Apologizing was rarely modeled in my home growing up.
After we’d been married several years, Ashley said to me one day, “Do you know that you’re never the first to apologize?”
Rubbish, I thought! Of course I apologize first! On occasion. I think.
I then realized, as usual, she was right. I wasn’t the first to apologize. Ever. I knew the value of apologizing, but was totally unaware that I wasn’t doing it. I was unconsciously acting on an old and harmful habit instead.
Our life’s course gets directed by many decisions we don’t consciously make. Even if these unconscious, habitual acts are small, they still produce fruit in our lives. Unfortunately, as seen above, sometimes the fruit is rotten.
On the other hand, small habits can also bear admirable fruit. A Navy SEAL once declared that to change the world, we start by making our beds. It sounded foolish, but it inspired me so I made a conscious effort to make my bed each morning as my first act of the day. To my surprise (and just as the SEAL predicted), “If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another.”
One small habit, one big impact.
Have you considered the fruit your habits develop in your life and whether they are habits you want to keep?
- Do you leave your towel on the floor after you shower?
- How do you talk to your spouse in public? How about in private?
- Are you letting the dishes sit in the sink overnight?
- Working overtime?
- Do you find yourself multi-tasking between “listening” to your wife while browsing on your phone? (That’s me!)
If we believe there is value in changing the unconscious habits that may be harming our marriage, how do we figure out what they are and how do we go about fixing them?
In his book Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg describes what he calls Keystone habits:
“Keystone habits say that success doesn’t depend on getting every single thing right, but instead relies on identifying a few key priorities and fashioning them into powerful levers.”
These levers “start a process that, over time, transforms everything.” In other words, you don’t have to identify every harmful habit because that could be overwhelming. Instead, if you simply focus on a few key admirable habits, the results impact your other habits as well.
Here are a few Keystone habits that are well-researched, biblically sound, and can be consciously implemented. Doing so will “transform everything”, resulting in the growth of admirable fruit in your marriage:
- The couple that prays together stays together
- The couple that plays together stays together
- A loved spouse makes for a blessed house
If you’re not praying together regularly, you’re not alone. A 2007 book Couples who Pray noted that informal data suggests only 4% of Christian couples pray together regularly. We should pray with our spouse more than anyone else, yet in reality it can feel more awkward than anything else. Praying with your spouse could possibly be the most transformative thing you do. It breaks the delusion that either spouse can be what the other needs and instead points both back to the only One who can satisfy. It brings you closer to the “fully known and fully loved” state we all desire.
New habits to consider: Use a prayer list, wing it each night, go one at a time, pray at the same time, or alternate who prays each night. If you’re new at praying together, start small. You could start one evening by saying a one-sentence prayer out loud with each other to get more comfortable with praying together.
As newlyweds, Ashley and I couldn’t get enough of each other – asking questions and spending time listening. Like Ecclesiastes 9:9 and 1 Timothy 6:17, our relationship was developing the way God intended it – we were enjoying each other. As we settled into our routines (and certainly post-children), our conversation and time quickly centered around this week’s schedule, next week’s schedule, and if we’re lucky, a “how was your day?” We evolved from playmates to task machines.
Marriage is a covenant relationship that is also a friendship. Friendship, support and care for another will help you experience joy in life while also buffering you both from trials and tribulations.
New habits to consider: Build habits to “keep it fresh!” God intended marriage to make us holy, and at the same time, marriage should bring incredible joy and satisfaction. You can start this by scheduling date nights, asking each other icebreaker-type questions, or identifying one of your spouse’s interests and making it important to you.
After loving God, loving our spouse is our greatest responsibility. And if you’re not loving your spouse, then you’re not loving God. You are to be the single greatest expression of His love in your husband or wife’s life and through this expression you will be greatly blessed. In the same way Jesus demonstrated his love for the church, we are to demonstrate our love to our spouse (Ephesians 5:25). What other person else can be a loving wife for your husband, or a loving husband for your wife? Only you.
The unconscious habits that come with familiarity and busyness slowly erode us, and we begin to take our spouse for granted. We go on fewer dates and birthdays become less important. We rationalize the poor behavior by promising ourselves that after this busy season we’ll get back to making our spouse a higher priority. That’s not how God intended us to act toward our spouses.
New habits to consider: Forming a habit of “loving” will be trickier than the others. Here are a few suggestions:
- Set a goal to do one loving act each week that your spouse wouldn’t expect.
- Ask others in your community group to ask you good questions about how you’ve done pursuing and loving your spouse.
- Schedule time to regularly ask your spouse “Have you felt loved by me?”
The Bottom Line
Our thoughtless habits define our marriages for better or for worse. But the beauty of Keystone habits is that just a few new habits can be a powerful force over habits you don’t even know you have. Just like making your bed first each morning, these habits cascade, which bring joy and fulfillment to your marriage. Go after them ruthlessly, make them a part of your routine, and watch your marriage be transformed.