Transformation Update: Marriage Edition (Part 2)- How to Start Transforming Your Marriage

I have to be honest with y’all. I have written and rewritten this blog post multiple times trying to get it right. I can’t remember the last time I had such a hard time writing something! Why has it been so difficult?

I guess when it comes down to it it’s because I don’t feel qualified to write about marriage. 

Sure, Jeff and I have been married almost 25 years. We have a pretty great marriage, and we have even counseled many couples who are either just starting out or struggling. But mostly we just share truths we have learned along the way, most of them the hard way. That hardly makes me an expert!

In reality, though, there is no magic formula. There are no 7 steps to a fabulous marriage, no checklist to greatness, no one-size-fits-all solution for your marriage woes.

So what’s the secret, then? Honestly, I have no idea!

All I know is it has taken us a lot of prayer, grace, and intentionality to keep it all together. 

So, I guess that’s where we’ll start…

Transformation Update: How to Start Transforming Your Marriage 

As I have prayed over our marriage this past month, God has already begun transforming the way I think. There are so many ways my thoughts about marriage have mirrored our culture without me even realizing it. I hope sharing some of these revelations will encourage you to consider your own thought patterns and actions. In keeping with my previous posts on transformation, we’ll use the Four R’s as tools to help us move forward in this process.

REVIEW:

Just like when cleaning out a closet, it’s important to take assessment of our thoughts and feelings so we can figure out what is cluttering our hearts. That helps us determine where to start. If you answered the questions in my last post, you already have a head start on this part of the process. If not, this is a great time to start! You can find them HERE.

Positives:

For me, I began by thinking through all the things I love about Jeff and our marriage. I love that we laugh so much together, and that we have built a culture of joy and laughter into our family. I love that he is so committed to providing well for our family without compromising his involvement as a dad. I love that we both value Jesus above all else and strive to walk with Him daily, modeling a living faith and investing it in our children’s hearts. And I love that every once in awhile, usually when life is most crazy and I’m beside myself with the chaos, he still looks at me like I’m the only one in the room.

What is it that you love about your spouse and about your marriage? What are the “cornerstone pieces” of your marriage that you want to build everything else around? (Some of you may have to dig around a little or even go back to when you were first married. But if you try hard enough, you can find something!)

Challenges:

This is likely the easy part for most of us. This is what we gripe about to our friends or complain about to our kids. These are the things that bother us, the things we wish we could change (usually about our partner).

But remember, transformation never starts with someone else, only us!

So as I prayed about the challenging parts of our marriage, I asked the Lord to show me where I was at fault—how I have been conforming to the patterns of the world— and what I need to do differently. (Be careful with prayers like this, friends~ He always answers!) Much to my dismay, He revealed plenty, but most of it falls into two categories:

1. Wrong Attitudes

It’s so easy to focus on how someone else is not meeting your needs without recognizing or admitting how you are not meeting theirs. The world is quick to have us declare our “rights” and place blame on others, but marriage is about choosing to love selflessly and putting our spouse’s needs above our own. Let’s just say I have some work to do in this area!

2. Wrong Priority

If you ask what is most important to me, I would list my priorities without hesitation— God, Jeff, our kids, then everything else. Unfortunately, my actions would tell you differently!

Our culture equates being “busy” with being successful. And as a mom, my natural instinct is to put my kids before myself. As a result, my days are quickly consumed with activities and meals and schoolwork and volunteering, and before I know it, my sweet husband has been completely squeezed out. 

The greatest struggle Jeff and I face in our marriage is what we call, “Roommate Syndrome.” This is when we allow the craziness of life to pull us in different directions until we are basically just functioning as “roommates”—passing each other in the hallway, leaving notes on the fridge, occasionally meeting to co-parent, but not really connecting at all

At its core, this is an issue of prioritizing the wrong thing. Seriously, what matters more than our marriage? 

Friends, do you struggle with this, too? How is your attitude? Are you prioritizing the wrong things?

REMOVE:

Once we have an idea of where to start, the next step is to get rid of the things that are hindering us. (Hebrews 12:1) 

For me, this involves a few different areas. 

First, I am trying to be intentional about releasing my frustrations and expectations, as well as my “rights.” I need to stop focusing on what I want Jeff to do differently, so I can instead focus on myself and what I can do differently. (This addresses my wrong attitudes.)

Let’s be honest—this way of thinking directly contradicts the how the world tells us to respond. And I believe this is an area that is so easy for Satan to get a foothold into our marriages! But regardless of what the world tells us, we cannot control anyone else; we can only control ourselves. I have been married long enough to know my own actions often initiate a cycle of disharmony. The good news is this means changing my actions can also break the cycle and create a better one! Releasing negative thought patterns makes room for positive thoughts to fill their place.

After that, I need to address my wrong priorities. One way I am doing this is by clearing my schedule and eliminating some of my volunteer activities in order to give me more time at home. The pandemic has made this easier than it would have been otherwise, for sure! I also need to look at how I’m spending my free time, so I can remove (or at least reduce) activities that occupy time and energy which can be better invested. (Yeah, still working on this one…sigh.)

What is hindering you from having the kind of marriage you desire? What do you need to remove, reduce, or eliminate in order to make room for positive changes?

REORDER:

So, a crazy thing happened. Once I started getting rid of some of these things that have been hindering me, I noticed I wasn’t automatically investing that time and energy into my marriage. 

What? 

You mean I have to be intentional about making marriage my top priority? (Yeah, remember that part about marriage being hard work? Here it is!)

Friends, it’s a fact that we spend time and resources on what we love most. Lee Iacocca said, “If you want to make good use of your time, you’ve got to know what’s most important and then give it all you’ve got.” Once we eliminate the distractions and negative thoughts, we must choose to fill those spaces with what matters most.

Now, this is highly unromantic, but for me that means actually scheduling time in my planner for me to spend talking with Jeff.  With four kids and a dog, it is almost impossible for us to have an uninterrupted conversation when everyone is home. For the first time ever, we have a few days a week when all our children are out of the house at the same time (except when COVID interferes, but whatever). That time without children is extremely productive for us individually, but BECAUSE our marriage is so important, we are choosing to set aside the first hour or two on those mornings to just talk with each other. 

Full disclosure: I am embarrassed to admit that if I don’t actually plan to spend that time with Jeff, it can feel like a waste of time for me when it happens because I feel like I need to be doing other things (I know, I know. Give me some grace!). Writing “Jeff time” into my planner reminds me that it is the most important way I can spend that time and frees me to be fully present

How can you be more intentional about making time for what you love? What resources can you redirect towards investing in your marriage?

RENEW:

I was listening to a great podcast this week on marriage, and heard this statement: “If you don’t like what you’re harvesting, sow different seed!” This is the part where we purposefully add in new things that will help us move towards God’s design for our marriage. This might look like:

  • Resources: books, podcasts, etc. to help us grow in our relationship. Here are a few that I love: Rhythms for Life~Saving Your Marriage: Carey & Toni Nieuwhof, Two as One: Connecting Daily with Christ and Your Spouse, and this list has several that I have read and recommend— 20 Best Christian Books on Marriage.
  • Write down three things every day that you love about your spouse, things you are grateful for or appreciate. Even if it seems little or insignificant, write it down. 
  • Praying together. It’s cheesy, but true~ “The couple who prays together, stays together.” This adds another dimension of intimacy to your marriage that can’t be reached any other way.
  • Be intentional about spending time together, both quantity AND quality. COVID has given many of us more time together than we know what to do with! However, I have found this has actually made it more difficult for many of us to have QUALITY time together. So that’s something I am working on adding back in. (Also, sex fits in this category… and the next one! Just saying!)
  • HAVE FUN! Mundaneness can kill a marriage slowly over time. Try new things together! Research shows that sharing new experiences is one of the best ways to bond, particularly things that are out of our comfort zone. Have fun together… it might just remind you why you got married in the first place!

What is missing from your marriage? What can you add that God can use to transform your marriage into more of what He designed it to be?

I have already seen a difference in our marriage by implementing some of this, and I look forward to seeing where God wants to take us. Thanks for taking this journey with me! I’d love to hear how God is transforming you through this process!  

Feel free to comment below or message me on social media. You can find me on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/kellyheathblogger) and Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/kel_kelheath/).

*Note: I know that some of you reading this are likely struggling with much deeper issues in your marriage. If you are in an abusive or dangerous situation, please prioritize your safety and seek help! If your marriage is not unsafe but is extremely difficult and you are losing hope, please prioritize counseling. It takes two people to make a relationship work. Sometimes you can do all the right things and it won’t be enough on your own (but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try!). A good Christian counselor can help you journey through this process and discern how God wants you to move forward.

Tuesday Transformation: (Part 1) 9 Questions to Help Take Assessment of Your Marriage

I met my husband when I was seventeen. 

The summer before I left for college, I went to lunch with my friend, Charles, and we just happened to be seated across from his mom. She was having lunch with one of her (extremely attractive) former piano students. After saying hello and introducing me to the (extremely attractive) 25 year old former piano student (Jeff), they invited us to eat with them, and I’m sure I spent the whole time trying not to stare or drool or say something stupid. 

When we left the restaurant, I turned to my friend and said, “Oh my gosh, I am going to marry him one day!”

Yep, I said it. The very first time we met. 

(Jeff loves that part of our story!)

Now, if I’m honest, I didn’t actually think I was going to marry him. When Charles told me he thought we would make a good couple, I laughed and replied, “Are you kidding? He’s a man and I’m a kid. But that’s the kind of guy I’m looking for!”

(Jeff loves that part of our story, too…)

It was three years before I saw him again, in a crowded lobby at a convention attended by thousands of people. It took me three days to get up the nerve to talk to him. After that, God crossed our paths again and again at various points, slowly building a foundation of friendship, until eventually, several years later, we both knew at the same time that we were supposed to get married. Our story is one of God’s perfect timing.

It turns out I really was going to marry him one day! 

On our next anniversary, we will have been married for 25 years. TWENTY-FIVE YEARS!!! Y’all, that’s a looooooong time! 

And this Sunday, in case you have forgotten, is Valentines Day. (Guys, you’re welcome.)

So I figured this might be a good week to talk a little bit about marriage. Since that was one of the first areas God brought to mind when He whispered the word “transform” to my heart, I thought I’d give y’all an update on how He’s growing me.

Jeff and I are probably one of the most compatible couples I know, and with both our ministry backgrounds, I think marriage in general comes a little bit easier to us. That said, we are also very different in a lot of ways. We have different preferences when it comes to how we parent, how we spend/save money, how we spend our free time, etc.  I know the way we balance one another is by divine design, but sometimes these differences can also be a source of frustration and conflict in our marriage instead. Add four children and work travel and hormones into the equation, and we often end up with a great big mess! 

If you are married, I’m pretty sure you can relate.

At times marriage can be really hard, even when you’re married to a great person. And the devil wants nothing more than to steal, kill, and destroy any relationship that reflects God’s goodness. So, while Jeff and I both feel like we have a really good marriage, we never want to take that for granted. And I have learned I am not always as intentional about investing in our marriage the way I should. 

Transformation Update: Marriage Edition

The Lord has been convicting me and changing the way I think about our marriage over the past month. Following the same pattern as my previous update, I am using four tools to help guide the process of allowing God to transform my marriage (Review, Remove, Reorder, Renew). I am asking Him to reveal how I am buying into the “patterns of this world” and to transform my thinking (Romans 12:2) so it better reflects His heart and not my own.

I want to update you on where I am in this process, but since this post is already getting long, I will wait and share my transformation update in my next post instead. For now, here are several questions I have been asking myself that might be helpful as you “review” where you currently are in your marriage and how you would like it to change.

9 Questions to Help Take Assessment of Your Marriage

  • What are three words that currently describe my marriage? 
  • How would our family/friends/children describe our marriage?
  • What are three words I wish described my marriage?
  • What do I want my marriage to look like 5 year from now? 20 years from now?
  • What is our biggest challenge area? (communication, finances, sex, parenting, emotional intimacy, quality time, praying together, etc.)
  • What are some things I loved about my spouse when we were dating and first married?
  • What are some things I love about my spouse now?
  • What are some things that hinder me from being a better wife/husband, and what steps can I take to change them?
  • How can I be more intentional about making my marriage a priority?

Some of my answers to these questions surprised me. A few made me sad, but most made me grateful. I am married to a really great man.

My friend, if after answering these questions, you are not overflowing with gratitude for your spouse, it’s okay. Really. God has changed many hearts in seemingly impossible situations before; He has changed MY heart for people when I thought it wasn’t possible. So don’t give up or be discouraged!

Our God is in the business of doing the impossible! Don’t be afraid to really pour your heart out to Him and come clean about how you feel. We have to acknowledge where we are starting before we can move forward. God is big enough— He can handle it!

In my next post, I will share more specifically how God is working to transform my marriage, so check back on Thursday! I hope you will use these questions to help you take assessment of where you are in your relationship and begin asking the Lord to transform your heart for your spouse.

Remember, transformation never starts with someone else… 

“Search me, O God, and know my heart. Test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24)

Would I do it again?

23 years.

My husband and I celebrated our 23rd wedding anniversary last month. I was 23 when we got married, which means I have officially been married to him for half my life!

As we reminisced about some of the experiences we have shared, he looked me in the eyes and asked, “Would you still marry me again? I mean, knowing everything you know about how life with me has turned out, if you could go back to that time 23 years ago, would you still make the same choice? Would you still choose me?” 

Without even thinking, I replied, “Of course!” 

And I would, absolutely.

But for the sake of deep thinking, I want to stop and travel down that road just a bit. This man has loved me and stood by me for over two decades. He deserves more than a trite answer and a shrug. He deserves to know why I would say yes, why I would choose him all over again. And so I pause…

Because in many ways, while our life together has been beautiful, it has not turned out at all like I expected. When he proposed to me, I had a pretty good idea of what I was getting myself into, and so did he. We were both in full time ministry, working on a church staff together. Ministry was pretty much our life. We even chose to get married right after Christmas because that is a slow time on the church calendar, which would make it an ideal time to celebrate our anniversary each year. 

Yes, the future obviously held a long road of ministry life for us. 

I wrestled with what that would mean for me. I knew I had to put him first, and that my role as a pastor’s wife was going to have to be more important than my role as a Youth Minister. 

My young, prideful heart struggled internally with making that sacrifice, as though giving up a title might mean giving up part of my soul. I had no idea at the time just how many titles and identities I would have to surrender. That first one was simply a trial run, a training ground for things to come.

God is funny that way. 

Now, fast-forward to today: it has been over 13 years since we were in full time ministry or since I have been called a pastor’s wife. My former-church-planting pastor husband is now a business man, and I am no longer a Youth Minister or a pastor’s wife. I am just Me, a homeschooling mom who leads a small group and volunteers for various things.  We have moved several times and lived in several different states. Instead of depending on the financial generosity of others, we have been blessed enough to be generous ourselves. So no, it is not the life I expected, but it is a good life, a great life even!

However, if I’m honest, it has not always been easy for me to let go of my expectations and embrace our changing path. Ministry life is hard, for sure, but it is also incredibly rewarding. The long hours and scrutiny from others can be frustrating and exhausting, but having a front row seat to watch God work in people’s lives- well, there is nothing else quite like it. Being used by God to draw others to Him? It is humbling and inspiring and all around just awesome! 

And truthfully, there is something about being in ministry that feels important, like you are really making a difference in the world. Letting go of that life wasn’t easy for either of us. 

It is incredibly difficult to keep one’s identity separate from full-time ministry. Our identity is found in Christ alone, it’s true… 

but sometimes, Jesus and the Church can get a little blurry. 

So, there was a period of time where neither of us really knew who we were anymore. When something that is such a huge part of you is no longer there, it leaves a gaping hole. 

John Piper said, “Occasionally weep deeply over the life you hoped would be. Grieve the losses. Then wash your face. Trust God. And embrace the life you have.”

It took us awhile to figure out how to let Jesus fill that hole, and how the rest of our pieces fit together once the ministry pieces were missing. We asked God some hard questions and had to wait a long time for hard answers. We learned to give one another a lot of grace in the midst of needing a lot of grace ourselves. We had to figure out how to move forward into a future that no longer looked like the one we had always imagined. 

Some of you know that feeling even better than we do. Maybe you have lost a child or a spouse or a parent. Perhaps you are shuffling from job to job in an economy that no longer values loyalty and commitment. Whatever the case, the future no longer looks like you always thought it would. It’s like someone turned out the lights and you’re having to feel your way through, step by step.

I call those our Wilderness years. 

We both felt a little lost.

But even in the darkness, our faith in one another, and more importantly, our faith in the One who was still in control remained strong. I never questioned whether or not we would make it- I was confident we would. I just had no idea where we would end up. So we simply kept doing the next thing, trusting God to lead us as we walked with Him, and He did. 

He still does. 

There have been other twists in the road, other struggles along the way. We have lost friendships and gained new ones. We have learned some lessons the hard way. I don’t think either of us ever imagined we would move away and create a life away from our friends and family, but here we are. And if someone had told me all those years ago that I would end up homeschooling four children and loving it, I would have thought they were crazy! 

Sometimes I look back over this road we have traveled and wonder how in the world we got here. This place is so far from where I always thought we’d end up! 

And yet, it was the right path for us. 

We have learned humility, endurance, and obedience. We have found out who we are in Christ, apart from what we do for Him. We have been blessed with a beautiful family and caring friends. We have seen God move in mighty ways, and we have heard His still, small voice whispering in the silence. We have confronted our own weaknesses and learned how to listen better.

This path has taught us what it really means to love.

And 23 years later, I wouldn’t trade those lessons or our journey together for anything in the world.

But, back to his original question: 

If 23-year-old-Me knew how differently our life would turn out, would I still choose him? Or would I have hightailed it out of there and hopped on a plane to the mission field, leaving all the “what ifs” in a cloud of dust behind me?

The answer is simple, really. 

Given the choice, 23-year-old-Me may not have chosen this particular path, but there was never a doubt that he was the One God had chosen for me. Whatever I imagined for our future back then, I certainly couldn’t have imagined a future without him.

23-year-old-Me would have followed him anywhere

So I did.

And I would absolutely choose him again.