Chances are you have turned to this guide because you’re about to enter a mentoring relationship with another couple. Good for you! As marriage mentors, you have a unique opportunity to support and strengthen this couple in their love for and commitment to each other.
This guide explores 10 characteristics that we’ve identified as essential ingredients in creating lasting, thriving unions. These traits all have their origin in Scripture, so it’s not surprising that research demonstrates that a genuinely thriving marriage is the result of practical progress in these key areas of marital life. Lifelong commitment, shared spiritual intimacy, healthy conflict management and the rest are among the non-negotiables in building and sustaining a vibrant marriage.
How to use this guide
We’ve designed this guide as a helpful tool, not a rigid program. It’s intended to kick-start conversations and shine a spotlight on key facets of marriage, but we encourage you to make it work for you and your mentee couple. You may want to address each question, pick and choose, or add questions of your own. It’s also important to remain flexible — if your mentee couple wants to explore a different subject instead, we’d encourage you to set aside the scheduled topic and go with the flow. And all along the way, ask good questions, actively listen and share from your own experience.
The guide is ideal for use in 10 sessions. We recommend tackling a single topic per meeting, as you’ll want to facilitate relaxed, in-depth conversations. If you know in advance you will be meeting fewer than 10 times, we’d suggest asking your mentee couple which topics are of greatest interest to them and then proceeding accordingly.
Thank you for making this investment in another marriage. We’re confident your mentee couple will benefit from your encouragement and insight, and you may be surprised how much it enhances your own marriage in the process. May God bless each of you as you embark on this exciting and important journey together!
1. Lifelong commitment
Couples who stick together understand that marriage is a sacred and solemn mystery in the eyes of God. As a result, they enter the relationship with the attitude that divorce is not an option. They understand that marriage is a lifelong adventure, filled with triumphs and defeats. Like Jesus, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2), they press on toward the goal in both good times and bad.
- If you had to define “marriage,” what words would you use? What makes marriage different from any other human relationship?
- How would you describe your long view of your relationship? Where do you see yourselves in five years? Ten years? Twenty?
- When you run into obstacles, roadblocks or conflicts in your marriage, what’s your default reaction? Do you get angry? Run home to mother? Blame each other? Or do you look for ways to solve the problem and move forward?
- Did you see lifelong commitment modeled in your family of origin? How has your experience affected your view of this concept? In the Marine Corps they say, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Does this maxim apply to marriage? If so, how? Would you describe your marriage as “an adventure”? Would you like to make it more adventurous? If so, how?
- The Bible says, “A man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). What do you think it means to be “one flesh”?
2. Shared spiritual intimacy
Thriving couples have a deep, shared faith. They consciously regard Christ as the foundation of their relationship (Ephesians 2:20) and understand that a genuinely Christ-centered marriage is a marriage in which both partners actively acknowledge the presence and the authority of God, and where Jesus makes an observable difference in daily life.
- What do you think it means to have a Christ-centered marriage?
- Would you say that your relationship is solidly grounded on the foundation of your faith in Jesus Christ? Why or why not?
- What are some practical ways you can acknowledge God’s authority in your home? How does the belief that He is present shape your interactions with each other?
- What do you do differently as a couple because of your Christian faith? Do you pray together as a couple? Study the Bible? Meet with other believers? Do you think that activities of this kind have an important impact on the quality of your relationship?
- Have you shared with your spouse how you came to know the Lord? Do you regularly talk with each other about the things you are learning on your spiritual journey?
- What does the phrase “walking with Christ” mean to each of you? How do you differ from each other in the way you approach your faith? In what ways are you similar?
3. Positive communication
Communication is the heart and soul of any vibrant relationship. Successful husbands and wives understand this. They prioritize communication and approach it as a process involving openness, empathy and a deep heart connection. They are quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19). They ask questions and try to enter into each other’s thoughts and feelings.
- How often do you sit down as a couple simply to talk to each other? Do you set time aside specifically for this purpose? Why or why not?
- What do you need and expect from each other in terms of openness and depth of communication? How do your needs and expectations differ?
- Do you feel that you understand each other? If not, what can you do to improve the situation?
- Males and females often have different communication styles. Have you found this true in your marriage? How do you work through the challenges this can bring?
- If you had three minutes to “explain yourself” to your spouse, what would you say? Is there anything about your husband or wife that you want to understand more clearly?
- Do you find it easy or difficult to be together for any length of time without talking?
- Has your spouse changed significantly since the two of you were married? How does your current relationship differ from the relationship you shared before the wedding?
4. Healthy conflict management
Couples who go the distance recognize that spousal conflict is inevitable. They know that the secret of their success lies in the way they handle this conflict, and they embrace the concept that God uses this bumping and jarring to cause them to grow (Proverbs 27:17). They keep short accounts.
- Do you welcome conflict or view it as a threat?
- As a couple, do you have an intentional strategy for resolving your differences? If not, have you ever stopped to analyze the way you handle conflict?
- What does “fighting fair” mean? Are you comfortable with this concept or do you tend to feel that any kind of fighting is wrong in marriage?
- How are you and your spouse different? How have your differences shaped and impacted your relationship — whether for better or for worse?
- Is forgiveness the same as forgetting? Why or why not? Can you forgive and not forget? What does it take for you to move beyond conflicts and get on with life?
- Have you ever had a conflict that eventually led to deeper intimacy and understanding? If so, how did that work?
5. Shared enjoyable activities
Thriving couples choose to make their relationship a priority. They pursue each other (Ecclesiastes 9:9) and fight for time together. They play and laugh together, have regular date nights, develop meaningful traditions and find common interests and hobbies they can both enjoy. They look for adventure and new experiences to build memories and protect their relationship from boring routine.
- How can you cultivate moments to spend time together in new and unexpected ways?
- How can you, together, become more intentional about clearing your calendars to make more time for each other?
- If you had to come up with an idea for a fun and exciting outing, what would it be? What would you like to do that you’ve never done together before?
- Do you ever feel that you’re simply too busy to share enjoyable and meaningful time together? If so, are you satisfied with the status quo?
- Is your spouse fun to be with? Are you? What can you do to foster more spontaneity and laughter in your relationship?
- What would it take to enable you to spend enjoyable time together on a more regular basis? Babysitters? Schedule adjustments? A different approach to balancing work and family life?
- Do you have regular date nights? If so, what can you do to keep them from becoming routine and boring? If not, why not?
Nourishing is a matter of discovering your mate’s love language and learning how to speak it. It’s about building each other up in active, practical ways and encouraging “one another daily” (Hebrews 3:13). It involves nurturing your spouse’s strengths and supplementing his or her weaknesses. This implies a significant investment of time and energy, but it’s an investment that pays off in a relationship capable of weathering any storm.
- What energizes and encourages you? Take some time to think about it. Then write down your answers and go over them together.
- Do you think you have a good understanding of your spouse’s strengths, weaknesses, desires and aspirations? If not, what can you do to find out more about these aspects of his or her character and personality?
- Is there anything you can do to help your spouse achieve his or her goals and become the person God wants him or her to be?
- When you really want to tell your spouse, “I love you,” what do you say or do? What expressions of love do you find most meaningful?
- What are your greatest strengths? Where are your flaws and weaknesses? List them and share them with your spouse. Then talk about ways you can help highlight each other’s strong points, complement each other’s weaknesses, and help each other become the people God has designed you to be.
7. Shared responsibility
Couples with vibrant relationships find ways to resolve the issue of male and female roles between themselves with Scripture as their guide. They talk openly about their expectations and personal preferences and hammer out a God-honoring plan that preserves fairness and equity in the way it divides household tasks and responsibilities. Their goal is to “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2) and function as a team.
- Are you happy with the way you’ve divided household chores and responsibilities between yourselves?
- How did your parents approach the question of male and female roles in marriage? How has the example of the older generation shaped your own attitudes toward this sometimes sensitive aspect of the marital relationship?
- What is your understanding of what the Bible has to say about the roles of husbands and wives? Is that reflected in your marriage?
- What kind of household tasks do you enjoy most? What are you best at — in other words, where do your personal gifts and talents lie? How do you think you can best serve your spouse?
- What do you expect your spouse to do for you? Wash your clothes? Maintain the car? Cook your dinner? Bring you the newspaper or breakfast in bed? What are your assumptions about your own role in the marriage and your own contribution to the relationship? Write down your answers to these questions and share them with each other.
- Have you taken the time to discuss, organize and codify these expectations and assumptions? Maybe you want to draw up a plan, make a chart detailing each partner’s chores and post it on your refrigerator.
- When it comes to sharing the load of household chores and responsibilities, are you on the same page or is this a bone of contention in your marriage? If it’s a source of conflict, what can you do to sort it out?
8. Physical intimacy
Thriving couples regularly celebrate their marriage with passionate sexual intimacy. They don’t regard sex as a chore or obligation, but as a delightful dance in which each spouse puts the other’s needs and interests ahead of his or her own (Philippians 2:4). At the same time, they never lose sight of the fact that sex is not the only element of a vibrant marital relationship. They understand that satisfying physical intimacy also includes plenty of affection, tenderness, warmth and physical touch as well.
Note to mentors: Some couples will feel comfortable sharing freely around this topic; others will not. We suggest checking with your mentoree couple at the outset to determine whether it would be an appropriate subject for discussion. If they would prefer to skip this one, simply move on to the next topic.
Do you regularly talk with each other about the physical aspect of your relationship?
Are you both mostly “on the same page” when it comes to sexual intimacy or is this a point of tension or conflict?
How do you express affection for each other outside the bedroom? Are you both comfortable and happy with this aspect of your relationship?
What are your individual assumptions and expectations with regard to the sexual aspect of marriage? How do they compare with your spouse’s? If they differ, what are you doing to resolve the issue(s)?
What would you say are the five most important elements of a marriage relationship? If you had to rank these elements, where on the list would you place sex? Can you explain the reasoning behind your ranking?
Have you been aware of shifting seasons in your sexual relationship? How would you identify the causal factors behind the ebb and flow of sexual desire? Is this a source of conflict in your marriage? How might you both achieve greater mutual understanding in this area?
9. Community minded
Healthy husbands and wives realize that they need other people and other people need them. They are intentional about connecting regularly with other like-minded couples. They stay engaged with nurturing communities of all kinds and make a special point of maintaining an active involvement in the local church, where they have many opportunities to give and receive spiritual support (Galatians 6:10).
- Would you say you are significantly involved in your church and that you are “connected” to other church members? Do you agree that such fellowship is an important part of every Christian’s life, or do you have differing views on that aspect of your faith?
- What are you doing as a couple to give of yourselves to friends, extended family, neighbors and other members of the larger community? Are there others less fortunate or in challenging situations — a single mom, a struggling couple, a fatherless child — that you are investing in together?
- How would each of you describe yourself — as a “people person” or as more of a private individual? Are you alike in this regard, or do you have contrasting personalities when it comes to social interaction? How do you work together as a team when interacting with other people?
- Do you have other couples you both enjoy spending time with?
- Have you ever found yourselves leaning on the church or on a group of neighbors and friends for practical support? Has anyone ever come to your rescue? How do you feel about that experience? How has it shaped your attitude toward others?
- Have you been helped and encouraged by the input of other marriage mentors (official or unofficial)? Would you ever be willing to mentor a younger or less-experienced couple?
10. Friendship and connection
Friendship is one of the most important qualities of a thriving marriage. But the stresses and pressures of everyday life — work, children, finances, household responsibilities, media overload — can easily move couple-time to the bottom of the priorities list, and then spouses slowly drift apart. Love isn’t self-sustaining; your relationship will not maintain itself. Connection with your spouse requires time and attention. Thriving couples are intentional about spending time together in meaningful conversations and enjoyable experiences that strengthen their bond and deepen their friendship (Proverbs 5:18-19).
- How can you make a point of spending more time with your spouse to build and strengthen your friendship?
- How can you, together, set aside time to talk about what’s going on in your lives — to really connect?
- What are some ways you can show your spouse that you’re emotionally available to them?
- If you were to spend just 10 minutes talking about the best and worst parts of your day, how would your spouse like you to ask you about their day? (“What was the rose and what was the thorn of your day?” or “What were the high point and the low point of your day?” for example.)
- What are two or three other questions your spouse would like you to ask you when we have time together?