Focus on the Family

Spiritual Intimacy

by Focus on the Family

Spiritual intimacy in marriage is about more than just spending time in God's Word. It's about learning how to connect with your spouse through your faith.

Often times, couples say that they "can't connect with their spouse" because they're not in the same place spiritually. But, there are small things you can do as a couple to become more like-minded in your spiritual walk.

You can start building intimacy in your spiritual life by praying daily for your spouse and your relationship as a couple. Without spending hours in prayer, you can set aside 10 minutes a day, whether morning or night, to go before God with prayers for your marriage.

If you and your spouse aren't connecting around church, don't set high expectations for your spouse to attend church with you every Sunday. Instead, see if they would be willing to attend once a month. Don't set the bar so high that you're doomed to failure. Remember: small steps along the way make a big difference down the road.

But, what if your spouse won't attend church at all? Dig deep into God's Word, stay faithful in attending church and commit every part of your relationship with your spouse to prayer. In Matthew 19:26, Jesus states that "… with God all things are possible." If you stay fervent in your commitment to the Lord, He'll honor your faithfulness.

The saying "Fail to plan, plan to fail" is so true when couples desire to experience spiritual growth together. The following articles offer additional great ideas on how set up a plan for spiritual intimacy within your marriage.

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Blending Two Spiritual Lives

Loving God is a great place to build a foundation for spiritual intimacy within a marriage.

by Susan Mathis

He shook his head dolefully as we talked about our future marriage and my thoughts on spiritual intimacy. "I'm not so sure I'm knowledgeable enough to be the spiritual partner you need me to be," Dale said. "You know the Bible so much better than I do. You've been a Christian decades longer than I have."

Over the course of our conversation, Dale realized that God's plan for spiritual intimacy did not depend on how much time we'd spent in a church — or even the amount of understanding we each had of spiritual things. We both deeply loved God, and that was a great place to start building a spiritual foundation.

Since we'd both been single for many years, we were used to deepening our relationship with Christ on our own. We had to learn how to share our deeply personal spiritual lives and grow together as a couple. As we've worked to deepen our spiritual intimacy, I've learned a few things along the way.

Let Go of Misconceptions

Dale's steps in creating a Christ-focused home were not what I had expected, but our life together has ended up even better than anything I had planned. The tone and attitude he established set a firm foundation for our marriage.

I may have subconsciously expected to marry a pastorlike man. Dale did not live up to my unrealistic expectations, but he did fulfill the role God designed for him in our marriage. Though he didn't sit me down every night for an hour of prayer and Bible study, Dale lived out 1 Corinthians 13. He incorporated the fruits of the Spirit into everyday living, and he directed many of our conversations to what Jesus would say or do.

In such an atmosphere, instead of holding on to my preconceived expectations, I enjoyed the journey of growing together spiritually.

Encourage Each Other

One of the most productive things I found I could do is encourage and empower Dale with genuine love and appreciation. When I see him take a positive spiritual step, simple affirmation gives him the courage to continue building our spiritual intimacy.

I watch for those moments — when he takes the risk to pray in a group or comments during one of our Bible studies. I make sure I let him know how proud I am of him and acknowledge his initiative. As I applaud his efforts to seek God, our spiritual relationship grows stronger day by day.

Accept One Another

Naturally, I sometimes wish my husband would change in certain ways, but I know better than to nag or criticize. One friend of mine thought that if she nagged her husband enough, he'd take his rightful place as a Christian husband. Instead, she built a wall of criticism that kept him from even trying. Now, years later, they are spiritual strangers.

As I take my concerns to God, He teaches me to be patient and entrust my husband to Him. At the same time, I must continue pursuing my own growth without worrying that my husband might fall behind. We're not running a race but traveling together on a lifelong journey; the progress of either one of us benefits both.

Work As a Team

Dale and I keep in mind that we are a team. So we make plans together regarding our spiritual life: church involvement, small-group connections, goals for prayer, Bible study, tithing and other disciplines. We address all these things as a couple, even if both of us don't participate in all of them at the time.

Though each of us may grow in different areas at different times, we will stay connected spiritually as long as we work as a team and pray for each other. Praying daily is especially important to us — whether together or on our own. As we cover each other in prayer, our hearts and minds naturally come to a special place of love and desire to see God work in our spouse.

As we've encouraged and accepted one another, and trusted God in the areas where we fall short, we've found that our spiritual intimacy is one of the most beautiful aspects of our marriage.

Scripture teaches that marriage is ordained by God and part of His original design for us as well as a foreshadowing of our eternal relationship with Him.

When My Husband Joined My Devotions

Together, we have unearthed one of the most overlooked secrets for a strong marriage — going into God's presence together to pray and read His Word.

by Pat Baker

My husband was intruding on my time with God, and I didn't like it.

For 10 years I had risen early each morning to read the Bible and pray. Since my husband, Don, preferred to sleep in, the timing was perfect. Before Don got up, before the phone started ringing, before my busy day started, I could focus exclusively on God.

I memorized Scripture verses. I prayed for friends who would be waking up to a day filled with grief or sickness. I seldom began a day without asking God to take away my will and replace it with His.

I savored my quiet, uninterrupted time with God until one morning I looked up and saw Don walking into the room. With his eyes barely opened, he announced that he wanted to join my early morning practice.

I tried to hide my shock and disappointment. This has to be a whim, I thought. It won't last.

Giving It a Go

The next morning, we took a trial run. I told Don what I usually did during this time. He gave me a thumbs-up, stretched out on the couch and promptly fell asleep before I had even finished reading the Scriptures.

I hoped Don would tell me that this wasn't going to work. At the same time, I felt guilty about my unwilling attitude. I knew there were other wives who would love to share a time like this with their husbands.

After the first few mornings, Don avoided the couch. But even while he was sitting in a chair, he sometimes fell asleep when it was my turn to pray. Since Don had so much trouble staying awake, we decided to eat breakfast first. After the meal, Don was alert and ready to participate.

Change of Heart

What I thought would last only a few days has now continued for more than 30 years. Don and I begin our time together by reading the Bible. Sometimes we use devotional books, but most of the time we simply read and discuss Scripture. We tell each other about our plans for the day. We discuss the needs of our friends, church and nation, noting the requests in a prayer notebook. When prayers are answered, we write TYL (Thank You, Lord) by the recorded names.

We spend a lot of time praying for God's protection for our daughters and their families. We often use a prayer based on Colossians 1:9-10: “Lord, we ask You to help our children and their families to understand what You want them to do. We ask You to make them wise about spiritual things. We ask that the way they live will always please and honor You so they will be doing good, kind things for others, while they are learning to know You better and better. We also pray that they will be filled with Your mighty, glorious strength so they will keep on going no matter what happens — always full of the joy of the Lord.”


Sometimes my husband surprises me by telling God how much he loves me. I hear his genuine concern for me — a concern that doesn't always come out in other ways. Some mornings, as Don is praying, I am overwhelmed at the depth of his love for me. Silently, I ask God to make me worthy of such love.

Together, we have unearthed one of the most overlooked secrets for a strong marriage — going into God's presence together to pray and read His Word.

In hindsight, I now see that it was God, not Don, who intruded into my quiet mornings so many years ago. Our all-wise Father knew these times together would not only draw us closer to Him but would also help us grow more in love with each other. TYL.

When Two Pray

Every time you and your spouse pray separately for one another, great things happen in your relationship.

by Stormie Omartian

Every time you and your spouse pray separately for one another, great things happen in your relationship. Prayer is truly powerful. But when you pray together, that power increases tremendously, and so do the results. Going to God in prayer as a couple benefits your marriage in several ways:

Prayer Promotes Unity

On the day you and your spouse were married, you became one in the eyes of God. From that moment on, however, there is still a process of becoming one in your everyday lives. The living out of this unity doesn't just happen; it takes time and effort.

The most difficult thing about a marriage is that there are two people in it. If you were just trying to work through things by yourself, you could certainly do a good job of it. But in marriage you have to mesh your dreams, desires, attitudes, assumptions, needs and habits with those of your spouse. The effort to do so can cause strife. When you pray with your spouse, you are drawn into unity with God and, as a result, with one another.

Prayer Promotes Emotional Intimacy

Just as physical intimacy reaffirms your oneness, so does praying together. When you pray as a couple, you are not only communicating with God, but also with each other. You can learn so much about one another by sharing prayer requests and listening to each other pray.

Prayer Invites God Into Your Relationship

For a marriage to last and be happy and fulfilling, three parties need to be involved: the husband, the wife and the Lord.

All marriages have problems because they are made up of two imperfect people. But if you add the presence of a perfect God, then you have unlimited possibilities for drawing closer to what God intended for marriage. Whether that happens is determined by how frequently and how fervently God is invited into your relationship. The more you pray together, the more you will see God do great things.

I know that praying together works because I have seen its power demonstrated in my own marriage. Over the years my husband and I have struggled with many different issues, and at times I have felt that all hope was lost. Yet in those moments of despair, God intervened; He changed our hearts and taught us how to make our marriage whole.

Prayer Changes Relationships

Through the ups and downs of 34 years of marriage, my husband and I have changed a lot for the better. We're not perfect — far from it — but we are living proof that by praying together, your relationship can change. A husband and wife certainly can't change each other, and they can never change as much as they would like. But God can change them both if they invite Him to do so. No matter what struggles a couple have, if they keep praying together, they can see things turn around.

If you or your spouse feels uncomfortable or embarrassed praying out loud in front of the other, don't be discouraged. Many people have felt that way and overcome it. Ask God to help you. Ask Him to teach you and your spouse how to pray together so you can have the marriage He wants you to have.

Beginning to Pray Together

These eight suggestions will help you transform your marriage with prayer.

by David Stoop, Jan Stoop
Here are eight suggestions for beginning to pray together that were given to us by the couples who responded to our questionnaire. They come from their own experiences and were developed through their own struggles to begin to pray together.
  1. Take the time needed to talk with each other about your thoughts and feelings about prayer and praying together. Do this without pressuring one another or trying to make the other feel guilty. See if you can agree that this is something you both want in your marriage. Talk about your fears in as open a way as possible. Talk also about your expectations up front, so they don't undermine you later on.
  2. Pick a specific time and make a commitment to each other to begin praying together at that time. You'll never get started praying together on a regular basis if you don't make this definite commitment to a specific, agreed-upon time.
  3. Don't be upset if you miss a day. It's important, if you miss a day, to just start again the next day. Consistency will come over time. Let yourself off the hook here.
  4. Decide who will do what. For example, who decides where you will pray together? Who reminds the other that it is time to pray together? Couples reported that they couldn't just make a commitment to a time and then assume both of them would remember. It helped for one person to take on the responsibility to say, "Hey, it's time for us to pray together." It was interesting to note that for the couples who were successful, it was more often the husband who did the reminding.
  5. Start where you are both comfortable. This means that if only one of you is comfortable praying out loud, then you don't start there, for both aren't comfortable at that place. If one of you insists that you pray together silently, then both can be comfortable at that place and that's where you begin.
  6. Set a time limit. It was surprising how many couples made this point. "No long-winded prayers," they said. One wife wrote, "No long monologues with fourteen items in them!" Another couple suggested, "First start small and grow from there. Anyone can pattern five or ten minutes into their lives, as opposed to one hour." Another couple said, "Start with five minutes and then gradually, over time, see what happens. Don't try to take too much time as you begin."
  7. Agree at the beginning that neither one of you will preach in your praying. Nothing can stop the process like using the time to pray together as a way to preach to your spouse, or to make suggestions in your prayer. Sometimes just making this a rule will give a reluctant spouse the freedom to get started, for a common fear is that one’s spouse will use this time to preach rather than to pray.
  8. One husband suggested: "Start with a list of things you want to pray about. This could be done individually or together. Then pray individually about your time of praying together before you actually come together for prayer."

How Do We Pray Together?

Now that we have the plan, what do we do as a couple when we pray together? There are some basic premises to keep in mind.

by David Stoop, Jan Stoop

Now that we have the plan, what do we do as a couple when we pray together? A basic premise to keep in mind is the importance of praying for each other. Although the Bible doesn't say directly, "Husbands and wives, pray for each other," it does say in James 5:16 that we are to "pray for each other so that you may be healed." That certainly includes husbands praying for wives and wives praying for husbands. One couple said, "Every time we pray together, we begin by praying a blessing over each other. We do this to edify our spouse and make them feel loved."

One of the things we do is find different prayers in the Bible and then agree to pray them for each other. For example, one of our favorites is a prayer Paul prayed for the Philippians in chapter 1, verses 9 and 10. He writes:

This is my prayer; that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ.

We've found this prayer to be a beautiful expression of what we want to experience in our marriage. We often use it as our theme verse for the couples' retreats we lead. Here's the way Dave would pray this for Jan:

"Father, I pray this for Jan, that her love will abound more and more in both knowledge and depth of insight, so that she will be able to discern what is the best, and will be pure and blameless until the day Christ returns."

You might want to read through Paul's letters, and other books of the Bible, looking for prayers that you can pray for each other. This can be a very meaningful way to pray for your spouse. If you don't use these prayers when you actually pray with your spouse, then show your spouse the passage and explain that you are saying that prayer for him or her.

  1. Pray silently together. All too often, couples believe that they are praying together only if they are praying out loud. Remember that the key is to intentionally pray together. When we are talking about this with couples’ groups, we suggest that they begin by praying silently. Here are the guidelines: First, sit down together and hold hands. A number of couples have commented on how important it was to be touching each other as they prayed together. Next, talk together about some of your mutual concerns as a couple. Then, as you finish the conversation, one of you should say to the other, "Let's pray about these things." Finally, spend some time in silent prayer together. Whoever finishes first should squeeze his or her partner's hand as a way of saying, "I've finished." When the other person finishes, he or she squeezes back. Congratulations! You've just prayed together.

    After doing this for a time, you might say "Amen" out loud as you finish and squeeze your partner's hand, and then wait for him or her to say "Amen."
  2. Finish silent prayer aloud. The second way you can pray together is an extension of the way we have just described. It takes us a step further in becoming more open and more comfortable praying together. Instead of simply ending your silent prayer with a verbal "Amen," agree that after a squeeze of the hand, the other person will finish their silent prayer out loud. This does not have to be profound. Simply say something that expresses thanksgiving and praise for the knowledge that God is present with you and that he not only hears your prayers but also knows and hears the deeper needs of your hearts. Or thank God for being present with you, in both your time of conversation and your time of prayer.
  3. Write out your prayer. First, write out a short, simple prayer that is meaningful to you. Do this apart from your partner. Then come together and read your prayer to your partner. After you both have finished, you may want to discuss your positive responses to each other’s prayers, and how it felt for you to hear one another talk to God. Or read together some of the prayers we have included at the end of each chapter.
  4. Pray as you talk. This approach to praying together simply means we back up in our conversation and consciously include God in the process. As a couple, you can simply stop in the middle of your conversation and suggest, "Let's pray a moment about this." If you're at the silent stage of praying together, pray silently about what you've just been talking about.

    If you are verbalizing your prayers, you can simply acknowledge that God is a part of your conversation. For example, when we are talking about a concern we have, one of us might simply say, "Lord, you are here listening as we talk, and we want to acknowledge your presence and ask for your help with this situation." Even this can be simplified, or the other person may add a sentence or two in prayer. We seldom say "Amen" when we do this—we just go back to our conversation. Over time, God's place within your conversation will become more natural, and you will become more aware of his presence.
  5. Pray out loud, together, daily. This is the same as our earlier suggestions, except that you are now comfortable enough with the process that you can verbalize your prayer in the presence of your spouse. In our questionnaire, we asked couples to tell us how they moved from praying silently together to praying out loud (meaning, was it difficult?). We wanted to know if couples talked about it beforehand, or if it just happened. We were surprised when a number of them such as the couple we mentioned earlier, replied, "We opened our mouth and said…" We laughed, but it really does boil down to that approach—opening our mouths and saying out loud what we are praying inside.

    Over the years, as we've become more comfortable with verbalizing our prayers together, we have expanded our evening prayer time to other times of the day. When we are together, one of us may feel the need to pray, so we stop and pray. It is more just a part of our conversation, even though we are still purposely stopping to pray together.
  6. Practice "vulnerable" prayer. This type of praying together is what we think most husbands (and some wives) fear is what we have in mind when we talk about praying together. It is difficult, and we certainly don't suggest starting this way. In vulnerable prayer, we pray about ourselves in the presence of our spouse. Along with praying "Lord, help us," or "Lord, help them," we pray "Lord, help me." When we pray this way, we are comfortable enough with each other that we can bring forward, with candor and honesty, our weaknesses, our failures, and our struggles, and talk openly with God in the presence of our spouse.

    This type of praying together is listed last, not because it is the best, but because it is the most difficult. Some couples may never pray this way, while others become very comfortable praying this way and feel that it is this type of praying together that really enhances their spiritual intimacy. Remember, however, the goal is not to pray vulnerably together; it is simply to pray together, consistently.

What If We Don't Like the Same Church?

Most couples, if they're seeking to please God, do eventually find a church where both spouses are satisfied. You can, too.

by Phillip J. Swihart

When you're newly married, and all is sweetness and light, it seems easy to overlook differences of preference—which restaurant to go to, what TV show to watch, where to go on summer vacation—in order to please your spouse. This time of agreement often extends to your choice of what church to attend.

As you settle into your relationship, however, feelings about some preferences gain importance.

For many couples, the birth of their first child seems to trigger a closer look at the church or faith tradition in which they want their children to be reared. Differences of opinion about what church to attend become more intense when the debate centers not just on varying worship styles but also on differences in deeply held doctrines and worldviews—even if those differences never had seemed all that serious before.

Frequently spouses discover a desire to return to the traditions in which they were raised. Or they want just the opposite—avoiding reminders of unhappy religious experiences in their own childhoods, against which they rebelled.

Principles for Selecting a Church

Here are a few principles you might want to consider—especially if you and your spouse are having trouble in this area.

  1. Husbands have a spiritual leadership role—within limits. Generally, the biblical standard is that the husband has a responsibility to lead spiritually at home. Whenever possible, the wife is to respect and follow that leadership rather than openly rebelling against it or passively undercutting his efforts. The husband also is to love his wife "as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her" (Ephesians 5:25). He has a sacred duty not to trample on or ignore his wife's needs, preferences, and feelings.

    If a husband is "leading" his wife and family into churches or practices that are heretical or cultic, of course, the wife has to put her spiritual foot down and refuse to participate. Her first allegiance is to God and His truth. Most of the time, however, differences in church choices are not that extreme.
  2. Give your relationship priority. God doesn't want a dispute over church choice to tear your marriage apart. Try to compromise in a way that both of you can live with. Perhaps you've considered only a few churches, and there are more you can visit. Keep looking for a place of worship that provides for the spiritual growth of both spouses—and your children, if you have any.

    Expect that if you're both seeking what God wants, have a spirit of unselfishness, and genuinely wish to serve the needs of your spouse rather than your own needs first, God will lead you to a good solution.
  3. Try creative alternatives. For example, you might try the "mix and match" approach. Many churches provide both "traditional" and "contemporary" services. Some couples attend a Saturday night "contemporary" meeting but also occasionally a Sunday morning "traditional" service at the same church.

    Some spouses attend completely different churches. This is rarely a positive, long-term solution, however; it separates partners rather than engaging them together in a marriage-enriching, spiritual experience.

    Some husbands and wives decide to "solve" the problem by skipping church altogether. Clearly this is not a decision God would want for them; Scripture states that Christians are not to abandon fellowship with other believers (Hebrews 10:25).

If you're at an impasse on this issue, don't despair. Keep praying with each other that God will give you a solution. Examine your own motives, asking yourself why you find it so hard to accommodate your spouse. You may discover that this argument is a symptom of deeper problems in your relationship—control needs, conflict management, or plain old selfishness. Address these issues—in Christian marriage counseling, if necessary.

Most couples, if they're seeking to please God and not just themselves, do eventually find a church where both spouses are satisfied. You can, too.

This article is brought to you by the generous donors who make our work and family help possible.

Overcoming a Bad Church Experience

If you or your spouse have had a bad church experience in the past, you're not alone.

by David Sanford

If you or your spouse have had a bad church experience in the past, you're not alone.

Approximately 22 million Americans say they are Christians and have made a faith commitment to Jesus Christ. They say that commitment is still important to them, but they have struggled with faith or relational issues and therefore quit going to church. Tens of thousands more will join their ranks this week.

Like a safe harbor, local churches can be a second home for many people. Sadly, churches also can be the setting for some of the harshest attacks against our faith.

Problems tend to arise when people are:

Steps to Recovery

If you're still struggling with a bad church experience, you're not alone. The good news is that it's possible for you to make a healthy recovery.

Many people have found it helpful to use a journal to record some of their recovery steps, but there are many steps you can try along with your spouse:

  1. List the ways you've been wounded by others. Write down who hurt you and how.
  2. Describe any times you've been confused or overwhelmed while attending a particular church.
  3. Describe any times you wondered how you fit in a local church.
  4. Study what the Bible teaches about experiencing God's forgiveness and forgiving others. Read the story of Joseph and his brothers in Genesis 39-45. If you have an opportunity, look up verses on "forgive" (and related words) in a Bible concordance. In your journal, make a list of what you learn.
  5. Pray about what you've learned about forgiveness. Ask God to make each truth real in your own experience.
  6. Identify who you need to meet with to ask for forgiveness for the wrongs you have done. Pray ahead of time that they will graciously forgive you. If a lot of time has passed, it's even okay to pray that they've forgotten what you did.
  7. Identify who has wronged you. Tell the Lord how badly you were hurt. Thank God for understanding how you were wounded. Ask Him to give you the ability to forgive each person in your heart, no matter what they did, even if they never apologize to you. Identify the individual(s) you can't seem to forgive. Do you need to meet with that person and a third party to seek repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation? If so, who could you ask to serve as that third party? A Christian counselor? Your pastor? Another godly older friend?
  8. Start the process of finding a new, healthy church home.

Spiritual Drifting

Leaving your church under bad circumstances can lead to the temptation to abandon church entirely. Here's what some prominent Christians have had to say about spiritual drifiting:

"At a deep level I sense the church contains something I desperately need. Whenever I abandon church for a time, I find that I am the one who suffers. My faith fades, and the crusty shell of lovelessness grows over me again. I grow colder rather than hotter. And so my journeys away from church have always circled back inside." — Philip Yancey

"Life is full of people who 'used to believe.' But because things turned out darkerand tougher than they supposed, they have decided that 'there can't be a God to let things like that happen.' But 'things like that' have always happened, to all sorts of people; even to Christ." — J. B. Phillips

"Maybe if you have money, health and a busy schedule, you don't feel the need to fellowship with other Christians. But when the storms of life hit — and they will — suddenly you'll find nobody's there. If you remain shallow in your relationship to your local church, you will lose out on the support of other Christians when you need it most." — Luis Palau

Helping Your Spouse Grow Spiritually

What can you do when you and your spouse don't have the same level of spiritual maturity or interest?

by Rob Jackson

What can you do when you and your spouse don't have the same level of spiritual maturity or interest? The answer doesn't lie in lecturing or manipulating your mate. Instead, consider the following five actions you can take to better understand your spouse and make the concept of spiritual growth more intriguing to him or her.

Be Patient

Whether your spouse is a new Christian, a non-Christian, or just a nonplussed Christian, it's hard not to overreact when he or she doesn't seem to care about the most important thing in your life. But try to remember that God loves your mate even more than you do. He may even be taking your partner on a journey that will ultimately produce a deeper faith.

In any event, be careful. God may choose to reach out to your spouse through you, but He doesn't need your help. Sadly, spiritual conflicts are often made worse by a spouse attempting to jump-start a mate's conscience or play the role of the Holy Spirit.

Don't Stand in the Way

While perfection isn't possible or even necessary, your behavior can attract or repel your spouse where spiritual growth is concerned. You're living out what you're experiencing with God. Is it appealing? Is your relationship with Christ making you a more enjoyable person to live with—or just a more religious one?

Those who languish spiritually especially need to see the real deal. Your mate will benefit from your companionship when you're serious about your devotion to Christ and realistic about your struggles, too.

Be Authentic

You should not only share your faith with your spouse, but your concerns as well. It would be hypocritical to pretend you're not worried when a spouse struggles spiritually. But how you share may be as important as what you share. Very few spouses would react negatively to comments like, "I know you're going to be safe to share this with, but it's still not easy to admit I'm worried about you."

The spouse who struggles with faith issues needs a gentle partner to come home to. A holier-than-thou approach is sure to deepen the divide—not only between your partner and yourself, but also between your partner and God (and it can't do much for your own walk with Christ, either). Nobody wants to be smothered or judged or patronized. It's not an issue of spiritual leadership or authority; it's just human nature to pull away when someone invades your space physically or emotionally.

When you're honest about your own faith issues, you assure your spouse that it's part of the journey to have questions and doubts. Your transparency can be especially healing if your mate has felt—accurately or not—that spirituality has become a competition in your marriage. This process applies the scriptural idea of comforting others with the same comfort you've received (2 Corinthians 1:4).

Stay Balanced

There's no doubt about the importance of faith. But it's possible to lose a healthy perspective, especially when you feel your mate's Christian commitment is at stake. Even though you believe you can trust God with your partner's spiritual development, you may try to take matters into your own hands.

Sometimes a concerned spouse drops hints or invites others to offer unsolicited counsel to the spiritually indifferent spouse. While well intended, these approaches are manipulative. Others withdraw from a mate and become excessively involved with church or other religious endeavors.

Make no mistake: You can't be too devoted to Christ. Nor should you minimize your faith to accommodate your spouse. But overspiritualization and hyper-religiosity will hinder your efforts as much as falling into the opposite ditch of apathy.

Examine the Reasons

Before you sum up your spouse's struggle as merely a "sin issue," take some time to consider his context. What was his religious experience as a child? Was his faith nurtured or hindered? Was his parents' faith meaningful or a chore? Has he experienced a personal relationship with Christ or mere religion?

The Bible is clear: We're not authorized to judge others (Matthew 7:1). Sometimes in marriage we're prone to judge because of what we know—or think we know—about our spouses.

We do know, however, that God cares about our mates. The struggle may take time, and may even challenge our faith. In the meantime, we can trust Him to nurture our spouses and our marriages.

Pre-marital training helps couples stay together. In fact, couples who participate in premarital programs experience a 30% increase in marital success over those who do not participate.

Serving Others

Christian couples have something to offer, even though we feel otherwise at times.

by Susie Larson

What was a great idea now seemed to be just another thing to do in our busy schedule. Our small group had decided to volunteer for an outreach project. We would drive to the inner city, meet at a church whose home was an old warehouse and package food for a developing country.

My husband arrived home after a long day at work. We looked at each other with that same sense of weariness, just wanting to stay home and exhale after an exhausting day. But we hopped in the car and headed downtown.

We pulled up to the old building and entered through the side door. There were two tables with bags of grains, measuring cups and a small scale. The staff person led us over to our workstations and assigned us each a task. Within minutes, we were working in rhythm with praise music blaring in the background.

After about two and a half hours of work, we looked at how many boxes of food we had prepared. Each of us had paid $20 for the food we packaged. Each volunteer gave about four hours of our time. And our little investment provided more than 3,000 meals to hungry people!

On the way home, my husband and I talked about the multiplication factor. We had given so little and that little had accomplished so much. My husband and I were no longer weary from a long day. We left energized and deeply convicted to live with the awareness of the needs around us. And we felt closer as a couple.

What does it mean for married couples to give a sacrifice of love? Look around and you will find that most marriages are stressed out and overcommitted. We all get so busy that it's hard to find time to serve or invest in people in a significant way. And yet this is what we are called to do.

Christian couples have something to offer, even though we feel otherwise at times. We have our hearts, our time and the wisdom God has given us from life experiences. Going into a cocoon isn't healthy for our marriage, our family or the body of Christ.

We are called to love and influence the world by helping others. Here are a few ways you can get involved in your own community and make a difference as couples:

Serve together as a couple, giving God the best of what you have. He deserves it — and so do others.

Focus on the Family's ministry is 87.5% donor-funded.

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