A marriage is a living organism that needs plenty of care and attention to develop well. How can a couple ensure that theirs is flourishing even after many years? What do they do when the children are all grown up and ready to leave the nest? In the second part of this two-part series on marriage, we spoke to marriage mentors to find out.
“And they lived happily ever after” has long been the ideal perpetuated by Disney cartoons—a happy ending to a romance. However, “ever after” is a long time and it doesn’t end at the wedding. Without faith, trust, tenacity and sound advice, not all couples live happily together till death parts them.
Marriages go through different stages and with every stage comes a different set of challenges. The good news is, since marriage is an institution ordained by God, He is the One that Christian couples can turn to when they experience storms in their union. God has also placed wise people around them for counsel, so that they can seek timely advice.
In City Harvest Church, a group of trained marriage mentors serve as guides to newly married couples, as well as couples who have been married for a while.
City News speaks to Aaron Chong and Pastor Veronica Tang, as well as Michael Choy and Teo Meishan, to draw from their experience.
Besides heading a zone, Pastor Veronica is also a clinical counsellor in CHC’s Counselling team while her husband Aaron serves as a cell group leader. Michael and Meishan started their journey as marriage mentors in 2021, after going through the Bridging Hearts Prepare/Enrich programme.
How can couples maintain intimacy and romance in their relationship after many years of marriage?
Michael and Meishan quote 3 John 1:2: “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things, just as your soul prospers.” In order for your marriage to prosper, your soul must first prosper. You cannot feel that you are constantly hard-pressed or constrained; that you have lost your freedom because you are married or because you have a child. You must first be happy. A happy and confident spouse is an attractive spouse, and intimacy comes naturally.
Remember who you were while you were both dating and happy. That was what attracted your spouse to you. Be who you are! That is attractive enough in itself. If one spouse feels like romance or intimacy is lacking, make positive and fun suggestions instead of being critical or sweeping it under the carpet.
Physiologically speaking, it is key to recognise that it is quite normal for a wife’s level of sexual desire to decrease over time. Longitudinal psychological studies have revealed that while a typical husband’s sexual desire remains the same five years into marriage, his wife’s does not. What often happens then is the couple mistake this disparity in their desire to mean something is wrong with their marriage, and things can quickly go south. But recognising that this is common and a norm, and adapting to this change can help restore “that loving feeling” in a marriage.
Stress can affect intimacy as well. Check in with your spouse to ensure that he or she is not overly concerned about certain issues—it could be a new boss, finances, children, sick parent. Be each other’s pillar of strength and aim to meet each other’s needs. Life goes on, so it’s good to mindfully take time and explore ways to bring back the spark and the romance in life.
Aaron and Pastor Veronica suggest that couples who are parents leave their children to other caregivers and do things together as a couple regularly. Weekly date nights, celebrating important dates or taking a trip together are some suggestions they have. The time spent alone together will fill a couple’s love tanks.
Sometimes, all it takes is a hug. Hugging your spouse for extended periods releases feel-good chemicals in his or her brain. Try hugging each other regularly, especially if physical touch is the love language of your spouse.
How should one spouse support the other during times of crisis?
Give space to the Holy Spirit for Him to do a work in your spouse, Michael and Meishan recommend. Recognise that while you are a couple, what a husband or a wife can do is limited—the work of ministering is done by the Holy Spirit.
Furthermore, you don’t want your spouse to rely on humans but on God. Encourage your spouse to pray and give him or her space to practise silence and solitude. Encourage your spouse to draw closer to God and by faith, you will see your spouse growing out of that phase.
John 15:13 reads, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” A strong marriage is not made up of two strong people but two people willing to bear the burden when the other is weak.
When your spouse is going through a crisis, it’s important to make a conscious effort to proclaim God’s word over him or her. Have the capacity to empathise with his emotional state and allow your partner to express his needs and feelings so that he can feel validated and supported. Have a mindset shift from “I have to do this for him,” to “I can do this for him,” and finally to the most loving thought: “It’s a privilege to do this for him.”
A Christian marriage with God at the centre has the privilege of prayer—you can both cry out to God together during tough times, Aaron and Pastor Veronica say. Going through tough times causes your marriage to become stronger.
In 2022, Pastor Veronica underwent an operation to place a stent in her heart after a near heart attack. Her main artery was almost completely blocked. Aaron was her source of strength when her faith was failing. It was his quiet faith that encouraged her to push through.
Remember your marriage vows when times are tough. No one likes to go through tough times, but it is in such times that your love is tested.
How can we resolve quarrels?
Every couple is different. What works for most people is to give one other some space to cool down. That could mean taking time off for a walk outside.
It is common that one party wants to address the root of the quarrel immediately, while the other just wants walk away to quieten down. The marriage mentors note that giving each other some space usually works well.
Ephesians 4:26 reminds believers to not let the sun go down while they are still angry. It may not suit every individual to resolve the issue immediately, but we cannot allow bitterness to take root in our hearts while we try to “sleep it off”. Instead, after having a time-out, broach the topic again in a calm tone and a pleasant setting and try to resolve the issue.
While it is counter-intuitive, trying to remember good things about your spouse is useful in moments of anger. One easy way to do it is to make a list of things your spouse has done right and take it out to read when you are upset. It makes you remember why you fell in love with him or her in the first place.
However, in some marriages, one of the spouses may be verbally abusive, using vulgarities, bullying tactics or psychological warfare against the other. This goes beyond the usual fights in marriages to the perpetuation of an aggressor-victim pattern. The aggressor has formed a habit of abusing the victim in moments of anger or displeasure. The victim, on the other hand, finds it hard to walk away from the relationship.
In such a case, it is useful to bring someone of authority, like a pastor, into the picture to undo this mindset. This person of authority may help to reframe and help both spouses see the relationship in a different light.
Finally, two things to remember during a fight: one, don’t fight to win an argument, fight to win your marriage. Two, your marriage is worth fighting for and the best way to fight for your marriage is on your knees through prayer.
Underlying tension and unresolved anger can cause a lack of intimacy in a marriage. How should couples address this?
When there are unresolved anger and arguments, commit them to God and ask Him to soften your spouse’s heart before bringing up the topic calmly and with wisdom.
The aim for every Christian is to be like Christ, to have zero anger and unlimited patience, and to constantly forgive. However, that is not easy to do. It takes a lifetime for a couple to be able to reach that perfect kind of love where they don’t get angry with each other. Conflicts are inevitable and learning to forgive each other helps you both to be free from anger and to walk in freedom. Otherwise, you give space to the devil to put doubts in your mind.
Aaron and Pastor Veronica recommend that couples allow marriage mentors to help them. It is important that married couples find mentors whom they can trust and who are able to share with them freely. Through the mentoring, they can delve deeper into their relationship and receive advice tailored to their needs.
Here’s a fun exercise to build understanding that Aaron and Pastor Veronica did when they went through the mentoring programme. The couple must take turns telling each other what the other person did that made them feel loved. After which they will take turns to appreciate each other by completing the sentence, “I feel loved when…”
Some examples are “I feel loved and respected when you speak to me in a gentle tone” or “I feel loved when we hug”.
Some couples are experiencing the “empty nest syndrome”. How can couples rekindle their marriage, especially if they had a few rough decades together?
Besides having their children move on in life, this cohort of married couples may also be transitioning into retirement. They might have held a position of authority in the office before this, and thus feel a loss of significance when they retire. In this case, the individual needs to first re-establish his or her identity in Christ by meditating on who God says he or she is beyond work. When he or she is complete as an individual, their spouse can then complement them.
Couples at this stage need to take time to reflect on what God wants to accomplish at this stage in their marriage—whether it is to serve together in greater measure, or study His word or go on mission trips together.
Some couples find that they have nothing in common after the children have moved out of the family home. That’s when they need to have the desire to discover their spouse again, to deepen the friendship and rekindle the romance.
To reignite the romance, they should spend time going out on dates again. Remember what attracted you to your spouse in the beginning and try to rediscover that intimacy. All these need to be done intentionally.
What is the most common reason for divorce? How should couples avoid going down that road? Every couple gets married because they are madly in love, so how does a couple end up in divorce?
There are many things that could lead to divorce. Some couples fail to meet each other’s needs or expectations, while there are those who unrealistically want to live a single’s life even after being married. There are also couples who are so busy dealing with work or children that they neglect their marriage. Some other reasons include having a lack of open and honest communication, or healthy boundaries.
In some cases where one party is a taker and is unwilling to give, the relationship becomes unbalanced over time. The lack of team effort can be a reason why marriages break down.
The world wants us to think that divorce is a quick fix to the problems we are facing in marriage. But divorce is never an easy option, for it strikes a crushing blow to all involved. In Malachi 2, God declared that He hates divorce because marriage is meant to be a special covenant between a man and a woman before Him. If divorce has entered your mind, it’s important that you do not make a decision when emotions are running high and things are tense—you would not be in the right frame of mind to make a wise choice.
Go to God and ask Him to restore your individual relationship with Him. And from thereon, ask Him to allow you to see your marriage the way He sees it. If you feel that you are the only one praying and crying out to God for your marriage, be assured that God is faithful and He hears your cry. He can breathe new life into the marriage—nothing is too difficult for Him!
It is helpful for the struggling couple to surround themselves with godly friends, couples and pastors who believe in their marriage—people who will pray and fight for their marriage together with them. That is why belonging to a church and being in a community with godly people is so important.
Essentially, love is about spending time together. The more committed you are to the marriage, the more you want to set time aside to spend with one another. Also, accept and affirm your spouse rather than focus on where your spouse falls short. God loves us with an everlasting love, and it is His loving kindness that draws you in. By cultivating the fruit of the Spirit, we can draw our spouse closer to us.
Aaron and Pastor Veronica remind couples that there is always a way to resolve things—the key is to communicate. Individually, it is important to observe healthy boundaries outside of marriage so that you will not falter, doing significant damage that cannot be undone.
In Hosea 4:6, God says, “My people are destroyed for the lack of knowledge.” We need to know the Word and be wise to distinguish between world views and biblical views and to stay on the narrow road that leads to life.