Prominent author and pastor Rick Warren and his wife Kay recently sat down for an honest and heartfelt discussion about how to fight for an awesome marriage in a society that continually pulls against it.
The couple, who have been married for 39 years, use four seasons to describe different stages of marriage and share tips on how to best draw closer to God and to one another during each seasons.
1. Spring: The Season of Busyness.
Throughout your marriage, there will always be times that are busy. However, problems arise when this busyness turns into a lifestyle. Busyness is the number 1 destroyer of marriages, as couples often become too caught up in external activities to find time to be together.
To combat the danger of busyness, the Warrens suggest three things: divert daily, withdraw weekly, and abandon annually.
"Every week, take a day off for just you two--even if you're just watching TV and eating cereal together," says Kay. "And every year, make it a priority to take a vacation."
Before deciding to take on another commitment, remember to ask yourself, "Will this work toward community and oneness in my relationship or will it take away from it?"
Couples should be intentional about spending time together and make it a goal to draw closer on a daily basis.
"The goal is to become one," explains Pastor Warren. "Make building oneness and unity a priority within your marriage."
2. Summer: The Season of Goodness
Every couple has those wonderful times in their marriage where everything is going swimmingly.
When you and your spouse are in this season of your relationship, don't take it for granted, encourage the Warrens. Instead, use the good times to invest in your relationship; take time to plant and store up for the future. Invest in marriage counseling, seminars, and books--before you "need" it.
"Don't wait until the wheels fall off the bus to fix it," explains Pastor Warren.
"No relationship stands still. You're either moving closer together or further apart. If you're not growing closer together intentionally, you're growing apart."
Because the hard times are inevitable, invest in the good times: send your roots deep into the Lord and into your relationship and build a solid, unshakable foundation.
3. Fall: The Season of Change
While many changes are good, including marriage, moving, the birth of a child, or even a new job, any major life change requires an adjustment--and can create stress. During these times, work to remember that in the long run, all of these changes will be good and be willing to adjust as they come along instead of sucumbbing to stress.
"During your marriage, you will undergo enormous kinds of change. Through them, you will grow and change as well, and your marriage will succeed or fail by your ability to deal with change," explains Kay.
As you and your spouse grow and change, choose to love one another through it instead of using "incompatibility" as an excuse for divorce.
"Make a commitment to say, 'Divorce is not an option,' Pastor Warren explains. "Truth is, you're not compatible with anybody because no one agrees with anything you do. If you choose to love, you can fall in love and stay in love with anybody. Love is a choice, not a feeling. Love creates that feeling."
Continuing to love someone even though there are parts of them that you may not like requires acceptance and forgiveness and reliance on the Lord.
"A great marriage is the union of two great forgivers," says Pastor Warren.
4. Winter: The Season When Things Fall Apart
Because we live in a fallen world, every couple experiences a time of loss and grief, whether it stems from a betrayal, death, loss, or bankruptcy.
The Warrens themselves have recently experienced severe tragedy: 19 months ago, their son Matthew, committed suicide after a lifelong struggle with depression. However, instead of becoming bitter and angry as a result, the couple relied on one another and their faith in God for comfort.
"During this dark, tragic time, we have grown incredibly close. We have seen the reality of the benefit of all the years we have prepared for difficulties, so when the bottom fell out that we could survive," explains Kay.
"Going through tunnels of conflict is the only way to achieve real intimacy. This kind of closeness is worth the blood, sweat and tears."
One way to support your spouse through tragedy and achieve true intimacy is to never judge feelings, says Pastor Warren.
"Never try to talk your spouse out of a feeling. A feeling is neither right or wrong, it simply a feeling."
"Kay and I made the decision to be there in each other's feelings and not try and talk each other out of it; if one of us felt angry, we felt the anger too. If we felt confusion, we simply sat together in the confusion. When you don't really feel the way they're feeling, just reach out and touch them as if to say'"I'm with you.' That's one of the greatest gifts to give in a relationship is just be with the other person in their feelings."
Ultimately, the Warrens encourage couples to remember that marriage is the greatest expression of God's love for us; a tangible expression of Christ's love for His Church.
"Let your marriage be a witness," urges Pastor Warren. "Don't be afraid of marriage, be willing to do the hard part, because the good part is so much better when you do the hard part and don't just give up."
You can watch Rick and Kay's inspiring discussion here.