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Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure . . . — Hebrews 13:4a
Paul David Tripp’s 2010 book What Did You Expect?? has become a classic in the library of books on marriage. Tripp is well known for getting to the real heart of the matter—whether the topic is marriage, parenting, aging, pastoral life, counseling, or discipleship. It is this work on marriage that has couples and marriage counseling professionals pondering the deep things of God in regards to “Redeeming the Realities of Marriage”—the subtitle of the book.
In the last pages of What Did You Expect?? Tripp summarizes his writing with this: “What has this book been about? It has been a detailed description of the daily work of love that must be done with commitment and joy when a flawed person is married to a flawed person and they are living in a fallen world. Your marriage won’t just magically become a relationship of unity, understanding, and love. You must work to develop those things. Your marriage won’t magically grow to be more loving, understanding, and unified. You will have to work so that those things become deep and strong. And these things won’t be maintained magically. You will have to commit to making sure that busyness and selfishness don’t drive them away.” P. 282
Did you catch that—“Daily work . . . You must work . . . You will have to work”??!!
Fortunately, for those of us who are slow to understand what “work at marriage” means, Tripp lists twenty-eight points which will steer us from “the sin of laziness” in regards to marriage towards “being committed to the hard work that makes a marriage beautiful”. P. 280
Whether you’ve been married ten years—or ten months—these points are valid. But just so we make it clear that they also apply when geographically separated by military duty, I have added some thoughts after each of his points. The purpose of these additional thoughts is to get you to thinking that “working on your marriage” is not just something you can do when together with your spouse . . . but can also apply to deployment or TDY. Working on your marriage is something we all must do—always—if we want to finish deployment, or finish life, well with our marriages flourishing.
So the italicized bullet points—what you will be willing to do to work at your marriage—are from Paul David Tripp. The extra thoughts are mine.
- Be willing to lose sleep so an important conversation can be completed.
During deployment, losing sleep in order to communicate is not exactly a new idea. Differing time zones often mean you have to be awake during strange hours in order to connect with your spouse at home. Military folks know how to handle this one.
- Listen and consider when you have communicated a concern.
During deployment, times to listen might come at a premium. But they are important. Warning—don’t force each other to listen by posting something negative on Facebook!
- Care about your spouse’s true needs and gladly work to meet them.
During deployment, the best way to communicate to your spouse that you care is by asking two simple questions: “What can I do to help?”and “How can I pray for you today/or this week?” Those questions, when said with sincerity, communicate much when options to help are limited.
- Work to communicate with your spouse in a way that is patient and kind.
During deployment, “tone of voice” conveying patience and kindness is something we must be extra careful to work at. Choose words carefully.
- Look for concrete ways to support and encourage your spouse.
During deployment, don’t forget to hand write letters to each other. Encourage with words like “I’m so proud of you” and “thank you for what you are doing”. Simple words of respect go a long ways to encourage.
- Do the daily work of forgiveness and reconciliation so that you and your spouse can live in peace.
During deployment this is so important! The operative word is grace.
- Deal with your marital differences in a way that communicates appreciation and respect.
During deployment, marital teamwork is vital to keeping a family intact. You are both performing important roles—and one is not more important than the other. Don’t compare—encourage. And here’s an idea—instead of saying, “Thank you for serving” . . . say “Thank you for your heart for serving”. It’s not just about the job of military duty . . . or work at home . . . it’s about the virtue behind the work.
- Make time to enjoy your physical intimacy and friendship.
During deployment it is obvious that physical intimacy is not possible. But growing your friendship is very possible. Remind each other of sweet memories of times together. Tell each other what it was that attracted you in the first place. Be creative.
- Look for ways to help your spouse bear the burden of the responsibilities that he or she carries.
During deployment, the best thing you can do for your spouse is to pray for them. On the right sidebar of Excellent or Praiseworthy you will find the category “Prayer”. Click on that for ideas. Listen—understand—express appreciation—and pray.
- Partner with your spouse in the daily work of maintaining your physical surroundings.
Before deployment, hopefully you made some plans for maintaining your home. During deployment, trust the at-home spouse to do what is necessary to keep things running smoothly.
- Never stop pursuing your spouse romantically.
During deployment, remind your spouse that your first thought of the day was of them—and your last thought at night. Romance only belongs to your spouse—never flirt with anyone else. Beware of the temptations to build “friendships” with those of the opposite sex when you are apart from your spouse.
- Not let the sun go down on a moment of hurt, misunderstanding, or anger.
During deployment, there will be problems. There will be misunderstandings. Be willing to listen. Extend grace to cover problems created by miles and time apart.
- Look for ways to encourage and develop your spiritual communion.
During deployment, the best way to stay spiritually connected is to be intentional about your devotional time. Read the Bible together. Pray together. Read books together. Read devotionals together. And discuss what you are learning—on email or letters or over the phone if you are so fortunate to be able to talk together.
- Daily commit to overlooking minor offenses.
During deployment you may not be able to communicate daily. But establishing a cadence of grace is essential.
- Studiously avoid conflict over things that are unimportant.
Deployment helps to prioritize what is really important in life. Military folks have the maturity to perform this one well.
- Speak in a way that gives your spouse grace.
During deployment, “speak” might mean email, text, letter, Skype. Let your words be sweet, however they are given.
- Encourage and support your spouse in areas of interest that you do not share.
During deployment there are often opportunities to develop a new skill, study, hobby, or interest. Some take course work—some memorize Scripture—some learn to play guitar. Ask good questions—and support each other in this.
- Be willing to make the sacrifices necessary to keep your marriage a priority.
If anyone understands sacrifices, it’s military families. We’ve got this. And when you are back together, take some time away to get re-connected. We recommend going to a FamilyLife Weekend to Remember.
- Daily search for verbal and nonverbal ways to communicate your love.
Communicating your love over the miles and the months is so important. Take every opportunity to make your spouse know that you love them.
- Do not leave a conversation until you have reached unity and understanding.
During deployment this may not always be possible, but try. Time constraints due to duty demands may limit your conversations. But sharing thoughts and feelings in a letter can go a long way to explain what you can’t finish . . . please be patient with each other.
- Never demand of your spouse what you are unwilling to give.
During deployment, you are serving equally. Do not compare who has the harder job. Compliment each other on the jobs you are doing—and the heart to do the job well.
- Continually remind your spouse that he or she is not alone in the marriage.
During deployment it helps to remind your spouse how much they are appreciated. Read the military version of “The Five Love Languages”—or go to that website—and communicate your love and appreciation for your spouse in their love language. It’s possible, even during deployment.
- Do things you wouldn’t normally do simply because they make your spouse happy.
During deployment you may have a chance to dream of good days ahead with your family. Share those dreams with your spouse. Tell them how you want to make them happy when you are back together.
- Fight the busyness that would get in the way of giving your marriage attention.
During deployment, the extra burdens of duty and home can choke a marriage. But military couples know what it takes to “fight the good fight”—commitment to the cause, training to know and fight the enemy, and perseverance to win.
- Be willing to sacrifice personal activities and leisure for the sake of your marriage.
During reintegration, focus on each other. Be thoughtful of their needs. Take the small steps towards reconnection . . . daily, and with patience.
- Work so your spouse has the downtime, rest, and retreat he needs.
Your marriage will need downtime, rest and retreat when you are back together. It is the priority—even more than children. Their security will come from your strength. Take the time—together.
- Work to build relationships of love and respect with your family.
“Work” means taking those steps of commitment to build—and sometimes restore—relationships . . . no matter what. Understanding that the work will be worth it goes a long ways to keeping you motivated.
- Do not stop working until your marriage is all God intended it to be.
And then keep working to maintain that beautiful union. Until your last breath.
Tripp, Paul David, What Did You Expect?? Redeeming the Realities of Marriage (Wheaton: Crossway Publishing, 2010)
Questions to Share:
1. Which of the Paul David Tripp’s 28 points do you feel that you and your spouse do well?
2. Which of the 28 points do you feel that you and your spouse need to work at? What steps will you take to accomplish that purpose?