There are a thousand ways we could choose to live our life together. We have a thousand different voices pulling at us from a thousand different directions at all times. We all have a vision for the life we want, but until we put purpose, intentionality, and action behind that vision, we will remain stuck in the current of the world around us. We need a set of intentional rhythms to guide us toward the life and marriage we envision.
Join Chris and Jenni Graebe on a journey of learning together what it means to craft a “rule of life” both individually and together as a couple. Leave behind the busy life of chaos and hurry, and learn to move toward a meaningful life of joy and intention.
Rhythm 1: Speaking Life
The tongue has the power of life and death.
Words create. God’s Word creates. Our words can participate in the creation.
Think of the couples you admire most in your life. One thing we’ve noticed time and time again is that any thriving couple who has made it together over the long haul just has this incredible way of talking about each other, with a deep sense of admiration and respect. Take it to the bank. This foundational sense of deep respect simply must be present in order for a couple to thrive. Even in moments of conflict and frustration, there’s still an underlying sense of appreciation to lean on that keeps the couple strong.
It’s so important in a marriage to be able to respect each other as people. One of the things that sealed the deal for me with Chris, even when we were just friends, was how respected I felt by him. He just had this way of always noticing the absolute best in me and holding it up for the world to see. Things that I couldn’t even see in myself.
The words we speak to each other create the culture between us. If the environment of our relationship is filled with words of criticism and contempt, no amount of romantic gestures will make a dent of difference. But we hold the power to change the environment of our relationship simply by changing our words.
1. Affirm the Good
So, what are some practical ways we can begin to grow in this rhythm? Here’s the easiest place to begin: When you think something nice, say it out loud. This sounds very simple, I know—but it’s often the simplest things that can make the biggest difference.
I realize this practice will be easier for some than for others. When we first got married, this rhythm of speaking life did not come naturally to me at all. Over time, however, as I saw how important it was to Chris, and how easy it was for him to affirm those around him, this rhythm began to rub off on me. Just like everything else in life worth pursuing, speaking life takes practice. Give yourself plenty of grace and time, but just begin. When you think something nice, say it out loud. Awkward as it may be at first, just give it a try, and then another, and another. Over time, your spouse will begin to hold their head higher, and even grow stronger in the areas you take the time to intentionally acknowledge and affirm.
When he does the dishes, even if it’s not the way you would like them done, thank him and affirm his thoughtfulness. When she musters up the courage to try something new, even if she’s wobbly at first, shower her with praise for the grit and guts it takes to tackle a new skill. There will always be plenty of good to affirm and plenty of faults to criticize. The choice is ours. What will we choose to acknowledge and affirm? Remember, with each blessing we speak, we’re contributing to the reality of the person they’re becoming.
2. Affirm the Gift
We can take speaking words of life to a whole new level when we pray for eyes to notice and name the gifts and callings God has given our spouse. No one knows them better than you do, and no one’s opinion matters more than yours. We both entered our marriage as a whole person with dreams, gifts, and abilities. Part of a healthy, thriving marriage is acknowledging, nurturing, and prioritizing our spouse’s gifts, as well as our own. Look for those seeds of talent, ability, and passion; water them with your words; and watch them begin to blossom over time.
If he’s really good at photography, affirm that gift you recognize in him, and then help him get a website up or a portfolio put together. Maybe she comes alive when she’s writing. Surprise her with a few hours all to herself at her favorite coffee shop, to dream and write. The sky is the limit. When we get the opportunity to see someone we love doing what they love, we fall in love with them all over again.
3. Affirm the Truth
Thriving couples know who their spouse truly is, and they will always question the circumstances contributing to their spouse’s behavior before they question the character of their spouse. When life tries to pull us away from the person God’s called us to be, we can remind each other of our true identity in Christ. Thriving couples speak the truth in love.
One of my favorite Scripture verses is 1 Corinthians 5:7: “Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are.” As you really are. It’s easy to size ourselves and others up by the total sum of our faults, but the truth is, that’s not who we really are. According to God’s Word, if we are in Christ, we have been made new—not because of how perfectly we behaved today, but because of His sacrifice that covers us. So the old me, though she may show up from time to time, is not who I really am. I have been given a brand new identity in Christ. I am covered by the sacrifice of my Savior and made new in Him. What a gift, when my spouse, the most powerful voice in my life, can be the one to remind me.
Does that mean that we should avoid all conflict in our marriage or ignore harmful issues that bother us? Of course not. Part of loving someone well and speaking to the best of who they are will include being honest when conflict arises. And there isn’t a couple alive who doesn’t experience conflict. A healthy part of any marriage is having the freedom and trust to bring what bothers you out into the light, where you and your spouse can deal with it appropriately. The key is to speak to each other in a tone that is loving and kind, while also being open and honest about where we’ve been hurt. If we speak the truth in a way that belittles, accuses, or devalues our spouse, our words will be counterproductive.
Dr. Henry Cloud advises, “Be hard on the issue, but soft on the person.” Maturity in life and in marriage means being able to separate the person we love from the issues. And although I know it’s not easy, sharing openly about what’s bothering you with a heart of love and kindness will produce far better results than harsh words of truth ever will. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Give it a try. Watch what God will do. Sometimes all it takes is one word of love to reverse the cycle of unkindness. You could be the one to change it all. And right there, from one moment of kindness, the healing can begin.
1. Spend some time with the Lord this week, asking Him to align the way you see your spouse to the way He does, and to help you treat your spouse accordingly.
2. Praise them in public this week (in front of actual humans, not on social media). Find something you genuinely admire in them, and then affirm it in a sincere way in front of your friends or family. Watch them lift their head a little higher.
3. What is your spouse good at? What causes their eyes to light up when they talk about it? Acknowledge it this week. Find a tangible way to make space for them to grow in it.
4. Is there an area of conflict with your spouse where you find yourself continually tempted to speak harshly? What would it look like for you to speak openly and honestly about how you feel without accusing, belittling, or devaluing them as a child of God?