Marriage is a great educator. I haven’t been married long, but being married has taught me a lot about relationships – not only my relationship with my husband, but about my relationship with others, and most importantly my relationships with God.
One thing that I have learned is the importance of being intentional. We tend to think that once you slip on the wedding ring, somehow your relationship will “work.” Since I don’t live in a culture that has arranged marriages, I tend to think marriages have been battle-tested from the dating experience and there is some level of confidence that the individuals “click.” Of course, the divorce statistics in cultures with arranged marriages would seem to suggest that my theory needs some modification since those of us who get to choose our spouse have a much higher divorce rate. One of the reasons for this might be that in cultures where marriages are arranged they expect to have to work at their relationship. In cultures where we self-select our spouse, we might not have that realization. When we’re intentional we’re acknowledging that like plants, relationships aren’t sustained on their own. They need sustenance.
One area in particular that I think we need to be more intentional is with our encouragement. It’s easy to think that our spouse knows we think they are great – after all we married them! However, even the most self-confident among us have days where we need to be spurred on – where we need to know that we are fighting the good fight and that others can see God’s work in our lives. Women in particular tend to be great at giving this type of encouragement to their friends, but less committed to delivering it to their spouses. However, there are at least three things that we should consider when it comes to encouraging our spouse:
1) Be specific – When you do something well, it’s nice when people tell you what specifically you did rather than just a general statement of your greatness. “Good job” is nice; “Good job handling that difficult situation with grace” is even better. Your significant other is likely going to appreciate even general words of encouragement but where you can, be specific. It will help them know that the things that they are doing, rather than just who they are, is having an impact.
2) Be frequent – My mom told me this “story” of a guy who told his wife I loved you once and then was surprised when she needed to hear it more often; after all – she already knew he loved her! While we may be quick to recognize the need for more frequent statements of affection, we aren’t sometimes as quick to realize that our encouragement needs to be frequent as well. If your spouse does a good job of making dinner or working hard at their job, or whatever it is that they do well, make sure you frequently encourage them with words of affirmation. Saying it once isn’t often. Say it often.
3) Be inclusive – This may seem like a contradiction to the first statement, but it’s really not. What I’ve learned is that it is important to encourage your loved ones in more than 1 area of their life. Sure – you may really appreciate their music giftedness, but they are more than just a musician. Encourage your spouse in every area of ministry that they are involved in – their marriage, their church service, their job, and in whatever other area God may be using them. Knowing that your wife thinks you do a good job at work is nice – but your husband would also probably appreciate hearing how they are doing a good job at being a husband as well. Significant others have a front-row seat to seeing how God is using us – in a variety of areas. We should be encouraging each other in all of them.
Being intentional with our encouragement requires work – it requires thoughtfulness, consideration, and purpose. However, the dividends for our relationship, as well as for our witness to God, are well worth the effort.
Now it’s your turn…
How are you intentionally encouraging to those you love? How has someone been intentionally encouraging to you?