Content Warning: This post contains references to biblical sexuality in the context of a healthy marriage.
Click below to listen to this post about healthy marriage on the Candidly Kendra podcast:
I often find myself adventuring alongside twenty year-olds because I help out with the college group at my church. I never forget that I’m twice their age. And each time I wonder if this will be the time I can’t keep up.
In fact, perhaps the greatest compliment I’ve received in the recent past was when one of the college students said on a hike, “Oh man, everyone who came on this hike is in good shape. I might be the one to slow everyone down.” He was looking at me – forty-three year-old me! – and said “everyone here is in good shape.” I felt ridiculously proud of that.
The fact is, I’m a pretty healthy person. My body generally cooperates with me. I walk a lot, and sometimes run. I hike a lot – especially in the cooler months. I stay thin. (Here’s how.) But…and I can’t stress this enough…I’m not perfect.
I eat way too much sugar. I don’t eat enough vegetables. I don’t do any resistance training. I don’t wear sufficient sunscreen. And I don’t look like Kristen Bell. So…definitely not perfect.
Here’s the thing: Just like me, and just like everything else in this world, our marriages won’t be perfect. But they can be healthy; and they can be strong!
What It Means To Have A Holistically Healthy Marriage
The Bible says that we should love God with our whole heart, with our soul, with all our strength, and with our mind.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” Luke 10:27 ESV
We are meant to love God holistically. That is to say, we are meant to love God with the entirety of our being – every part of our selves, pursuing the goal of intimacy with God.
To have a holistically healthy marriage is to pursue the health of our marriage in our heart (emotional health), our soul (spiritual health), our strength (sexual health), and our mind (intellectual health).
Read about how to have a holistically healthy dating relationship here.
We won’t achieve perfection in our marriages, but we can strive for strong, healthy marriages by maximizing our marital strengths and pursuing growth in our weaker areas.
Here is a great passage from the Bible that shows us God’s desire for our marriages:
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”
This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”
Ephesians 5:25-33 ESV
Soul: Spiritual Health in Your Marriage
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”
Ephesians 5:25-27 ESV
Spiritual health is the cornerstone of our marriages. If you only have the time and energy to pursue health in one area, let it be this one.
If you imagine a garden, spiritual health is the soil. The nutrients in the soil determine whether anything else can grow. We can’t grow emotional health, intellectual health, or even true sexual health in our marriages without the nutrient-rich soil of spiritual health.
This is what a spiritually healthy marriage may look like:
- Each person is pursuing intimacy with God independently. The wife’s relationship with God isn’t only through her husband, and vice versa.
- The couple engages in spiritual growth activities on their own, together, and corporately (with other believers). This could include Bible reading, prayer, evangelism, Bible memory, musical worship, fasting, service, retreat, and other spiritual disciplines.
- The couple is part of a Christian community where they are known and encouraged in their walk with God.
- They actively seek to point each other to Christ, in full grace and truth, as day-to-day life and stressors try to lead them astray.
- They lovingly and graciously confront sinful patterns.
Remember, we aren’t looking for perfection here! On my hike with the college students I didn’t run up the mountain as though gravity didn’t exist. It was exhausting, hard work. I was sore the next day. But I’m stronger today because of it.
And the most amazing news is this: It is the Holy Spirit at work in us to make us more and more like him. (2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV) He is making us stronger every day to walk with him and grow spiritually in our marriages.
Heart: Emotional Health in Your Marriage
“He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.” Ephesians 5:28-29 ESV
I have a plant in my living room that I always forget to water. It’s a hardy plant. It somehow has the strength to go on living with its meager water supply, but it is withered and small, only a shadow of the flourishing plant that it could be if only I would take care of it properly.
If spiritual health is the soil of the marriage garden, emotional health is the water. A marriage that is emotional unhealthy leaves the individuals wilted, withered, experiencing only a shadow of the flourishing that they could if they were properly nourished, emotionally.
This is what an emotionally healthy marriage would look like:
- The individuals communicate without fear of judgment.
- In arguments they avoid accusations and threats, focusing instead on feelings, mistakes made, and a plan for next time.
- They give each other the space and support they need to process through hard feelings in stressful times.
- Each person encourages the other in their strengths and gifts rather than fixating on the negatives.
- Both partners feel the freedom to say no.*
Your marriage should bring you emotional strength. The support of your spouse should enable you to go out into the world in strength.
Feeling overwhelmed yet? Remember that you won’t be perfect! You aren’t expected to be perfect! But as you pursue a healthy marriage, those are some goals you can work toward, with God’s help.
Mind: Intellectual Health in Your Marriage
“However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”
Ephesians 5:33 ESV
When Steve and I had young children I spent my days changing diapers, chasing toddlers, and managing sleep schedules. Steve, on the other hand, went to work, grew in his skills, and had intellectually stimulating conversations with people who didn’t have spit-up on their shirts.
The threat to our marriage was in the area of intellectual health. The disparity could have grown and spread, and become an unhealthy area in our relationship. Fortunately we decided to make an effort to pursue intellectual growth together. We attended conferences together, read books together, and shared goals for our family and our ministry, and had edifying conversations about how to reach those goals.
We sharpened each other. (Proverbs 27:17)
Intellectually healthy marriages may look like this:
- Mutual respect of the other’s thoughts and perspective, paired with the freedom to challenge each other
- Learning new things together and individually
- Teach your spouse that they can share their thoughts with you even if they aren’t perfectly formulated. Always respond with interest and abstain from correcting them immediately, if possible.
Some of the best ways to pursue intellectual wellness in your marriage are reading books together, attending conferences together, or picking up new hobbies together.
You may also find it helpful to get into the habit of asking the other’s opinion on topics that interest you. And share your “lightbulb moments” or “shower thoughts” (you know, those small epiphanies about life) with each other.
Body: Sexual Health in Your Marriage
“…and the two shall become one flesh“
Ephesians 5:31 ESV
I find it interesting that the Bible includes the body (“strength”) in its description of the whole person. I’m glad it does, because otherwise it would be tempting to consider that we should somehow deny our bodies and our physical needs to be the most godly version of ourselves.
But rather than denying the physical, God gave us a way to connect deeply with our spouses while representing unity through sexual intimacy.
The sexual relationship can easily get off-track in a marriage. And when it does we are hesitant to discuss our struggles. Who will we tell? What will they think?
Here are some signs of a sexually healthy marriage:
- Consideration of the other’s needs, whether it is a need for sexual intimacy, or the need to cuddle without expectations. Communicate clearly and work together in this.
- Mutual enjoyment. Seek help from a physician or counselor, if necessary.
- Neither partner uses the sexual relationship as a punishment or a form of manipulation.
- A monogamous relationship
- Open communication in intimacy, but never shaming
If your sexual relationship is in trouble and you need help, please talk to a doctor or a counselor. They won’t be shocked; and you’ll be glad you did.
Bring It Home
So, how are you doing? How holistically healthy is your marriage? Which area is your strongest?
If you’re normal (and I expect you are) you have an idea of some areas where you need to grow. In which area would you like to grow to improve the health of your marriage?
What are one or two steps that you could take to improve the health of your marriage?
Finally, in what areas do you feel “stuck”? God cares about the health of your marriage. Pray and ask him for help. (“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” I John 5:14 NIV)
*my friend who specializes in domestic abuse encouraged me to include this key factor.