From the time I was very young, I have been told that it is very important to keep Christ in the center of my relationships. But the thing was, nobody ever really taught me how to do that. I have heard many times over statements like, “Make sure God is in the center of your relationship,” or “You must pray together!” or “Make sure you grow towards Christ together.” Hmmm… oh-kaaaay…. but how…?
Luckily for me, I have always thrived in situations where there is no clear path ahead. I love to experiment, try, and learn. So it is that my husband and I have been struggling and learning how to do this “Christ-centered relationship/marriage” thing for the past 16 years of togetherness (and 8 years of marriage). We love each other a lot and we have always striven to make our relationship a beautiful one for each other. We’ve made a lot of mistakes (when we didn’t know any better) and we’ve learnt a lot from the frustrations and pains that married couples inadvertently bring upon each other in spite of our best intentions. Here are some things that we have learned along the way!
1. Listening is more important than sharing – and when sharing, choose quality over quantity!
We used to think that communication is the most important thing in a relationship, so we tried to cover everything. We wanted to keep each other updated with what was happening at work, with friends, with family… and pretty soon we found ourselves tired out and frustrated because there never seemed to be enough time to talk about everything! What was worse was that we often found ourselves so caught up with telling the other what has been going on in our life that we couldn’t fully be present and listen deeply to the other.
Over time, we have learned to be discerning about what to share with each other at the end of each day. There are days when either of us choose to listen instead of share, because we sense that the other person needs to air his/her feelings more. And even when it is our turn to share, we listen deeply to our inner selves as to what needs to be said and what is not necessary to be said. We have found that our conversations are more mutually inspiring and encouraging this way. For example, one of us may share about a personal struggle we had that day. The other listens, and then speaks some well-chosen words of truth and encouragement, helping the other to have a renewed Christ-centered vision of the situation. We keep these talks short, concise, and sweet. We save most of our deep, intense, and philosophical discussions for the weekend when we have time to delve more deeply into conversation we love.
2. We ask God to teach us how to love the other better.
There was once when we had an unhappy start to a weekend morning. I can’t recall what we argued about, but I was conscious about not wanting the unhappiness to escalate. After saying a silent prayer asking God for grace I knew I didn’t have, I asked my husband gently after a period of silence, “Dear, do you ever ask God to teach you how to love me like he loves me? I think we should do that more often – asking God to teach us how to be a better husband/wife.” My husband was taken by surprise because upon reflecting, he realised that he didn’t consciously pray for that often enough! But since that day he has, and I can testify that his capacity to love me as a husband has grown exponentially. He takes more initiative, is more observant, takes greater leadership in leading us and speaks my love language more often so that I would feel loved.
On my part, Christ is always showing me how to honour my husband, how to build him up, encourage him, and bring out the greatness of Christian manhood in him. I have learned that it is my wifely privilege and duty to remind my husband of the marvels that God has done for him (and us), to help him keep his eyes fixed on Christ, remember that everything is gift, and serve others in love and humility.
3. We minimize “passive” and noisy entertainment
In our first few years of marriage, we loved watching movies together, whether it was a rented DVD or at the cinema. But as we both grew in our relationship with Christ, we have found that this has become one of our least favourite activities together. Why? For one, we are finding that we are much better able to love each other when our souls are in a state of peace and quiet joy. Much of the entertainment we find in the movies or in TV shows do not contribute to that inner state of peace and quiet joy – rather, they dissipate and distract us, and we need a greater amount of recovery time afterwards to regain inner equilibrium. In comparison, we can have hours and even days of lively and uplifting conversation over a good book that we have read. It is even more wonderful when the books that we read and discuss lead us to make practical improvements to our home and individual lives – that increases our peace and joy!
We still watch movies and TV shows now and then, but we are now very selective about what we watch, and we don’t do it every day – or even every week. We would much rather sit together in quiet with a hot cup of herbal tea, soft music in the background, and read or share what we think God is dreaming for our marriage and how he wants us to serve him!
4. We space out our appointments.
When it comes to appointments – whether they be ministry-related or social (family and friends), we have learned to stay away from back-to-back commitments. By back-to-back I don’t just mean several in one day, but even appointments on consecutive days. In every week, we try to keep a buffer of at least 2 to 3 days without meeting others so that we have ample time to slow down, exercise, do housework, play, and most of all, REST.
We have found that our “downtime” sharpens us. It makes us far better companions for the rest of the world for we are more lovingly present, more spiritually discerning, more joyful and creative, and much more life-giving. And we believe that when we are with others, God wants to use us as channels for his creative energy to let others feel his presence, wisdom, and love. Thus it is our priority to keep ourselves in good shape – spiritually, physically, and emotionally – to be the best instruments that we can be for our Lord and Master.
5. We guard each other’s solitude.
This is by far the greatest discovery that we have made as a couple – that the most important thing to help us grow in love for God and each other is to ensure that we both grow in solitude on our own. We have found that this is far, far more important than just “praying together”, for when we learn to cultivate solitude with God in our own lives, we find that we are in deeper spiritual communion with each other and God, all the time.
Back when we both worked long hours, it was very tempting to try and spend whatever time we had left with each other, especially on weekends. I, especially, would tend to get disappointed when he wants to go for an unscheduled run and gym session (which takes around 2 hours). But we have both since discovered that his weekly runs are pockets of precious solitude for him when God serenades him with his favourite Chinese pop music and he is free to be completely alone with God and himself in his thoughts. He usually returns from these runs recharged, more energetic, and much more joyful. Now I have learned that especially on weekends after a cramped and busy week, I should encourage him to go for his run. Even if it is at the price of some “together time”, it builds our relationship far better than doing anything together!
I have also learned to be upfront in stating my need for alone time. Sometimes, I’m just not ready to talk or share and still need to process things alone with God. That’s when I retreat to a prayer corner, light a candle and sit in silence with Jesus or scribble furiously into my journal. Sometimes I leave the house for a centering walk. Whatever it is, we have both learned that it is in solitude with God that we face up to our selves and accept the contradictions within ourselves. And when we are able to do that, we become far more loving people, better able to accept each other in our imperfections and limitations, and love gratefully and joyfully!
This blog entry was really my way of articulating the lessons I’ve learned for myself, but I hope that it triggers those who read this to reflect on how you are being guided to be more loving people too. :)