Frederick *: “When we were first married, I insisted that my wife and I study the Bible together. I was determined that she concentrate during our study sessions. But Leanne just could not seem to sit still. And when I asked questions, she gave only yes or no answers. Her responses did not fit with how I felt a Bible study should be conducted.”
Leanne: “I was 18 when I married Frederick. We studied the Bible together regularly, but Frederick used each session as an opportunity to point out all my faults and the ways I needed to improve as a wife. I became so discouraged and hurt!”
WHAT, do you think, was the problem with Frederick and Leanne’s relationship? Their intentions were good. They both loved God. And they both saw the need to study the Bible together. But the very thing that could have helped to unite them seemed to have an opposite effect. They may have been studying together, but they were not cultivating spirituality as a couple.
What is spirituality? Why should married couples strive to cultivate it? What challenges might they face, and how can they overcome them?
What Is Spirituality?
The word “spirituality” as used in the Bible refers to an attitude or an approach to life. (Jude 18, 19) The Bible writer Paul, for example, highlights the difference in attitude between a spiritual person and one who is fleshly. Those with fleshly tendencies, Paul indicates, focus more on themselves than on others. They do what is right in their own eyes, rather than trying to live up to God’s standards.
By contrast, those with a spiritual attitude value God’s standards. They view Jehovah God as their Friend and endeavor to imitate his personality. (Ephesians 5:1) Thus, they are loving, kind, and mild when dealing with others. (Exodus 34:6) And they obey God even when it is inconvenient for them to do so. (Psalm 15:1, 4) “The way I understand it,” says Darren, who lives in Canada and has been married for 35 years, “a spiritual person always thinks about how his speech and actions will affect his friendship with God.” His wife, Jane, adds: “I think that a spiritual woman is one who works hard each day to make the fruitage of God’s spirit part of her personality.”
Of course, a person does not have to be married to develop a spiritual attitude. In fact, the Bible teaches that each individual has the responsibility to learn about God and imitate him.
Why Cultivate Spirituality as a Couple?
Why, then, should marriage mates strive to cultivate spirituality as a couple? Consider this illustration: Two gardeners jointly own a garden plot and want to grow vegetables. One decides to plant seeds at a certain time of year, whereas the other thinks that the seeds should be planted later. One wants to use a particular type of fertilizer, but the other disagrees strongly and feels that the plants do not need any help. One wants to toil in the garden each day. The other is happy to sit back and watch, rather than work. In such a scenario, the garden may yield some results, but it will not produce as much as it would have if both gardeners had agreed on what to do and then worked together to achieve those goals.
A husband and wife are like those gardeners. If just one partner cultivates spirituality, the relationship might improve. (1 Peter 3:1, 2) Yet, how much better it is when both partners agree to live by God’s standards and work hard to support each other as they serve God! “Two are better than one,” wrote wise King Solomon. Why? “Because they have a good reward for their hard work. For if one of them should fall, the other one can raise his partner up.”
You likely yearn to cultivate spirituality with your marriage mate. But just as with gardening, desire alone will not yield results. Consider two challenges you may face and how you might overcome them.
CHALLENGE 1: We can’t find the time.
“My husband picks me up from work at 7:00 p.m.,” says Sue, who has been married a short time. “When we get home, all the chores are waiting for us. It’s a struggle between mind and body; our minds tell us that we need to spend time learning about God together, but our bodies crave some rest.”
A possible solution: Be adaptable and cooperative. Sue says: “My husband and I decided to get up early and read and discuss a portion of the Bible together before going to work. He also helps me with some of the chores so that I have time to spend with him.” What benefits come from making this extra effort? Sue’s husband, Ed, says: “I’ve found that when Sue and I regularly discuss spiritual matters together, we cope more effectively with the problems we face and we manage our anxieties better.”
In addition to talking to each other, it is vital that you spend a few minutes each day praying together. How may that help? “A little while ago,” says Ryan, who has been married for 16 years, “my wife and I went through a very difficult time in our relationship. But we made time to pray together each night, expressing our concerns to God. I feel that praying together helped us to resolve our problems and to regain joy in our marriage.”
TRY THIS: Set aside just a few minutes at the end of each day to discuss any good things that happened to you as a couple, things you can thank God for. Also talk about challenges you face, ones that you especially need God’s help to cope with. Caution: Do not use this as an opportunity to list your mate’s faults. Instead, when you pray together, mention only those issues that you need to work on together. The next day, act in harmony with the requests you made in the prayer.
CHALLENGE 2: We have different abilities.
“I have never been one to sit down and read a book,” says Tony. His wife, Natalie, says: “I love to read, and I love to talk about what I’ve learned. Sometimes I think Tony is a bit intimidated by me when we discuss Bible-based material.”
A possible solution: Be supportive, not competitive or judgmental. Complement and encourage your mate’s strengths. “My wife’s enthusiasm for discussing Bible topics can be a little overwhelming at times,” says Tony, “and in the past I was reluctant to discuss spiritual subjects with her. However, Natalie is very supportive. Now we regularly discuss spiritual matters together, and I’ve discovered that there is nothing to be afraid of. I enjoy talking about these topics with her. It has helped us become more relaxed and at peace as a couple.”
Many couples have found that their marriage improves when they set aside a regular time each week to read and study the Bible together. A word of caution, though: Apply any points of counsel to yourself, not to your mate. (Galatians 6:4) Discuss contentious marital issues at another time, not during your study sessions. Why not?
Consider this: If you were eating a meal with your family, would you choose that time to dress a festering wound? Not likely. You would ruin everyone’s appetite. Jesus compared learning about and doing God’s will to eating food. (Matthew 4:4; John 4:34) If you talk about emotional wounds each time you open the Bible, you could cause your mate to lose his or her spiritual appetite. Certainly, you need to discuss problems. But deal with those matters at a time set aside for that purpose.
TRY THIS: Write down two or three qualities of your mate that you appreciate most. When you next discuss spiritual matters related to those qualities, tell your mate how much you appreciate the way he or she displays them.
You Reap What You Sow
If you sow, or cultivate, spirituality as a couple, you will eventually reap a more peaceful and rewarding marriage. In fact, God’s Word guarantees that “whatever a man is sowing, this he will also reap.”
Frederick and Leanne, quoted at the beginning of this article, learned the truth of that Bible principle. They have now been married for 45 years and know that perseverance pays off. “I used to blame my wife for the lack of communication,” says Frederick. “However, in time, I realized that I had to make an effort too.” Leanne says: “What really helped us through the difficult times was our mutual love of Jehovah God. Throughout the years, we have regularly studied and prayed together. As I see Frederick making an effort to improve in showing Christian qualities, it makes it easier for me to love him.”
^ par. 3 Names have been changed.
ASK YOURSELF . . .
When was the last time we prayed together as a couple?
What could I do that would encourage my mate to be more open about discussing spiritual matters with me?