8 Practices that Helped Strengthen Our Ministry Marriage, Part 3

Today we are wrapping up our series on ministry marriage by Sharon Drury. If you haven’t read the first 2 parts, you can find them here –  Part 1 and Part 2. We will end this series with the final four practices Sharon has implemented in building a strong ministry marriage.

#5 – Because I Love You Cards

I can’t remember for sure who started this but I think it was Keith.  He was a busy youth leader and I was a homemaker.  I usually made the bed each day but one day I entered the bedroom and saw the bed completely made and a little note on it saying, ‘Because I Love You.”  Sweet!  I kept the note for a bit then saw his shoes one day in desperate need of polishing.  I shined them and left his original note in the shoes.  That started a lifetime practice of doing extra loving deeds for each other just because of love. It was a game of sorts and included doing dishes, putting a couple cookies on a desk, washing a car—things not required but an extra bonus deed of love.  Sometimes one of us would forget to return the deed and the other one would make a new card.  At one particularly grueling time one of us had collected a dozen cards—we were in BILY debt! These little surprises fueled our relationship.  And they were “infectious” too.  Our 6 yr old son had seen us doing this over time apparently. One Saturday morning he got up before us and cleaned all the area around our wood stove and when we arose, we found his hand-scrawled “Because I love you” note on a post-it sticker.  We still have that sticker reminding us that “more is caught than taught” when it comes to kids.  We still surprise each other with “Because I Love You” deeds of love even though we’re retired. We’ve been doing it for nearly forty years and it has still feeds our marriage.

#6 – Praying Together

In a seminar in the 1980s Bill Bright told how he and his wife Vonette would reach out to lay a hand on the other as they lay down in bed, and pray a blessing on the other one—taking turns with one or the other going first.  We thought it was a wonderful marriage practice and started copying the Bright’s habit of a nighttime prayer for each other just before going asleep.  Praying together in a big crisis or before big events is important, but praying before going to sleep each night has been an even bigger secret to building a strong clergy marriage.  We have usually gone to bed at the same time, partly because of this practice.   Sure, sometimes are so tired we totally forget.  And sometimes one of us falls asleep while the other is praying.  But often one of us starts by reaching out to touch a shoulder or head and prays a blessing on the other one. Then that person returns the favor so we both get prayed for as we fall asleep.  We’ll pray for courage in a situation the other is facing tomorrow, or for healing from a hurtful experience today, or for wisdom and strength. Bedtime prayers like this worked better for us than a “Bible study” together because one of us tended to drift into “teaching mode” in a Bible study. Instead, the simple practice of prayer drew us closer to God and to each other—like the two corners of a marriage triangle, with God at the peak; the closer I get to God, the closer I’ll be to my spouse.

 #7 – Keeping the Fire Hot at Home

But for the grace of God, we could all have a broken marriage! All the best practices in a perfect marriage don’t work if we are too proud to realize we are not above temptation. I remember early on in our marriage when I observed a bikini-clad counselor entering Keith’s office at the Salvation Army camp we ran. She was just “dropping by to ask some Bible questions.”  I was totally overcome with jealousy… but worked up the courage to later face my husband and say, “You can’t do that ever again.” Poor guy! He was like a lamb before the slaughter. He had no idea what was really happening. Thankfully, he listened to me. Then he paid even more attention to me after discovering she was involved in a marriage breakup of a minister at that camp a year later.  We also realized we needed to bring into our marriage what some spouses go elsewhere to get…fun, creativity, a healthy body, time away from the kids, a good lock on the bedroom door, and an occasional night away at a hotel for just us.  We decided the best defense was a good offense for our relationship. So we worked on having good sex and avoided letting our marriage become dull and boring.

#8 – Laughing together

My father didn’t give me much advice about who to marry but I remember one thing he said: Try to marry a funny man.  How right he was!  And I got a very funny man!  We all know that laughing together with friends is a bonding experience; so it is with our spouses.  Sometimes we watch stand-up comedy [e.g., Jeff Foxworthy] together just to steal their best lines to use in our own marriage.  Or we’ll say a short “inside joke” phrase we both remember that causes us to break out in simultaneous laughter.  These phrases become “insider talk” that makes our relationship a kind of secret society of humor.  Sometimes it short-circuits an impending argument, like when Keith smiles and says, “Yes, Mrs. Rich.” Then I immediately remember Mrs. Rich’s Pyracanthia bushes at our 2nd pastorate and burst out laughing!  Or sometimes I smirk and say “Remember the cowboy hat” and we still, 48 years later, break out in cascades of laughter at that poor gift choice.  Sometimes it is just a phrase from a Peanuts comic strip, like when one of us comes home feeling broken and beaten down, the other notices and says, “Poor sweet baby.” It’s a sign my spouse just needs sympathy, not solutions. Of course, laughing together is easier when we both lighten up and quit taking things—and ourselves, so seriously.  We humans need to laugh.  Many of us find people to laugh with at work or when eating out with friends. It bonds us together with them.  So it is with laughing together at home; it bonds us together as a clergy couple—after all, working with church people gives us plenty of things to laugh about.

Has one of the 8 practices stood out to you as something you have found helpful in your marriage?  Are there other practices you have implemented that you would like to add to the list? We’d love to hear from you in the comment section.

8 Practices that Helped Strengthen Our Ministry Marriage, Part 2

Welcome back for Part 2 of our series on ministry marriage by Sharon Drury. If you haven’t read Part 1, you can find that here. In this post, Sharon will bring us four of the eight practices she has found beneficial in her marriage.

 #1 – We quit trying to have a perfect marriage

When we started out we actually hoped to have a perfect marriage.  After all, we thought a minister’s marriage should be a model marriage. But of course we failed.  One of us got perturbed, or outright angry, or forgot to pick up the dry cleaning, or the kids. We couldn’t make a perfect marriage. Finally, we simply lowered our standards and wound up having a better marriage!  And we’ve had 45 wonderful years together (been married 48 but we don’t talk about a few years in there). Instead of aiming for perfection, we went for “good, long, and strong.”  Our lowered standards gave us room to sometimes be irritating, or grouchy, and even self-centered and angry at times. Admitting it actually made our marriage better.  Sometimes we just need some space, or we’ll write letters to each other to cool down, explain things, or ask forgiveness. Like Ruth Bell Graham said: “Marriage is the union of two good forgivers,” and we have done our part. So we gave up aiming for a perfect, model marriage and are quite happy if we get one that is “good, long and strong.”

#2 – Debriefing

Most marriages don’t die a sudden death—they suffer from lack of attention. So most evenings when Keith came home from work or a trip, the first thing we did was  “debrief” each other’s time away. We took turns going first and simply reported on the day before anything else—even dinner.  When our kids were school age we had a “blood or fire rule” (no interruptions unless there was “blood or fire” which allowed us 5-10 minutes in the bedroom to debrief. This time daily got us caught up with each other’s lives during prime time. We found we forgot too many things if waiting to debrief until after the kids were in bed.  Later on we added another practice: if something big happened through the day, we shared it with our spouse first—rather than first sharing the news with coworkers or friends.  The first time one shares good news is often the best celebration, so we wanted to reserve that best celebration for our spouse and not with others. Debriefing kept our lives intertwined so we could avoid becoming like nurses at a shift change or just “ships passing in the night.”

#3 – Date Night

We found that reserving a “date night” was just as important after the wedding as before. That meant we had to set aside money for dates even after we had kids and even before we bought furniture. It was expensive to get sitters and it cost a lot to pay for meals at a restaurant, but these twice-monthly dates gave us couple time separate from family time with the kids, or church functions with other families.  And later on when we wound up both working in the same ministry, we simply put a time limit on “work talk” so we had plenty of time to devote to other topics and chatting about our own relationship. Date nights set aside time to repeatedly fall in love with each other.  Looking forward to each other’s presence—like we panted for in college—was great preparation for us liking each other when the empty nest stage hit (and even more so after retirement). Date nights helped us keep our own relationship growing and kept us being best friends and romantic partners even when we were also busy with work and kids. Plus, it was a statement to the children that they weren’t always first; they were a little jealous when we got dressed up and the baby sitter showed up—and that was good! Recently when getting ready to go out on a date night we calculated we’ve been on more than 1200 dates together.  I guess its no wonder we still like each other!

#4 – Day Away

About once every three months we would go away for all-day unplanned time away with each other.  At first we just “tried to fit it in” but that didn’t work.  Other things crowded out our best intentions.  Eventually we simply blocked out the common day on our calendars and told people “I’ve got an all-day appointment” on that day. I was a homemaker at first and ran a business on the side, so it was easier for me when we started out. Usually we’d get back by the time the kids were out of school.  Often we’d just drive aimlessly and stop at a shop or place to walk whenever we discovered something interesting. But mostly we drove and talked.  There was just something about being in the car that led to deeper conversations.  We’d talk about big ideas, where we wanted to go on vacation next, what we were most happy about, what irritated us most, what we wanted to put on our child-rearing bucket list, where we saw ourselves in ten years—sometimes we’d get out a tablet and designed our dream house together.  Other times we’d stop and shop for clothes in another town or stop to see an antique car for sale, but really it didn’t matter so much what we did; we just spent the entire day with each other apart from the blur of daily routines.  Occasionally we’d get a motel and sneak away for overnight too, though that was rare until the kids were gone.  A Day Away with each other gave us time to talk about big things—our direction in life, our goals, where we were going together.  It kept us on the same page.