Rebuilding a marriage after conflict or a separation can feel exhausting, as if you are starting over from scratch. After destructive turmoil, how can you begin to restore lost intimacy and trust? You might want to lean in towards each other, yet conversations might feel difficult and tense. How do you move past the conflicts to rebuild a new foundation?
First, remember that what looks impossible on our own is not beyond God's capabilities. God can equip us for the challenging work of rebuilding. If we believe that our God has the power to raise the dead to life, then we can trust him to breath fresh life into the dying embers of our relationship. It is never too late to make a fresh start and commit to rebuilding again. Commit to praying for God to transform your relationship with the power of the Holy Spirit.
Second, keep leaning in. Drifting apart is easy; it requires that you do nothing. Rebuilding a new foundation requires significant effort, because in some ways you are starting over. Committing to the relationship will require pushing through some things that seem like they should be easier. You may have some awkward conversations and have to consciously be more transparent than we might choose to be. It may feel challenging to expend so much effort, but relationships are important and worth the investment.
Remember why it was awesome once. What attracted you at the beginning? What hobbies and activities brought you together in the first place? What discussion topics excite you and bring joy? What made you smile and laugh? Games and even boxes of conversation starter cards can give you things to discuss together.
Expect to date again like you did at the beginning. Growing together again means growing together like you did the first time--slowly, deliberately, and hopefully with some joy. Make your date time fun activities and let the conversation build from there without trying to force it. Commit to taking the time to build a solid foundation for your relationship.
In times of conflict, we can become hyper-aware of our own needs as our selfishness bubbles to the surface. Serving together provides opportunity to team up and look beyond ourselves and cultivate shared experiences. Caring for the needs of others is a great way to move past personal selfishness. As we work together to help others, we gain a sense of shared purpose. Men in particular bond over shared projects. Working together builds camaraderie. Take on a fun (not frustrating) project that gets you both excited.
A fresh start in your relationship is a chance to reorient your relationship placing God at the center. Worship provides opportunities to come before God and find strength and encouragement. Studying God's word can be a way to develop some spiritual connection and foster deeper sharing. Praying together is one of the most spiritually intimate things you can do together as a couple. In prayer, we share our vulnerability as we take concerns before God’s throne and trust them to his care.
Investing emotionally involves hearing one another’s hearts. Those who are shy need to speak up and share, those who are talkative need to leave space for others to share their experiences. Transparency will be essential for the rebuilding of trust, to an absolute degree. Be quick to have your choices scrutinized, because doubts and secrets poison relationships. We encourage couples to share each day three things about their day and how they felt about them. Sharing your feelings about the things that happened help to build emotional connection. As we listen to one another’s experiences and name the concerns, we are showing that we care about one another’s emotional needs.
The physical aspect of a relationship can often get neglected in a relationship. 1 Cor 7:5 tells us that we should not neglect the sexual aspect of our marriage relationship saying “Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” Married couple are supposed to be lovers, not just roommates.
Make sure that you are addressing the big challenges that caused you to have conflict or separate in the first place. It is important to make your relationship strong by uprooting the bad behaviors that caused difficulty. If necessary, bring in a Christian therapist to help you address the pain in loving and constructive ways. James 5:16 tells us to “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” Give your marriage the blessing of finding healing through confession.
It is important to keep from holding on to anger. Col 3:13 instructs us to work toward forgiveness by saying: “Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” God equips us to forgive and let go of bitterness so that we can discover joy and peace.
Relationships can flounder without direction. Make plans that are motivating to inspire growth. Commit to a weekly date night. Plan time together for fostering spiritual growth. Commit to working through a booklet on forgiveness or attending sessions with a counselor. Making plans and following through will begin to re-establish trust and guide you into constructive habits that will nurture your relationship.
We are praying for you as you work on rebuilding. When a relationship is rebuilt, it is often stronger and more secure than what came before it. Relationships that have successfully navigated challenges can face the future with confidence knowing that they are resilient. May God work in your life to establish a loving relationship that is beyond what you would ask or imagine!
Dr. Robert Ritzema
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra