear. No matter how difficult it might be, we have found that open, honest communication is best. Brutal, no-holds barred authenticity is necessary if the two of you are going to be able to reconnect and process the pain between you.
- Rule #3: Take responsibility for your stuff – How did your marriage get into trouble in the first place? It takes two to tango and it takes two to dissolve a marriage. Each of you played some role in whittling away the strength of your relationship. Admit your faults and put your heart on the line with a soul-reaching apology for hurting your mate.
- Rule #4: Everyone loses at the blame game – Your marriage doesn’t need shaming and blaming. It needs massive doses of love and grace. Each of you should take responsibility for your own baggage and enthusiastically apologize to the other as needed (see Rule #3). But thrusting blame on your partner is never the right answer.
- Rule #5: Don’t try to do this alone – Renewing your marriage will necessitate that you and your spouse spend a lot of time together; but you can’t renew your marriage alone. Your marriage needs a mentor. Each of you need positive influences in your lives to help hold you accountable in your renewal journey. Surround yourselves with a support network. Isolation is dangerous.
The exact course of your marriage renewal is not predictable. Your process will likely look different from what is experienced by others, but some elements are common. Your marriage renewal requires the same three ingredients, will follow the same basic three-step process, and should adhere to all five ground rules that we identified. These concepts and more are explored in greater detail in our up-coming book, The Phoenix Marriage.
This post is the first in a series of articles on marriage renewal. We’ll unpack more details on how to save your marriage in the next several posts.