Although I’ve never been to medical school, people come to my office every day for cardiology exams. Most of the time, they don’t even know they have a heart condition, but the symptoms have finally compelled them to seek help. And their complaints sound something like this:
He just doesn’t listen to me!
She really doesn’t care about me anymore!
I’m sick of all the fighting.
The list of specific complaints, issues, frustrations, and problems is a long one. However, I have learned that there is frequently a common source of the marital “sickness.” Someone in this marriage (often both spouses) has a heart condition. Jesus wisely explains to us that out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. The way we speak and act in any relationship, certainly including marriage, is going to be a reflection of our inner life. Our attitudes and character, frequently referred to in scripture as our “heart,” is what drives the actions of our lives and who we are in our relationships.
How do you prevent heart disease? You eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and avoid substances and habits that are destructive. The same factors are important in preventing marital heart disease. Feed your mind, heart, and spirit a healthy diet of positive, enriching material. Include regular reading of scripture and other inspired writings that encourage you to be the kind of person that blesses your spouse. (For a good “checkup,” start with Philippians 1:1-11, Romans 8:1-17, and Galatians 5:13-26.) Of course, 1 Corinthians 13, Ephesians 5:21-33, and 1 Peter 3:1-7 are foundational passages that offer instruction for love and marriage. There are numerous good books available to encourage and challenge you to build a healthy marriage. Among others, I highly recommend “Sacred Marriage” by Gary Thomas, “Love and Respect” by Emerson Eggerichs, and “The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman.
Regular exercise is another key to keep your marital heart in good shape. This may include spiritual exercises or disciplines, such as prayer, meditation, and fasting. (Some helpful books are “Celebration of Discipline” by Richard Foster and “The Spirit of the Disciplines” by Dallas Willard.) It also includes making time for each other – talking, listening, playing, lovemaking, working, and just being together. Just as regular physical exercise is often prompted more by commitment to health than by the feelings of the moment, the exercises that build healthy spiritual and relational hearts frequently must be practiced when you don’t really feel like it. You do it because you know it is best for you, your spouse, and your marriage.
Just as there are substances and habits that are damaging to our physical hearts, so are there practices that are harmful to the hearts of our most precious relationships. Yelling, name-calling, eye-rolling, using porn, ignoring, hitting, accusing, and bad-mouthing our spouses to our friends or family are just a few of the habits that can lead to disease in the heart of marriage.
My hope is that you will keep your heart healthy, so you won’t need to visit the marital cardiologist. However, if your marriage is sick, I will be happy to work personally with you to help restore health and vitality to your heart and relationship. After all, there comes a point where diet and exercise aren’t enough, and professional intervention is needed. If you are in need of marital help, and unable to see me for whatever reason, I recommend checking www.aacc.net and clicking on “find a counselor,” or checking www.therapistlocator.net.