What Makes Our Marriage Happy
As our anniversary approaches, I’ve been reflecting on what has made our marriage happy thus far. Happy – not perfect, not effortless, not problem-free – but yes, very happy. Wonderful even. And satisfying. And beautiful.
Here are a few principles (in no particular order) that have silently guided us to this point. They may be new or old to you but have made a huge difference in our marriage.
I. Don’t expect your spouse to do for you what only God can do.
Andrew doesn’t “complete” me or “save” me. Sorry, Jerry Maguire! God has already done that. And only He can. It is Him who fulfills the deepest longings of our hearts and gives us a reason for living. No human being can do that. Thankfully, I went into marriage knowing this. It has made all the difference in my marital happiness.
Marriage is the union of two lives for a common journey with the Lord, not an end in itself. And certainly not a reason to worship a person. Don’t get me wrong. Covenant love between a man and a woman runs deep – so deep, in fact, that Scripture says marriage is a picture of Christ and His church (Ephesians 5:32). That’s saying a lot. But the depth of this marital love comes from the invisible Third Party binding the two as one. He is the secret ingredient, the Author of the love story, the One to be worshiped.
If we give to our spouse the worship that belongs to God, we are headed down a scary path that is sure to disappoint. People will fail us – Every. Single. Time. But the Father never will.
And speaking of two becoming one…
II. Anything in my heart that I’m unwilling to surrender to God will hurt my spouse.
Because marriage has made the two of us one flesh (Genesis 2:24), my “junk” becomes his “junk,” and his becomes mine. My unhealed wounds directly affect my husband and his directly affect me.
Our own marriage illustrates this well: Over the last few years God has been freeing me from this perfectionism I was enslaved to from the time I was very young. “Enslaved” is the best way to capture what life is like when you’re under this cruel task-master. It’s no way to live.
Perfectionists get very attached to their plans and tend to blow up or think that an entire event/pursuit is worthless if one thing changes unexpectedly or was less than perfect. You can imagine the unnecessary drama Andrew endured before this started changing in me. This is a prime example of my junk becoming his. Our life together has gotten better and better as I’ve learned to rest and allowed God to free me.
Because we recognize how connected our lives are, we have both pursued counseling and one-on-one ministry to unload past baggage and move forward in God. I cannot overstate the importance of pursuing personal wholeness, of inviting God into our woundedness and receiving truth and healing where we need it. This isn’t just for married people – this is for EVERYONE. But the necessity of inner wholeness is especially clear in a marriage relationship because our hang-ups hinder each other.
III. Don’t trust yourself for a minute.
By this I mean that we can never rely on our own strength and effort to be a faithful spouse. “He who trusts in himself is a fool” (Proverbs 28:26). It is dangerous for us to ever think “I would never…” – you fill in the blank. I believe this is especially true with adultery. When we judge others who have made this mistake, we make ourselves vulnerable to doing the very same thing.
Listen, Friends, every single one of us is capable of committing any and every sin possible. Our flesh is weak, but the Spirit within us is strong. That’s why Scripture tells us to “make no provision for the flesh” (Romans 13:14). We must be intentional about not putting ourselves in situations that would give opportunity to the flesh. By His grace, we are to fiercely guard our hearts and our thought lives, bringing it ALL under the lordship of Christ. We feed the Spirit within us rather than feeding our flesh.
Only from a posture of total dependence upon the Holy Spirit will we walk in faithfulness to our spouse. And I’m not just talking about physical faithfulness, but mental, emotional, and visual faithfulness too. Oh, and verbal faithfulness. This part is too often neglected. What we say – or don’t say – about people of the opposite sex [who are not our spouse] says A LOT about where our loyalties lie.
IV. Learn the art of compromise.
Decide the things that matter most and let the rest go! Andrew and I have found some pretty great compromises over the last several years that made certain situations much easier. I remember one instance when he wanted to play in a golf tournament on the same day that we were invited to a wedding. For me, what mattered most was that we have a day off together, not that he was my date for the wedding (I had other people I could go with). So he took a day off from work on Friday so we could spend the day together and then go our separate ways on Saturday. He got to play in the tournament, and I still got my day off with him. It worked out perfectly!
Idealistic or perfectionist thinkers would have demanded that he attend the wedding at all costs. But why do this? Find ways to prioritize the things that really matter most to each spouse, and let go of the rest! It never killed anyone to go to a wedding with friends instead of a spouse.
V. Be a giver, not just a taker.
Marriage is give and take. If you’re always the one taking and never giving, you’ve probably got an unhappy spouse (whether they’ve told you or not). This give and take principle is huge where each person’s love language is concerned. I’m a quality time person. So no matter what else is done for me, I’m not going to feel loved unless someone is willing to spend time with me, talk to me, make eye contact with me. Naturally, I expect Andrew to make this a priority if he wants our relationship to be good.
But wouldn’t it be lop-sided if I don’t, in turn, reciprocate? This may seem like an obvious point. But I mention it because reciprocating in marriage doesn’t often come naturally. Your spouse will almost always have a different love language from you, meaning you will have to intentionally act so that he/she feels loved. Some would call this “dying to self,” meaning that we have to get over what’s convenient to our flesh and choose the way of the Spirit – the way that puts others first.
Andrew’s love language is physical touch, which doesn’t exactly come naturally to me. I’m totally into hugs and snuggles – but I don’t need anyone playing with my hair or rubbing my back. Because I don’t care for such affection, it’s an intentional choice I have to make to love Andrew in this way. This takes lots of practice, mostly because our inclination as human beings is to be self-centered and flesh-gratifying.
Covenant love is the opposite of self-centered. This hit me like a ton of bricks the other day. I told Andrew that I think he must actually like my girly movies, considering how often he agrees to watch them. He smiled back at me as if he was going to let me in on a secret. “Well,” he said, “it makes me happy to see you so happy.” [Stunned silence.] Wow. Help me, Lord. This is how I want to love.
VI. Tell God Before Telling Your Spouse
It does a world of good to go to God with our complaints and concerns about our spouse before blurting them out directly to him/her. Newsflash: It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict people, not ours! [And this applies to all relationships, not just marriage!] This one is much easier to say and believe than to actually do. I have failed at it many times. But when I’ve actually followed this principle, the fruit has been amazing!
We’ve got to learn to trust the Holy Spirit to do His job. He knows how to reveal truth in ways that are tailor-made for each of us. He has this way of changing us and changing the way we think – and He doesn’t need human assistance to do this. Our part is prayer; the supernatural part belongs to the Holy Spirit.
Prayer is such a vital part of marriage – times of joint prayer as a couple and intercessory prayer between us and God on behalf of our spouse. There is no limit to what God will do in our spouse when we invite Him in and start thinking bigger in our prayers!
VII. Get Very Comfortable with Apologizing and Asking for Forgiveness
We all make mistakes. We all blow it. For most of us, this happens quite often. Pride keeps many people in quiet defiance after a disagreement. They refuse to humble themselves, apologize, and seek reconciliation. All because they want to be right. As my dear friend, Laurie, said recently, “Being right is overrated!” Love wins. Reconciliation wins. Humility wins.
Get over yourself. Tell your spouse you’re sorry. The world will keep spinning, I promise. Life will get better and better with every apology. With every humble request for forgiveness you’ll walk in greater freedom. Let’s take ownership of our faults and send pride fleeing from our marriage.
It’s been embarrassing in times past just how many times in one day I’ve had to apologize to Andrew. [This might be hard to believe, but I can be quite the pistol sometimes.] But more embarrassing still would have been my refusal to humble myself that many times. As Andrew and I journey together toward life’s finish line, I want him to know without a doubt that love and reconciliation matter most to me in our relationship.
VIII. Give Affirming Words and ‘I Love You’s’ Often
Spouses have the unique opportunity to create a safe place for each other. A refuge. A place of acceptance. A place where we are celebrated. This goal should drive us in our communication with our husband or wife. They need to know that no matter what is going on at work or with the extended family or anything else, we always choose them. We accept them, we value them, we see their heart, we affirm their gifts. We nullify others’ rejection of them by our outrageous and consistent acceptance of them. We are their biggest encourager. We voice our appreciation. We affirm the gifts God has given them. We celebrate them. No, our spouse isn’t perfect, but we intentionally point out their strengths and trust God to work on their weak spots. This environment of unconditional love and acceptance is where marriage flourishes.
IX. Play Together
No matter how hectic life gets, we keep making room for fun together. Life is more than work and bills and errands and repairs and obligations. We weren’t meant to drudge through marriage with a survival mentality. There are things to enjoy and to laugh at every single day if we’ll stop taking everything so seriously.
I’m not talking about watching TV on the couch together. I’m talking about having new experiences together, seeing new places, doing new things. [I can hear what some of you are saying: “Easy for you to say; you don’t have kids.” To which I respond: The happiest couples I know with kids are doing exactly what I’m talking about. Of course it will require more effort; of course it may not happen as often for a while. But it can be done. And it must be.]
Having fun together is a big priority for Andrew and me. Just this past weekend, we had an impromptu dinner at this beautiful place in Highlands, NC. It was a two hour ride to the mountains, and there wasn’t a specific reason to celebrate, but who cares?! The weather was amazing, and we had such a great time. It’s this kind of thing that infuses fresh life into marriage, and keeps you aware of why you got married in the first place.