Helpful Marriage Resources

This post is a guest post from my friend, Joanna. I really don't think I could say enough good things about Joanna and her husband Mark. They have become like family for us here in Prague and I am so blessed and honored by my association with them. One of the things I love most about them is that they have really so openly invited my husband and I into their lives. They have shared with us so honestly about both the good and the difficult in their own marriage and given us space to do the same. Thank you, dear friends!

Mark and I were married almost eleven years ago. It is hard to believe. We have lived together on three continents and have weathered many storms our circumstances (and our fiery tempers) have thrown our way. There are stories of our life together that we've named "the-third-time-we-almost-got-divorced" and literally times (especially when we were working in a boarding school in rural Uganda) when we weren't even on speaking terms. We've had good advice ("listen to HOW you are saying that, not just what you are saying") and bad advice ("just have more sex"). But advice doesn't really work for us, we kind of have to walk through it ourselves, groping our way along this beautiful, but rocky path.

So the best thing we can share about marriage is where to go for HELP. We went through pre-marital counseling with our beloved Pastor Howard using Dan Allender's book Intimate Allies. Our Pastor warned us that it is designed more for people who have been married for five years, but he liked to do it before getting married so you know what you are up against. Not only is marriage the most intimate relationship you will ever have, and the most reflective of God's great love for you; it is also the most damaging relationship you'll ever have, and your spouse is capable of wounding you far deeper and far more quickly that anyone else. This book recalls an image from The Fellowship of the Ring where Frodo et al are up on Weathertop preparing to hold off the Nazgul, and the party turns their backs in toward each other and their weapons out, protecting each other. (There is a similar scene in Mr. & Mrs. Smith!) Each year that we are married we turn our backs in a little quicker and with less inadvertent damage by unwieldy swords! (The tongue is a double-edged sword, btw!)

We found ourselves at an impasse about five years into our journey. Living in rural Uganda, working in a very tough environment, with no one around with extra energy to help us work out our junk. We really couldn't say anything to each other without taking it the wrong way and turning into another fight. We remembered Howard's counsel that this book (Intimate Allies) was better for five years in, so we pulled it off the shelf, blew off the dust and started reading again. We made intentional space to work through it together. We would go away for a long weekend once a month, and read through one chapter, talk through the issues and questions and spend some time really praying together. And it really helped us to START communicating better again. (Of course there's no book that can "fix" our marriage...but we appreciate the direction this one has given us.)

Now we are in Prague, with two kids. We do life together a little bit better now, but really we just have a lot more space and excuses and other things going on, so we HIDE our junk a LOT better. We've hit another rough spot these past few years, so naturally, we were EXCITED to see Dan Allender published a whole marriage SERIES. The Intimate Mystery and the bible studies that spring from it called Intimate Marriage Series, have been fun and insightful. So in our TENTH year of marriage, we decided to rally together a Marriage group (which Bethany and Bryan also attend) here in Prague. This marriage group has been fantastic. We are building intimacy and communication in our marriages, but also in this small community. We are building some accountability and trust. We share the hard stuff and the victories. It's kind of like a holy group therapy. I am so thankful for the encouragement and the hope that these other four couples bring to us. And it is perfect timing for us.

So take these resources and explore them for yourselves, or tuck them in the back of your mind for someday when you need a little nudge toward loving each other better. Mark and I find, that in our marriage, when we love each other better, it multiplies how much love we can extend toward others.

IMG_5085Joanna Stewart works with World Harvest Mission. She and her husband, Mark lived and taught in rural Uganda for three years; and they are now living in Prague. She is the mercy coordinator for Faith Community Church and spends her time trying to learn how to serve people in the city in the name of Christ. Her hobbies are cooking, knitting, and trying to keep her sons Sasha (4) and Izaak (1) from bleeding.