The Bible says in Proverbs 27:17a, that "iron sharpens iron". And in Romans 14:19, "Therefore let us pursue the things which produce peace and the things that build up* one another." (* or edify) This is true of all our relationships as brothers and sisters in Christ, but even much more so as married couples. We are called to seek to build up - or edify - each other.
The Bible also says in Ecclesiastes 4:9-10a, "Two are better than one, because there is a good reward for their labour together. For if they fall, then one will help up his companion..." Marriage was designed by God as an avenue for spouses to build one another up. Unfortunately, so many times people use marriage as an opportunity to destroy one another with their attitudes and the way they relate to each other. Sometimes couples get married and when you see them after a couple of years, they have changed so much - not for the better: one or both of them may look miserable when they were so happy and bubbly before, or they may keep on shouting and arguing when they once spoke so softly to each other; sometimes they have lost their trust in each other, they may look good in front of others but in fact their relationship is virtually dead.
How does this happen, sometimes so quickly? God wants our marriages to be a blessing to both spouses, but this is not always the case. Even worse, the statistics now say that around 50% of marriages end in divorce. Couples destroy each other's lives instead of building them up. Usually they do not do it on purpose (at least to start with) but over time they find themselves stuck in a vicious cycle of destruction. The reality is that it is very easy to break down, but it is hard to build up. Building up does not happen naturally. It takes commitment and we need to do it on purpose.
So are you building your spouse or are you tearing them down? How do you know? How can you tell?
What does it mean to build up your spouse?
Building up is seeking the best for your spouse
Are we seeking to bless the other person or are we self-centred, only considering our needs and our desires? Real love wants the best for the other person, even if it means giving up your own needs or wants. In fact, if we don't put the other first, we put ourselves first.
People are usually scared to do this because they think the other person will take advantage of them if they do. And it may be true, but this is a risk we have to take because this is the only way to love someone else. This is the way Jesus showed us. He gave up everything out of love for us, and he calls us to do the same.
We are to be so concerned about our spouse's physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing and growth that we are willing to give up our comfort, the things we like, our time, our ambitions and desires for the sake of building up our spouse - even though we don't have to. Because what would be the point of great success and enjoyment for ourselves if we cannot share it with our spouse? In fact, how can we be happy if our spouse is miserable?
Thankfully, everything we invest in our spouse is never in vain. At the end of the day we are rewarded with a wonderful, blessed marriage. It may take some time and perseverance, but it will come.
Building up is considering your spouse's needs
It is very natural to consider and even fight for our own needs to be met, but as married couples our spouse's needs should be our preoccupation. We need to learn to be very considerate about their feelings and their desires.
Some activities we do may be fine for us, but may be a cause of grief for our spouse. For example, we may enjoy spending a lot of time on the phone with our friends or family members, but during that time our spouse may feel left out and alone. Or we may like to spend a lot of money on gadgets, when we know that our spouse wants to put money aside for a specific project.
It could even be "spiritual things": a husband may love to study the Bible and meditate for hours at a time when his wife just gave birth to twin babies and is also struggling, trying to cook for the whole family...
Building up is encouraging and motivating your spouse
"And let us consider how to spur one another to love and to good works."
Again, this is for everyone, but much more so in marriage. As spouses, God wants to use us to stir each other up into doing what he has called us to do as individuals and together.
As husband and wife, we know each other better than anyone else and we can encourage our spouse in the giftings we see in them. We may see something that they don't see themselves and need to know. We may be able to motivate them as no one else can, because they value our input.
We also need to keep our eyes open for opportunities for our spouse to be able to exercise their calling and speak to them about it. We usually like to look out for opportunities for ourselves, but our mindset needs to change...
On the other hand, we also need to consider that to build up our spouse, it is also our place to warn them if we see them going down the wrong path, if there is a major lack of love or serious wrong in their attitudes or actions. This is about speaking the truth in love, and not with accusations or a pointing finger. We have to do this because we desire their own good and we see them going the wrong way, not to show that we know better.
Building up is using words to edify and not destroy
"Let no unwholesome word proceed out of your mouth, but only that which is good for building up, that it may give grace to the listeners."
You know that after all our hard work of blessing and building up our spouse, one harsh word can destroy all we have been doing before. We need to be so careful of what we say and how we say it. We need to pray for God to help us not speak too fast, but ponder our words and think carefully before talking and saying things we will regret because these words can destroy our spouse.
Couples only need one thing to tear down each other - their mouth. The words we speak to each other in marriage are so powerful because as spouses we can damage each other emotionally more than anyone else can. So we need to be aware of that and use that power for the good of our spouse and not to destroy them. Whatever we choose to say, once it is out, it cannot be reversed; and some strong words even though they may be forgiven, can never be forgotten.
Practical ways to build each other up
We need to pray for our spouse's edification and also pray for God to give us wisdom to be used by Him to build up our spouse. "Except the Lord build the house, those who build labour in vain;" (Psalm 127:1a)
Praying for our spouse will allow us to start seeing them the way God sees them. We will be able to see past their imperfections and change our focus to see their strengths and giftings instead of their faults.
It is good to pray for them on our own and also to pray for each other together. When we pray together for one another, it will convince and remind our spouse that we desire their edification and will strengthen the relationship.
INVESTING IN OUR SPOUSE'S SPIRITUAL LIFE
We need to care about the spiritual growth of our spouse. We should be free to challenge them about their prayer life, the time they spend in God's word and their witness and fellowship.
It is also a good thing to read and study the Bible together and share our ideas, revelations and questions to each other. That way we can learn from one another (from what God is teaching us).
Putting a smile on your face is the most basic thing, but it goes a long way. Living with a happy person is always inspiring and makes life easier. A miserable person usually makes everyone around miserable and you need a strong will power to stay happy when you are with them every day.
This means that we listen to what our spouse say and try to understand. We need to have times when we give all our attention to what our spouse has to say and really focus so our spouse can know that we really care about them and value them. We usually are too busy to make time for each other to express ourselves and share from our heart, but this is crucial if we are truly caring for our spouse.
On a day to day basis, simply asking questions about your spouse's day, finding out what happened at work or at home will help. If your spouse has a hobby or something they really like, find out more about it, allow them to share with you, participate if possible... (eg if they love to play the piano, sit down and listen to them play once in a while - or even sing as they are playing)
Kind words of encouragement and compliments will bless your spouse and give them more confidence. We need to let our spouse know when they do something well and constantly cheer them on as this will enable them to do even better. If our spouse has a project they want to start, let's encourage them to do it and believe they will succeed. When something goes wrong, we should be the first to lift up our spouse to show our care and encourage them that brighter days are ahead.
Do we appreciate everything our spouse does? Do we regularly say thank you? These 2 words are so important to acknowledge our spouse's hard work. The habit of saying "thank you" for small and bigger things will show our spouse that we don't take them and what they do for granted.
Eg. we can thank them for things like cooking, caring for the kids, fixing things or decorating the house, cleaning, excelling at work, being a person of integrity, helping others, having good ideas, being patient, etc... (anything good we notice)
We should regularly show affection to each other to build an atmosphere of love in the home.
Physical affection is usually an important key for our spouse to feel loved and accepted (holding hands, gentle touch, hugs etc..)
We can also be affectionate with our words, remind our spouse that we love them, that we care, that they look good... maybe use little pet names...
HONOURING YOUR SPOUSE IN FRONT OF OTHERS
This means speaking well of your spouse, whether they are present or not. This could be in front of the children, or family members, friends, colleagues, church members etc.. We should always be honouring them with our speech, even if we are angry with them for one reason or another. We should never gossip behind their back as this is so destructive whether they find out about it or not.
SPEAKING THE TRUTH IN LOVE
Building up does not necessarily mean affirming all time, whatever our spouse is doing. There can be times when we know that our husband/wife is wrong and because we love them, we do not want them to stay down that path.
So this is about being constructive in our criticism or reproof. It is so important to pray first, and then forgive (if applicable) before we start talking. Then we need to use the right tone (calmly and softly), speak with the right attitude (loving, not accusing or condemning, no nagging) and speak at the right time (not when children are present, not when we are tired, not before going out, not on our way to church...). This is so our spouse will be able to understand and receive what we say without feeling judged or threatened by us.
Ways we tear each other down
IGNORING YOUR SPOUSE/INDIFFERENCE
It may be that we don't actively do anything wrong, but we simply don't do anything to purposely build up our spouse. Then we are inadvertently tearing them down by not building them up...
Being ignored by your own spouse really hurts and creates loneliness.
We can ignore our spouse by getting too busy with other things and not having time for them (putting work, children, in-laws or ministry first, too much time online/social medias).
We can ignore them by being unthankful and taking them for granted.
We can ignore them by not paying attention to what is happening in their life, their successes or struggles.
We can ignore them by not listening to their suggestions or requests, or not putting these to action (eg your spouse has been asking you for weeks to help them with something; you agreed but you still haven't done it)
We can ignore them by not celebrating them (forgetting birthdays, anniversaries or important dates that matter to our spouse).
The "silence treatment" (also called sulking) is a way of ignoring our spouse or trying to punish them for something they have done that upset us (by refusing to talk, refusing intimacy, refusing to help them...). Some people end up not talking to each other for days.
By doing this, we are not helping our spouse to grow but we are actually building a wall of separation between us. There is no way we can teach them a lesson that way. The only thing we achieve is to make each other miserable...
Speaking harshly to your spouse will definitely tear them down emotionally. This includes yelling at each other when angry, throwing insults at each other (this should never happen) or saying things that we know will hurt their feelings (eg "you're so fat", "you're useless"...)
There are some words should never even be mentioned even in arguments (eg "divorce"), because the effect is devastating and puts spiritual consequences in motion.
This calls for self-control and we need to ask God for help if we are prone to lose control of our words when we get angry.
Harsh words can also mean disrespecting your spouse in front of others: criticizing them or making jokes about them, about their family, their culture or what they do (eg "my wife can't cook" or "my husband is lazy" or "Nigerians are all criminals" if your spouse is from there)
The Bible says in Psalm 11:5 that the Lord hates "the wicked and the one who loves violence".
Any kind of abuse - especially physical abuse - is obviously completely destructive to your spouse and your marriage. It is also incompatible with being a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Definition of Abuse: the cruel and violent treatment of a person.
There are different types of abuse:
· Physical abuse - anything that gives physical harm (hitting, beating...)
· Psychological abuse - may include intimidation (eg. threats of physical harm, shouting, swearing, name calling, racist comments, deprivation of normal activities or contact, humiliation, indifference, emotional blackmail).
· Financial or material abuse - includes theft, fraud, extortion, gaining access to persons, funds or possessions.
· Neglect and acts of omission - deliberate withholding of, or unintentional failure to provide care and support.
Abuse usually happens behind closed doors or in secret as the people involved would be ashamed if anyone knew about it. As a general rule, anything that we do or say to our spouse that make us feel ashamed, anything we wish that nobody finds out, is questionable.
Abuse can sometimes be unintentional (this does not make it OK). Once again this is because of anger. When we get angry, we can do things that we don't mean and that we will regret later. Some people allow themselves to get so angry that they get into a rage and can't control themselves. The Bible calls us to control our anger and this is a key to guard us from abuse.
"Those who control their anger have great understanding; those with a hasty temper will make mistakes."
Ask God for that great understanding to be able to control anger!
BREAKING YOUR SPOUSE'S TRUST
The main thing that will break our spouse's trust in us is if we lie to them - directly or indirectly. Directly, by telling outright lies (eg. Saying we did not do something that in fact we did do); and indirectly, by omitting part of the truth or saying things that are misleading. As married couples, we have to learn to be fully transparent with each other, even when the truth is hard to tell. Hiding the truth does not help your marriage and it pushes the other away from you rather than closer to you.
We can also tear down our spouse by revealing things about them or our marriage to others that they would wish to stay private. Revealing their secrets out will break their trust and prevent them from opening up to us again in the future. It would also tell them that we don't really value them confiding in us and what is important to them is not important to us.
Then we can break our spouse's trust if we don't take them seriously when they confide in us, by maybe laughing at them or even judging them as they are sharing from their heart.
Another way to break your spouse's trust is by not respecting their privacy and digging into things that belong to them (without their permission), usually because we do not trust them enough (eg. Reading their mail, emails, texts, checking numbers called on their phone...). When this happens, there is a major trust issue.
MAKING IMPORTANT DECISIONS ON YOUR OWN
When we are married, we need to always consider our spouse when making decisions. And some important decisions have to be made and agreed together so that no one finds themselves forced to be in a situation they did not choose: financial investments or major purchases, children's education, travelling abroad, being away for some time, or welcoming someone at home...
(eg. "by the way, my mate is having problems at home so I have told him he can stay with us for a couple of months!" or "Honey, I have used our retirement savings to buy this cool new car").
We need to see ourselves as a team. Our spouse is not just an extension of ourselves and they cannot guess our plans. We need to communicate about important decisions we have to make so that both parties have a say and can agree. The husband is the head but that does not mean that the wife has no say about anything. Our decisions must take into account the desires and well-being of both spouses.
ADMIRING OTHER MEN/WOMEN
Constantly talking about the virtues of other women (for a husband) or other men (for a wife) can be damaging to your wife/husband. It could be talking about someone's beauty or looks, their gifts at doing certain things... (eg. "I love this actress, she has very beautiful eyes and I've never seen anybody with such beautiful hair...")
It's even worse if we compare our spouse to our friends' spouses that we think do things better. It makes our spouses feel that they don't measure up to them; that they should be like them and cannot be themselves.
The same would go for talking about someone we know from a past relationship, or being nostalgic and keeping precious items from past relationships as "souvenirs" (gifts, photos...). This is very destructive to our spouse.
Building up your spouse is an art and never happens naturally. If we love our spouse, we must put things in place for their edification. We need to determine that whatever way our spouse behaves, as for us, we will endeavour to build them up and not tear them down. Our marriage will be blessed as a result.
Because we are not perfect yet, we will make mistakes. There are going to be times when we unwillingly tear down instead of build up. At those times, we need to ask our spouse for forgiveness. And we need to also quickly forgive our spouse when he/she has done something to tear us down.
As the Bible says, the best way for a husband to build up his wife is to love her and cherish her; and the best way for a wife to build up her husband is to respect him and admire him. So, whatever happens, we need to keep on doing that. May God give us the grace and the wisdom to build up and not tear down!
Watch this short funny song about what husbands should not say to their wives: