The fact that Janice and I have been married for 42 years gives me a certain level of credibility in writing this post. Have they all been happy years? Yes, albeit some more so than others. But the important thing is that our love continues to deepen as we look forward to growing old together.
I am fully aware that this list is far from comprehensive, but these keys have been instrumental in helping our marriage become what it is. Hopefully, they will help you have a happy marriage.
1. Love your differences.
Opposites really do attract. Larry Burkett once observed that, “If you marry someone exactly like yourself, one of you is unnecessary.” How true! The qualities which attracted me to Janice in the first place were those which I didn’t possess, especially her strong family loyalties. Besides, when you love your spouse as he or she is, you are liberating them to be, well, who they are. The alternative would be to try to make them into what you want them to be. Bad idea.
2. Worship together.
This goes beyond agreeing on the same religion; worshipping together intentionally diverts attention from yourselves to your Creator. Doing so keeps a healthy perspective on what is really important and will often cause petty quarrels to dissolve.
3. Love God more than you love each other.
Years ago, when our pastor challenged all married couples to love God more we love our spouses, Janice and I were reluctant to do so. After all, we loved each other with all of our hearts, and we reasoned that if we loved God more, we would have less love available for each other. However, as we let that thought soak in, we made a vow to accept the challenge – a vow we have never regretted. Why? Because we discovered that God gave us more love for each other than we had ever previously experienced.
4. Don’t expect your spouse to make you happy.
He or she won’t, and it isn’t fair to expect it. You are both broken sinners, and neither of you is capable of meeting the other’s deepest needs. Only Jesus Christ can do that.
5. Keep working on it.
You change. Your spouse changes. You need to keep falling in love over and over again . . . with who your spouse is today. Therefore, take marriage enhancement classes together or meet regularly with a marriage counselor. Years ago, Janice and I took a listening skills class which has been invaluable, not only in our communication with each other, but with our children as well.
6. Agree to speak up when things aren’t right.
Because Janice and I both abhor confrontations, we tend to gloss over behaviors which bug us. We therefore have an agreement . . . . If either of us is doing something which grates on the other, the offended spouse has an obligation to bring it up for discussion instead of internalizing it. This works because we have laid the groundwork ahead of time for these renegotiation sessions. We both understand that such discussions may sting a bit, but we also understand that dealing with these situations upfront is better than letting frustration grow by not talking about them.
7. Discuss your financial goals.
Your spouse does not have extrasensory perception and neither do you, so voice those goals and work on them together. Do you want to eliminate debt from your lives? What do you want your senior years to look like? What sacrifices would you need to make in order for your children to attend private school? How much should you give to the Lord’s work? You get the idea. Whatever goals you agree on, establish a budget designed to meet those goals. Janice and I have lived on a budget for many years. When our goals change, we adjust our budget accordingly.
Forgive each other as God forgives you: before being asked. Of course, we need to ask for God’s forgiveness in order to maintain a solid relationship with Him, but it is assuring to know that His forgiveness is always there for us. In the same way, when you freely forgive your spouse, you will keep the relationship clean and healthy. Sometimes you may need to forgive over and over again, but such forgiveness is essential to keep bitterness from taking root. I might mention that whereas forgiveness should be freely given, trust is another matter – a spouse who has broken trust needs to earn the right to be trusted again.
Think of listening as an active – not passive – behavior. Pay attention not only to the words, but also to body language and voice tone, and be willing to check with your spouse when all three are not congruent. For example, if Janice’s response, when I ask her if she wants to watch a ballgame with me, is to sigh as she is saying, “Yes, Dear,” she probably isn’t interested in the ballgame.
10. Keep it fresh.
Remember those early days when you would buy a simple gift or suggest an impromptu picnic or simply snuggle in front of the fireplace? If you don’t continue with some planned spontaneity in your marriage, the two of you will drift toward taking each other for granted. Not good, and I admit that Jan and I could definitely improve on keeping things fresh.
Bonus Tip: When you write a post on the keys to a happy marriage, ask for your wife’s endorsement before sending it to print. I did, and Jan said, “I approve.” However, when her tone was less than enthusiastic (see key 9), I followed up, “You don’t sound very excited.” Her response? “You wrote a good post, but it is hard for me to sound excited about stuff I already know about.”
I take that as a thumbs up.
Be sure to check out these two articles for more ways to improve your marriage:
What additional keys to a happy marriage can you think of? We appreciate your thoughts in the comments!