Building Your Marriage From the Ground Up: Seven Steps for Success
“A wise woman builds her home, but a foolish woman tears it down with her own hands” Proverbs 14:1
God’s word makes it clear that as women we have the power to either build up or tear down our home. Our words, actions, and attitudes have the power to either promote or destroy our household.
And as a newly married woman, you’re starting from scratch. You have to build your home (and marriage) from the ground up!
…but no pressure, right?
So how do we build up our home?
I would suggest that it begins in the most central part of your household: your marriage.
Countless studies have shown the positive impact that a healthy marriage (or just marriage itself) can have on members within the household. Children of married parents, for example, tend to experience greater academic, social, and behavioral outcomes than those with unmarried parents.
This is just one example of how the marriage relationship acts as the center pillar of the household, and those in it.
So let’s dive in to what I believe are seven of the most practical and research-backed strategies to enhance your marriage relationship, and build up your home!
These 7 steps are the levels of John Gottman’s “Sound Relationship House”.
After years of analyzing couples in his "marriage lab", this guy really knows what he’s talking about. Through his extensive research with married couples he has identified positive and negative patterns that can have the power to either build up or tear down relationships. In fact, based on these patterns he has been able to predict with over 90% accuracy which couples will get divorced.
These 7 steps are the result of examining what worked for the couples that had strong, successful marriage relationships, and according to Gottman, these are the things that all "masters" of relationships do.
Like the Proverbs 14:1 scripture, this model builds up a house from the foundation to the roof; each level building on the success of the previous level. So using this as our blueprint, let’s start building our homes from the ground up!
Level 1: Build Love Maps
The first thing you need to do to build up your marriage is to get to know your spouse. You need to know the little things like how they take their coffee, their favorite song, who their coworkers are, or how to cheer them up.
You also need to know the big things like their worst fear, how they feel about their family, and their current goals and dreams. On this level, you are building an intimate knowledge of who this person is, and what their world is like.
And before you think you can check this step off your to-do list, this “map” always needs updating. Marriage is a process of continually discovering your spouse. (And falling in love with them all over again!)
Level 2: Share Fondness and Admiration
In addition to knowing your spouse, you need to express your love and deep appreciation for your them. Often times, we think that saying “I love you” is the best of both worlds: loving and efficient. What more is there to say, after all?
Let me be the first to tell you: your spouse wants (and deserves) to hear why you love them. They need to hear "thank you", and feel appreciated. It can't just stay in your brain. You need to voice it. Instead of being critical, be intentional with compliments, and let each other know what makes you catch your breath, or stand in awe of them. Making your spouse feel admired, valued, and cherished is one of the fastest and best ways to build up your marriage.
Level 3: Turn Towards Instead of Away
To do well at this level, you will need to become more attuned to your partner’s “bids” for emotional connection, or attention. These happen all the time in your relationship, whether you realize it or not. It might be as small as “look at that bird flying outside”. They may not even say anything! They may just sigh or try to sit closer to you so that you’ll put your arm around them. Whatever the circumstance, they are looking for you to acknowledge them.
Turning toward your partner means responding and engaging with them when they make those requests for emotional connection instead of ignoring them (turning away). And it doesn’t have to be big! In response to their comment about the bird you might just say “Oh, look at that.” But it's much better than silence.
Silence communicates: "I don't care about you enough to listen. And you're not worth the effort to respond".
Turning toward communicates: “I hear you, and I’m paying attention when you reach out to me. I’m interested in what you’re interested in.”
Level 4: The Positive Perspective
The first three levels are all about building intimacy. When these three levels are working, you have a good basis for positive feelings toward your partner. This acts as a buffer to small moments of irritability or insensitivity.
Building on this to intentionally keep a positive perspective about your partner is what happens here at level four. That means not jumping to conclusions about why they are late, or making judgments about what they “really meant” by that last comment. Keeping a positive perspective means always giving your spouse the benefit of the doubt, and making the most gracious assumption about their behavior and intentions as you can. It means that your “default setting” is to assume the best about them. This builds trust in your relationship.
Level 5: Manage Conflict
When you have done the work at steps 1-4, you'll be in a much better place to handle conflict. This could be an entire blog on it’s own… so I’m going to keep it simple here.
All relationships come with a side of conflict (although I wish it were fries...). There’s just no escaping it! And truth be told, conflict serves a very good purpose in our relationship because it keeps us alert to the changes that we need to make for our marriage to thrive. With that in mind, what matters most is not if you have conflict but how you handle conflict in your marriage.
3 suggestions Gottman makes for this level are:
Accept your partner’s influence. It can’t be all about you all the time. You will need to concede some ground in some place. Maybe it’s organizing the fridge a certain way, or learning to love their weird family traditions.
Dialogue about problems. Kick around your problems like a soccer ball. He is not your enemy. He is your teammate. Be intentional about discussing your problems, as well as how you discuss your problems.
Practice self-soothing. Step back when you feel yourself getting too agitated to continue. Take a break, do something to calm down, and give yourself some time to catch your breath without totally abandoning the issue.
Level 6: Make Life Dreams Come True
In a nutshell: prioritize their passions, and help them accomplish their goals.
If your spouse’s ultimate goal in life is to be an ultramarathon runner, do what you can to help them train! Get them a great pair of running shoes, and invest in their dream as if it were your own. If it’s to travel, start putting away money to visit their top 3 cities in the world.
Allow them to pursue their dreams. More than that: help them pursue their dreams.
This will also help to ease conflict. And as you grow together, you will also begin to realize shared dreams that you both have. Make those a priority too, and chase after your dreams together. Create a shared vision, and work together to make it happen!
Level 7: Create Shared Meaning
When you get married, you become one. You become something completely new that has never existed before. Cultivate your own unique marriage “culture”. Share inside jokes, establish rituals, and make specific traditions. Establishing a prayer time, and going to church together are both great ways to create shared meaning in your relationship. ]
Engaging in things that transcend the two of you, to create a “we” mindset is the goal here.
You need things that “we” do, places that “we” go, stories that “we” tell, traditions that “we” observe, silly words that “we” use, dreams that “we” have. Creating shared meaning solidifies your bond and is part of cultivating a deeply meaningful relationship.
The Divine Reflection
Part of the reason I love marriage and relationship research is because so much of it can be used to help us understand our relationship with God better. Marriage is after all, a divine reflection of God’s eternal desire to be in relationship with us.
So as you think about building up your marriage with your spouse, take a moment to consider how your relationship with God is doing in each of these areas.
Build Love Maps
What does your love map for God look like? What has he been doing lately? What are his likes and his dislikes? Do you know what’s on his mind and his heart? What are the things that deeply move him? What are his goals and plans? What are his opinions on what’s going on in the world right now? How well do you know him? This is the first thing you will have to do to become closer to him.
Share Fondness and Admiration
How often do you tell God you love and admire him? In other words, do you regularly worship God with your words and your actions? Do you come right out and tell God when you’re blown away by something he does?
Turn Towards Instead of Away
When God speaks, do you acknowledge him? Do you turn toward his voice, and respond? Or do you turn away and ignore him? What kind of message are you communicating when God makes a bid for your attention, and wants to connect with you? Turning toward your spouse is critical for the health of your relationship. God is no different.
The Positive Perspective
When something happens, what conclusion do you come to? Do you blame God, or do you come to the most gracious and positive assumption you can? This is faith. Do you believe God has your best interest at heart? When things test you, do you maintain your positive perspective of him, or do you assume the worst about his intentions?
When you are in a struggle with God, or when sin has come between you, how do you handle it? Do you talk about it, or try to sweep it under the rug? Just like conflict, you need to talk about the ugly stuff that happens in your relationship with God. Know that he is on your side. Kick around the problem together, and remember he’s not your enemy. He’s your teammate. How are you doing in managing moments of conflict with God?
Make Life Dreams Come True
What are God’s ultimate dreams? What things are most important to him? How does he want you to spend your life? Perhaps we’re given a clue in Matthew 28:19:
“go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit…”
How are you doing at making God's dreams a priority to you? Are you living to make his dreams come true?
And like a caring husband, he will be faithful to what matters most to you. He will help you create a life of meaning, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
"Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart." Psalm 37:4
Create Shared Meaning
What are things that you and Jesus do together? What rituals, traditions and symbols are of particular importance in your relationship? Where do you go to be together? How are you doing at developing the sense of “we” in your relationship with Christ? Having a “we” mindset is important, and God wants to be a “we” with YOU.
So ladies, let’s keep these seven areas in mind this week as we continue building up these two important relationships.
We certainly have our work cut out for us, but I am confident that together, we can become the wives and women God has called us to be!
Which level are you going to start working on today? How can I help you get there?