Does Your Marriage Need a Good Workout?
A marriage and family pastor recently told us that at his church, no one wants to walk over to the marriage booth between services. Why? Because of the stigma attached. (“Do you see that? Jason and Jennifer are at the marriage booth! I had no idea their marriage was in trouble! Oh, their poor kids!”) And his church isn’t alone.
It’s a well-documented misconception that only troubled couples attend marriage events and classes.
To change this misconception, we use an analogy comparing hospitals to health clubs. Sometimes we need a doctor or even a hospital because our physical health is in a state of crisis. Medical professionals can diagnose the problem and bring us back to good health. That’s the “hospital” part. But taking care of our health is something we should always be doing. By eating right, getting enough rest, and exercising, we can prevent many of those unfortunate trips to the hospital. That’s the “health club” part.
So how does this analogy apply to marriage and relationships?
Sometimes there’s a need for the (Relationship) Hospital
When couples experience deeply troubling times in their marriage, they need to go to the (relationship) hospital – which may be a pastor, a support group, or a professional counselor. Christian helpers can walk couples through the pain of recovering from infidelity, or help them rebuild closeness after years of paying too much attention to the children and too little attention to each other.
In our case, our need for a “relationship hospital” came when our kids were teenagers. At this time of crisis, we made appointments with two of our pastors, asking them for counsel. Based on their recommendations, we met with a family counselor for a number of months. She helped us sort out what was happening in our family and how to make it better. We had to humble ourselves and admit we were facing issues that felt beyond us – and we’re so glad we did. Today, we have healthy relationships with all of our adult kids. We’re so grateful for the time we spent in the “relationship hospital,” for the growth and healing it brought to our family.
It doesn’t happen to every couple, but there may be a time when you need help from someone trained to bring God’s grace and wisdom to your marriage. When your relationship is struggling, we encourage you to reach out to your church, to Biola University’s Center for Marriage and Relationships (CMR), or to a respected counselor.
But all of us should be working out – regularly – at the (Relationship) Health Club!
When you hear that someone has joined a health club you probably think, “Good for them. They’re taking responsibility for staying healthy.” This is how it should be in our marriages. We all should be doing it.
So, what do we mean by a “relationship” health club?
We mean making intentional efforts to increase your relational health, have more fun, and grow in intimacy. Just like there are many ways to improve and maintain your physical health, there are a ton of ways to do the same for your relational health.
Here are some ideas for working out at the “relationship health club”:
- Join a gym class - Attend a marriage class or event. Yes, it may feel like work, but just like a gym class, the hardest part is showing up. And you’ll feel so much better knowing you’re getting healthier. We took a 9-week class a few years ago and as a result, an unhealthy pattern that had gradually developed in our marriage was completely resolved. What a relief!
- Enroll in “strength training” - Sign up for a class focused on strengthening your communication or your financial literacy. We’ve known hundreds of couples who did the work – hard work – of changing their communication or spending habits. They continue to reap the benefits today.
- Try some “hot yoga” - Read a book together on sexual intimacy. We know a couple who discovered during their communication class that they had difficulty talking about sex. They read a Christian book together on the topic and it reignited their sexual relationship.
- Hire a “personal trainer” - Ask to be mentored by a “seasoned” married couple. This can mean informally asking a couple you respect for their advice and encouragement. Some churches even offer more formal marriage mentoring programs.
- Customize your workouts - Check out books, blogs, and webinars that offer God-honoring advice tailored to your specific needs.
- Work out at home - We hosted a small group study on couples in the Bible. It was eye opening and it spurred us on to do better in our own marriages.
- Don’t always do the same old workout - Change it up! Be intentional about dating your spouse. Research indicates that couples who try new things together, even as simple as trying out a new restaurant, reignite that excitement and closeness that occurred when they were first starting out. Have fun together!
- And don’t forget to stretch - Prayer together as a couple is vital to your relationship to each other and your relationship with God. Slow down and spend time together reaching out to Him.
Bottom line: God invented marriage. It was His creation. And just like we care for our physical bodies, we have the same responsibility to invest in and care for our marriages if we want to enjoy this wonderful gift He’s given to us.
Let’s start working out!
Don and Alex Flecky are Directors of Marriage Ministry at Evangelical Free Church of Fullerton, California. They oversee healthy relationship programs for engaged, married, and distressed couples and individuals. Alex graduated from California State University, Fullerton and is a part-time instructor there in the Human Communication Studies Department. The Fleckys recently developed a video-led communication curriculum, CoupleTalk designed to help couples develop healthy communication and conflict resolution habits, which is being used in 38 states and 13 countries. Married over 36 years, they have three adult children and one granddaughter.