“Just like the picture”: 4 Approaches to Developing the Uniqueness of Your Marriage

Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous–how well I know it.” Psalm 139:14

As a pastor, I tend to visit the same places in my city. Admittingly, I’m a creature of habit but this goes deeper than that.

I visit the same coffeehouse every day. I go to the same chicken place on Wednesdays. I get my haircut at the same location by the same person every other week. Familiarity and frequency helps me to develop connection with people in the community. It helps me develop relationships and moves conversations past “weather talk” into deeper things (this would make a great blog idea for pastors).

Last week, I had a conversation with the young lady who cuts my hair. Amidst talking about her family and the salon she manages, a statement about she only likes to cut guy’s hair. When I enquired why that was, she talked about her frustration with ladies who are excited about an image clipped out of a magazine of a someone’s hair and demand that be done to them. More often than not, they’ll leave upset that the result doesn’t “look like the picture.” She says that people don’t get the number of components that are in play with the hair styles they covet.  The type of hair, shape of head, how well they take care of their hair, etc.

In other words, customers were demanding the picture perfect results but don’t account for the factors at play.

That conversation got me thinking about how that translates to marriage. Quite often, I meet couples who take for granted the UNIQUENESS of their marriage (heck, I still do it). We chase the picture of perfection that we see in someone else and want to get there without the hard work of dealing with the individual factors you both bring.  While we all understand that we married someone quite different from ourselves, we still get frustrated. But I’m afraid many assume your individual differences compound your marital problems instead of seeing how they add into the your uniqueness. Your perspective of how you perceive your differences changes the scope of your marital health.

I love what the Psalmist says,

Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous–how well I know it.” Psalm 139:14

If we believe in the “oneness” of marriage, can we not look at our marriage in the same light as the Psalmist looked at individual lives? Your marriage is “wonderfully complex” and the “workmanship is marvelous.” And I wonder if the first step to embracing the wonderful complexity of marriage is to accept what makes you both distinct. Differences are a good thing; they’re not automatically an impairment. Just because our spouse and marriage are different doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It means we have a unique marriage and bring unique individual qualities to the marriage.

Simply said: Stop trying to achieve an image. Build your marriage from the inside out.

Finding uniqueness means that marriage will never look “just like the picture” of some else’s marriage. Don’t cookie-cutter yourselves. You may seek health, but EVERY couple works with different factors that are peculiar to your marriage. Consider…

  • Your backgrounds.
  • Your personalities.
  • Your likes and dislikes.
  • Your skill-sets.

How do you develop the uniqueness of your marriage?

1. Look at the reality. No one is perfect, and therefore, there is no perfect marriage. So my recommendation is to stop seeing perfection in others and stop expecting it in your spouse and/or marriage. The only things to expect in yourself and your spouse is humility, teamwork, and growth. In my opinion, there are only two types of marriages: Those who work on them and those who don’t. Be the first type.

2. Learn to appreciate your spouse. Vision is everything. The direction of your marriage will go in the direction of your focus. And if you learn to look for the good in your spouse, your marriage will go in that direction. Differences do not automatically mean “wrong,” many times, they simply mean “different.” And when you bring value to those differences, you bring value to your spouse.

3. Learn how to express appreciation. Silent appreciation is not appreciation at all. Let me take that a bit deeper: appreciation with strings attached is not appreciation at all. Gratitude has the ability of elevating our attitudes above bitterness. Let it be said of your home that, while you don’t have marital health figured out, you do have an atmosphere of which health can grow. And that atmosphere is “appreciation/gratitude.”  A rule that I try to enforce with my family (as well as my staff): For every negative thing, be sure to bring up two to three positives. The simplicity of the exercise will help retrain your negative mind into a more positive one.

4. Pray for blessings on your spouse and ask the Holy Spirit to bring change in you. Sometimes we can spend too much energy trying to do the work of the Holy Spirit instead of releasing Him to bring the change only He can bring.  I think we can transform our attitudes by first praying for blessing upon our spouse and then allowing the needed change in our marriage to BEGIN with ourselves. Humility in the heart paves the way for the formation of healing and health.

When it boils down to it, the more you follow a “perfect image” of a marriage that you’ve seen on social media or in someone you know, the more you’ll wind up frustrated in your marriage. The more you follow a Perfect Savior, the more you’ll see your imperfections and see an opportunity for His grace to shine through your marriage.  The two of you, as a unit, are “wonderfully complex” and His “workmanship is marvelous.” Today…

Be the blessing your marriage needs.
Be the change your marriage needs.
Love your spouse through the love you’ve received from Christ.


Thanks for letting me ramble…



Under-appreciated: Building a Culture of Appreciation

Dave and Anne diagonal

I got a text from Anne the other day. She’s been getting in the habit of dreaming/thinking about marriage blogs during her running times (I’m beginning to rub off on her).  She’s begun to make a list of needed topics for our weekly marriage blog.  Today was first on her list.

It amazing me how often this subject comes up.  Whether it’s someone talking about their job, their volunteer work, or a sensation in their family, there are so many people feeling under-appreciated. Of all places, marriage shouldn’t be one of those places.

When it comes to marriage, both husbands and wives should be thankful and appreciative of their spouse.  But I feel it should be more often.  I added the “more often” because I’m willing to bet that most of you reading this are already appreciative of your spouse . Like me,  perhaps there’s also room for improvement. About a month and a half ago, I preached a message on “encouragement” and I feel I can’t get that message out enough.  And I believe part of “encouragement” is showing appreciation.

My question for you today: Are you building a culture of appreciation.

Here’s what I mean.

I’ll admit that I’m not always appreciative of Anne…at least not as much as I could be.

For example:
– There are days when I tell her how much I appreciate her. These are our “cheesy” moments!
– There are days when I appreciate the things Anne does to make my life easier…but I just don’t tell her that. I’m not sure why. I figure she already knows how I feel anyways.
– There are days when Anne’s less than desirable qualities overshadow her desirable qualities and I am clearly NOT appreciative of anything at that moment.

I know I should be doing more of the first statement, But I don’t. Why? Well, the reasons vary. I may be tired. I may be grouchy. I could be too stubborn because I want to be complemented first.  Anne may be in a bad mood. We may have gotten into an “disagreement”. I may just not feel like it because of all of the aforementioned reasons. In other words, I’m human; I act less than an ideal at times. Not a cop-out, just a fact.

How do we make our spouse feel under-appreciated? 

1 – Take for granted what they do.  It seems like after the “honeymoon” phase of life, we stop noticing what our spouse does.  Whether their job, things around the house, or stuff that involves the kids, stop noticing how hard they work.

2 – Feel entitled to the little things.  Entitlement give you a superiority complex with your spouse.  And that doesn’t feed the oneness of the marriage.  It rips it apart.  “I’m entitled to __________…she/he’s my spouse!  I shouldn’t have to ask for  ________”  Guard yourself from entitlement.

3 – Make sure you deserve more.  This is where you see that your spouse has had a rough day but, you build up your day as to say, “you think you had it bad, you didn’t have to deal with what I did today.” Not only have you missed the opportunity to pour healing into your mate, you’ve selfishly diverted any appreciation and encouragement that was needed for them back onto you.  I’m not keeping you from feeling appreciated.  BUT some people struggle with other people being blessed besides themselves.  Be other-centered.

3 – Criticism. Some people, I think, don’t really hear how pessimistic they are.  Maybe they don’t realize that criticism is the first thing to come out of their mouth. “We’ll I don’t want them to get a big head”, or “I don’t want their hopes to build up” or even better, “I’m just keeping it real.” I’ll give ya a TRUTH: Criticism without encouragement isn’t help.  It’s abuse. Let the Holy Spirit do the job of keeping them humble.

Ephesians 4:29  Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear. That word “edification” means the act of promoting other’s growth. With your words and actions of appreciation, you are literally building them up and promoting growth in their life.

I want to give you another TRUTH:  Everyone needs to feel appreciated. In your marriage, this is so, so extremely vital. When one spouse feels under-appreciated, things go awry. And the crazy thing is, you may not even realize this until they mention it. I don’t always realize I’m like this until Anne and I have both alluded to the fact that we didn’t feel appreciated by the other for one reason or another. At this point, whoever was the listener goes into “damage control” and offers a “token appreciation.” The problem is I don’t like the idea of responding after-the-fact to things. I’d rather be proactive in every area of my life (or at least I do my best to be proactive). And proactive means telling my wife how appreciative I am of her so she doesn’t think otherwise (and vice versa). Citing examples of what specifically she does — the little things or the big things — is even better. (It shows I’m not just parroting empty marriage advice.) It’s funny too, to see my husband’s reaction when I do tell him how much I appreciate him, because it catches him off guard at first but then he appreciates me for saying it. It’s a nice feeling.

Some ways to express appreciation: 

1 – Speak appreciation; communicate it so they can hear it.  Most of you know what language your spouse hears.  Is it physical touch?  Is it words of affirmation? Gifts? Whatever language they speak, express appreciation back to them.  Cite examples.  List them out.  This tells them (1) you cared enough to notice something and (2) you cared enough to give appreciation in a language he/she understands.

2 – Plan out appreciation. Get a baby sitter and plan an evening out together as pure appreciation for your spouse.  Better yet, plan a weekend away WITHOUT kids. Make the plans about what your spouse would enjoy the most.  Appreciation is where the line “it’s the thought that counts” really rings true. It doesn’t have to be an expensive plan. Just the fact that there is a plan carried out and expressed will do so much.

3 – Live out appreciation; make it a daily habit! Be proactive with appreciation in your marriage! Tell them how much you appreciate them daily. Don’t give a token “thank you” but specifically cite examples. “I really appreciate when you do _____” , or even,”Thanks for doing _____. I really appreciate it!”  By doing so, you ensure you have a spouse who feels appreciated and who more than likely, will reveal their appreciation of you in return.

Remember this last TRUTH: An appreciated spouse always makes for a happier spouse!

Thanks for letting me ramble…