“Behind every successful man is a woman who didn’t marry me.”
— Al Bundy, Married with Children
Love and marriage, love and marriage, Go together like a horse and carriage.
This I tell ya, brother, you can’t have one without the other.
— Frank Sinatra, “Love and Marriage”
The Marriage Manual
So, hmmm … I received a request recently about a possible community presentation on “relationship building in marriage.” As you can see in the quotes above, marriage is a hot topic whether we like it or not. If all of us can be honest for just a moment, I think we can agree on several facts: marriage is hard work, marriage requires that we develop our “I’m sorry” and “Please forgive me” responses, and marriage is not designed for or focused upon the quality of our physical intimacy. Sadly, fewer and fewer couples are able to remain married today. Many simply have a distorted view of what marriage actually is, what it represents, and why it exists at all. This means when hardship or trouble arises, the easiest solution is to get out of the relationship through divorce. However, divorce has its own set of repercussions that are often worse than what was experienced in marriage. So in short, how can we make our marriages last?
Let’s assume that you decided to marry for several reasons. First, you were attracted to each other physically and emotionally. Second, you found it easy to talk with each other, to share your deepest thoughts and concerns. Third, you had an inner desire to be in each other’s presence and making a formal commitment seemed to be the “right” step. So a wedding ensued with bridesmaids, groomsmen, elaborate planning, and a romantic, but expensive, honeymoon. From there it was back to work and school. There were fun nights out, a few really cool vacations, and weekends with friends. But then, life happened. The unplanned intruded on the planned: a family death, a debilitating accident, a miscarriage, or possibly the onset of cancer or another terrifying disease. Or maybe, life simply became routine, unexciting, unsatisfying, and boring. In either case, one or both partners becomes disenchanted and in need of change. We do not necessarily want to be divorced, but our marriage has become intolerable. How then do we avoid this spiral into alienation and divorce and instead place our marriage firmly on the road to satisfaction and longevity?
If you desire your marriage to last, then listen. Right now, whether you are still in the glow of the early days of your marriage or you are sensing something is amiss, you need to receive and embrace these truths. First, a healthy marriage takes effort. Attraction and physical hunger can only get you so far. Bodies change, feelings change, stuff happens. Marriage will require that you change plans, give extra effort, and curb your pride. You will have to change diapers, endure mood swings, and remain constant when your spouse is going through a dark valley. Commit yourself to that truth.
Second, your marriage is the most important relationship you will have in your life; more so than your profession, parents, relatives, or even your children. Remember your promise in front of all of your friends, family, and pastor/justice of the peace/officiant: “Until death do you part,” “I do.”
Third, clear, heartfelt communication is crucial. Your ability to communicate your love and inmost feelings to your spouse on an every-waking-moment basis will ward off many temptations and allow you to deal responsibly with the trials of life together.
Fourth, listen. It’s very simple, if you are unwilling to listen to your spouse share his or her news, concerns, or passions, the battle will be lost. Listening to one another is the flip-side of the communication coin; they go together.
Finally, you must have faith. Faith in the power of your love for one another; faith in the resilience and importance of your marriage; and, dare I say it, faith in your Creator. When husbands and wives share a common faith, they realize that they are not alone in the journey of life; the God of our universe cares about you and the love you share with your spouse. The love you share is a reflection of the love that God has for you. It is faith in God and each other that will sustain you and give you the strength to forgive one another, and to love unconditionally, even when one of you has failed horribly. The popular myths of marriage are just that; fabrications by our world to excuse us from working on this most important of relationships. Divorce is never an answer; more time in the gym does not guarantee more peace at home; children are not a curse, but rather a byproduct and blessing of marriage. Putting those excuses aside, are you ready to go to work on your marriage?