After college graduation, I married my sweetheart, Sandy. We were in love. We shared our emotions with each other. Life was wonderful.
Twelve years after the wedding, life wasn't quite as wonderful. With four kids, the Clarke home was loud and busy — hectic, even. Our lives were a whirlwind of kids' activities, school, homework, my career as a psychologist, household chores and church involvement.
During a rare, quiet moment when our kids were in bed, Sandy and I looked at each other and realized we'd started to lose ourselves as a couple. We still loved each other, of course, but something was missing. And we agreed we didn't get married to have a mediocre relationship.
So, Sandy and I decided to do something about it. Through long talks, prayer and searching Scripture, we discovered how to get that important connection back. We found some big answers in two Bible passages.
One of those passages was 1 John 4:7-8. "Let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love." So God is love, and all true love comes from Him. Only God could give us an intimate, passionate and permanent love.
Sandy and I wondered: How do we love each other with God's love? Another key passage, Genesis 2:24, told us: "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh." "One flesh" is a complete coming together of a man and a woman. True unity is accomplished when they're one in three areas: the physical, the emotional and the spiritual.
If we wanted to love with God's love, we had to be connected to Him and joined spiritually to one another. We call this "spiritual bonding," which means consistently placing God at the center of our relationship and growing closer to Him as a couple.
Share your spiritual lives
At least once a week, Sandy and I share what God is doing in our lives. We usually do this in 30-minute "couple talk times." I want Sandy to know how I am doing in my relationship with God and how I'm growing in knowledge of Him. Sandy wants me to know how she is doing spiritually, too.
We talk about what we're experiencing in our daily quiet times, insights we've gained in our Bible study and how we're applying Scripture to our lives. We also talk about spiritual victories and setbacks and how God is guiding us.
We don't deal in generalities. "How is your spiritual life doing?" "Oh, it's OK." What does that mean? Nothing.
We're honest, and we're specific. "What has God taught you this week, Sandy?" "He's teaching me patience. I've been meditating on Galatians 5:22-23. Here are two situations God used this week to teach me the importance of patience. One was when I was at the grocery store. . . ."
Sharing our spiritual lives helps us grow closer to Christ. And because we're opening up about the most important and intimate part of our lives, we grow closer to one another, too.
Pray together regularly
Sandy and I also pray together a few times a week. We first jot down our praises and prayer requests. We list all kinds of things: our marriage, our children, our friends, our church, physical problems, job concerns, ministries we love and support, missionaries we know, neighbors, friends who don't know Christ.
We hold hands and pray out loud. Sandy prays for her requests and thanks the Lord for blessings and answers to prayer, and I follow her.
At first, it was difficult and awkward because we hadn't prayed together like this for the first 12 years of our marriage. Sure, we'd prayed before meals and occasionally in a couples' Bible study, but that type of praying didn't produce any real spiritual intimacy.
After a few months, these intentional prayer sessions became easier, and they're now one of the most intimate and meaningful experiences in our marriage. Prayer is a wonderful way for us to share our faith in God and our love for Him.
Prayer has also deepened our conversations and led to a greater level of emotional intimacy. After our prayer time, we often talk about the topics we just prayed about.
Depend on God in Tough Times
Sometimes life is so painful that you feel overwhelmed. Several years ago, Sandy and I went through some difficult circumstances. Through Bible study and prayer, we leaned heavily on God.
We asked God to help us and to show us what He wanted us to learn. God gave us something precious that we didn't even ask for: He brought us closer to Him. We realized that it wasn't the two of us going through this nightmare; it was the three of us — God, Dave and Sandy.
With God at the center of our marriage, we had all we needed to face the pain and overcome it. Through this heartbreaking time in our lives, we forged an intimate bond with God and with one another.
Sandy and I urge you to start spiritually bonding. You'll be amazed at the intimacy God will bring into your marriage — an intimacy that will last a lifetime. Dr. David Clarke is a Christian psychologist and author of A Marriage After God's Own Heart.
Ideas for Connecting Spiritually
Read and study the Bible. About once every two months, choose a Bible passage and take a week to meditate on it. Then share with one another what you've discovered.
Worship together privately. Once a month, set aside 30 minutes to worship God through praise, adoration and singing.
Help each other to be accountable. Ask your spouse for honesty, support and encouragement in specific areas in which you want to grow.
Serve together. Periodically, choose one area of ministry at your local church or a charitable organization to serve God side by side.
This article appeared in the March/April 2013 issue of Thriving Family magazine. Copyright © 2013 by Dr. David Clarke. ThrivingFamily.com.