The institution of marriage has never been more under attack. About half of all newly married couples end up in divorce. Are there keys that can open the door to a happy or happier marriage?
Not long after Bill and Maria first met, they found themselves hopelessly in love. Neither was thinking of marriage or its responsibilities. They realized the importance of an education and a steady job and that marriage would change their lives completely.
Soon they found themselves at the altar before the minister, with a room full of family and friends looking on with anticipation. The setting was surreal as the words of the wedding ceremony floated through the air.
What they did know, or thought they knew, was that they were going to spend the rest of their lives together in an ocean of bliss. At that point, they luxuriated in the heady feelings that they assumed would fuel their marriage forever.
They did hear the minister say, "Will you, Maria, take this man, Bill, to be your lawful wedded husband...?" "And do you, Bill, take this woman, Maria, to be your lawful wedded wife... ?"
They also heard: "I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride." Oohs and aahs filled the room as attending married couples relived their former marriage ceremonies through this romantic soirée. Bill and Maria gently embraced, kissed, smiled to each other and began to hurriedly walk down the aisle surrounded by a throng of well-wishers.
For at least six months, Bill and Maria were on cloud nine. Slowly they began to experience what all marriages face—familiarity. They began to look at each other's shortcomings, together with the demanding pressures of their jobs and family. They had forgotten some special keys that help make a marriage happy.
Fast forward to 10th anniversary
At Bill and Maria's 10th wedding anniversary, they were happier than they had ever been. They spent quality time together, even dated each other, and showed mutual love and respect. But let's look back a couple of years before this time.
Just two years earlier their marriage was on the rocks, and they were contemplating separation and possible divorce. Thankfully, their two children—ages 7 and 5—caused them to rethink divorce. They both agreed to get marriage counseling and work out their disagreements.
Although it didn't happen overnight, they began to work at their marriage, especially on behalf of their children. They began to realize there were certain keys that opened the door to a happier marriage, and it amazed them to realize how a happy marriage, like a happy life, takes work. They literally made themselves happier.
Turning things around
Eroding, corruptive selfishness, being right all the time, looking to each other's weaknesses rather than strengths—these all are subtle enemies of a happy marriage. One day Bill and Maria woke up and realized that they should and could make their marriage work. They accepted their responsibilities toward one another and made their marriage work.
Why do some marriages revive and survive while others plummet to what seems to be an inescapable vortex of misery, separation and divorce? How can you overcome the many natural enemies of a happy marriage?
Here we will explore five keys to a happy marriage. Happy marriages are made, not born. These five keys will work for you—if you put them to work. You can overcome the common enemies of a happy marriage.
1. Realize true love is more than chemistry or infatuation
One of the greatest mistakes two people make, especially two younger people, is to confuse infatuation with true love. Infatuation is the strong chemistry, or powerful love cocktail, that brings a male and female together. True love is not a sexual feeling that suddenly demands to be satisfied or a romantic desire to be with one person.
These are not true love, though they exist in stepwise progression to the ultimate state of true love. God created the sexual impulse and mutual attraction between male and female. This love cocktail helps bring men and women together.
When a male and female come together and suddenly become inexplicably starry-eyed and euphoric, they are experiencing infatuation, an amorous condition common to most men and women at some point in their lives.
Family and marriage therapist and relationship consultant Dr. Pat Love, in her book The Truth About Love (2001), discusses the differences between the common sex drive, infatuation and true love:
"From the outset it is important to distinguish infatuation from sex drive, which is simply the craving for sexual gratification. Humans can feel the urge for sex with someone without having romantic inclinations. When you are aroused, any number of partners can give you simple sexual relief.
"Infatuation is different. You can be attracted to a number of people but infatuated with only one at a time. Infatuation is characterized by focused attention on a specific partner. When you are infatuated with someone, only this person can give you those euphoric 'in love' feelings . . .
"Infatuation is merely the earliest stage of love. Do not mistake this temporary power surge for a permanent condition, or confuse it with true love" (pp. 27, 31).
True love begins after the post-rapture state of infatuation, when the novelty of the new wears off and familiarity sets in. Some marriage partners become confused about this stage, assuming falsely that they chose the wrong mate. In fact, this is the point of a marriage when the reality of true love can set in. This is a common process in all marital relationships.
The Creator draws two people together through the normal chemistry of the body. From that point on, a husband and wife must begin to actually work on a happier marriage. True love comes from wisdom, experience and outgoing concern for the other person. It comes when a husband and wife settle into a shared relationship where each one gives of themselves to their partner and their marriage.
2. Use endearing responses
It may sound trite these days, but courtesy and kindness go a long way. Marriage partners can certainly improve their relationship by offering endearing responses and/or wishes to each other.
(One might get a rather different impression from modern media, which fixes our attention on different and often strange relationships, attempting to influence the viewer with "modern," unbiblical ideas of marriage.)
Although there are any numbers of endearing responses that a husband and wife can say to each other, we'll discuss three: "Please," "I'm sorry," and "Thank you." Sound simple? They are simple, but they are often difficult to say.
Please. A husband can assert himself as the head of the house, but if he does he runs the risk of turning off his wife and children. They may honor his demands, but deep down they might also resent his approach. People respond better if you ask them to do something followed or preceded by "please."
Wives seem more predisposed to saying "please" than husbands do, perhaps because women are more nurturing, as God designed. No matter, whether male or female, if you want your spouse to respond favorably to your request (and please make it a request and not a demand), add to your request, "please." This will do wonders for your marriage, and you might even get what you asked for.
I'm sorry. When you say to your mate that you're sorry that things didn't go well in your last discussion, you are immediately showing sensitivity, concern and respect for her or him. This assumes, of course, that you mean it and are not simply saying these words for effect, so as to manipulate or control your mate.
Conventional wisdom tells us that saying "I'm sorry" to one's mate might only encourage his or her selfish demeanor. That could be true. But even if it does, saying you're sorry helps you to have peace of mind and sets a good example for the one who hasn't. Some people simply have more difficulty admitting they are or were wrong.
Consider this: Two wrongs never make a right, and no one can be right every time a disagreement surfaces. If one is trying to follow the Bible after a disagreement, then he or she is attempting to make peace. God loves peacemakers—they shall inherit the earth as children of God! (Matthew 5:5, Matthew 5:9).
Peace doesn't come naturally. It must be deliberately pursued, with God in mind: "Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace" (James 3:18). Saying "I'm sorry" to your loved one won't make you sorry. It will give you peace, make you happier and help your mate.
Thank you. Another endearing phrase a married couple can lavishly spend on each other is to say "Thank you." How many times a day do we have this opportunity? Let me count the ways. When you say "Thank you," mean it. There are few more gratifying acts that a person can perform than to show an attitude of gratitude—especially toward one's spouse.
Some of the smallest things in life reap the greatest benefits. People respond very well to someone who says "Thank you" for what they've done or are doing. People sometimes desire hearing "Thank you" more than receiving money, as strange as that might sound. We need to be appreciated and respected.
When your wife cleans the kitchen, remember to say "Thank you." When she washes your clothes, remember to say "Thank you." When she prepares a meal, don't forget to say "Thank you." When she works hard to help provide for the family, say "Thank you."
Tell your husband "Thank you" when he mows the lawn. Say "Thank you" when he helps with grocery shopping. If he helps you to set the table or clear it, say "Thank you." When he does something special or fun for the family, say "Thank you."
God loves gratitude. Being truly thankful helps others to love and respect us. Being thankful to God for His many gifts helps guarantee eternal life. We cannot get through this life without God and each other. We all need help, and that comes from others.
An attitude of gratitude is important in our lives and never more important than in our marriages. Thank you for considering this thought. Show your spouse that you care for him or her with these endearing responses.
3. Make sure your communication says "I care"
Do you show concern to your mate when you communicate with him or her? This might seem so mundane to you that you might dismiss it without any consideration. That would be a big mistake. Good communication with your mate shows that you are listening to him or her—you are showing respect.
When your mate is relating something to you, try not to ignore him or her. Instead take the time and deliberately show interest in what your spouse is saying, which is important to him or her. And it's not wrong for the person listening to question what's being said in order to clarify what he or she is hearing. That's just good, constructive conversation.
Attentive acknowledgement is also of great help. I often respond with "I hear you," or "I'm listening" or "I understand." Sometimes I say "Can you go into more detail about this?" to encourage her to fully express her feelings. These are important signifiers of respect and concern for our mates.
Good communication practices make for happier marriages. Your mate will love you for listening and for empathically trying to understand him or her.
Your marriage will become more secure if your communication says: "I care about you. You're important to me." Make sure your communication shows that you care for your mate.
4. Allow your marriage to mature
The Bible speaks clearly and decisively about our becoming mature, and that maturity takes patience. Conversely, we, because of our selfish nature, often look for instant gratification. Yet patience has a perfect work to perform, as we voluntarily choose to allow it to rule in our lives. That we must do.
Are you like the person who asked God for many different things and then demanded, "And God, give me patience and give it to me now!"? Almost everyone knows that patience doesn't come overnight. Patience develops over a lifetime of experiences, some good and some bad. We learn patience through faith and hope in God, based on His promises.
There is no better or more critical place to build maturity through patience than in marriage. When a man and woman meet and the sparks start to fly, patience is the last thing they think about. Later, when those sparks fall back to earth, they can burn our backsides (1 Corinthians 3:13-15). In other words, if we fail to recognize the importance of patience needed to have a happy marriage, our marriage will not mature as God intended.
Sadly, most couples don't consider the need for their marriage to mature. They simply assume that it will always ride the crest of infatuation. They do not realize or accept that when the new wears off, truth sets in. About 50 percent of all marriages can't handle the truth. And the truth about marriage is the truth about happier relationships: It takes a lot of give and take, not take and take.
God encourages patience: "But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing" (James 1:4). Mature patience satisfies any uncomfortable situation, especially when you've been treated badly, though this is not easy. With God's help, you and I can learn to let patience have its perfect work in us.
Don't be ruled by the desire for instant gratification. God wants us to learn to be patient with our mates. Allow your mate to be your best friend. Show respect for each other. Exercise patience. Allow your marriage to mature.
5. Strive to revive your marriage
I've seen the repair and restoration of marriages that appeared to be headed straight for divorce. One couple in particular, we'll call them George and Ellen, assumed that divorce was the only way out and that their former feelings of love had withered and were beyond repair.
My counseling with them began with small talk about the weather, news, things like that. Then we got into how long they had been married, what brought them together, their children, their jobs, and their extended families and friends. This took some time, and the more we engaged in communication, the more they began to relax. As we progressed, we searched for mutual likes.
Then we addressed earlier times when they were in love and easily agreed with one another—how and why this time came naturally to them. After discussing the good times, we began to address the not-so-good times, like when they felt they began to disagree with one another. Although this was uncomfortable for them, they did openly discuss when they began to disagree and for what reasons.
Their interactive communication began to show how familiarity had set in. They began to take one another for granted. No more roses. No more meeting him at the door. No more turning the bed back at night. No more coffee and conversation every morning.
No more hugs and kisses. No more holding hands. No more sitting beside each other on the couch, watching TV or reading a book. No more endearing thoughts expressed each day, like "I love you honey," or "Have a great day," or "I'll call you to see how your day is going."
Finally I asked them to write down one thing they would like their mate to change, and why. I also asked them to date once a week, like they had done before their marriage, since part of their fear focused on the fact that they had no time for each other: He was consumed with his job, she with the kids and housework.
The next counseling visit was remarkable! They came in with totally different demeanors and were visiting, smiling and laughing. I was encouraged.
They began to date once a week, and before they knew it, they found themselves happier than they had been for years. They began to revel in one another's company. George and Ellen revived their marriage!
You were designed to have a happy marriage!
Did you know that you were created and designed to have a happy marriage? God created us to mutually submit ourselves to each other. Of the wife He said that her desire would be for her husband (Genesis 3:16). Of the husband, God said in effect that his desire to take care of his wife should match Jesus Christ's care for the Church (Ephesians 5:25-28).
Realize and remember that the first stage toward marriage is the God-given chemistry of the "love cocktail," followed by infatuation and then a post-rapture condition. At the latter point, true love can begin.
You cannot get to true love without first going through these stages: chemistry, infatuation and the post-rapture condition. The third stage here is the "get real" period, the time God has given us to add mutual respect to amorous love.
The five keys to a happy or happier marriage are worth your time and effort to help open the door to marital bliss. You can do it!
Indeed, intelligent, sensitive and sometimes rigorous true love in this life is the basis of the ultimate purpose for marriage, which God has designed for all humanity, for now and forever!