As a pastor’s wife for more than 20 years, I didn’t realize I was neglecting my marriage, until one New Year’s Day when I was doing my annual goal-setting.
I’ve always been a goal-setter. Every January I come up with new goals (not resolutions — goals) to save more money, accomplish more in my ministry, read more books, and get in better shape mentally, physically, financially and spiritually.
I was just missing one area. What was I doing to get in better shape, relationally, with my pastor-husband?
Convicted at where my priorities were — and realizing how much ministry marriages are already under attack – I knew it was time to be deliberate and intentional by investing in my marriage just as much as I was investing in other areas of my life. And that meant setting specific, tangible goals yearly in that area, too. So I let my husband, Hugh, in on the goal-making process by asking him a few non-threatening questions. From those questions, we ended up setting our yearly goals together, which we’ve done now for the past ten years or so.
I initiated our goal-setting process by asking my spouse the following questions:
- What did you most enjoy about our dating days?
- What do you wish we could do as a couple that we rarely or no longer take the time to do?
- What have you always wanted to do, as a couple, that we haven’t yet done?
- Where would be the ideal getaway for you and I to go someday?
- What, specifically, would you like to see us accomplish together in the next year?
My husband’s answers to those questions opened up a whole new arena — and adventure — of yearly goal-setting together. And because I took the time — and initiative — to be deliberate and intentional in asking him what things he would like to see changed or improved upon in our marriage, I actually had a place to start (instead of just feeling like maybe he was unhappy or maybe there was more to our relationship that we were failing to discover). We also ended up incorporating into our lives some things like a weekly day to play, projects we’ve long talked about and finally accomplished together, and trips we’ve planned and taken that we might not otherwise have even talked about.
I encourage you to ask your spouse those questions above and then come up with some goals of your own for 2016. But if that’s too big of a task to tackle now, (because most ministers’ plates are full, especially at the beginning of the year) here’s a place to start — five simple goals for a closer connection in the next year:
- Start your day with a kiss. Simple, but effective. Studies show couples who kiss each other daily (even a quick peck on the cheek) are happier, overall, than couples who don’t.
- Say encouraging words. It doesn’t take a lot of effort, but it reaps marvelous results. Ephesians 4:29 says “Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them” (NLT). Think in terms of “I’m only going to say it if my spouse is encouraged by it.” You’ll notice, within days, how your relationship improves.
- Plan a regular date night. This is so important for those engulfed in ministry. Yes, it’s difficult to find the time but it’s so essential that we make the time. And it often helps if you and your spouse have a date on the calendar to look forward to during those stressful times when it feels like you haven’t had any time together. If you have children and can rarely afford a babysitter, find another couple in the same situation and exchange babysitting once a month so each couple can have a monthly date night. Dating was important before you were married and it’s even more important now.
- Read through a relationship-building book together. Chances are you’re reading a lot of material connected to ministry so this might sound like “work” to you and your spouse to add in another book. But, it can be fun, and a great investment of your time together. Maybe it will consist of you reading to your spouse before bed. Or take turns reading a chapter to each other once a week. I tried for years to get my husband to read through a relationship book with me and finally he insisted on writing a couples book with me that he — and other men — would enjoy reading (When Couples Walk Together)! Working through a devotional book together will help you see deeper into your spouse’s heart, as well as your own.
- Pray together regularly. We’ve heard this advice as often as you have, but it took us years to get to that place where we made the time to actually do it. We will admit that, even as a couple in ministry, it’s difficult to find concentrated time to pray together. But when we started spending just a few minutes praying together before he left for work in the morning, we found that a short prayer also included a hand held, two hears shared, and a connection with God together that made all the difference in our day. If it’s still a struggle in your marriage, pray about how the two of you can make time to pray together.
A verse to remember throughout the year is the last part of First Corinthians 13:8, which says that love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” When it comes to setting goals for your marriage, take the first step, willingly and lovingly. It’s what Christ did for you.
Cindi McMenamin is a national speaker and award-winning writer who helps women and couples find strength for the soul. She is the author of several books including When a Woman Inspires Her Husband and When Couples Walk Together, which she co-wrote with her pastor/husband, Hugh. or more information and free resources to strengthen your soul or marriage, see her website: www.StrengthForTheSoul.com.