As my wife and I approach our 32nd anniversary, I’ve been thinking about what has enabled us to have a successful marriage. By this I mean not just staying married but enjoying each other’s presence. (I have been with couples who have been married a long time but who don’t enjoy being together.) In light of that, a few weeks ago I came across an article by a non-Christian related to this topic. Here is the link: https://getpocket.com/explore/item/every-successful-relationship-is-successful-for-the-same-exact-reasons?utm_source=pocket-newtab. The author, Mark Manson, sent out “the call” the week before his wedding, asking anyone who has been married 10+ years and is still happy in their relationship: What lessons would you pass down to others if you could? (At the time of his writing, he had been married two weeks.)
Manson received almost 1500 responses, many of them “measured in pages, not paragraphs.” He writes he was stunned that “they were incredibly repetitive,” but in a good way. He consolidated the responses into 13 key things. As I read them, I realized that they are all, to one degree or another, as applicable to a Christian marriage (such as my own) as they are to a non-Christian marriage, such as Manson’s. Without further ado, here they are:
- Be together for the right reasons. Manson defines this largely by some wrong reasons that people who had had multiple marriages reported. Examples of those wrong reasons include fixing yourself; being together for image; being young, naive, and hopelessly in love; and feeling pressure from family.
- Have realistic expectations about relationships and romance. These are defined largely by unconditional love, not romantic love.
- The most important factor in a relationship is not communication, but respect. Manson writes that respect goes hand-in-hand with trust, and that respect is especially important during conflict.
- Talk openly about everything, especially the stuff that hurts. This builds trust, which leads to greater intimacy.
- A healthy relationship means two healthy individuals. Enough said.
- Give each other space. The key word here in Manson’s description is “separate.” Manson and his responders write about the importance of separate checking accounts, credit cards, vacations, and even bathrooms and bedrooms. This is an area where I found myself in disagreement with Manson and company; while giving each other some space is important, too much of it can create too much distance.
- You and your partner will grow and change in unexpected ways; embrace it. Some of the examples include changing religions; experiencing the death of a family member; and even changing sexual orientation (?!). While I can agree with the principle, I can’t agree with many of the examples.
- Get good at fighting. Examples include not insulting your spouse and taking a breather if necessary.
- Get good at forgiving. I would add “and apologizing.”
- The little things add up to big things. Respondents said that this is especially important once you have kids. Examples given include holding hands and doing household chores.
- Sex matters… a lot. Obviously, different people have different levels of desire, but regardless, it matters a lot.
- Be practical, and create relationship rules. The common theme of the advice was to be pragmatic. One of the examples given is that if a wife works 50 hours/week outside the home, and the husband works mainly at home, it makes sense for him to handle more of the parenting duties. Almost all of the examples given regarding rules are related to spending money.
- Learn to ride the waves. Enough said.
Underlying all of these key things, as Manson writes, is genuine admiration for your spouse. As I wrote at the outset, all of them are applicable to some degree to every marriage, whether Christian or not. As a Christian, I would add two keys. The first is to grow together spiritually. Ways to do this in my own marriage have included attending church together; praying together; serving others together; and discussing the Bible and Christian books together. The second is to learn each other’s love languages, which has significantly enhanced my own marriage. Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages is a book that I strongly encourage every married and pre-marital couple to read and put into practice.
As I read Manson’s article, I found myself thinking about this question: If I had to choose one of the 13 keys as the most important in a marriage, which one would it be? I chose #9: get good at forgiving, with the addition of “and apologizing.” Maybe you have seen the old movie Love Story. There’s an infamous line: Love means never having to say you’re sorry. How stupid is that?! I have had to apologize to my wife many times; the best of those have been when she hasn’t even had to confront me but when the Holy Spirit has brought conviction. Forgiveness is at the heart of the Christian message: we have all sinned, and the only solution to the problem is trusting in Jesus Christ, asking Him to forgive our sins.
If you have any additional keys to a successful marriage, as well as thoughts on which key you think is most important, I would be very interested in reading them!