It was an awful day. What was supposed to have been a Saturday of rest and play together started heading south almost as soon as Jan and I got up. I said some things. She said some things. We started out talking. Talking moved to arguing. And then arguing moved to….silence. We spent an entire day not talking. Together. But alone in our silence and frustration.
We’re not newlyweds — we’ll celebrate our 30th anniversary this December. And while our marriage has never been perfect (because neither one of us is perfect) overall it’s been a good, healthy, growing relationship centered around Jesus.
Over those three decades, we’ve learned that God’s mercies are new every morning, so we started afresh the next day with forgiveness, prayer, and a commitment to do better next time. Less than a week later, we spent more silent hours, this time trapped in a car together on a long ride to Washington, DC to help our son move after he lost his job due to COVID. We pretended everything was OK until the trip home. Our “conversation” on the way home turned to more long, agonizing hours of silent fuming.
Naturally, each of us asked the obvious question: “What’s wrong!?” I (David) knew the answer — she was! And Jan also knew the answer — I was! Sound familiar?
Neither one of us wanted to be where we were. This wasn’t a familiar place — we didn’t normally end up in silent suffering. But life wasn’t normal. We were more than two months into COVID, and we’d found all of our normal relationships — friends, small groups, family members — had gone virtual or dormant. Which left me relying on Jan to meet all of my relational needs and me to meet all of her needs.
What got us out of this mess? We started asking different questions.
It took several days of prayer and journaling to realize that the solution to our silent suffering wasn’t asking the question, “What’s wrong?” Instead, we started to ask, “What’s Missing?”
A lot was missing. Due to COVID we had stopped many of the things that brought us joy. In 2019, we had taken ten overnight getaways. After March 2020, it was zero. We were also missing the face to face relationships of family, friends, and our small group. Stuck at home, we’d been missing travel and vacations. And we’d both been working more, not less, so we were missing times of rest and Sabbath. We were missing face to face worship.
We sat down together (we were talking again) and made a plan to add back the things that were missing, starting with rest. We had to be creative due to COVID, but restoring these things brought our marriage back to life, health, and growth.
Four Helpful Questions
The question “What’s missing?” is one of what’s called the four helpful questions (or four helpful lists). Asking these four questions, in order, can bring life and health to your marriage as well.
Here are the four questions:
We rarely start here, especially when we’re in conflict. But the Bible says, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8 NIV)
ACTION STEP: Make a list, celebrate, and give thanks. Then ask yourself how you can optimize these things.
This is the wrong question to start with, but it’s an important question. Pay attention — it’s not, “Who’s wrong?” but “What’s wrong?” Focusing on who is wrong almost always leads us to the conclusion that our spouse is wrong. Jesus asks, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3 NIV)
Asking what’s wrong makes the question more about the situation and less about the person.
ACTION STEP: Make a list and ask yourself what you need to change.
Sometimes things aren’t wrong, they’re just missing. The craziness of COVID caused all kinds of things to be missing.
ACTION STEP: Make a list and then make plans to add those things (or creative new things) back into your schedule and routine.
Some of our post-COVID conflict was confusing. Our normal rhythms and routines were disrupted and every day brought a flood of information that brought more heat than light. We were confused when we hit a new level of conflict and didn’t know why.
Although the context is about worship, the Bible says “God is not a God of confusion but of peace.” (1 Corinthians 14:33 NIV).
ACTION STEP: Make a list and then dig in — ask the Lord for clarity.
Life isn’t back to normal. But our marriage is. The last few months we’ve added back the missing things and rediscovered joy and peace in our relationship. We’re resting, playing, and having fun together. Like all couples, we have conflict, but no more suffering in silence.
The book of James reminds us that, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (James 1:5 NIV)
May God bless you richly with life, joy, and peace in your marriage as you ask these four questions not just with each other but with God.
David and Jan Limiero have been married for 29 years, have three grown children, and started attending Christ Fellowship in 2019. They are co-founders of Eagles Rest, a ministry focused on helping successful kingdom leaders learn to live and lead from overflow instead of overwhelm. They can be reached by email at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.