When my wife and I got married back in 2003 I thought I knew everything there was to know about marriage. It didn’t take long into our marriage for me to realize just how much I DIDN’T know.

Since our wedding day I’ve made it my goal to continue to learn how to be a better husband to my wife. Here are eight ways that I work to build a winning M.A.R.R.I.A.G.E. and that I believe will help you to build a winning marriage too:

Make time to pray.

Praying for and with your spouse is one of the most powerful things we can do for our marriage. Jesus said, “For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20 NLT). His brother James wrote, “…The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with” (James 5:16 Msg). The closer you move to God as a couple, the closer you will move to each other.

Affirm your spouse.

Tell your husband or wife what it is you love about them. Thank them for what they do. Discover and learn to speak their love language. Send them texts throughout the day to let them know you’re thinking about them. The Apostle Paul reminds us to, “…Speak encouraging words to one another” (1 Thessalonians 5:1 Msg). In no relationship is this more important than in your marriage.

Respectfully listen to one another.

Make time at the end of each day to ask your spouse how their day was, then listen for their response. Notice the tones they use and their body language. When appropriate, ask how you can help. The Bible tells us to “…be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry” (James 1:19 NLT). There may not be anything specific you can do, but listening can go a long way to helping them feel better.

Remember to have date nights.

In Song of Songs the Shulamite Woman expresses her excitement for an upcoming date with her lover this way: “Look! There he stands behind our wall, gazing through the windows, peering through the lattice. My beloved spoke and said to me, ‘Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, come with me.’ ” (Song of Songs 2:9-10 NLT). A date can be dinner and a movie, coffee, watching your favorite TV show together, or playing a board game. The main thing is to spend time together, just the two of you.

Invest in an annual get-away together.

In another passage from Song of Songs, Solomon describes his excitement for a getaway he has planned with The Shulamite Woman: “Come, my beloved, let us go out into the fields and stay in the villages. Let us get up early and go out to the vineyards and see whether the vines have budded, whether the blossoms have opened, and whether the pomegranates are in flower. And there I will give you my love” (Song of Songs 7:11-12 TLB).

These getaways don’t have to be expensive. They can be as simple as having some in-laws watch the kids for a day or two while you and your spouse stay at a nice hotel nearby. Extended times away as a couple will help you disconnect from the busy pace of everyday life and reconnect as husband and wife.

Associate with like-minded couples.

Find couple who share similar beliefs as you and make a point to spend time together regularly. Most churches in your area will have small groups where you can connect with other Christian couples. The Bible says in Hebrews 10:25 (GWT), “We should not stop gathering together with other believers, as some of you are doing. Instead, we must continue to encourage each other even more as we see the day of the Lord coming.” These relationships will help to strengthen your marriage, and you can help strengthen theirs.

Graciously serve each other.

The Apostle Paul said, “…Each husband is to love and protect his own wife as if she were his very heart, and each wife is to respect her own husband” (Ephesians 5:33 Voice). Be on the look-out for ways you can serve your spouse. Don’t get upset if they don’t say thank you right away. It’s not about receiving praise. It’s about making a positive difference in their life.

Engage in fun activities.

Life can be busy and hard. It’s important for us to make time to enjoy life together as a couple. The Bible says in Ecclesiastes 5:18 (NLT), “…It is good for people to eat, drink, and enjoy their work under the sun…” If you’re having a hard time coming up with fun activities to do together, think back to the things you enjoyed doing together when you first met and started dating. If those activities are appropriate, schedule time to revisit them. Couples that have fun together stay together.

Don’t let this list overwhelm you. I’m not perfect at all of them. My wife and I are still discovering ways to work these into my marriage better. Focus on one or two at a time. As you gain traction, incorporate the other elements of a winning M.A.R.R.I.A.G.E. into your relationship. You’ll be glad you did.

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