Letting Children Strengthen Your Marriage
By LESLIE LUDY
This past December, Eric and I celebrated our twentieth wedding anniversary. At first glance, it didn’t seem like a very romantic day. The weather was freezing, snow was covering the ground, and it was dark outside well before 5pm. We’d had our two toddlers, Rees and Lily, for only about seven weeks and were still adjusting to the intensity of life with six kids. On top of that, we didn’t have anyone to stay with the kids, so on our twentieth anniversary we were stuck at home on a freezing cold December night with six rambunctious, stir-crazy children.
But in spite of all this, we were determined to make it a romantic, meaningful time—a night of remembering all that God had done in our relationship over the past twenty years. If there is one thing we have learned through our twenty years together, it’s that children are meant to strengthen a marriage, not weaken it. Psalm 127:4 says, “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth.”
Unlike the typical belief that children destroy your home, zap the romance from your marriage, and bring chaos into your life, God’s pattern is entirely different. The Proverbs 31 woman is a wife and mother who has strength and honor as her clothing. (See Proverbs 31:25.) The man in Psalm 127 is made into a mighty warrior because of the children God has given him. As Eric and I have studied Scripture, we’ve recognized that when we view our children as strength and not weakness, it completely changes our perspective on raising children from one of defeat to one of triumph.
This is especially true in the area of romance. We have become firm believers that kids can actually strengthen the unity and closeness in a marriage instead of the opposite. So on the night of our twentieth anniversary, we set the table with candles and special plates and ordered carry-out from our favorite Thai restaurant. As our kids gathered around the table, we told them stories from when we first met, and how God had so faithfully brought us together. After dinner, we let them look through our wedding album and told them all about the ceremony and reception. Then, we watched excerpts from our wedding video. And finally, Eric presented me with a special gift—a memoir of our twenty years together. We read some of it aloud to the kids before bed.
It was a special anniversary — even romantic — not merely in spite of having our kids participate, but because we were able to share it with them.
If you have struggled with maintaining closeness and unity with your spouse since the arrival of children, I’d like to share some practical ways that can help you keep romance alive during the child-raising years. Remember, in God’s pattern, kids are actually meant to bring strength, not weakness, to each area of our lives! Here are some ways to experience that amazing pattern in the area of marriage romance.
1. Tap into Tensile Strength
In my book Set Apart Motherhood, I shared about how the birth of our first child, Hudson, brought a tremendous amount of exhaustion and stress into our lives, until we realized that parenting challenges could actually make us spiritually stronger:
Several months into our new life of fatigue and sleeplessness, God began to awaken us to a hidden opportunity being presented to us through our baby . . . the opportunity for tensile strength training. Tensile strength refers to the maximum stress a material can take under tension. For example, a rope’s tensile strength is measured by tying weights to the end of a rope and then dropping that end to see how much weight the rope can endure without breaking. The greater the ability of the rope to endure weight and combative force, the stronger the tensile rating.
The strength of our souls can be measured in a similar way. If we have never built our tensile strength, then even the smallest weights and stresses can cause us to snap. But if we train like an Olympian to build our tensile strength, our soul will be able to endure weights as gargantuan as imprisonment and torture. The heroic Christians throughout history who gave up their lives for Christ trained their souls to handle the greatest pressures and stresses life could throw their way.
Eric and I realized that the difficulty and inconvenience of raising a high-strung baby could either strengthen us or weaken us. It all depended on how we responded to the opportunity God was putting in front of us. Thus far, we’d only focused on the hardship, the lack of sleep, and the frustration of having a child who never seemed to settle down. But now, we began to thank God for the opportunity to be made strong through the new challenges of parenting. We began to stop complaining and instead rejoiced every time we had to wake up in the middle of the night (which was a lot!).
As we embraced the training opportunity God had given us, it was amazing to see what happened. Though you would think the lack of sleep would have weakened us, we actually became stronger. We were able to calmly handle things that used to crush us. Our bodies became disciplined. Instead of our desire for rest controlling us, we were able to respond to the call of God in the morning, even from a dead sleep, instead of yielding to the desire to roll over in bed, grumbling and pulling the covers over our heads.
As a result of that training season, Eric and I are far more equipped to not only meet the needs of our children and our ministry, but also to meet each other’s needs. If one of us is sick and needs the other to carry the load of managing the home and children for a while, we know we are able to handle it. If one of us needs to stay up late talking or praying through an issue, we know we have the strength to do be there for the other person — even when our life is intense — by tapping into God’s enabling grace.
If your children are bringing unique or extreme challenges into your life, I encourage you to look at them as opportunities for spiritual growth and greater closeness in marriage. Instead of complaining about your circumstances, embrace them and ask what God desires to teach you through the experience, and how He wants to use it to bring you and your spouse closer to Him and to each other. Ask Him for the grace to embrace the opportunity He has given you, and you’ll be amazed at what can happen as a result.
2. Create a Marriage Sanctuary
As I shared in Set Apart Motherhood:
One of the best ways to make your marriage a priority during the child-raising years is to turn your bedroom into a sacred retreat, where you and your husband can go to be alone, talk, pray, and cultivate your relationship together. Whenever the kids have felt the freedom to adorn our master bedroom with their toys, books, artwork, and other treasures, or to hang out there anytime they want, Eric and I lose focus, priority, and privacy in our relationship. So it has become my goal to keep the bedroom set apart for our marriage, and to quarantine the kids’ belongings and activities to other areas of the house.
I encourage you to look for ways to turn your bedroom into a private, peaceful, inviting sanctuary where you and your husband can be alone to talk, pray, and build your relationship stronger. Train your children to respect the privacy of your bedroom, and plan time to be alone together on a regular basis. This is just another tangible way we can follow God’s pattern by keeping marriage an even higher priority than our children — and it will benefit our families in amazing ways. For practical ideas on how to turn your bedroom into a marriage sanctuary, see my book Set Apart Motherhood.
3. Enjoy Your Kids Together
Who needs to watch Hollywood comedies when you have little kids to keep you laughing? One of our favorite activities as a couple is to recount all of the new hilarious antics of our children. Every night before bed, Eric says, “Remember the kiddos?” And then we launch into a five or ten minute discussion about the funny things our kids have said and done that day. We fall asleep with warm smiles on our faces, thinking about the six little blessings God has given us. When we take time to laugh and enjoy our kids together, it brings a special closeness to our marriage. God didn’t merely give us children to discipline and train them, but also to delight in them. (See Titus 2:4.)
When Eric and I take time to delight in our children together, it actually promotes greater intimacy between us. Delighting in our kids brings a richness, warmth, and sparkle to our home and our relationship. It takes child-raising from mundane and stressful to fun and romantic, and our marriage reaps tremendous benefits.
I encourage you to develop the habit of enjoying your kids as a couple. Celebrating the gifts of your children is a wonderful way to keep your marriage sparkling with beauty and romance.
A couple who has been married for over forty years recently told us, “Those early child-raising years, though they were challenging, were one of the highlights of our married life. We loved sharing that experience together.” By God’s grace, this can be the testimony of each of our lives. These years are not meant to drain the romance out of our marriages, but rather to enhance it!