Couples Devotional: A High-Maintenance Marriage

Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ. –Philippians 1:6

We have often said publicly that we have a high-maintenance marriage. We have been married for over thirty-five years, and we feel a bit like how Billy Graham described his fifty-four year marriage: “Ruth and I are happily incompatible.” Cathy and I wouldn’t trade our relationship for anything, but it hasn’t always been easy. It’s kind of like what Rocky Balboa said to his wife in the famous movie Rocky: “I got gaps; you got gaps; we fill each other’s gaps.”

For twenty-five years we have lived next door to Bill, who has the coolest Corvette Stingray roadster. It is a beautiful car and fun to drive. Okay, he has never actually let me drive it–but I know it would be fun if I did! Bill spends a great deal of time, energy, and money to keep his high-performance machine in good shape. It needs regular oil changes and all the other maintenance cars need to keep it beautiful and in running order. If he ignored that car, it would eventually break down and just quit working.

In differing degrees, marriages are high maintenance with at least a bit of incompatibility mixed in them. But that doesn’t stop the good marriages from being even better, and there is hope for even the most difficult relationships. What does it take to make a high-maintenance marriage successful? One word: work. The best marriages are the ones where both parties are willing to work at it on a regular basis.

Marriage expert Willard Harley told us on the HomeWord radio broadcast that almost any marriage can succeed if the couple is willing to invest the time. How much time? He said fifteen to twenty hours a week. Now, that’s a lot of time to add to an already overcrowded schedule. But if your marriage is a bit high maintenance, what are your other options? Of marriages that end in divorce, the average first marriage in America lasts seven years, and the average second marriage lasts four. Personally, we would rather work on the first one and do all we can to make it better. Regardless of your history, today is the day to choose to make your marriage better. And this is your promise from the Bible: “[God,] who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.”

Here is our list of five things every couple can do to invest in their marriage. None of these is rocket science and they all take work. Our experience is that it is definitely worth it.

Talk. Communicate on a deeper level daily, if possible. Take a walk. Sit together on the couch for fifteen minutes after dinner, even if there is chaos all around you. You can’t grow together if you don’t talk.

Show affection. Authorities on the subject tell us that it takes eight to ten meaningful touches a day for a person to thrive. Showering your spouse with affection is one of the best ways to keep the sparks flowing. (Men, we aren’t talking about groping!) Women often say that non-sexual affection is even more powerful.

Walk. This may sound corny, but couples who walk together talk together. We find that when we put a leash on the dog and walk around the block, we end up having good conversations.

Express kindness. Random acts of kindness go a long way in a high-maintenance marriage. A nice card or running an errand for your spouse may do more for your relationship than many other things.

Pray. Couples who pray together, stay together. We have said before that without God’s presence in our marriage, we would probably not be married today. The odds would be against us. We like what Paul said: “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13). That statement goes for marriage as well.

Leo Tolstoy was not necessarily known as a marriage expert, but he was so right when he said, “What counts in making a marriage happy is not so much how compatible you are but how you deal with your incompatibility.” Good thoughts, Leo.

• Do you think our marriage is high maintenance, low maintenance, or somewhere in between?
• What is the one thing you think our marriage needs more of?
• Is there something our marriage needs less of?


Marriage expert Norm Wright challenges couples to try a Cherishing Day exercise, where each partner makes a list of simple cherishing behaviors he/she would enjoy receiving from the other.

• Make them specific and positive
• Do not involve past conflicts or old demands
• Do them on a regular basis
• Achieve them with little time or expense

Individually make a list of at least five experiences and share them with each other.

(Excerpted from Closer: 52 Devotionals to Draw Couples Together by Jim and Cathy Burns; Bethany House, 2009.)

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Jim and Cathy Burns

Jim Burns is President of HomeWord. Jim speaks to thousands of people around the world each year. He has over 1.5 million resources in print in over 25 languages. Some of his recent books include: Finding Joy in the Empty Nest; Doing Life with Your Adult Children, and Have Serious Fun. Jim and his wife, Cathy, live in Southern California. Cathy Burns is the co-author of Closer: 52 Devotions to Draw Couples Together. Along with being a mom, wife and Bible study leader, she recently retired from her job as a teacher in a school for “kids who learn differently” in order to help care for her three grandchildren. Cathy and Jim met the first day in college and married one week after she graduated.

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