If you want to bridge the differences in your marriage, you’ll need a few things to help you along the way.
1) Love and respect
Love and respect shouldn’t be handled like our typical exercise routine—only when we feel like it! It shouldn’t be meted out only when we believe it’s been earned. Love and respect are philosophical positions that we should hold, not because they always feel good or we always feel like doing them, but because, under God and His design, LOVE and RESPECT are RIGHT.
Here are some ideas for what love and respect might look like.
- appreciation (“The things you see and experience over and over again tend to be the things that at some point you quit noticing.” Paul Tripp)
- arguments that don’t devolve into name calling
- the benefit of the doubt
- positive (not negative) reinforcement
2) Put Jesus first
If you’re a Christian couple, then Jesus comes first—always and forever. If you want your relationship to be healthy and happy, then don’t put yourself first, don’t put the other first, put Jesus first. Any other priority leaks into idolatry.
If you feel like you should come first, you have an idolatry problem and the idol you’re worship is yourself. If you can’t imagine putting Jesus before your spouse or your fiancé or whoever, then you have an idol problem, too, and your idol is your lover.
Listen: no matter what, Jesus comes first! And I don’t mean that theoretically; I mean practically. We can’t put Jesus first in theory but not in practice.
3) Remember grace
As sinners in the hands of an just and holy God, we’re all in dire need of His mercy and grace. That’s Christianity. It isn’t about candles, stained windows, a certain dress code, or a particular denomination. Christianity is about sinners coming to God through faith in His Son and His Son’s work, because there we find mercy and grace where and when we need it. That’s mere Christianity—plain and simple. And therefore to treat people ungraciously is non-Christian. We should be dealing graciously with our spouses and loved ones, because we of all people have a keen awareness of the grace we require from God.
4) Grow and grow together
Paul once said, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways” (1 Corinthians 13:11). Listen, if you want to bridge differences, grow and grow together. To say it negatively, if you want to create differences, then grow and grow apart!
I have seen so many relationships begin happy and seemingly healthy but eventually fall apart for the simple reason that one of the two involved continued to grow while other stopped. So, grow…read the Scripture, watch good movies, listen to good podcasts, have deep, meaningful conversations. Physical growth doesn’t happens
5) Listen to understand
This is a principle from Steven Covey’s book The 7 Laws of Highly Effective People. (It’s definitely a book worth reading.) In it, he explains that most people listen so that they can respond to what’s being said, which means that they aren’t fully listening, that is, listening to understand.
Proverbs 18:13 agrees: “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.”
So, many of the communication breakdowns that we experience in relationships can be attributed to nothing more than a failure to listen, and consequently a failure to understand and express compassion.
It’s a fact of nature…if you’re talking, you’re not listening. And if you’re not listening, then you’re not understanding.
6) Speak even if it’s uncomfortable
Recently, I was talking to someone who called me out on something. Let me tell you about being called out…it’s not fun. It means you’re hearing something about yourself, that you would never tell yourself, because it’s negative, it’s something you don’t want to hear, something that you don’t want to receive.
But when I was called out about his thing, it made perfect sense to me the second I was told. I sometimes avoid saying something that I should say, because I prefer to keep the status quo than deal with something that should be addressed. Don’t trust your own silence. Silence is often a disguise… If something should be said, whether or not it’s comfortable, then is should be said sooner than later. (How do you say it? Refer back to #1.)
7) Consider needs
Bridging differences means a willingness to do the work necessary to maintain the relationship once you’ve reached the other side! When you’re in a relationship with someone, God has designed relationship so that you don’t go into it for what you can get but rather for what you can give! Let me say that again: Christians have relationships for what they can give not what they can get.
Matthew 7:12 instructs us, saying, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
8) Determine success
If it’s soccer, it’s goals. If it’s football, it’s touchdowns. If it’s basketball, it’s points. If it’s baseball, it’s runs. That’s the name of the game–do what you must to get more than the other team. In sports, that’s success.
Let me ask you this question: Do you have a definition for success for your family? If I were to ask you, “What’s a win for you and your family?” how would you answer? If I were to ask you, “What puts points on the board for you and your family?” how would you answer? Knowing these answer helps you achieve success, so that you’re not just “getting through the day” but actually achieving goals for the home team!
9) Major on the majors
Finally, major on the majors. In his excellent book What Did You Expect? Paul Tripp writes, “You cannot live with another person and make every difference equally important and equally an issue between you. Some differences are not important at all” (223, italics added).
Let’s face it, how many issues do you and I argue about simply for the sake of pride or oneupmanship? If we major on the majors, we will take ourselves out of the equation and focus on the more important ones (e.g., #2).
Finally, God doesn’t want our lives to reflect a hilarious tragedy, like the media likes to pour downward to the culture. It’s one thing to laugh at the characters portrayed on the tv. It’s another thing to live like them. God wants us to take this gift of life, invest in it, grow it, nurture it, so that in time, when we find someone to love, we actually have something to offer them—because we can’t be something for someone until we are somebody ourselves. Relationships require that we bridge differences and remain committed. These 9 points should help us along the way!