Marriage-Healthy Habits

“This is my beloved and this is my friend…” –Song of Solomon 1:16b

(This is part 5 of a newsletter series on Fundamentals of a Healthy Marriage. If you have missed previous parts they are available at RedeemerVA.org under resources / church blog.)

Happy and enduring marriages do not come about by accident or the happenstance of two “perfect people” finding each other. Every marriage consists of two sinners taking a step of faith to obey God by pledging themselves to a lifelong relationship in obedience to God’s command and according to His design. We have discussed the fundamentals of love, service, forgiveness, and healthy communication. This week we’ll examine healthy habits of marriage. Happy and enduring marriages have certain healthy habits engrained into the relationship. These habits are Christ-honoring and friendship-oriented. Every happy marriage is at its base a growing Christ-centered friendship – two people who enjoy being together and sharing the experiences of life. These habits are basic, but they will cut through the daily craziness and produce life-giving Christ-honoring friendship year after year.

Date Night: It’s essential to date your spouse. So much time, money, planning, and thoughtfulness is put into dating before marriage, and often this falls off soon after marriage. Dating your spouse is an essential part of building your friendship with them. Dating your spouse involves regular, creative planning and investment in your friendship. Dating builds memories and happy shared experiences. Dating gives unhurried time to talk over good food, enjoy a concert, or explore a fun place. Couples that date each other enjoy each other.

I encourage you to strive to date each other weekly. If your busy life is like mine, striving for a once-a-week date will result in twice a month. If you strive for twice a month, you’ll end up with once a month, which is not enough time together. These times don’t have to be expensive, but should be conversation-oriented and not part of your normal daily routine: dinner out, coffee shop, walk in the park, ice cream, etc. You can spend time getting busy calendars straightened out, getting on the same page about life goals, talking about the spiritual growth of your children, planning a future trip, or working out disagreements that need substantial conversation. I encourage you to silence your phones and give your spouse your undivided attention.

Weekly Church: Attending church together each week with your spouse brings you together with them to worship and opens your heart to hear from the Lord. As you come to church together week after week, the Lord will bring spiritual formation to your lives together. You will learn together, worship together, pray together, be convicted together, make friends together, and grow together. Clearing the calendar for church each week also opens the door for other Sunday traditions and habits that are joyful, friendship-building, and Christ-honoring. Keeping the sabbath holy involves intentionally choosing to rest and focus on Jesus one day in seven. This intentionally quiet day allows for family meals, naps, walks, reading, and memories.

Extended Time Alone: It’s essential that at least once or twice per year every married couple carve out extended time alone for just the couple – no kids or other family. This can come in many different forms, but every form says, “I love you, want to spend time with you, and I’m willing to invest time and money in our marriage and friendship.” In varying degrees, this can be just a night away together in a different town or a special trip away for a few days. I strongly suggest that every few years you go to a marriage conference. Marriage conferences are best to help tune-up your marriage, rather than waiting until there is a major problem looking for a quick fix. For special anniversaries, work to get away and make the time as special as possible. Life will always work against you but fight to celebrate the special relationship of your marriage.

Self-care and personal growth: The above three healthy habits relate to the couple together. This last habit relates to the marriage partners as individuals. Marriages that happily endure through the years are made up of two individuals who never stop growing as individuals. Human beings have an incredible ability to continue growing in mental and spiritual capacity throughout their lives. A big part of the joy of friendship is discovering new things about another person and supporting another person as they pursue meaningful pursuits. When two people stop growing and stop pursuing meaningful personal goals, the marriage will stagnate. This personal growth relates to self-care and personal growth goals. When people first meet, there is an emphasis on self-care and putting a good foot forward. Early in the relationship personal goals bring people together in joint life-pursuit. These ends must endure after decades of marriage.

Both husband and wife must continue to care about their personal appearance and growing as an individual. Sometimes these personal healthy habits can get lost in caring for children, aging parents, or the pressure of work and providing for a family. If these things lose focus in your marriage, refer back to date night! Personal goals in these areas are an important subject to talk about in a mutually supportive and encouraging way. When it comes to the friendship of marriage you are each helping the other to grow as a healthy person and achieve the goals the other longs for.

In my personal experience, I have never known a couple that practiced these habits that did not have a healthy marriage. Conversely, every couple I know that neglects these habits has a weak and struggling marriage. I urge you to pursue these habits. Pursue friendship with your spouse. Pursue intimacy with your spouse. Build healthy habits into your relationship that will build up a bank of good memories and strength in your marriage that can be drawn upon during darker days of hardship.

May the Lord bless the marriages in our church and help us love each other as we ought to,
Pastor Vic


“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” Colossians 4:6
(This is part 4 in a series on foundations of a healthy marriage.)

Healthy communication is absolutely foundational to every strong marriage. If you cannot communicate with your spouse in a healthy way, frustrations turn into anger and conflict is created instead of resolved. Communication is partly verbal and partly non-verbal. As a husband or wife, what your words say need to match up with the non-verbal expression of your face and actions of your life. As Christians we are commanded to be gracious in our speech. This carries over from the fruits of the Holy Spirit of kindness and gentleness. When our communication tends toward harshness and anger something is wrong.
Below are ten basic practical steps to maintaining healthy and gracious communication in your marriage:

  1. Respect your spouse and treat them with kindness. You speak in a careful and self-controlled way to people that you respect. You speak with kindness toward people that you love. You should both respect and love your spouse, resulting in the type of communication listed below.
  2. Really listen: When you really listen to someone you pay attention and want to hear what they have to say. Really listening considers the merit in what the other person has to say. This means not interrupting the other person because what you have to say is more important. This means you are not formulating a counter-response while they are talking. You can’t listen and jump to a conclusion before the other person has finished their thought. Listening is related to patience and friendship. Interruption and retaliation are related to competition and adversaries.
  3. Assume the best: Many occasions arise each week where something happens, and we only know part of the story. In every such situation with your spouse you must assume the best. You must begin by trusting your spouse and assuming that there is a good explanation for whatever you don’t know about the situation. Love is hopeful in all things (1 Cor 13:7). The opposite is to assume the worst of your spouse. This is the attitude of distrust we develop with our enemies.
  4. Don’t bring up past forgiven sins: If your spouse has asked for forgiveness and you have granted forgiveness, it should not be brought up against them again. You must ask God for the self-control to not drag your spouse back into the mud they just got free of. In an ungodly way, it can feel satisfying to strengthen your position by undercutting your spouse, but none of this is of Christ. We seek to reconcile with our spouse, not defeat them in a battle of words and accusations.
  5. Don’t undercut or barb: To undercut or barb is to make negative and hurtful comments that imply what you want without clear communication. These side comments are not made to be helpful, but to insult and “remind” a person of their problems. Instead, if you have a struggle or grievance with your spouse, speak and listen in a kind way that has the opportunity to lead to reconciliation and peace.
  6. Do not raise your voice: “The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” James 1:20. When you raise your voice with your spouse, anger has come upon you. Yelling at your spouse may make you feel self-vindicated in the moment, but nothing of the Lord will come from it. You should never yell at your spouse. The non-verbal of raising your voice overwhelms anything true or helpful you may say. It’s literally lost in the noise.
  7. Try to have good timing: Work to bring up difficult subjects at a time conducive to resolution. It’s not wise to bring up difficult subjects when your spouse is dead tired, holding a crying child, just in the door from work, late for an appointment, or for whatever reason is not in a place to have an unhurried conversation that could resolve the issue.
  8. Avoid “always / never” in conflict resolution: Overstatements do not help resolve conflict. Overstatements work to categorize the entire person as a problem. Instead, work to isolate specific instances of struggle or sin, so the offending person can ask forgiveness and work to correct a specific problem.
  9. Stop texting when the communication turns negative: It is impossible to resolve conflict by text. When communication turns negative, you must talk by phone or in person as soon as possible. Both spouses need to reach agreement on this before the angry texts start flying. One spouse or the other must identify that the communication has taken a negative turn, and state that they need to call or meet.
  10. Seek resolution: Never give up on each other. Seek resolution and reconciliation because of love and your marriage vows. Apathy and division are not acceptable in Christian marriage. Work the problems out with healthy communication and prayer.

I encourage you to put these basic principles in a place where you will be reminded of them often, then pray for self-control and love to abide by them.

Lord, help us to speak with grace and kindness,
Pastor Vic


“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgive one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”–Ephesians 4:32
(This is part three in a series on fundamentals of Christian marriage)

Focusing on fundamentals always strengthens the foundation of any important relationship or activity. The fundamentals of Christian marriage are love, service, and forgiveness. Let’s examine forgiveness.

Every marriage consists of two sinners. No matter how wonderful your spouse is – they are a sinner and so are you. An enduring and happy marriage is not about the magical meeting of two people that are “perfect” for each other. There are people that share more in common and those that have less in common, but both are still sinners that will have to forgive each other to endure in happiness. However, the primary reason that a husband and wife forgive one another is not to preserve the happiness of marriage. As Ephesians 4:32 states plainly, we are to forgive others because we have been forgiven all our sins by God. When we put our faith in Jesus Christ and ask for the forgiveness of sins, by the grace of God extended to us, our sins are forgiven (1 John 1:9). This is unconditional grace. This is what it means that our salvation is by grace alone through faith. It is a strong New Testament theme that we must forgive others because we have been forgiven by God. We cannot have grace extended to us and not extend grace to others. Jesus taught this clearly by the parable of the unforgiving servant – Matthew 18:21-35.

In this Christian mandate to show grace and forgive because we have been forgiven, surely the first person that we should forgive should be that person that we have the nearest relationship to – our spouse. However, the old proverb is often true that familiarity breeds contempt. We spend the most time with our spouse and so have cause to find fault with them. We know more about them than any other person, so we have the most visibility to spotlight their sin.

It’s important to ask the question, “What is forgiveness?” Forgiveness has specific language and goes through a specific process. Forgiveness is much more than just telling another person, “I’m sorry.” True forgiveness results in relational reconciliation. True forgiveness brings two people that were separated by relational distance back together in happy fellowship. For this to happen, the offending person must go to the person they wronged and say, “I’m sorry for (what I said or did). Will you please forgive me?” It’s essential that no excuses or blame-shifting be attached to this. This statement is a statement of personal culpability. This is a statement that you were in the wrong, and through confession are seeking reconciliation on your part. This then gives the spouse the opportunity to show grace and extend forgiveness. This process allows for true reconciliation instead of stuffing hurtful grievances into an emotional closet that will eventually burst open and can shatter a relationship.

Christian forgiveness is an interesting and theologically rooted concept. When you confess your sins and God forgives you, does God forget your sins? The answer is – no. God is all-knowing. For the sake of Jesus Christ and because of him bearing the penalty of your guilt on the cross, your sin is accounted to Jesus and not to you. You are forgiven for Jesus’ sake and that sin is not counted against you. The process is similar in marriage. When we forgive our spouse, we don’t forget the sins. We know who they are and we know what they have done, but because of the grace shown to us we choose not to count those things against them anymore. 1 Corinthians 13: 5 declares that love in not “resentful.” In other translations this word is rendered more fully as “keeps no record of wrongs.” A resentful person is a grudge-bearing person that keeps a tight list of all the ways they have been wronged. This is the opposite of grace and forgiveness. This is a person that will never let you forget all the wrong things you have done and will weaponize those wrongs against you when needed to get the upper hand.

Resentful unforgiveness will destroy a marriage every time. If you choose to not forgive your spouse from the heart and continue to count their sins against them, a wedge will grow between you that will become harder and harder to reconcile. However, if you keep short accounts and quickly ask for and grant forgiveness – grace, love, and peace will thrive in your marriage.

Coming full circle, you must see that the forgiveness extended to you by Jesus comes from the root of God’s love for you (John 3:16). God’s forgiveness of your sins is not a thing of dry judicial duty. God’s forgiveness of your sins flows from His unconditional love for you. And so, it will be with your spouse. You will truly forgive them because you love them. “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” 1 Peter 4:8. Because of God’s love expressed to us in the grace of Jesus, we also express grace and forgiveness to our spouse because we earnestly love them.

Forgiveness is a fundamental of every happy marriage, and the ability to forgive flows from our salvation in Jesus.

Let us be tenderhearted and forgive one another,
Pastor Vic


“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” —Philippians 2:3-4

(This is part 2 of a series on building a healthy Christian marriage.)

Last week, I wrote to you about love as the first fundamental of a healthy Christian marriage. The second fundamental is service. Paul commands that we follow in the example of Christ by serving. This attitude of service should characterize our lives toward all people, but especially toward our spouse. Sadly, familiarity does often breed contempt, but the first person we should serve should be that person we love the most – our spouse.

“Do nothing from selfishness …” The “nothing” part of this verse should be sobering and jump out to us. There is no room for selfishness in Christian marriage. There is no “me” time. There is no, “I deserve this and am going to do this / buy this / go here no matter what my spouse thinks or needs.” The Christian life in general, and Christian marriage in particular, is about dying to your selfishness. There is no more me, there is only us. Two have become one in marriage. Because of the redeeming work of Jesus, each spouse is laboring to out-serve the other. Nothing is done from selfishness that would harm, offend, or take from the other spouse. Does selfishness characterize your marriage? Do you act in ways that are all about you, and leave your spouse to pick up the pieces?

“Do nothing from … conceit …” In the union of Christian marriage neither spouse should act in a way that is proud or conceited. Vanity exalts the individual. Pride is self-focused. Nothing in Christian marriage should be related to individual vanity because the pride of one spouse is always at the expense of the other. One is raised up and the other left behind. It appears to the watching world that the one spouse accomplished what they did all by themselves, when any married couple knows that the accomplishments come as a team. The married couple is ‘yoked’ together. They pull together to accomplish the work of the day and meet the needs of life. For one spouse to take the credit of work done by both is an act of pride and leads to resentment and division. Has pride entered into your marriage where you no longer openly praise and appreciate your spouse’s contributions to the family? If so, then pride has corrupted your heart.

“In humility count others more significant than yourselves …” As an everyday fundamental of Christian marriage we count our spouse as more significant than ourselves. Wow! Really? Yes. The servant heart comes from actively putting yourself in the second place. Your spouse gets the first place – everyday. Humble servant-hearted love looks for ways to meet the needs of their spouse through service. The mind of the loving spouse keeps drifting back to, “What can I do for you?” not “What can you do for me?” These are unconditional acts of loving service, not transactional. Christian love is NOT, “I’ll do this for you, if you do this for me.” Christian service walks in the way of Jesus, “I’ll do this for you, even if you do nothing for me in return.” Then it goes even further, “I’ll serve you in this way because I love you, even if you return this act of humble service with anger and ungratefulness.” This is the Christ-like service of Christian marriage.

To accomplish this you must observe your spouse. It’s still selfishness to do something for your spouse you wanted to do for them. You enter into service when you do for them something they want you to do for them. This shows you are listening and observant. Be a student of your spouse. See their needs and hear their desires, then work with a heart of love to count them more significant than yourself with the limited resources of each day.

You may be thinking that this is an impossibly high standard, and you would be right! The world fails at each of the fundamentals of marriage because they do not have the abiding work of the Holy Spirit to work out the sanctification necessary to make progress in marriage. Without the work of the Holy Spirit, we will be selfish people, and selfishness kills marriage. The number one phrase I hear in marriage counseling of troubled marriages headed toward divorce is, “This person doesn’t meet my needs.” This is fundamentally a selfish statement. Couples that are devoted to serving each other and counting the needs of the other as more important than their own, don’t make statements like this.

Christian marriage can thrive because each spouse goes to Jesus – the fount of living water that will never run dry – to meet the needs of their soul. From being with Jesus, the soul is full and able then to pour into others by acts of service. When we run dry, we go back and abide near Jesus to be strengthened for another day. When you go to your spouse for what only Jesus can provide the equation will not work out.

For more on the mandate of service from Jesus read and consider the account of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet in John 13. Ask yourself, “Does the heart of Jesus in this passage describe how I treat my spouse?” If not, realize that you are not above Jesus. Return to the fundamental of service and demonstrate to your spouse a Christ-like heart.

Holy Spirit give us a servant’s heart toward those most dear to us,
Pastor Vic


“Love is patient and kind;
love does not envy or boast;
it is not arrogant or rude.
It does not insist on its own way;
it is not irritable or resentful;
it does not rejoice at wrong doing, but rejoices with the truth.
Love bears all things, believes all things,
Hopes all things, endures all things.”
1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Christian marriage was designed by God as a basic part of how men and women should relate to each other. We were created by God for relationships, and Christian marriage is at the center of this design. This enduring relationship was instituted by God before sin entered the world. It was put in place for our good and God’s glory. It was designed to press us toward godliness and to make society possible. I say Christian marriage to be specific in my biblical definition – marriage between one biological man and one biological woman. Any other definition departs from God’s intention and purpose. This will be the first in a series of articles reminding us of the foundations of a strong Christian marriage and practical ways that we can strengthen the joy and endurance of our marriages.

There are three basic foundations to a healthy, joyful, and life-giving Christian marriage. These foundations are love, service, and forgiveness. If you keep these fundamentals in focus, your marriage can maintain a strong even keel throughout the decades. But we all know that pressures, tragedy, and sin enter in to undermine our marriages. I strongly encourage you to return to fundamentals when you or your spouse know something has been lost in the joyful step of your marriage. Begin with these three fundamentals. This week I’ll start with love.

Love is the foundation of Christian marriage because love is the master virtue of the Christian life and the first fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We’ve all seen loveless marriages. Couples sitting at dinner on their phones, totally disengaged from each other. Couples that sit together with obvious distance from each other and seem to never touch each other. Couples that always make sure to have the kids between them when taking pictures. Couples that intentionally live separated lives by workplace or schedule. Couples that constantly take shots at each other to undermine and accuse. Marriages that have deteriorated into business relationships that revolve around raising children or preserving pensions. The love has gone out. Marriage without love is a tragedy, but sadly there are zombie marriages all around us – marriages that died long ago but go on in a state of active death.

If any of these things describe your marriage, the world will tell you that divorce is the answer. You should go find someone else that will better meet your needs. But God hates divorce and selfishness. Instead, there must be a return to the foundations of Christian marriage to assess what has gone wrong and labor by God’s grace to restore what has been lost. This is possible, will turn your heart toward the Lord, and result in joy the world cannot know.

Let’s begin with the origin of love. Love is the first and primary fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives. This means that in Christ the Holy Spirit gives us love. He teaches us how to love and by His sanctifying work strengthens us to love when we ordinarily would not. This means that you cannot love your spouse in the beautiful and life-giving way that you should without the work of the Holy Spirit. Foundationally, this means two things. First, if you have not put your faith and trust in Christ Jesus for salvation you are not a Christian and do not have the power of God’s Spirit indwelling your life. You are instead attempting to live the Christian life without the power of God to enable you. You will fail in this moralistic attempt. No man or woman can walk in the glorious and good ways of Jesus with out the strength of the Holy Spirit. Second, the path to love in marriage is not directly through action toward your spouse. The primary step is toward abiding in Christ (John 15). Only when you learn to love Jesus will you learn to love your spouse in the perfect way of Jesus.

The primary way that a husband and wife walk in love together is by going in the same direction. When husband and wife are both seeking hard after Jesus this aligns their lives. They are both pulling in the same direction under an authority higher than themselves. This is never an equal pull. One spouse or the other will seek harder after Jesus at various times over the years of marriage, but this is where two are better than one. This is where you pray for, encourage, and point each other toward Jesus. When one is weak the other will be strong, but together you seek Jesus and in seeking Jesus your hearts become united in love. Be humble before Jesus in His word. Be together in church more. Be in small group more often with your spouse. Simply walking in these habits consistently over years will do more for the love and joy of your marriage than intervention counseling. These are healthy habits that cultivate love through spiritual formation and togetherness.

After committing to these basic spiritual steps, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 gives the practical map for how you ought to demonstrate Christian love toward your spouse. These steps are self-sacrificing and will require you to call out to Jesus for change in your life, but we also know that these ways are good and beautiful. We know that Jesus is right to call us to these ways. God help us! I strongly urge you to look carefully at this passage and labor over how to practically act in these ways toward your spouse. By practically and authentically living these ways out toward your spouse you ARE loving your spouse.

Patient / not irritable: Bear with your spouse and do not lose your temper – no matter what! Pray for self-control to tame your impatient, angry, and irritable tongue.

Kindness: Whereas patience may be the absence of anger, kindness turns this to the positive. By kindness you actively work to bless your spouse through actions that show love. This is also directly spoken of as a fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Does not envy: In love you rejoice in every success and advancement of your spouse. You genuinely want to see their life blossom and grow. You never ever want to advance yourself at their expense. Their success is as your own success. Instead of envy, you should be your spouse’s biggest fan!

Does not boast / is not arrogant: Boasting consists of exalting yourself at the expense of others. You raise up yourself by putting others down. This can never happen in marriage. In marriage you should instead be ever-praising your spouse. You should go out of your way to publicly and privately speak highly of your spouse.

Is not rude: When you are rude, you are not putting others first. Rudeness displays a lack of self-control and specifically demonstrates that you don’t care about embarrassing or offending your spouse.

Does not insist on its own way: It’s one thing to express your desire about an issue of taste or conviction, but in love you should never insist that such decisions go your way. This is selfishness and shows a lack of respect for your spouse and their preferences. In love, there should be a give and take that shows respectful deference to each spouse at different times.

Not resentful: Love does not bear grudges. In Christ we forgive sins. I’ll address that at length in a few weeks.

Rejoicing in truth: You should rejoice with your spouse in every victory, in every achievement, and in every step forward in their life. Look for ways to celebrate growth and progress in their life. Never relish failure or sin in their life, pressing them down further into the ditch when they are already low.

Bear, believe, hope, endure: When you vow “for better or worse” to love and honor your spouse, you are pledging yourself to this last section concerning love. Hard times will come. Storms will batter the house, but when your foundation is on Jesus the house will not fall. Always give your spouse the benefit of the doubt. Believe what they tell you. Hope in the future, setting your hope fully on Christ Jesus (1 Peter 1:13). Endure hardship together with your spouse. Face the trouble of the day as the two of you against the world – not the two of you against each other.

If you are walking with Jesus and actively living these things out, the Holy Spirit will bear a beautiful love in your marriage. If you refuse these ways, and turn away from Christ, love will dry up in your marriage. Let’s focus this week on the fundamental of love in our marriages!

May the love of Christ overflow in your hearts,
Pastor Vic