I am a keen observer of marriages. Call it curiosity i suppose, but I can’t help but watching how couples interact and correlating that to the level of satisfaction (both expressed and unarticulated) that exists in the relationship. One clear thing that i’ve come to learn is there’s no “one way” to do marriage well. What works for one couple might be disastrous for another. Just as no two people are identical, no two couples are either. When you combine two unique individuals in a marriage relationship you greatly increase the number of variables from couple to couple.
Having said that, while there may not be a single measure for “success” in marriage I have noticed that there are certain beliefs and behaviors that satisfying marriages have that are often missing in marriages that struggle. This is certainly not a comprehensive list, and I’d love to get others’ thoughts on this. But here are my starting thoughts on common things that drive successful marriages:
- Shared beliefs around common goals – Are both partners aligned around what is most important in the marriage? The goals themselves can be widely varied from relationship to relationship, but it is critical that both agree in keeping “the main thing the main thing”. This could be raising a family, leaving a legacy, wealth, faith or a number of other things. Too often these are in conflict. If the wife considers the family to be the most important focus, but the husband is all about building wealth – conflict will occur. Decisions will become compromises. A wedge will start to form between the couple and will only grow over time.
- Partner interests over self interests – Selfishness is a marriage killer. We’ve all heard that marriage is not 50/50, but do we really live it? If my life and energy is primarily focused on getting what I want, I will ultimately do so at my spouse’s expense. That may work for awhile, but eventually bitterness and resentment creep in. Once these seeds are planted, they are hard to eliminate. They leave a lasting impression. Strong marriages have an intense partner focus from both parties. “How will this affect him?” or “How will she react to this?” are great questions that are at least considered in strong marriages. I’m amazed how often these questions are not even considered.
- Relying on God’s guidance – I’m fully aware that there are great marriages that exist where neither partner is a believer, and I’m equally aware that there are many Christian marriages that crash and burn. But from what I’ve seen, successful marriages realize that there is something bigger than themselves. They are not the end all be all but rather a piece of a much larger picture. For believers, couples can rely on God during great times and rough patches. Knowing that an unchanging God is there throughout can provide tremendous comfort. Additionally, praying for wisdom and guidance in a relationship can yield great results. We were not designed to go through this life alone, God intends for us to have tremendous marriages. Solid couples respect and rely on this, much to their advantage.
- Solid communication – It seems this is an overused recommendation, but from what I’ve observed it is a very real key to marital security and happiness. Most wives will state that they wish their husbands would communicate more, and many husbands think their wives talk way too much. It’s not about quantity of communication. It is about listening to understand. I may not have much to say when asked how my day was. But I know that my wife is there to listen if I’m concerned about my job, or if I am facing a difficult decision. Sharing these tough times with her in a trusting, non-judgemental environment gives me the opportunity to “think out loud” and often get a perspective back that is wonderfully different from my own. If I try to keep these things from her, she knows something is up and distrust is created. Conversely, sometimes she will ask me for advice on issues she’s facing, and sometimes she just wants to vent and receive no advice back at all. Over time, I’ve learned how to tell the difference and respond accordingly. The key here is to know that you can talk to your spouse about what is important to you and know that you will be heard.
I’m sure there are many more, and I may write a sequel to this post at some point. But for now, this provides some points that we should check ourselves against to see where we currently are. Adding a bit more focus to these can only improve our relationships. And let’s be honest – that should be what we’re all about in a marriage