Part of the How to Improve My Marriage by Helping Others Series
Friends were preparing to welcome their third baby, so my husband, Ted, and I had agreed to provide them with a home-cooked meal. I chopped vegetables, browned the meat and started combining all the basic ingredients for the harvest soup we were making.
When it came time to add the broth and seasonings, I turned to Ted. As we’ve cooked together over the years, we’ve learned that my strength is in the meal planning and prep, while Ted’s gift is in perfecting the flavors. I watched as he smelled different spices, chose the ones he felt would best complement the vegetables and meat, and added them until the soup tasted just right.
While it would have been easy for me to make the soup on my own, experience has taught me that it wouldn’t taste as good or be as much fun to make if I worked solo. In matters of soup and other areas of service, Ted and I have learned that serving side by side doesn’t simply meet the needs of others, it also draws us closer together as a couple.
It can do the same for you and your spouse. Whether it’s serving in your local church, volunteering at your child’s school, baby-sitting for friends, or helping new neighbors move in, here are five ways serving together can strengthen your relationship and help you feel more connected as a couple.
Sharing experiences and memories
After suffering a miscarriage five years ago, Ted and I decided to participate in a local pregnancy center’s yearly Walk for Life. We wanted to pour our energy into loving expectant mothers in a tangible way. For more than a month, we worked together to raise funds for the event.
We marched side by side for the 2-mile walk, joining hands as we crossed the finish line. For us, serving together in this way not only drew us closer as a couple, but it created cherished memories we look back on together.
Award-winning author Jim Burns writes that “families who build a healthy identity are the ones who slow down enough to share enjoyable and meaningful times together.” This isn’t just true for your family as a whole, but also for you as a couple. Strong marriages are made up of shared experiences and the positive memories created in the process. Ted and I have found that serving together is a great way to do just that.
Working toward a common goal
Last spring, I watched week after week as Jim and Melissa spent their Tuesday afternoons coaching my daughters’ T-ball team. Together they instructed a dozen or more preschoolers and kindergarteners on how to hit and throw the ball, and how to run the bases. They worked side by side toward the common goal of teaching their young team the basics of the game.
More than once I noticed them exchange grateful glances as they collaborated. This type of nonverbal interaction is what author Bill Farrell describes as “a single, meaningful glance” where “your eyes meet and your hearts connect.” These glances were evidence that Jim and Melissa’s common goal of coaching was drawing them closer together.
Whether it’s on the sports field or in the office, common goals unite people. The same is true in marriage. Like Jim and Melissa, when you band together to accomplish a shared purpose, it has the potential to draw you closer as a couple. It allows you to join your hearts and your hands to strategize, mutually invest in and accomplish a mission together.
Solving problems together
When Jenny found herself juggling a full-time job, two kids, a critically-ill brother and the threat of fines from her neighborhood association for an unkempt yard, her neighbors Mark and Candace immediately volunteered to help. Candace tamed the bushes, while Mark tidied up the flower beds.
When they attempted to mow the overgrown grass, they quickly discovered that Jenny’s mower was broken. Big problem? Not for this united team. The pair worked together to formulate a plan and quickly enlisted the help of a neighbor and his mower. Problem solved. Lawn mowed.
Like Mark and Candace found, when you serve together as a couple, sometimes you face unexpected setbacks that can introduce stress to the situation. While these moments have the potential to result in conflict as you seek to handle them together, they can also provide opportunity for you to choose to work as a united team. Joining forces to solve problems and mutually decide the best plan of action is a great way to strengthen your marital unity.
Recognizing each other’s gifts and strengths
During our first year of marriage, Ted was asked to create a video to celebrate one of our church’s significant anniversaries. At the time, I was in graduate school studying film and television production. So the two of us joined forces.
Since my strengths lay in planning, scheduling and keeping a project on task, I took on the role of producer. Ted directed and edited the short film. His out-of-the-box thinking paired with his artistic eye made him perfect for the role.
Ted and I learned through the production process that serving as a couple can teach you to better recognize and encourage each other’s strengths. The more you work side by side, the easier it becomes to see clearly which tasks you’re each best suited for. And, because you’re mutually invested in accomplishing a goal together, it’s easier to gain fresh appreciation for what your spouse brings to the table. A renewed gratitude for each other's gifts and strengths goes a long way in drawing you closer together.
Knowing what to pray about
When our church asked for leaders in the small-group ministry, Ted and I made the commitment to lead a couples’ group. For two years, we gathered twice a month with four or five other couples. We talked and laughed as we ate dinner together, discussed Scripture and how it applied to our lives and marriages, and shared our struggles and burdens with one another.
During our time as leaders, several of the other couples in our group went through difficult seasons related to marriage, parenting and extended family. Each instance presented Ted and me with situations we could pray for together.
No matter where you find yourselves serving — at church, on the T-ball field, in your neighborhood, in the lives of your friends — sharing the experience can provide occasions to pray hand in hand for people and areas of need. The act of praying together helps draw you closer together spiritually.
Deciding where to serve
One creative way to choose where to serve is to reflect on what activities you both enjoy. Do some of your favorite date nights include attending a play or a concert? If so, consider volunteering together as ushers at a local performing arts center. If you enjoy hiking together, then leading guided nature walks at a state or city park might be a perfect fit. If you’re both passionate about social causes, consider spending an evening together helping at a homeless shelter or assisting at your local pregnancy center. Not only will you have fun like you do on date nights, but you’ll also be serving your community.
Ashleigh Slater is the author of Team Us: Marriage Together