What does it Take to Have a Successful Marriage?

What does it Take to Have a Successful Marriage? January 3, 2014

“Success in marriage does not come merely through finding the right mate, but through being the right mate.” 

~Barnett R. Brickner


Marriage is as much a business partnership as it is romance.  Even though our culture heavily promotes the unrealistic concept that marriage is a 50/50 proposition, it’s important to remember that it’s more about mutual submission to one another’s needs and desires than it is absolute equality.  To have an “absolute equality” mentality creates ongoing disappointment and resentment.  More important is that each partner feels like they are invested in the relationship and contributing.  Sometimes it seems like one spouse is giving 95% while the other is only contributing 5% toward the marriage.  In those circumstances it’s important to trust that your spouse will carry more than their fair share at some later date.  That requires being a servant-hearted spouse even when we don’t feel like it.  It also requires being proactive and intentional in your commitment to serve your spouse.

One example of this might be right after each of our children were born my wife had to devote all her energies in healing herself and nurturing these helpless newborn babies.  Therefore it required that I step up and take over all the chores she normally did as well as my own duties.  So for a period of time I did all the dishes, laundry, house cleaning, and other things necessary to run a household.  But I knew that when appropriate my wife would return to her normal duties and at some time in the future (like when I was ill) she would take over more than her share of the everyday chores for a short period of time.  This is known as having a healthy relationship.

It’s virtually impossible to split every task equally down the middle.  Besides one partner might be much better at some tasks than others (the capable, interested, and experienced partner), and allowing each spouse to do their share of chores which fit their skill set is a much more efficient and expedient process.  What’s important is that each partner believes they and their spouse are each contributing something of value that benefits the relationship.  When we do that it allows us to produce more as a team than we could produce individually.  Ultimately, marriage is more about giving than it is about getting.

A marriage requires nearly continual forgiveness (both requesting and granting) from both spouses in order to work.  If you can’t extend that kind of grace, you can’t expect to receive it either.  It necessitates the willingness to compromise–by both partners.  Without the ability to forgive the wounded person soon becomes the wounder.  In addition, forgiveness (along with gratitude) appears to be the number one trait linked to happiness in marriage (and possibly in life).  When you are able to forgive one another you don’t carry around all that resentment and anger bottled up inside.  This is important because all those resentments (even from outside sources) eventually get taken out on one person—your spouse.  If we can’t learn to regularly forgive and forget, we become bitter, frustrated critics—unable to see the beauty in life or the blessing of our spouse.

Even strong Christian marriages face the same challenges as any other marriage; communication problems, sexual temptations, frustrations, and unrealized expectations.  Without the ability to forgive each other those pressures erode away at the foundation of your marriage and create disappointment and resentment.

Having a good marriage also requires us to prioritize our marriage.  We have to be willing to make time for one another and take steps to improve our marriage. Activities like reading books, attending workshops and conferences, being part of a small study group, and seeking counseling if necessary are vital to ensure a growing and healthy marriage relationship.  If we allow busyness, weariness, an unhealthy past, or lack of replenishing relationships in our life to interfere with our timetable, we are unable to prioritize our spouse and give them the attention they deserve.  Most of us work at least eight hours a day.  Throw in travel time, shopping, and sleep and you’ve taken up most of the rest of the day.  Oh yes, then throw a handful of kids into the mix along with their sports, music, camps, and other activities and…wow!  I’m tired just writing about it.  It’s no wonder I hear all the time comments from parents like, “I’m exhausted” or “I’m so busy I don’t have time for myself” or “We haven’t even had sex in a month” or finally “Our marriage revolves around the kids.  I’m not sure we even love each other anymore.”

It’s human nature to spend our most precious commodity—our time—on the things we value most.  So when I hear men say they love their kids more than their job, but they spend 12 hours a day working and miss all their kids’ games and recitals—I have to question whether his actions back up his words or not.  Or when a woman says she values her marriage but spends all of her energy investing in her children with no time for her husband—I question where her values really are.  It’s important for parents to remember that your marriage will still be around long after your kids are gone.  And it’s worth staying together for the long run.  Even though our kids are grown and gone (most of the time) I’d be lost without my wife.  She knows me better than anyone in the entire world.  She cares about me more than anyone else in the world.  She appreciates my ugly old self better than anyone else could.  To think of ending that and having to expend the energy to try and build that all over with someone else is daunting to even consider.  But building that kind of relationship takes time.  It isn’t done over night or even over years.  It takes decades.

Lastly, to have a long term successful marriage also requires having the devotion to place another’s wants and needs ahead of your own—not a natural trait (at least for most men).  It requires the discipline to deny ourselves the pleasures and desires that we selfishly and sometimes desperately crave, with no guarantee that we will be ‘rewarded’ or benefit from that self-sacrifice.  A good marriage depends upon this trust as the stabilizing force that keeps each partner from desecrating the vows made when their love was strong and unassailable.  I know that after all our years together Suzanne will still always place my well being in the fore front of every decision she makes.  She would never intentionally seek to harm me or betray me in any way.  And I believe she feels the same way about me.  This confidence though has been built (tested and proven) over a long time of devotion on both our parts.

That’s why we’ve been together almost 33 years.


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