I was recently talking to a friend of mine who suggested that laughter is often a very good indicator of how well the marriage is going. When the silliness slows down, it may be because you are in a season of suffering, but it may also mean you’ve exited a season of peace and trust. The couple that laughs together lasts together.

This insight got me thinking: what are some other questions that can help diagnose the health of our marital life? Here are ten that may prove useful.

1. Do you pray together? This may be the hardest one, so I’ll put it first. While I do know of good marriages where the husband and wife don’t pray together nearly as much as they would like, I don’t know any bad marriages where the husband and wife pray together all the time.

2. Do you still notice each other? I don’t remember much about the movie Dave (the 90’s flick about a lookalike who stands in for a deceased president), but I remember a scene where the pretend president (played by Kevin Kline) is caught staring at the legs of his “wife” (Sigourney Weaver). Later it is revealed that she knew from that early moment that this man was not her real husband, because her real husband (who died having an affair) hadn’t looked at her legs for years. Okay, it’s not a great movie, but it’s not a bad lesson. Is there any chance anyone would ever catch you noticing your spouse as attractive?

3. Do you ever hold hands? In the movies? On the couch? Walking around the block? During prayer at church? In the car? We all love to see old couples holding hands. It always made me feel good as a kid to see my dad reach for my mom’s hand while driving (yes, it was sometimes dangerous). If this simple act of affection is missing, more may be missing than you realize.

4. When is the last time you said “I’m sorry”? Not as an excuse. Not with a snarl. But a sincere, tender, broken-hearted apology.

5. When is the last time you said, “Thank you”? I’m not talking about politeness when passing the salt. I’m talking about a specific expression of gratitude for doing the dishes, for letting you sleep in, for working hard to provide for the family, for watching the kids all day, or for making your favorite meal.

6. When is the last time you planned a surprise? A few weeks ago I got my wife flowers for no particular reason. It just felt like it had been too long since I had gone out of my way to give her something nice. Do you still surprise each other with gifts, with special outings, with a kiss out of the blue, with coming home early (or staying up late)?

7. When is the last time you embarrassed the kids together? Children should roll their eyes from time to time because of how silly mom and dad can get. They should see you dancing, see you kissing, see you acting utterly goofy. The kids will hate it, but deep down probably love it too. Children need to see their parents having a grand time together.

8. When is the last time you went out and talked about something other than the kids? You don’t have to spend money. You can go on a walk, grab a swing, or drink water (it’s always cold!) at Panera. Just get away from the kids and try not fixate on them when they’re not there.

9. What would others think about your spouse just by listening to you speak about him or her? We all have occasions where we talk about our spouse to others–in a small group, at a prayer meeting, to another friend, to a family member, to the pastor. If someone could overhear everything you said about your husband or wife in a month, and then they met your spouse for the first time, would they be surprised by the person they found? From your conversation, would others guess that your spouse is a prince of a guy or queen of the harpies?

10. Do you think more about what you aren’t giving or about what you aren’t getting? We all get hurt in marriage. We all get disappointed. Stick with someone until death and you are bound to be wronged a time or two. But as you think about what needs help in your marriage, are you fixated on your spouse’s deficiencies or your room for improvement? To love like Christ is to commit to loving well even when we are not loved as we deserve.

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11 thoughts on “Ten Diagnostic Questions for Your Marriage”

  1. Bill Pence says:

    Being married to my best friend for 35 years now, I just loved this article, Kevin. Here’s another one “When was the last time you did something that your spouse loves to do to show her love, even if it’s something that you don’t enjoy?”
    Thanks again!

  2. Elizabeth Whitehead says:

    I knew I recognized the couple in the pic of this post! Check out their story here …

  3. I think you’re a bit harsh on the movie “Dave”. I thought it was a pretty good film.

  4. Patrick Sawyer says:

    There are some good questions on this list. In fact every question is important. However there is a glaring omission. There should be a question regarding sexual intimacy. From God’s standpoint, sexual intimacy is fundamental to a healthy and thriving marriage (Gen 2:24-25, Prov 5:15-20, The Song of Solomon – a close read of all 8 chapters is overwhelming in this regard, 1Cor 7:3-5, among others). In addition, sound exegesis of sections of Prov 31, 1Cor 13, Eph 5, Col 3, and 1John have profound implications for not only marriage but also the importance and priority of sexual intimacy within marriage. If there is not a robust desire for sexual intimacy by both the husband and wife, and if there is not a regular physical manifestation of that desire, given providence (health, physically apart for a few days because of work, etc.), then we are looking at a marriage where God is not pleased, where He is not central, and where authentic marital love is significantly absent. God expects (and provides for those who seek it) husbands and wives to have strong sexual desire for one another.

    Your questions 2, 3, and 7, are in this direction but are not the same thing. A husband who enjoys holding his wife’s hand but does not have a robust desire for her sexually is not where God wants him to be. It is possible for a wife to find her husband attractive, to enjoy a level of affection for him, but not desire passionate, physical sexual connection with him. From God’s standpoint she is not where she needs to be. Various degrees of love and affection can be (and should be) manifested in a range of relationships. But authentic marital love, biblically defined and understood, does not exist in the absence of significant sexual desire.

    Satan has been successful in regards to sex both outside of marriage and inside of marriage. Outside of marriage he has made sex a god, an idol that must be pursued and worshipped at all costs. He attempts to compartmentalize sex and convince us that it is acceptable and possible to experience the heights of sexual love and pleasure while disregarding emotional and spiritual love and commitment. Satan knows such a standpoint is destructive to the soul. Inside of marriage he attempts to diminish and erode sexual connection. He attempts to compartmentalize sex and make it optional, of limited value, or (his ultimate goal) of no importance. He attempts to convince us that in marriage genuine emotional and spiritual love and pleasure can occur while disregarding sexual love and commitment. Satan knows such a standpoint is destructive to the soul. From God’s perspective, in a marriage where He is central and pleased, there is no compartmentalization between spiritual, emotional, and sexual love. They are each indispensable facets of marital love working in tandem to create a beautiful, healthy, and thriving marriage.

  5. Jonas Groves says:

    What a terrible article…this could be featured in Psychology Today and you couldn’t tell the difference between it being a Christian vs worldly article. Very simplistic with no reference to Scripture whatsoever, just subjective observations. I hope this is not how you counsel your members…sounds like “Holding hands Holding Hearts”, a subjective look at relationships from a parochial American view

  6. RG says:

    Hmmmm…while I love the spirit of this article, I am guarded as to the recommendations. I think that it is good to encourage couples to enjoy life together, but what that looks like from one couple to the next, or one culture to the next, may be different. Noticing your wife’s legs for example, planning surprises – I am in favor of ALL of these, and yet, think that they may or may not be indicators of a healthy marriage. I think, rather, these may be manifestations, “symptoms” of a good marriage, but not what makes the marriage healthy or not healthy in and of themselves. These things may exist within a marriage which is still horrifically broken. Perhaps we could spend more time on the deeper substances of love and commitment, which hopefully, leads to praying together, holding hands, etc..?

  7. Isaiah says:

    Hey Kevin, in response to Jonas’ comment, this was a GREAT article. When Jesus taught his disciples, or others who simply wanted to learn, he didn’t throw all kinds of scripture at them. He gave them lessons that he could BACK UP with scripture (see all arguments with the Pharisees). All of these pointers are really great to reflect on, and I personally don’t see them publicly practiced as much as I feel I could observe, among other couples. thanks for writing!!

  8. Jonas Groves says:

    Isaiah it’s not a matter of throwing verses. Its a matter of basing all your thoughts and assertions on Scripture so its not just opining. The Lord did use Scripture from OT to teach. I find reading through the TGC website this rush to write the next cool article and little to no reference to Scripture. Last i checked Kevin is a pastor and this is a website for Christians. Besides, marriage is a biblical construct. It’s no wonder why the gays hijacked marriage because we ourselves couldnt articulate how its a construction of God not man. All Kevin has furnished us with are man made points that are subjecyive and couldve been easily figured out by anyone. My point is, if speaking on something of great import such as marriage one need to be a little thorough so someone like you doesnt read the article or leave reading the article saying “Great man Kevin is” rather than praise the Lord! This is what ive generally found over the years reading on this website…its about who writes the most eyecatching article and because they have a popular name they have yesmen like Isaiah. I dont mean to put it this way but nothing here in this article made me appreciate marriage more as the bible has because its all subjective

  9. Jonas Groves says:

    By the way Isaiah im sure you heard of the young pastor up in Canada who did exactly the things Kevin is suggesting make for a healthy relationship, in particular holding hands and showing all outward signs. We heard he supposedly murdered/drowned his wife and unborn child and had an affair and continued the affair even before the ssnd was tgrown on her coffin. Of course im sure there were those that knew him thst must’ve said “Oh but he held her hand all the time, he noticed her legs, he said thank you”. This is not against making observations or giving advice without using the bible. The trouble is when you speak of something that we have a model given to us in Scripture and try to concoct what you believe to be “diagnostic questions” based on subjective experiences rather than what the bible itself tells us…it makes me wonder if there was real thought behind it or an attempt to make sure he had his weekly quota of a ‘cool eyecatching’ article to attract seemingly impressiomable people like you who would rather defend the him than take time to think and defend the Word of God first. Nothing personal you understand, just baffled by your yesmanish response. As the previous poster had said, we can appreciate the spirit of the article but it has to show that he’s a man of cloth in case an impressionable young Christian reads this or worse yet a non believer

  10. Mike says:

    Yikes Jonas! A single blog cannot incorporate everything under the sun. Not sure why you had to make your post so angry. Prayers for you.

  11. Jonas Groves says:

    Hi Mike, maybe I may come off as angry…I believe you should be too given the people represented on this site being put out as “reformed” and leaders for Christian’s. If you were being sincere do you believe the same men from Spurgeon to Calvin to Edwards would assent to some of the articles written here? I don’t know – maybe if they watered down their zeal and understanding of the God they serve. I always felt that 2 Timothy 4:3 talked of the outside world but I see it more and more in our churches in America. What’s breathtaking is the extent to which folks will give a pass to their heroes even when their positions or theology is questionable and you would ‘pray for me’ because I’m mad at that? Here in California, we see it everywhere and now that we have TGC and twitter etc we need not be local, it’s so pervasive that everyone is influenced by it. yes, you can’t write on everything under the sun but at least I believe you would agree that we ought to write quality. Who knows, I’m not trying to convince you just observing. I wish people wouldn;t give these popular guys a pass. Am I angry? Not at anyone…just at stuff like this and the fact that people like him have hijacked the pure Gospel….

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (PCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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