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Photo by Kathleen Barry, UMNS

Candy hearts express sentiments appropriate for Valentine’s Day.

Three ways to say “I love you”

A UMC.org Feature
by Susan Passi-Klaus

A lot of people ask Rev. Jay Tenney for advice on getting married and staying married. As pastor of Tunnel Hill, (Ga) Tunnel Hill United Methodist Church, Tenney—who himself has been married for 13 years—has counseled many in-love couples looking for a marriage made in heaven, as well as advising out-of-love couples who are forced to admit that their marriage is sadly earthbound. He is also founder of MyMarriageCoach.com, which offers online advice for relationships.

Although Tenney offers many tips for keeping the love fires burning, he said it boils down to two things.

  • Learn all that you can about how God loves.
  • Love your husband/wife with that same kind of love. 1st Corinthians 13. Imitate it and unleash it in your marriage.

In his many years of coaching couples and helping them navigate the pitfalls of love and marriage, Tenney has made some observations and come to a few conclusions about what makes a relationship work and keep working.

Build each other up daily

One clue as to whether a couple has a shot at "happily ever after" pertains to the level of encouragement and support he sees between them.

"A lot of times, body language, how affectionate they are, how close they sit, and the tone they use to talk to each other can give clues to whether there's emotional distance between them," Tenney said. "So often I see couples tear each other down with their words."

Tenney says couples who are generous with their encouragement and support of each other is crucial to the success and survival of a marriage. 

"We all need to know we have someone in our corner building us up," Tenney said. "So often that affirmation is missing." 

Another indication that a relationship is on the right track is that significant others not only love each other, but admire each other as well. And they're not shy about expressing it.

"It's easy to slack off when it comes to sharing what we admire about the person we love," Tenney said. "But why wait until a holiday or special occasion to let our loved ones know what it is that we love, respect and admire about them? There are so many ways—cards, sticky notes, e-mails, text messages, and more—to send messages like, 'I love the way you care for our children;' 'I admire you for how you handle your job;' 'I admire the work you do;' 'I'm proud of the way you treat other people;' or 'I love how generous you are.'"

You're in it together

Tenney says a couple should have a "shared mission," which is something other than raising the kids and paying the mortgage. This could be a variety of different projects or dreams that a couple works on shoulder-to-shoulder. 

Tenney's Top Ten Rules for a Happy Marriage

10. Never yell at each other unless the house is on fire.

9. If one of you has to win an argument, let it be your spouse.

8. Never bring up mistakes from the past.

7. If you have to criticize, do it lovingly.  

6. Find ways to bless your spouse every day.

5. Whenever you are with your spouse, be all there.

4. Compliment your spouse in front of others.

3. When you screw up, admit it, ask for forgiveness and move on.

2. Factor in time to simply have fun together.

1. Keep God in the center of your relationship.

To take Tenney’s marriage evaluation quiz, go to MyMarriageCoach.com.

There's something about being in the trenches together working on a common project that tends to draw us together," said Tenney. "It can be anything from building a business venture or building a home for Habit for Humanity. Just do it as a team."

"Couples need to have conversations about what they believe is God's calling for their relationship," Tenney said. "What can they do or be together—perhaps having an outward focus—that will draw them closer together?"

Blessed to serve each other

Servanthood in marriage is "critical" says Tenney. "I remember hearing this advice before I got married… 'Find the number one thing around the house that your spouse hates to do, and do it for them…quietly.'" 

"I try to remember that advice every time I empty the dishwasher," he laughed.

Scripture calls us to 'serve one another in love' (Galatians 5:13), and Tenney believes that service should begin in our marriages and families.

"It goes with all the 'one another' passages in Scripture," he said. "Love one another. Encourage one another. Serve one another." 

"Imagine how incredible our marriages would be if the first thing we thought of every day was, "How can I make my spouse's life better? How can I serve him or her today?"

Become "intimacy allies"

These three focuses, says Tenney, are not a prescription for romance. Instead, they help to draw couples closer. Each one promotes intimacy within the relationship. 

"So many times we just simply try to be more romantic, especially on Valentine's Day," Tenney said. "There's a lot of pressure to be more romantic than last year, but I'm convinced that if couples focus on these three things, the romance will come. 

"Romance is nice but intimacy is wonderful. It goes way beyond a holiday that we celebrate once a year."

*Susan Passi-Klaus is a Public Relations Specialist/Writer at United Methodist Communications. 

Contact: Susan Passi-Klaus, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5138 or presscenter@umcom.org

Editor's Note: This article is updated from a version that ran initially on Feb. 11, 2010. 

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