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“When we first got married we got along beautifully, but as we left the church…” and you know the rest of the story. Conflict, miscommunication and relational stress comprise the common picture of marriage. After the word “church,” many of you feel like you have lived the rest of the story. Marriage advice articles become efforts to help people manage their marriage. The problem in too many marriages is that both people feel like they are the management piece.

It is easy to understand the need every marriage has at times for help. But we can’t lose sight that marriage is not meant to be a constant disagreement. If there is no joy, marriage can be rough.

When there is disagreement after disagreement, we are tempted to stay there and not rock the boat. We tend to lick our wounds, reassert our love and hold ourselves in this “peace” place as long as we can. The problem is we stay there; we just stop. We are reluctant to venture out to experience the next stage of growth.

The model for how we are to live (and thus the model for our marriages) which comes from the world around us is self-fulfillment. Self-fulfillment means doing what I enjoy which serves me. There are many commercials and media stars that demonstrate the attractions of self-fulfillment. Thus, we think organizing our world means to help the world serve us. In self-fulfillment, the result or product for me is feeling good and a little exclusive.

Self-development is a second direction for marriage. In self-development, feeling good is the byproduct of what I do. This byproduct comes from the sense of servant leadership exercised in helping others.

Self-development is best motivated not by guilt, but by joy. When serving others is a burden and merely a product of guilt, it is like a motor running without oil; you build up heat and tension, which eventually destroys the engine.

Think about raising children: It is hard, but it is rewarding. A family can be as taxing as anything we will ever do, but the reward can be immense joy when those kids come out living healthy lives due to our common efforts. I am not suggesting you begin having children a second time, but since you understand how good it is to serve others, you and your spouse might consider doing some good deeds for others.

A couple can go on some exotic mission trip to somewhere where their efforts are needed, but it is not necessary to go far away, as there is plenty to do together in Canyon County. Go help as a couple with The Nampa Ministerial Association community meal on some Wednesday evening, or call The Mentoring Network to work with a young person, or call the school district to help in a reading program, or work with Habitat for Humanity in Canyon County. There are so many things that need to be done for others, and there is a deep sense of mutual satisfaction when this is done together. Sometimes, seeking ways to help others becomes a healing power for couples.

• Rev. Bruce Swanson is the pastor at First United Presbyterian Church, Nampa.

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