A few years ago I began assigning some "marriage homework" to couples that were facing difficulties in their marriages. The goal of the assignment was to help couples see that the only real way to grow in marriage is for each spouse to take personal responsibility for his or her contribution(s) to the problems. I have a core conviction regarding marriage problems and until you embrace this core conviction you will not get far in addressing problems in your marriage no matter how small or big.
Here's the core conviction: There is no such thing as a 1-sided marriage problem.
The only way to move toward problem resolution in marriage is to recognize that no matter what is going on in the marriage there are always two culprits. We have a nature bent toward selfishness and in marriage this is the highest evil. If a spouse refuses to agree with this core conviction there is always the damaging presence of self-righteous elitism. This leads to one spouse thinks he or she is better than the other. This creates an environment where blame is placed on spouse blamed for the problem and the other spouse in the passive position of waiting on "them" to "fix things."
However, when a couple agrees that there are always two people involved in every problem and move toward one another in humility and personal responsibility then regardless of how large the problem appears they can solve it, even in cases where there has been adultery, addiction or lying. If a couple refuses this critical approach, the problems can be relatively small and still sink the marriage.
The homework assignment requires you to get very comfortable with 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. Yes, this is the famous "love chapter" in the Bible. You probably heard it quoted at the last wedding you attended! Here it is again for a quick refresher...
"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails."
Nearly everyone who reads this (Christian or not) agrees that this is a very good definition of the true nature of love. This passage reveals for us the way God loves, He is the ultimate definition of love. This definition becomes the standard by which all marital love is measured. This is our standard! Now that we know our standard, we as individuals desperately need to evaluate how well we are loving our spouse.
The assignment goes like this...
Come into the light of God's word. Read 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. For each quality of love listed, for example, "love is patient..." ask God to show you all the ways you have been impatient toward your spouse. Be ruthless and write it down. Include those ways you are impatient in your mind as well as in your action. You may end up writing a paragraph or two. Continue through all sixteen qualities of love. Be honest and thorough. Leave no stone unturned.
Confess your sins to God. A simple definition of sin is "missing the mark." Now that your sin has been exposed by God's word confess that you are selfish and love poorly sometimes. Ask God to forgive you and to give you His definition of Love and the strength to love your spouse His way.
Confess your sins to your spouse. Yes, this is the hardest part. But, this is the game-changer in your marriage. Present to your spouse what you discovered from this exercise. Read it if you have to. Be sure to offer an apology to your spouse for how you have contributed to the pain or distance in your marriage because of your selfishness.
Commit to change. The final step is to make a commitment to change the unloving attitudes and actions in your marriage. The Bible calls this repentance. This is where you make the commitment to correct these ways that you now know cause problems in your marriage.
This is no easy assignment. However, this is a very practical and effective way to bring much needed healing to the sore spots in your marriage. For a more detailed explanation of this process I encourage you to watch part 3 of my series A RIDICULOUS IDEA CALLED MARRIAGE here.