Our 45th wedding anniversary is upon us. That’s a lot of wonderful years together. We were sitting at the table this morning discussing what the magic bullet was that makes some marriages really fruitful and happy, and other marriages miserable and failing. After all these years of reading letters from thousands upon thousands of wives and husbands, I know there is no such magic bullet; nor is there a lethal bullet that kills marriages. Good marriages are like good health: if you eat correctly, exercise regularly, don’t live in stress or bitterness, and don’t have accidents that strain the body; then with careful attention you may just avoid cancer or heart disease and die a natural death in your old age.
Bad marriages are like bad health: if you eat toxic food, sit around and get fat, live in constant bitterness and anger, and have one mishap after another, then chances are you will probably develop cancer, heart disease, or poor joints and weak bones, and/or damage your brain, limbs, or organs due to avoidable accidents. Consequently, you will die younger than necessary. That pattern is seen so regularly it is almost a physical law just like the law of good marriage versus bad marriage.
After 45 years of happy marriage and over 50 years of ministry, we have seen some very strong indicators of what makes a relationship work and what kills it. Here is a short seven-point review of our conversation concerning the amazing blessings we have enjoyed.
Share everything in life. The more your lives and work intertwine, the stronger the bond. Share common goals, great visions, and daily chores; work together in business, make decisions together on how to invest, and, when possible, share hobbies or sports. When you can’t do something your spouse is doing, at least be sure to take a strong interest in it.
From the beginning seek ways to bless your spouse. People are different. Gifts are nice, but not necessary for me, whereas time spent together working and playing is essential. Men like encouragement and praise. Ladies need to feel your devotion. Note what your spouse finds rewarding and look daily for ways to please them, even when you are not in the mood. You are building a successful marriage and that takes diligence, discipline, and commitment. You can’t be self-centered when you are living to please another.
Contempt toward your spouse is deadly. It takes the form of silence—withdrawal, bitterness, or negative remarks. It is what the Bible calls “constant drippings.” Wives are more likely to be guilty of expressing contempt, although some husbands develop and even perfect the art to their own unhappy demise. No marriage can undergo a regular dose of contempt and survive. Contempt is like arsenic: it is toxic and guaranteed to bring death. The constant drippings might take years, but they drain a relationship of all joy and peace.
Resentment breeds contempt, whether the resentment springs from hurtful words, deeds undone, acts of selfishness, gross indiscretion, or any number of human failures. The key to remember is this: human failures are found in every marriage every single day. Even those who deem themselves the most perfect spouse are still given to human failures.
But human failures are not the poison that brings slow death to marriages; it is resentment leading to contempt that is the ultimate destroyer. Often it is the “good” spouse that kills the marriage with cool, reserved contempt. This is a truth that SCREAMS out to every counselor and therapist who deals with troubled marriages. It is the hardest thing to convey to the “goodly wife.” As a young unmarried person, if you see any of this in your attitude toward your parents or others in authority, you will be bringing disease to your marriage. Get it straight while still single, or simply don’t ever marry. As parents, when you speak of others in authority with contempt, whether it be a spouse or the preacher (constant drippings), you are instilling in your children a spirit that will be more destructive to their happiness than arsenic would be to their bodies.
Learn to forgive, and learn to apologize. Holding on to “stuff” even for a few hours is destructive. It is like having poison in your system for just a short time; you think you are teaching your spouse a lesson, but, in truth, you are weakening the soul of your marriage. Just forgive and move on. For many, saying I’m sorry is difficult. Just get over it and say the words and say them in a meaningful way. You ARE sorry when you hurt your wife, and you ARE sorry if it destroys something and will bring a lot of grief. So just practice the habit of saying, “I am so sorry. I was such a jerk. Please forgive me. I’ll try to do better.” While you are learning to say that, you need to also learn to say thank you. Develop a habit of thanking your spouse for all the many things they do each day. Simple things like fixing a meal, working a job, giving a smile, or just loving you. Your spouse needs these words, and you are building a better marriage every time you offer this tribute to them.
Don’t live in a daydream of thinking you could do better with a different spouse. Many simply believe a lie, and their thought life slowly erodes their real life. It is time to be honest with yourself. You are not a wonderful, beautiful, craved-after world-changer married to a deadbeat. Rather your daydreams are just silly, embarrassing sin. It is Satan’s ludicrous implant to make you believe you have missed the life you were meant to have. Such an imagination breeds discontent. Get control of what you think about. STOP daydreaming and start thinking constructive, practical, wholesome, creative, and godly things. Your thoughts are the seeds of tomorrow’s harvest. Your spouse is not holding you back from being all that you were meant to be. Your own foolish thought life is what holds you in bondage, and the devil sees, laughs, mocks, and continues to feed your foolish ideas. Get honest and your marriage will prosper. Know this: soul mates (people who seem to mesh, create, thrive, and grow) are not born, they are crafted. They become what they are together by choosing to focus on making each other happy and successful.
Making time for the private moments brings joy as well as good health to your body and relationship. Marriage means that you are sexual partners. It is God’s design, his plan, and his will. Unless a marriage is consummated (i.e., perfected, completed), it is not a marriage, and this means regularly. Studies show the couples who set a time to consummate their marriage at least once a week when the kids (as well as any other distractions) are out of the way are happier and healthier and have a much greater chance of staying married.
Practice, practice, practice. Practice makes perfect. Practice forgiving. Practice getting control of your thought life. Practice being interested in and a part of your spouse’s work or hobbies. Practice laying down your resentment. Practice being thankful and full of joy. Practice loving your marriage. Practice making your marriage successful and it will be successful.
Why make the effort? According to hard statistics, reasons abound: your good health and longevity, your children’s health, emotional stability, and hope for a brighter future, plus the good influence on those you love, and, of course, because it brings glory and honor to God, the creator of marriage.
God created marriage for many very good reasons. God hates divorce for many ugly reasons. God set rules that will enable us to avoid a lousy marriage. Research has proven that couples who have stayed married for a lifetime say marriage is hard, many sacrifices are made, and there were times they wanted to quit; but they all say marriage is the single most rewarding thing in their lives. We concur.