I chopped vegetables, browned ground beef, and begin to combine all the basic ingredients for the harvest soup we were making into a pot. Friends of ours were preparing to welcome their third baby and my husband Ted and I had agreed to provide them with a home-cooked meal.
When it came time to add the broth and seasonings, I turned to Ted.
As we’ve cooked together over the years, we’ve both learned that my strength is in the meal planning and prep. Ted’s gift is in getting the flavors just right. I watched as he smelled different spices, choosing the ones he felt would complement the vegetables and meat best, and added them until the soup tasted just right. A true master at work.
While it would have been easy for me to make the soup on my own, experience has taught me that it wouldn’t taste as good or be as fun to make solo.
In matters of soup and other areas of helping others, Ted and I have learned that serving side-by-side doesn’t simply meet the needs of others, it also strengthens our marriage.
It can do the same for you and your spouse.
Whether it’s helping neighbors move, serving in your church, or babysitting for friends, here are five ways helping others strengthens marriage and makes you feel more connected as a couple.
1. Helping others creates a shared experience … and shared memories
After losing our pre-born baby in a miscarriage seven years ago, Ted and I decided to participate in a local pregnancy crisis center’s yearly Walk for Life. We wanted to pour our energy into loving expectant mothers in a tangible way. For over a month, we worked together to raise funds for the event.
On the day of the walk, Ted donned an event T-shirt, while I wore one I’d made to remember our pre-born child. We marched side-by-side for the two-mile walk, joining hands as we crossed the finish line. For us, helping together in this way not only drew us closer as a couple, but it created cherished memories we still look back on together.
Jim Burns writes that “families who build a healthy identity are the ones who slow down enough to share enjoyable and meaningful times together.” This isn’t just true for your family as a whole, but also for you as a couple.
Strong marriages are made up of shared experiences and the positive memories you and your spouse create in the process. Ted and I have found that helping others is a great way to be purposeful to do just that.
2. Helping others provides an opportunity to work together toward a common goal
A few years ago, I watched week after week as Jim and Melissa spent their Tuesday afternoons coaching my daughters’ T-ball team. Together they instructed a dozen or more preschoolers and kindergarteners how to hit the ball, the proper way to pitch it and where the bases are. They worked side-by-side toward the common goal of teaching their young team the basics of the game.
More than once I noticed them exchange grateful glances as they collaborated. This type of nonverbal interaction is what author Bill Farrell describes as “a single meaningful glance” where “your eyes meet and your hearts connect.” These glances were one evidence that Jim and Melissa’s common goal of coaching drew them closer together.
Whether it’s in the sports field or in the office, common goals unite people. The same is true in marriage.
Like Jim and Melissa, when you band together to accomplish a shared purpose, it has the potential to draw you closer as a couple. It allows you to join your hearts and your hands to strategize, mutually invest in, and accomplish a mission together.
3. Helping others strengthens your ability to be a united team
When Jenny found herself juggling a full-time job, two kids, a critically-ill brother, and the threat of fines from her neighborhood association for an unkempt yard, her neighbors Mark and Candace immediately volunteered to help. Candace tamed the bushes, while Mark tidied up the flower beds.
When they attempted to mow the overgrown grass, they quickly discovered that Jenny’s mower was broken. Big problem? Not for this united team. The pair worked together to formulate a plan and quickly enlisted the help of a next-door neighbor and his mower. Problem solved. Lawn mowed.
Like Mark and Candace found, when you help others as a couple, sometimes you face unexpected setbacks that can introduce stress to the situation. While these moments have the potential to result in conflict as you seek to handle them together, they can also allow you to choose to work as a united team.
Joining forces to problem solve and mutually decide the best plan of action is a great way to strengthen your marital unity and ultimately draw you closer as a couple.
4. Helping others teaches you to better support each other’s strengths
In our first year of marriage, one of our pastors asked Ted to create a video to celebrate one of our church’s monumental anniversaries. At the time, I was studying film and television producing in graduate school. So the two of us joined forces.
Since my strengths lay in planning, scheduling, and keeping a project on task, I took on the role of producer. Ted directed and edited the short film. His out-of-the-box thinking paired with his artistic eye made him perfect for the role.
Ted and I learned through the production process that helping others as a couple can teach you to better recognize and encourage each other’s strengths. The more you work side-by-side, the easier it becomes to see clearly which tasks you’re each better suited for.
And, because you’re mutually invested in accomplishing a goal together, it’s easier to gain fresh appreciation for what your spouse brings to the table. Renewed gratefulness for the other’s gifts and strengths goes far in strengthening your relationship.
5. Helping others presents things you can pray about together
When our church asked for leaders in the small group ministry, Ted and I made the commitment to lead a couples’ group together. For two years, we gathered twice a month with four or five other couples. We talked and laughed as we ate dinner together, discussed Scripture and how it applied to our lives and marriages, and shared our struggles and burdens with one another.
During our time as leaders, several of the other couples in our group went through difficult seasons related to marriage, parenting, and extended family. Each instance presented us with situations Ted and I could pray for together.
No matter where you find yourselves serving — at church, on the T-ball field, in your neighborhood, in the lives of your friends — helping others provides you with people and areas you can pray for hand-in-hand. The act of praying together helps draw you closer together as a couple spiritually.
If helping others draws you closer as a couple, how can you decide where to help? One creative way is to reflect on what activities you both enjoy doing.
Do some of your favorite date nights include attending a play or a concert? If so, consider volunteering together as ushers at a local performing arts center.
If you enjoy hiking together, leading guided nature walks at a state or city park might be a perfect fit.
If you both enjoy social interaction, consider spending an evening together helping at a homeless shelter or assisting at your local pregnancy center.
Not only will you have fun like you do on date nights, but you’ll also be helping your community.
This post originally appeared on AshleighSlater.com and was republished with permission.
Ashleigh Slater is the author of “Team Us: Marriage Together” and “Braving Sorrow Together: The Transformative Power of Faith and Community When Life is Hard”. Find out more about Ashleigh at AshleighSlater.com or follow her on Facebook.