The idea of a fresh start might make some of us snort. Maybe this past year has felt stuck on replay of a song you didn’t like in the first place.
All of us encounter days where we’re thinking, If he throws his socks beside the hamper one more time, I am going to tell him exactly where he should put them.
Or, Can you really have a headache for the fifth night this week?
Or maybe the slumps are longer: that season when you’re drowning in sippy cups and Big Bird, and when the kids’ primary caregiver gets horizontal, it’s only to immediately hit a much-needed REM cycle.
It could be that season when work and schedules and teenager issues mean most of your conversations last about six minutes, four of which are about logistics and who’s picking up whom.
But as C.S. Lewis wrote, “Faith is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.”
You could say marriage is a form of faith—even more in God than in your spouse.
A fresh start: 10 ideas
What the following suggestions aren’t: a cure-all for deeper issues. Glossing over deep-seated problems is the equivalent of slapping on a Band-Aid to a gushing wound. (Try Happily Married? A 10-step Relationship Assessment if you’re concerned about deeper issues.)
While these are healthy tips for any relationship, attempting a fresh start amidst deep problems can delay healing and create unrealistic expectations.
What these are: ideas for when fondness is waning, and you simply want to move toward your spouse rather than away. You want to kindle the romance a bit—and the affections that grease the wheels of everyday relationships.
In fact, you might be wondering why some of these ideas aren’t easier—because perhaps you’re straight-up exhausted from trying to make things work. Despite what the world may tell you, a fresh start that lasts usually involves more than a few romantic moments. It involves more than a gift certificate, a massage, a night away from the kids.
If you’re wading through a down season? These hope-filled suggestions are for you.
1. First things first.
A fresh start in our marriages requires a fresh start within us; a realigning to how God loves us.
Paul David Tripp explains “relationships are first fixed vertically before they are ever fixed horizontally.” Tripp continues, “In my marriage … my problem isn’t first that I have failed to love [my wife] Louella in the way that I should. No, my deeper problem is that I have not loved God as I should.”
Jesus said the second commandment—to love one’s neighbor as oneself—is like the first: to love God with all that we are (see Mark 12:28-34). James made a similar connection: “With [the tongue] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God … My brothers, these things ought not to be so” (James 3:9-10).
Marital closeness and harmony are outworkings of how God’s loved us. And He went so far as to lay down His life for us, pursuing us when enemies.
Chew on questions like these:
- What thing have I decided that, if I don’t receive it from my spouse, I’m not going to move closer to them? Does Scripture back me up on this?
- If I’m feeling attraction toward someone else, what inner need do I imagine that attraction fulfilling? (e.g. is this person uncomplicated? Do they make you feel attractive or respected? Do they lack the depression your spouse is going through?) Has that desire become more important than finding my satisfaction in God, or than fulfilling the faithful love God asks of me toward my spouse?
- In my reactions toward my spouse, to what internal conflicts and desires am I reacting? (e.g. I don’t feel appreciated or seen. I’m exhausted, and just want a break. I wish they would just take responsibility.) Am I seeking satisfaction in healthy ways?
2. Ruthlessly hunt gratitude.
In studies and brain scans, gratitude has been linked so closely to happiness, scientists find them hard to differentiate.
Could gratitude make you happier?
Maybe this looks like keeping a running list of what you’re thankful for in your spouse, your marriage, and the life and journey you’ve made together. It could be a series of small, grateful prayers throughout the day. Maybe it’s mentally responding to someone interviewing you about what you value in your spouse.
The point: comb through your day to find the ways God’s handed you gifts small and large through your mate.
Your marriage is an act of worship, and thanking God is a way of giving Him the credit you’re tempted to ignore—stirring a few embers while you’re at it.
3. Figure out what’s eating your grapes.
Song of Solomon speaks of chasing out the “foxes” in the lovers’ “vineyard” (2:15)—what’s gnawing at their sex life and general closeness.
What’s eating your grapes?
Maybe it’s a lack of rest or white space on your calendar; or resolution to the issue that keeps snacking on your reserves of patience. It could be romance novels, airbrushed magazines, and movies vaulting your expectations. Maybe you’re trying to stay close in tough circumstances.
Show no mercy. Isolation is a slippery, dangerous slope.
Zero tolerance: Kill the foxes.
4. Set guardrails on your thoughts.
As you think about your marriage and the partner God’s given you as a gift—not an enemy—use verses like 2 Corinthians 10:5 and Philippians 4:8 as the standards for your mind, taking “every thought captive to obey Christ.”
I’m personally convicted by 1 Peter ‘s command to pursue “unity of mind.” Am I moving toward being more married, more one flesh, even in my thoughts?
Practically speaking, start thinking romance and sex.
And while we’re there, a bit of advice from Mr. Rogers, whose mother told him to “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
Who can help you toward a fresh start?
In the converse, if you’ve got a friend whose presence encourages you to rag on your spouse or otherwise engage in activities destructive to your relationship? Time to create some distance.
5. Go against the grain.
Create the romance you long to see, even though your feelings aren’t in it just yet. Devise a creative, romantic evening. Write a love note. Take a shower together. Get it on.
Social psychology tells us that when we perform actions, like smiling, our mood actually draws closer to our actions. So even if you don’t feel it? Lay a hand on her shoulder. Give him a massage. Cross the gap that might feel far more distant than the three feet between you.
Our marriages are an offering to God. Sometimes that “widow’s mite” that we don’t even feel we have the resources to give—and that our spouse might be outright skeptical of, or even reject—is one of the most precious gestures in His sight.
6. Own up.
Paul himself notes in 1 Corinthians 4:4 that though his conscience is clear, that doesn’t make him innocent. And you’ve heard the 1% rule: Even if you’re only responsible for 1% of a conflict, you’re still 100% responsible for your 1%.
So take time to pray through what you’re contributing to the rift.
What’s the “log” in your eye? Are you forgiving your spouse or developing even a hint of bitterness and resentment? Are you oversensitive, critical, apathetic? Pro tip: We always underestimate the impact our sin has on other people.
With God, plead Psalm 139:23-24: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”
7. Spend what’s precious on your mate.
If it’s time, energy, cash, or attention, make as much space as you can for one of the top-priority relationships in your life. This could mean surprising your mate with a night away, or a “date in” after a week of working up till bedtime. Or finding friends to watch the kids.
Employ forethought to carve it out and make it special—to communicate, we matter. You matter.
8. For a fresh start, get together about getting together.
Gently talk with your spouse about the distance you’re feeling–not accusing, but rather as a mutual goal.
Start by expressing your positive desire to be closer rather than focusing on what’s not happening. Ask for forgiveness for the stuff you’ve contributed. After you’ve done that, pray about how to lovingly talk to your spouse about a character issue that’s getting in the way of your intimate alliance.
After praying about this conversation, you could broach the topic like this: “Hey, I’m guessing you’ve noticed, too—but I’m seeing we seem to be [insert issue] lately. I know I’m [insert your contribution]. I’d love to move closer, but I thought it would probably be easier if we worked together toward [mutual goal]. Would you mind if we talked about it sometime soon?”
Positioning the issue this way helps prevent you working against your mate as the problem—instead, you’re working together toward the solution.
9. Study hard.
So much of love is truly seeing our spouse and their world in all its intricacies and complexities. Understanding them when you met … or even last month … doesn’t mean you see from their eyes now.
Work diligently to comprehend and respond to your mate’s stresses, longings, griefs, joys. This helps you work out Philippians 2: “in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who … emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant” (verses 3-7).
10. Get down, get down.
Get on your knees about your marriage; consider fasting on a regular basis. Beg God for oneness, passion, enduring love, and the grace to love your mate the way He’s called you to.
Ask Him for wisdom to know what to do, and all the affection you long for–so your marriage can show the world just how deep, wide, and long He loves us.
Because when you get down to it, He is the King of the fresh start, of the power for new beginnings: “just as Christ was raised from the dead … we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).
So don’t go it alone. Your fresh start … starts here.
Copyright © 2020 Janel Breitenstein. All rights reserved.
Janel Breitenstein is an author, freelance writer, speaker, and frequent contributor for FamilyLife, including Passport2Identity®, Art of Parenting®, and regular articles. After five and a half years in East Africa, her family of six has returned to Colorado, where they continue to work on behalf of the poor with Engineering Ministries International. Her book, Permanent Markers: Spiritual Life Skills to Write On Your Kids’ Hearts (Harvest House), releases October 2021. You can find her—“The Awkward Mom”—having uncomfortable, important conversations at JanelBreitenstein.com, and on Instagram @janelbreit.