When Don and Karen met, their worlds turned upside down. Bells were ringing, stars filled their eyes, lilting music was everywhere, and magic was in the air for this Prince Charming who just met his Cinderella.
Neither of them anticipated marriage at first; it wasn't even a consideration. Both had enjoyed the single life, without a care in the world—or so it seemed. Karen was a successful administrator and Don was considering a college education.
Additionally, neither wanted to rush into marriage. But they were experiencing a flush of feelings they had never felt before. Those feelings toward each other were powerfully attractive. They were relentlessly drawn to each other.
Don and Karen (not their real names) did not try to hide their feelings, but they also knew that marriage was a big step for them. Don saw from his perspective the towering responsibility of taking care of Karen and a potential family down the line. Was this too big a step for him?
Karen seemed to be more accepting about the prospect. She was encouraging when they discussed the subject. The two of them spent a lot of time on their dates discussing issues they might face in marriage and preparing for a family.
What could they draw on? Neither of them remembered their parents spending time talking to them about taking on such an awesome responsibility. Still, they reasoned, it was love at first sight, and that overshadowed all negative thoughts to the contrary.
Years later, when asked about their early marital experiences and expectations about marriage, both agreed that getting to the altar, the "I do" part, was about 10 percent of their marriage, while 90 percent was the work and dedication they later put into their marriage, the "I did" part.
All marriages begin with a cocktail
Today, many young men and women frequent bars and nightclubs hoping to find the man or woman of their dreams. This wasn't Don and Karen's problem, though they did partake of a "cocktail" that they, like most young couples, little understood.
Dr. Pat Love, a nationally known marriage and family counselor and relationship consultant, knows a lot about this "love cocktail." She has written two books and collaborated on two others, all focused on the marriage relationship.
In her eye-opening book, The Truth About Love, Dr. Love talks about the chemical concoction that brings two people together—what she calls the love cocktail.
In the beginning of a couple's relationship this "love cocktail" strengthens a man and woman's desire to be together and to enter an intimate relationship. It raises the couple's libido and gives "the biggest sexual urge in the first few months of intimacy" (2001, p. 44).
The love cocktail
Don and Karen, as most couples do, drank freely of this cocktail without knowing how and why it works.
The love cocktail produced naturally in our bodies includes three major chemicals: phenylethylamine (a naturally occurring amphetamine-like neurotransmitter often abbreviated as PEA), dopamine and norepinephrine.
"PEA, known as the 'love molecule,' works in concert with dopamine and norepinephrine and triggers incredible side effects," notes Dr. Love. "Symptoms include a delightfully positive attitude, increased energy, decreased need for sleep, and loss of appetite. Increased concentrations of dopamine in the brain are associated with euphoria. Norepinephrine, which is chemically derived from dopamine, is generally associated with exhilaration, excessive energy, and other excitatory responses" (p. 29).
Dr. Love has some keen insight on the effects of this powerful mixture. We'd do well to listen.
"It's clear that what we call being in love could also be called being under the influence," she cautions. Perhaps that's one reason why love has such a reputation for not being rational. Dr. Love continues, "It takes a strong chemical force to overpower the amygdala—the brain's inhibition center—which at this point may be trying to warn you, 'This isn't smart; you could get hurt!'
"But the amygdala is no match for this hormonal hurricane. Full-blown infatuation knows no fear. Researchers propose that in the presence of a sufficiently intense attraction, virtually everyone's neural lattices become marinated in natural amphetamines. The frenzied action of lovers' neurons renders them fearless and unrealistically optimistic. It is no wonder that they tend to discount alarming qualities in their sweethearts" (ibid.).
This helps us understand why people sometimes rush into a relationship with seemingly little understanding of what they're doing. This chemical concoction creates a powerful attraction that draws us to another person. It's commonly called "falling in love," as though it were an accident. And in many ways it is, considering that about half of marriages in advanced nations fail—not least because so many couples don't understand the natural phases a man and woman go through in marriage.
Couples considering marriage would do well to hear out Dr. Love's research on the subject, which helps us understand the difference between infatuation and real love and the up-and-down stages most couples will go through over the course of marriage.
Where do we go from here?
Dr. Love calls this first stage of love and marriage, appropriately enough, the infatuation stage. It's natural and necessary, God having designed us this way to bring men and women together to enjoy a happy family life and to perpetuate the human race.
She calls the second stage of marriage the post-rapture stage. It could be described as what happens when the initial euphoria wears off and reality sets in.
The discovery stage follows, during which couples get to really know each other and have the opportunity to learn what true love is all about.
Finally comes the connection stage, in which couples grow to true love—a giving, outgoing concern for one's partner.
Her book The Truth About Love is highly revealing reading for all couples considering marriage as well as all who are already married.
She points out the tragic mistake that some couples make in thinking that the end of one of the normal phases of a relationship is the end of one's love for his or her partner, when that need not be the case at all. That's why it's crucially important that spouses know what to do after they say, "I do"!
So what are some of the keys to building a strong and lasting relationship in marriage? Here are 10 that will greatly help.
1. Put God first
When married couples put God first in their marriage, they are much more likely to experience joy, comfort and security. This is not an oversimplification. Putting God first in marriage means that the husband and wife read and follow God's instruction for developing good relationships and pray for His guidance and blessings on their marriage. It's important that both spouses do this, not just one.
Humility and mutual submission are crucial keys to a great marriage. This is the way God prescribes for developing a happy relationship. As 1 Peter 5:5 tells us, "Be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for 'God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.'"
Couples can be happy for moments at a time, based on human pleasures, but enjoying long-term happiness in marriage comes by putting God first.
2. Realize the honeymoon euphoria is not true love
There's quite a difference between the "love" a couple feels when dating and in their first year or two together and the much deeper love they hopefully will enjoy later in marriage.
The first is to a large extent fueled by the strong and potent chemical cocktail already built into us, as described earlier. The second, after the first wears off, is what's crucial in keeping a marriage strong.
When the infatuation or honeymoon stage is over, the stage is set for true love. This is where the rubber meets the road, when a husband and wife have an opportunity to work at their marriage, looking to and highlighting their mate's strengths rather than their weaknesses.
The human body cannot maintain the high energy of the infatuation stage. It must come down or return to a normal state, to the reality of life. This is where true love begins—when a couple can work on their marriage.
What Dr. Love calls the post-rapture stage is not an abnormal experience. It is simply the next natural phase of marriage. Some couples think something must be wrong in their marriage when, in reality, it is just part of the human condition. God designed a couple's relationship and marriage to go through this stepwise progression.
3. Get to know yourself and your mate
When the honeymoon wears off, and it will, a newly married couple has a potential gold mine to explore. In the early infatuation or honeymoon stages of a relationship, the husband and wife naturally tend to look for and see the best in each other. But when the new wears off, the partners naturally begin to see one another's faults.
The wise take advantage of this and focus on meeting their spouse's needs. Gary Chapman, author of The Five Love Languages and numerous other books and a relationship counselor with the syndicated radio program A Growing Marriage, offers some help in this area.
Not all people perceive love in the same way. Dr. Chapman presents five distinct ways through which people feel they are loved—what he calls the five "love languages." Let's briefly note them:
• Words of affirmation are especially important for some to hear to feel loved.
• Spending quality time together is vitally important to support a secure and happy marriage, and is particularly seen as love by some people.
• It is through receiving a gift that some feel especially loved and appreciated.
• Acts of service, like performing simple chores around the house, is another expression of love that some are more attracted to.
• And finally, physical touch can make or break some relationships, and includes things like giving a back massage, holding hands, hugging and embracing often.
To enhance your marriage through the various love languages Dr. Chapman outlines, you might want to visit FiveLoveLanguages.com. Additionally, in The Truth About Love, Dr. Love offers some excellent guidelines for couples just out of the infatuation stage.
4. Be a good listener
Human beings love to talk. We would rather talk than listen. But listening is vitally important for a number of good reasons, especially in marriage. Men tend to communicate simply to get things done. Women often communicate just to share the thoughts of others.
Sometimes both spouses want only to be heard. All their lives they have people giving them advice, but there are times when it's enough just to be heard, to have someone listen attentively to them. Often, if people are given enough time to say what's on their minds, they can figure out the best way to solve their own problems.
Men should listen to their wives and let them communicate their thoughts and feelings; this will help a marriage immeasurably. A wife should listen to her husband, for he needs reassurance that he is indeed taking care of his wife and the family.
5. Add humor to your marriage
Don and Karen could enjoy good-natured kidding with one another because they didn't take themselves too seriously. They even made light of some of their shortcomings.
Humor adds great joy to marriage; it really is a gift from God. Laughter reduces stress, stimulates the immune system, lifts your spirits and keeps the relationship fresh.
Spouses might share funny jokes, watch comedy movies together and reflect on humorous times of the past. Perhaps make it a habit to share something funny at meal times.
Don and Karen have never stopped laughing at themselves and at each other, in a lighthearted way. However, they did not pick at one another, cloaking mean-spirited ridicule in humor. They also enjoyed humor in the company of other people and watching television together. Humor spices up their relationship.
6. Learn when and how to say you're sorry
Remember this: We all make mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes can and will hurt our spouse. We should acknowledge when we're wrong in a marital situation and not hesitate to apologize for it.
Not everyone who apologizes does it in the way you or I might want. Sometimes a person apologizes in an indirect way, by controlling his or her anger, by acting as if there were no disagreement, by changing the topic or by paying a small compliment. Mature spouses who are not threatened by saying "I'm sorry" simply say it. Few things are more healing to a relationship than this.
Neither life nor marriage will be perfect. Both are works in progress. If we can understand and accept that our mates are not perfect, just as we are not perfect, then we can also recognize that marriage is a work in progress.
7. Always make up quickly
Never hold grudges. The heaviest thing to carry around in this world is a grudge. Grudges hurt you the most since the other person might not even know you're holding one. Grudges deny us healthy peace of mind.
The best time to set a goal to understand your spouse and to make up is now, during a time of peace when you're not suffering marital battle fatigue. Think about this, write it down and then, when a disagreement comes up, you'll be better prepared to understand where your husband or wife is coming from, and it will be much easier to make up.
Always make up with your spouse, and soon. Don't let your hurt feelings deny you the peace you both really want and need.
8. Respect, don't ridicule, your spouse
Ridiculing one's spouse comes all too easily at times. Early in a relationship, although you may see your mate's shortcomings, you're so much in love that you simply minimize them.
But when the honeymoon is over, you will notice and remember a lot of your mate's shortcomings—and you might even make some up in the heat of battle. But know this: Ridiculing your mate with any regularity will erode your marriage and over time poison your relationship.
That's a very dangerous and unnecessary road to take. A wise couple will acknowledge this when it surfaces, talk about it and determine to offer respect rather than ridicule. Look for the strengths in your mate and be generous in your compliments on his or her good traits.
9. Banish "You always" and "You never"
Many a husband and wife in the heat of an argument have blurted out, "You never do this!" or "You always do that!" Both are wrong since it's simply not true that a person always, without fail, makes the same mistake in all settings. If it were true, how would you prove it?
Avoid the accusations of "you always" or "you never." They are not accurate, and your mate will not accept them. He or she will only dig in and resist.
10. Focus on strengths, not weaknesses
Men and women are designed differently, and for good reason. God says that a man and woman should leave their parents and become one with each other. A husband needs his wife for many reasons, and a wife needs her husband for many reasons—one of which is to complement the other. God designed the male and female to become one, and as one to be twice as effective in this life (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).
A husband and wife should look to each other's strengths, not weaknesses. Someone might complain, "But my mate has so many weaknesses, they hide any strength he may have."
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. For a spouse to think this way is to remain in the dark about his or her own weaknesses. Look for the strengths in your mate and deal constructively with his or her weaknesses.
The famous American comedian Red Skelton wrote his wife a love letter every day for many years of their marriage. He truly learned that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and looked for that.
God's plan for marriage
Human beings are destined to become children of God. Hebrews 2:10 tells us that God's great plan for us involves "bringing many sons to glory." All human beings have the same opportunity to become the literal children of God. God is and has a family. The Father and Son constitute a family, but there's more to this. In 2 Corinthians 6:18 we are told, "I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty."
To help us prepare for this wonderful future He has planned for us, God has given us the wonderful gift of marriage and family. A strong, respectful and loving marriage in this life gives us a foretaste of the loving and eternal relationships we will enjoy with the Father, Jesus Christ and the rest of God's spiritual family in the future. And the more we follow His instructions now in this life, the more blessed we will be both now and then.
Don and Karen's knowledge of God's plan for marriage has helped them immeasurably over the many years of their marriage. They've passed their thoughts and experiences on to their children, who in turn apply them in their marriages. They all understand what a great blessing a loving marriage can be.
These are some of the things you should know about and apply in your marriage, as you are able. We hope they will help you to know what to do after you say, "I do."
May God bless your marriage! GN