In Bristol near where I live there is a very special tree. See it in winter, summer or autumn and you might think that it is one large tree. But in spring its true identity is revealed when its blossom comes out.
The pink and white blossom reveals that it isn't just one tree on its own... but two trees intertwined. Two have become one.
'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife,and the two will become one flesh.'So they are no longer two, but one flesh.Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate." Mark 10:7-9
Some of us worry about being smothered in a relationship, or about losing our identity. But being a couple isn't about being dependent or giving up who you are. Nor is it about being independent and just doing whatever you want. It is about being inter-dependent.
In a marriage, we form a "we" or "us" and how we behave and respond to this will either help to protect, build and nurture that "us" or it will hurt, harm and ultimately destroy it.
Just as a tree needs many things to strengthen it such as sunshine, rain, and good soil – so too does a marriage. Here are ten questions to reflect on that I hope will help as you seek to strengthen and nurture yours.
1. What are you doing or being when your relationship works best? It helps to identify what is going well when you are feeling most connected and are working well as a team. How can you do more of this?
2. What do you need to nourish or grow your relationship at the moment? Relationships are dynamic. They are continually growing and changing. At various stages along the way we might beneift from the help of others, a great book, a helpful course, a retreat, prayer or the encouragement of friends. Or perhaps you need some time away together. What would help the two of you right now? What one step can you take this week to put it into place?
3. How strong and resilient is your relationship? All relationships will have their weak or sensitive spots. It helps to recognise these and to make sure that you are seeking to protect them. When is your relationship most at risk and what preventative measures can you put in place?
4. How rooted is your relationship in God? Your individual relationships with God will impact your marriage but so too will your joint relationship with God. How do you live out your relationship with God together and what helps you to do that? Are there areas where you would like to grow and improve?
5. What are you created to be or to do together in this season? What are you creating together or would you love to create together at this time? It could be parenting, or looking after elderly relatives, serving in some way, producing something together or using your home to bless others.
6. Who is impacting your relationship positively and negatively? Your relationship will be influenced and affected by the people that you spend time with. Have you got people you are accountable to as a couple and people who regularly encourage you and pray for you? Are there wise people you can turn to for advice? Conversely, are there interactions that aren't healthy and that threaten your marriage? If so, what can you do to protect yourself from these?
7. Who together are you impacting? Just as you are influenced by others – your marriage will be an influence to those around you. Who are the people you are impacting and what kind of impact are you having? What, if anything, needs to change or improve?
8. What is the greatest threat to your relationship? It could be a circumstance you are going through at the moment or something internal. What can you do and what do you need to help you to face this challenge together?
9. What do you need to prune in order to allow new growth? Are there habits, choices or behaviours in your relationship that are no longer serving it positively? How can you lay these down and remove them, in order to allow new growth?
10. What eternal treasture would you love to create together? What fruit do the two of you want to produce together that will have an eternal impact? How can you be intentional about this?
Just like a glorious oak tree or a beatiful weeping willow, your marriage is on display for others to observe and witness. Others will be touched by us as a couple: our children, if or when we have them, our friends, our family, our church, people whom we meet and serve along the way and even our society. If our relationship suffers or fails they will feel and know the repercussions. But if it grows, flourishes and has a positive impact on all those who encounter it then we will have created something that is bigger than our individual selves.
Sarah Abell is the founder of Naked Hedgehogs. Her passion is helping individuals and couples live, love and lead authentically. To discover how authentic your relationships really are – you can take her free quiz at www.nakedhedgehogs.com