7 ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. 9 What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
Upon the arrival of our son, my wife Bethany and I were reminded of the magnitude of being one in marriage.
The stress of sleepless nights and the unpredictability of a newborn have the potential to catch any marriage off guard. Most married couples are familiar with the temptation to simply “get along” and “make the best of it” in such times of stress or conflict, and it can be easy to believe that letting things slide is the best course of action.
But that’s far from the truth.
Conflict, whether big or small, has a way of disconnecting us if not resolved in a God-honoring way. Unresolved conflict always separates things that are meant to be joined together.
As I’ve observed the older, seasoned adults in my life, I’ve found that oneness is hard to achieve. Instead, many couples seem to become passive aggressive over time, unable to communicate in careful and honest ways, and only getting along in a marriage marked by petty arguments, rivalry and antagonism. I think the problem is that we tend to think oneness in marriage simply “happens.” Like growing teeth, or going to college, or getting taller—it’ll just happen at some point.
But like most things that matter, a healthy marriage is more like a garden that needs tending than something that simply “happens.” A healthy marriage needs careful gardeners on the lookout for weeds and other pests that poison the potential crop. The flowers need watering and the plants need pruning for that garden to flourish.
The truth is that in every relationship, something is growing. And if it’s a weed, every time it’s ignored, it will grow stronger, establishing deeper roots. If we know anything about gardening, it’s that weeds have the power to kill everything healthy around them. Weeds spread and turn what could be beautiful into something dreadfully ugly.
I often find myself reminding my wife (and myself) that we are a team.
A team is made up of players with different strengths and unique perspectives who are united in goal and vision. A team that wins is a team that works hard to remain so. And in a marriage, you’re either on the same team or on opposing teams—there’s no neutral zone.
We’ve all met couples who are simply married on paper. They stick with it “for the kids” but are clearly on separate teams going separate ways. So here are 6 ways that have helped my wife and I foster the culture of team in our marriage.
1. Commit to honesty.
A team that works well together knows that anything deceptive will kill oneness. Without a commitment to truth there can be no trust, nor grace. Honesty doesn’t simply mean bluntness or lack of restraint. Rather, honesty in marriage means that we tell the truth in loving ways, in ways that help the other flourish, and not feel belittled or crushed. Honesty means telling the truth when we are upset—even when we know we are being unreasonable or irrational—because we know that truth will always be exposed one way or another.
2. Affirm the other’s strengths.
When a team is infiltrated by jealousy, it falls apart. Every team member plays a unique role which maximizes their strength and the strengths of those around them. For that to happen, everyone on the team needs to know and admit what their teammates are good at. Are there things your wife or husband is better at than you? Affirm these things, acknowledge them, and celebrate them. It will help you and your marriage in the long run. Don’t allow your spouse’s strengths to make you feel insecure or envious. Competition of that sort is dangerous—putting you on opposing teams and making room for weeds to grow. Affirming the other’s strengths, especially the ones you don’t have, will help them flourish, and will build trust.
3. Trust good intentions.
Trusting your spouse’s intentions means believing he or she has your best interests at heart. For a team to flourish there must be a constant trust and assumption that your spouse wants the best for you, your marriage and your family. What that means is that you don’t interpret every comment or action as a means of undermining you. This is called being passive aggressive. For example, if your husband cleans the house while you’re out, trust that he’s just trying to be caring and helpful—it’s not some subversive way of letting you know that you’re not a good wife. If you can’t trust your spouses intentions, then there is something deeper that needs addressing. Go back to number 1 on the list above.
4. Ask for help.
Asking your spouse for help can be really hard for the independent type. It means taking a humble stance and recognizing that neither of you is doing this alone—you’re committed to doing it together.
How many fights, arguments and regrets have been caused by misunderstanding? It has been said that “the biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” It’s often much less complicated to say “never mind” when your spouse doesn’t understand you. Working at clarity takes time, but the effort is worth it.
6. Make each other laugh.
Karl Barth once said that “laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God.” Without laughter, we take ourselves—and life—too seriously. Laughing at the perplexities and challenges of life reminds us that everything, especially your imperfect spouse, is pure grace. So put your shirt on backwards, stick out your tongue, and do something silly, because humour will remind you that everything you have is a gift, and that will always boost your sense of oneness.
7. Have team rituals.
All great teams have rituals, from practice on Mondays to wings on Wednesdays. A ritual in the context of marriage is something that you do together, maybe weekly or monthly that help you focus on connecting with each other. This could mean a family outing to the grocery story, a good conversation over a special dessert, or an honest discussion over how you’re doing in the areas outlined above. Team rituals gives you and your spouse a chance not only to connect but to practice honesty with each other.
This is not at all an exhaustive list, but a good start to growing in greater oneness in your marriage. Oneness in marriage takes work, patience and a lot of grace. Like a garden, it needs careful tending and intentional planning. But perhaps if we get this right we can create a picture of something beautiful for the next generation—an alternative to the cultural offerings and a testament to the reality that Jesus-inspired, long-term commitment and hard work produces the best kind of fruit.