Have you ever watched an Olympic event that you don’t understand particularly well? For me that would be figure skating or gymnastics. As I watch the amazing athletes perform with strength and grace I hear the announcer say something like this: “Ooh, he’s not going to be too happy about that move!”, or “Hmm, she lost some points there!” I find myself thinking, “What are you talking about, that was incredible!” It is then that I realize I have no idea what is going on or how they keep score!

Have you ever had that experience in your marriage? Some of you know exactly what I mean. You know that you’re losing points, and you have no idea why!

There are times in each of our lives that we feel like we don’t know what is going on. If marriage were an Olympic event, we’d be losing points without even knowing why. We can sit back and complain about how unfair the judges are, or we can learn how to improve our score. If you want to do the latter, I have two suggestions – learn how to keep score, and practice.

With any activity the first place to begin to is understand the rules: What’s a good move, what’s a bad move, and what’s just flat out not allowed? Because of my experience working with couples I thought that I would come up with a list of insights here, something so amazingly insightful that it would revolutionize marriage and stop the divorce rate in its tracks! But, … I got nothing. So, I’ll refer you to some wise counselors that will give you a great place to start.

Gary Chapman – The Five Love Languages. This is an insightful book that has been read by many. Gary Chapman has worked with couples for decades, and he has come to discover that people experience love very differently. One feels loved when receiving a gift; another when the kitchen floor is washed; yet another thrives on time spent together. When we begin our journey of marriage we are often motivated to love, but we tend to speak our own language. If I speak Italian and my wife, Jan, speaks Japanese, there is a limited amount of love that can be conveyed. The temptation is to look at all my effort, combined with my spouse’s apparent ingratitude and conclude that there is just no pleasing this woman! However, to truly communicate love I need to learn her language. What I like about The Five Love Languages is that we don’t need to expend more effort, just different effort. If you haven’t explored your love languages, it’s an insightful and encouraging place to start.

Dr. Emerson Eggerichs – Love & Respect. Another excellent resource filled with Biblical principles. Dr. Eggerichs has identified the damaging Crazy Cycle, one that many couples experience without knowing how it started or what to do about it (read Chuck’s article, “Catch 22”). The premise is this: When men feel disrespected they withhold love – when women feel unloved they withhold respect; When men feel respected they respond more lovingly – when women feel more loved they respond with more respect… you get the idea. The good news is that the Crazy Cycle can be broken with help from the Love & Respect book and website that provide insights on how to move toward love and respect in your marriage.

For Women Only – Shaunti Feldhahn or For Men Only – Jeff & Shaunti Feldhahn. These short but stout partner books are enjoyable and filled with profound wisdom. The Feldhahns have researched some of the common surface understandings of men and women, like “men want more sex” and “women are emotional.” They then explore the deeper truths and unlock practical insights to allow you to enjoy these amazing and sometimes bewildering differences.

These great resources can help us understand how to keep score. But, they are much more effective when put into practice.

Jerry Rice used what he termed “Perfect Practice” to become arguably the greatest wide receiver in NFL history. During practice with the San Francisco 49’ers, Jerry would catch a pass and not stop running until he made it to the endzone. He did this whether anyone was defending him or not! When his coach told him he didn’t have to run the play down the field during practice, Jerry said he wanted to practice the way it would happen on game day, which led him to his incredible record.

“But,” some challenge, “if it’s love, shouldn’t it come naturally?” I scratch my head at this question, because either these people have short memories, or their courtship went very differently than mine. Jan and I experienced some very awkward moments. I fumbled over words and she wrestled with which outfit to wear; I didn’t want to call too soon and she wondered what took me so long; How much affection was appropriate on the first date… and the second? Did your courtship really happen all that naturally? I suspect that it didn’t.

During courtship we give each other the benefit of the doubt and build upon a hope that tomorrow will be all we want it to be. We can offer that same kind of hopeful investment to our spouse by taking the time to learn more about him or her with amazing results. First, learn how score is being kept, and then – practice! The careers of Olympians are often over by their mid-20s, but an awesome marriage will give us unending rewards for a lifetime.