4 Ways to Have an Amazing Partnership with Your Spouse

I love to travel, especially to new places. Weeks in advance, I started planning the trip. I mentally pack. I anticipate the things I’ll do, the people I’ll see, the fun I’ll have. And when I step onto the plane and strap myself in, I am ready.

Not all flights are the same, though. I always feel a small amount of angst as that giant piece of metal lifts itself into the air and cruises to a death-defying altitude of 32,000 feet. 

What’s going on in that cockpit?” I sometimes wonder. “Do they know what they’re doing? Do they work well together?”

And in a way, marriage is a lot like the pilots flying a plane. Together, as pilot and co-pilot, you strap yourselves in, start the engines, taxi down the runway, and eventually pick up enough speed to take off. 

Do you know where you’re going? Do you agree on your destination?

The last thing you want to overhear as you board and walk by the cockpit is this:

“Give me the controls!” 

“No! You give them to me. I’m flying this plane, not you!”

A conversation like that would be very unnerving. It might make you want to turn around and walk off as quickly as possible. 

Thankfully, I’ve never seen this happen on a plane.

But I do see it all the time in marriages.

*Mike and Karen knew each other for several years. Both were married previously. When they reconnected, things moved quickly. They married after only a few months. 

Now, after several unsuccessful efforts to work it out, divorce papers have been filed. 

So, what went wrong?

Unfortunately, both had different expectations of what they wanted, where they were going, and how to get there. 

But they didn’t know this until it was much too late.

How could they have prevented this?

1. Create a “flight” plan

Before a plane can take off, a flight plan must be filed. The pilot and co-pilot must plan—decide the best route to take, anticipate weather, and respond accordingly. Marriage is the same. Most couples, though, spend much more time planning the wedding than they do planning their actual marriage. 

Is it any wonder that so many end in divorce?

What might change if couples created a marital flight plan before saying, “I do?”

If Mike and Karen had discussed what they both wanted from the relationship beforehand, they would have discovered some big differences. 

All relationships go somewhere, don’t they? The key is knowing where you want to go and ensuring it’s a destination you’ve both agreed on!

But Mike and Karen’s story is all too common. Too many couples fall prey to the emotion of their relationship. They fall in love—that exhilarating, intense feeling we often crave—and they assume it’s enough to base a substantial, successful relationship on. 

It’s not.

2. Do your “preflight” checklist

A successful partnership requires more than just being “in love.”  Mike and Karen needed to ask each other some essential things, before the wedding:

What do we expect from each other: companionship, financial security, children, higher quality of life?

How will we achieve that?

What problems might we encounter?

How will we deal with them?

While working with Mike and Karen, I was immediately struck by her strong personality and long list of complaints.

“Mike doesn’t help out around the house,” she griped. “He’s lazy, he won’t help with the kids, and I can’t trust him.” Upon further probing and listening to Mike, it was evident that Karen ruled the “cockpit.”  

Mike couldn’t do enough or do it quickly enough to make Karen happy (he’d stopped trying a long time ago). Mike, however, was afraid to step up and take charge of his family. He didn’t want to make Karen angry. He would appease her with half-hearted efforts to do what she wanted instead of becoming a man she could respect. His apathetic behavior only made her angrier. She felt forced to take over.

Unfortunately, many couples don’t discuss responsibilities before marriage, but they do have unspoken expectations. When those expectations aren’t met, conflict arises.

Karen expected Mike to work full-time to support her and the kids, then come home and give her a break from parenting. Mike expected to have time to relax when he got home.

On his days off, Mike wanted to go golfing. But Karen expected him to watch the kids so she could go to work. 

She wanted to come home to a clean house. Mike believed other things were more important. He’d get to the dishes when he felt like it. 

These may seem trivial, but they were serious enough for them to consider separating.

What about you? Everyone expects something. Discuss your responsibilities and determine who is primarily responsible for each task: child-rearing, house cleaning, yard work, meal preparation, handling the finances, etc. And do you both need to work outside of the home or not?

Talking about those expectations upfront may prevent much disappointment and heartache later on.

And if you’re already married, discuss your expectations now. It’s never too late to correct your course.

3. Stay in your seat

When flying a plane, the pilot and co-pilot have designated roles. Both roles are essential, yet different. And someone must have the final say. The pilot is primarily responsible for navigating the plane, while the co-pilot assists in many ways—everything from pre-flight duties to flying. But, significantly, they don’t change seats in the middle of the flight!

The same can be said of marriage—different roles but equally important. Husbands and wives should not compete over who’s in charge. God made it clear that wives are in the co-pilot position, while husbands are responsible for navigating the family.

If your marriage suffers from role reversal, talk to your spouse. Ask him or her how they feel about the way things currently are. Are they happy with the status quo?

Chances are, they’ll say no.

So, discuss what your marriage would look like if your roles aligned more closely with God’s biblical instruction.

Talk to God as well. While husbands are to be the head of the family, your marriage’s ultimate leader should always be God. Ask Him to help you both see (and appreciate) the interconnectedness of the husband-and-wife roles and the harmony God intended when we do things His way.If your spouse doesn’t follow God, nor cares to, your relationship with God becomes even more essential. Be sure to put God at the center of every decision you make.

4. Use your “flight” instruments to stay on course

Your relationship taxies down the runway when you say, “I do!” It lifts off, reaches the proper altitude, and eventually levels off. 

Things in the cockpit are running smoothly. You and your spouse communicate well. You share common values and goals, and are clear on your destination.

But then, “Wham!” You hit turbulence, and what was a smooth ride changes instantly.

Now what?

Don’t panic! All relationships encounter turbulence. 
So now, use your navigational tools to identify what may be causing your turbulence to restore your smooth flight.

Use Your Active Listening Skills

Often, when we communicate, we’re not truly listening. We’re thinking about what to say back! Active listening involves listening to understand. When we kindly repeat or reflect our spouse’s words back to them, we can often clarify and prevent possible misunderstandings. Seek to understand. And listening in this way also keeps us from interrupting! Try using the phrase “Let me see if I understand what you’re saying…” or “It sounds like what you’re trying to say is…”

Avoid Inflammatory Words

There are two phrases I often hear from couples. They are “Why do you always…” and “Why do you never…” Words like this inflame us because we feel attacked. Adrenaline, coupled with anger, causes us to lash out, which only escalates the conflict. Try taking the phrases “You,” “Always,” and “Never” out of your vocabulary when you’re discussing heated things. Instead, phrase things in this way:

“I’m curious about why this keeps happening…” 

Or

“Can you help me understand the reason for this?”

Or

“Help me to know what’s going on right now.” 

Whenever possible, resolve your conflict the same day it occurs. Don’t let it fester. 

And if needed, take a break from the conflict to calm your emotions. Even an hour can change your perspective.

Attack the Problem, Not the Person

Don’t attach motive! If you have a problem with something your spouse is doing, focus on the behavior, not the person. 

Here’s an example of what not to say:

“Why do you always leave your dirty towel on the floor after you shower? Why can’t you pick it up like I’ve asked you to? Don’t you ever listen? How many times do I have to ask you?”

Instead, try saying it like this:

“It’s frustrating for me to come into the bathroom and find a wet towel on the floor. Please hang the towel or put it in the hamper to get washed with the rest of the clothes.”In this example, you are focusing on the problem that you have and asking for your spouse’s help to resolve it.

Leave the Past Where It Belongs

Don’t fly through the same stormy weather over and over! If you keep returning to the same turbulent issues, there’s an underlying reason. Instead of beating each other up with things that can’t be changed, focus on the present. Where and when did you get off course? Are you still wanting and needing the same things? If not, what changed?

Keep Your Eyes on God

Finally, use your attitude indicator. The attitude indicator tells the pilot the plane’s position in relation to the horizon. Are the wings level? Is the plane’s nose too high or low?  

In marriage, think of the attitude indicator as your spiritual position. Your setting tells you (and others) what your values and priorities in life are. 

Do you know that God has a purpose for your marriage? Do you know what it is? When your values are aligned with each other and His purpose, your marital flight will be much smoother.

Mike and Karen did figure things out, and they’re still married. It took some hard work and some serious course corrections. But once they agreed on their expectations and responsibilities, it got easier. They now know how to talk with each other when they hit turbulence. They don’t blame or attack each other. They listen to each other and tackle the problem together, until it’s gone.

The truth is, marriage is one of the hardest (and best) relationships you’ll ever experience. Even with the correct flight plan, good cooperation in the cockpit, and the know-how to use your flight instruments, you will still meet occasional turbulence along the way. Don’t let that discourage you. If you’ve tried everything you know to do, get help—professional help. And always remember, with God you can confidently navigate through whatever life may bring.

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