15 Challenges to a Stronger Marriage
Michael and Amy Smalley have come up with the following challenges to improve your marriage. They are taken from their book, The Surprising Way to a Stronger Marriage. While taking the challenge, start your day by reviewing the week's challenge.
What can you do to improve your marriage? Take a look at your attitude in the last week. What tone did you set in your relationship?
- What's the quickest way for your marriage to get better?
- Are you focused on your spouse's neglect? On his or her bad attitude? If so, how's that working for you?
- Do you have a choice in how you respond to your spouse's attitude or tone? If so, what are your options?
How have your actions affected your marriage? If you have a relationship with God, find a quiet place somewhere and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you things that you've done that negatively shaped your marriage. Then talk to your spouse about the results, asking forgiveness for what you believe was unproductive, unhealthy, or reflected a selfish attitude.
- Are you ever truly innocent in conflict with your spouse? How would you describe your tone, nonverbal signals, and the way in which you're usually interpreted?
- What happens to your marriage when you don't recognize your own faults?
- What happens when you blame your spouse for the problems in your marriage?
Instead of trying to defend yourself, seek to understand your spouse's needs and feelings. Lay down your emotions for a moment, go to your mate, and ask him or her to describe the situation before you get defensive.
- Why do we get defensive with our spouse? Could it have something to do with our own issues or guilt?
- Does getting defensive ever help calm the situation down? Why not?
- If defensiveness doesn't work with a spouse, what does?
Stop trying to change your spouse.
- What have you been trying to change in your spouse? How have your efforts been received?
- Instead of fixing the attention on our spouse, where does our focus need to be?
- Do you think it would be important to build your own PIT Crew? Who would you want to include?
Instead of avoiding the hurt or conflict in your marriage, lean in toward each other-and toward God.
- Is there something you need to forgive your spouse for, but haven't seemed able to? If so, what is it?
- Why is it important to forgive your spouse?
- What kind of attitude do we need to have if our spouse wrongs us?
Instead of focusing on the facts of an argument, try to discover the feelings underneath the frustration or hurt.
- What truly matters in a marriage when conflict erupts?
- Why does focusing on facts create disharmony?
- If most conflict isn't about "truth," what is it about?
Try putting your own concerns aside this week and validate your spouse, especially if you're not feeling validated.
- Instead of rushing to judgment against your spouse, how could you respond differently next time you feel controlled or ignored?
- What happens to your spouse when he or she feels validated? Do things get worse or better?
- What keeps you from validating your spouse?
Perhaps by now you've practiced take a time-out. Now take another one, looking inward to see how God lets you know where you need to change. Look to Christ to humble, strengthen, and mold you into who He wants you to be.
- What's the most important thing for you to do during time-out?
- Who has an easier time calling a time-out—an escalator or an avoider? Why?
- How does taking a time-out demonstrate love and personal responsibility?
Try to change one negative belief about your spouse. Challenge it with a reality check. Practice extending grace to your mate in that area this week.
- What's so destructive about having negative beliefs regarding your spouse?
- Why are clarifying questions so important to a happy marriage?
- If you find out that you're holding negative beliefs about your mate, what should you do next?
Instead of assuming you know what your spouse needs from you, ask a Trillion-dollar Question (TDQ) in the next three days. It might take one of these forms:
"What can I do to make this right??"
"What do you need from me at this moment?"
"How can I help you right now?"
"Is there anything you need from me?"
- Why is it important not to assume that we know what our spouse needs?
- How could the TDQ help jump-start happiness in your marriage?
- If your spouse asked you the TDQ, what kind of message would that send to you?
Choose this week to focus on the things your spouse is doing right.
- Are you in charge of your own happiness, or are you dependent on what your spouse does or doesn't do?
- What's one way in which you could see your spouse from a fresh, positive perspective this week?
- Max Lucado writes, "Focus on giants—you stumble. Focus on God—your giants tumble." What "giants" in your marriage do you tend to focus on? What could happen if you focus on God instead?
What are the key areas in your life that need attention? Work those things and stop worrying about your spouse's issues.
- Which of your spouse's issues do you need to "let go of" so that you can work on your own?
- How do you feel when your spouse judges you? How do you think it makes your spouse feel when you judge?
- If you focus on your own issues, how might your spouse respond?
Next time you're irritated at your spouse, choose love, patience, kindness, mercy, and grace. First, though, decide: How will these qualities probably look when the time comes?
- What are you willing to do for the sake of your marriage?
- Does unfaithfulness necessitate divorce? Why or why not?
- What's one way in which you can show your spouse Christ's love for you?
Make sure the expectations you have for your spouse are fair. If stress in your marriage makes it hard to evaluate your expectations, ask a mentor, pastor, friend, or counselor to help you.
- Have you ever shared your expectations about time together with your spouse, sexual frequency, or romance? If not, please do so now.
- What are three things you'd like to stop in your marriage?
- What are three things you'd like to start?
Are you missing out on a good thing? Be open to noticing even the smallest positive change in your spouse's behavior or actions toward you.
- What are some good things you can say about your spouse and marriage?
- What needs to happen in your marriage for change to begin?
- To whom can you turn in times of hurt or frustrations to give you guidance and hope? What role would you like God to play in that process? Who might be able to help you find human comforters and counselors as well?
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Used with permission from Michael and Amy Smalley's book, The Surprising Way to a Stronger Marriage.
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