Let’s be honest, isn’t marriage a little more difficult than what you thought it would be? Check that, how about a lot more difficult! It’s ok to admit this because it is the truth. John and Staci Eldredge, a power couple of faith wrote a book a while ago called Love and War to emphasize the reality of this blessed relationship! They didn’t call it “Love and a Mild Infraction” or “Love and a Slight Misunderstanding”! They were honest enough to express the difficulties of marriage in a way we can all understand. As you think about your marriage, you might relate to some of these often-asked questions:
- Would you like less conflict and more intimacy in your marriage?
- Have you been married long enough to observe the same fights occur again and again?
- Is unresolved conflict eroding intimacy in your marriage?
- Have you lost some of the affection you used to enjoy?
- Are you and your spouse on opposite poles when it comes to sexual desire?
- Do you have trouble providing each other comfort and nurturing?
- Do you feel like you are simply roommates, busily pursuing life and tending to family needs and occasionally stopping in the hall to exchange pleasantries, sometimes with undertones of resentment?
Chances are you can relate to more than one of these questions. So what is the answer? Let’s answer that question with another one. What is the “war” in marriage and who are we fighting for and against? In war, people are always fighting for something and fighting against something else. Satan, not our spouse, is the enemy in this war. The dysfunctional communication that has developed in our marriage is the enemy, not our spouse. We want to go to war again the enemy. We want to fight for our spouse and our marriage. How can we best take the fight to the enemy? Prayer. If we want to see some of the questions above answered, that can happen as we fight on the battlefield against the enemy in prayer.
Why Pray For Your Marriage?
Will Davis Jr. in his book Pray Big for Your Marriage provides some excellent points on why prayer is so important to marriage.
- Prayer humbles you: when we pray, we are taking a position of humility before our Heavenly Father and as we do we begin to gain a better perspective on our marital relationship. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise. Psalm 51:17
- Prayer guides you: as we spend time in God’s word and sit in silence before Him, we will get all the guidance and understanding we need to live life differently for the betterment of our marriage.
- Prayer changes you: If we approach God with sincerity, our prayer will change from “God will you change my spouse” to “God will you change ” When we can approach God in humility, we put our fingers of blame down and begin to look in the mirror to see the brokenness in our own life that needs the healing hand of Jesus.
- Prayer helps you see your spouse differently: As you continue the process of prayer and walk obediently as the Father directs you, you will find your heart beginning to change. You will see your spouse’s protests and begin to move toward them to comfort them in their pain versus reacting defensively. I have seen this happen over and over. When one spouse humbly goes before the Lord and begins to pray, their heart toward their spouse changes.
Pray for Yourself
So where do we go from here. Let’s say it makes sense to fight for our marriage through prayer, but how do we start and what do we do? The first place to start is to pray for yourself. That may seem strange as it seems more natural to want to pray for our spouse and ask God to heal and bless them. That is a prayer and nothing wrong with praying that. But starting with yourself is critical. The only person you have control over in the marriage is you. We want to start with ourselves and ask the Lord to change us from the inside out.
One way to think of it is we want to pray to be free, free from whatever holds us back from loving our spouse.
Paul gives us great instruction in freedom and learning to love: For you were called to be free, brothers and sisters; only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh but serve one another through love. For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself. But if you bite and devour one another, watch out, or you will be consumed by one another. Galatians 5:13-15
In prayer, we ask God to free us from the flesh that wants to bite and devour our spouse so we can serve them in love.
We want to go back to the basics of our faith with God and receive the gift of love and grace He desires to lavish on us. Les and Leslie Parrott express it this way:
If you try to find intimacy with another person before achieving a sense of wholeness on your own, all your relationships become an attempt to complete yourself.
We make the mistake of asking our spouse to love us in a way only God can love us. Behind much of our conflict lies a heart and soul at its core that is searching for love. A key focus of prayer can be resting in the presence of God and allowing yourself the pleasure of hearing His voice of love and delight over you.
The Apostle John summarizes this well: We love, because He first loved us. 1 John 4:19 We can only truly begin to love our spouse when we are filled with the love of God.
We want to reflect on our life and see what is keeping us from being able to receive the love of God and what makes it hard to love our spouse. This isn’t meant to be an exercise where we beat ourselves up and get stuck in self-condemnation. That is what the enemy would want us to do. This is an honest, humble conversation with God asking Him to help you see your wounding and what is keeping you from loving more freely. As you look back at some struggles you have with God or your spouse, here are some good questions to reflect on:
- What are your emotions (use a feeling word list if needed)
- How does your body respond?
- Do you remember having these feelings or sensations before? When? How old were you?
- What are the underlying needs that are going unmet?
- Are there things you have said or done for which you need to confess and repent?
- What brokenness or wounding do you have that needs healing?
- What lies have you been believing about God, yourself, your spouse?
This word unfortunately can carry emotional baggage for some, but actually it is an awesome and freeing word. Repent simply means to acknowledge where you have gone astray, express regret or mourning for the choices you have made, and making a decision to turn away from previous efforts and turn toward God. If this step seems hard, you might need to go back to step one and remind yourself again that you are a beloved child of God. Repentance might look something like this:
Heavenly Father, I am struggling to love as you have called me to love. I have too often responded to my spouse defensively in anger. But as I have been reflecting with You, You have helped me see my own wounding and need for love. Please forgive me to taking out my own pain on my spouse. Help me to experience healing and freedom from the sense of __________ I feel when am tempted to react.
Pray for Your Spouse
It is so important to do the individual work previously described. Our prayer for our spouse will be radically different if we are also allowing the Holy Spirit to do a work in our own lives. Here are three things to consider when praying for your spouse
1. Pray for their pain
When you begin to work on yourself and your own pain and brokenness, you will then have a greater appreciation for what is driving the behavior of your spouse that often seems troublesome. Rather than running from their pain or reacting to it, you need to take the time to understand and empathize with their pain. When you have a greater understanding for the pain they are experiencing, you also can then more effectively intercede on their behalf in prayer. Pray for your spouses’ pain and brokenness, bring them before the throne of God and ask Him to love and heal your spouse. It is not your job to heal or fix their pain. Leave it to the Master.
2. Pray for their peace
When your spouse is reacting out of their pain, one of the things they are needing is comfort and peace from what they are experiencing. Just like you as well, when you understand why you react the way you do, whether you get angry, demanding, or you withdraw, you are trying to find peace and comfort from your pain and anxiety. Some things you can pray for your spouse:
- Pray God’s unfailing love would be their comfort. Ps 119:76
- Pray they experience God’s peace that passes all understanding. Phil 4:7
- Affirm their value and worth as God’s beloved child
3. Pray for their protection
Remember, Satan is the enemy in your marriage. We are in a spiritual battle and the enemy in all of his vile cruelness wants to attack your spouse. Take time to pray in the name of Jesus that your spouse is protected from the attacks of the enemy. Some things you can pray:
- Pray that the armor of God would protect your spouse from the enemy.
- Pray that any lies your spouse has been believing about themselves, God, or your marriage be revealed and removed.
- Pray that and lies you have been believing about yourself, God, or your marriage may be revealed and removed.
One of the most challenging and even frightening things to think about is praying together! Why is that? Sometimes we can have such expectations of what praying together looks like or we can bring our own baggage of how prayer should be that the enemy can take something as healing and loving as praying together and turn it into a chore. Sometimes we have unresolved conflict which can cause us to pull away and not feel like praying with our spouse. Here are some things to think about as you pray together:
- Don’t use prayer as a weapon: what I mean by this is don’t use your time in prayer with your spouse to ask God to fix them! For example, if you are bothered by your spouse’s silence, don’t pray, “God please help my spouse to be more open with me.” By doing this, we can just drive a further wedge in the marriage by trying to use a passive-aggressive approach to send a signal to our spouse what we want.
- Ask your spouse what they need prayer for: If your spouse says, “I would like prayer to learn how to be more transparent with you”, then you can pray something like the previous example because you have your spouse permission to pray for this.
- Pray blessing over your spouse: make the choice to affirm your spouse before Almighty God. It is amazing what can happen when we choose to bless our spouse.
- Keep it short and sweet: For some, prayer comes naturally so pray as you feel led. If, however this is a new habit you want to try, keep it short. Give yourselves the freedom to just be in God’s presence together and share a moment of spiritual intimacy together.
- Pray just for your Spouse: It will be very natural to start praying for your kids and other people you have on your prayer list. Those are very important prayers to do, but we also want to carve out moments of time just for our marriage and the relationship we want to grow in Christ.
A Sample, Simple Prayer
If you would like to start praying together, look at this prayer below. I was inspired to use this prayer by Dennis and Barbara Rainey. We heard them speak years ago at a marriage conference. When they first mentioned they were going to model how they pray together, I immediately felt a little intimidated. After all, this was Dennis and Barbara Rainey, who are experts in marriage. I was sure they would create a prayer I could never live up to. Boy, was I wrong! It was short, but incredibly powerful and I came away from that conference thinking; “I could definitely do that in our marriage”. This is not exactly what they prayed, but it is close. I pray you let go of any preconceived notions of what praying together should be and just enjoy a moment of grace in the presence of God as you pray something like this:
Lord, I thank you for _________ and for the life you have given us together. I thank you for the gift he/she to me. Forgive me, Lord, when I take him/her for granted and do not love him/her as I should. Please bless ________ today in all he/she does and may he/she feel secure and protected by Your love and with my love as well. In Jesus’, Name.