7 Keys to a Successful Marriage

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happy marriage
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Marriage is probably the hardest relationship you will ever endure.  While there are many complicated and tricky relationships in our lives, marriage is the one that is a daily choice.  And our culture today is so quick to remind you that it most definitely is a choice, and that you don’t have to.

Every marriage is so different, its hard to compare one to another.  But there are a few things most do have in common. 

  • They usually start out with starry-eyed infatuation.  (This is where the rom-coms do us wrong, leading us to believe that this is where it all culminates.  But the truth is that those movies usually end before the marriage even begins.)
  • They usually consist of quite a bit of heated arguments……. especially in the first years.
  • They usually contain at least a few misunderstandings.
  • They usually involve two best friends, who are hopefully committed to working most things out.

One big thing that all marriages share, is that at one point both parties believed in the institution enough to commit to seeing things through.  Marriage can work, if we make the choice to honor the commitment made and to learn and grow together through it all.

Marriage advice with a grain of salt

Now please understand, I am not an expert.  Many of you may have been married longer than my husband and I.  I am not a therapist, although I may like to believe myself as one sometimes!  And I have no degree.  But what I do have is my own experience.  And that is what I can share today.

My husband and I are far from perfect.  We have had our fair share of screaming matches and silent treatments (although I am much better at the former).  I have mistreated him at times, and he has mistreated me.  (And I’m pretty sure he’s going to keep a copy of this post for his personal files!)

These are the things that we have learned so far in our happy marriage.  My hope is that you can learn from our mistakes, and maybe in your own way, and in your own circumstance, recreate our wins.

The most important things in marriage.

Key #1 to a successful marriage – Put God First

7 qualities of a good marriage

I cannot stress this enough.  God should be first in your own life, as well as in your marriage.  We have done it both ways.  Bruce and I were not following the Lord very well when we met and were married.  I found out that he was a Christian and I checked that box.  While we were happy enough, we fought a lot.  And we didn’t have much to ground ourselves in.

For ideas on ways to begin daily quality time with the Lord, read this post: 30 Unique Bible Study Methods.

When we put God first in our lives, and invite Him in as the supreme authority, we begin make choices that He would make.  And those choices are never damaging or self-centered.  God’s way is only life-giving and nurturing.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.   

Galatians 5:22-25
7 Most important things in marriage

The more we practice this in our personal lives, the more it will be practiced in our marriages.  For Bruce and I this has been a process.  We still struggle with being comfortable praying together (outside of our prayers with the kids as a family).  But we’re a work in progress.  Together we are learning to put God first.

Key #2 to a successful marriage – Leave your spouse’s relationship with God to God

When I first began turning my heart back to the Lord, my husband was reluctant to follow.  He had accepted Christ into his life during his previous marriage, but never saw the need to take it any further.  I, on the other hand, had grown up in a Christian home and did have a stronger relationship with the Lord before I walked away, so it was a comfortable setting for me.

I spent so much of my time during those early years fighting my desire to control him in this area.  I tried to dictate how and when he should read the Bible, how and when he should pray, and how and when he should serve the church.  We had multiple arguments over tithing because it was something he really struggled with doing. 

Personal Revelations

But one day I realized that his relationship with the Lord was not a reflection on me!!  The purpose of tithing wasn’t in tithing itself, but in my heart before the Lord.  So, I backed off and told him that I was okay waiting until he was ready, but that he would have to be the one to write the first check.  I rested in the knowledge that God knew my heart.  The purpose of serving the church isn’t so that you can check a box, or so that others don’t think poorly of you.  The purpose of serving is to serve the Lord.  And if I wanted to serve, I could.  I didn’t need Bruce to do so as well.  As for the topic of his prayer and study life, well I realized that too couldn’t be forced. 

God made Bruce differently, and God knew what it would take to grow a relationship with him.  As much as I wanted it to be me, I didn’t play a part in that.

My job, my only job, was to pray for him.  And now, years later, it has been such a blessing to see God work.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;   

Proverbs 3:5

Key #3 to a successful marriage – Understand the why

This is probably our most recent revelation.  A few years ago, we were introduced to the enneagram.  (If you aren’t familiar with this personality type structure, I explain it a bit in this post: 5 Mistakes to Avoid with Your Husband’s Anxiety .)

Honestly, this was so eye opening for us as we began to understand why we each did the things we did.  It helped me understand that his anxiety was more than a choice, it was engrained into the way he was created, and that it is what helps to keep us safe in many circumstances.  It helped him see that many times, when I turn him down in the bedroom it has nothing to do with him, but instead with my own anxiety over losing my energy.

We are all created so individually.  What makes me avoid a situation might look completely different from why you might avoid it.  Understanding our soft insides has helped us avoid many arguments as we are now able to assess our circumstances accurately, before they even get brought up.

Make the effort to understand

If the enneagram isn’t your thing, find your own way to understand your partner.  Recognize that what looks one way on the surface, might be something completely different underneath.  True intimacy comes from knowing each other deep down inside.  I came home upset the other night and crawled into Bruce’s lap.  I didn’t need to say a word, he already knew my heart.  He knew the situation, and he knew what about it would have upset me.

Take the time, make the effort, to get to know each other.

That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.   

Genesis 2:24
your guide to maintaining a successful marriage

This is what sex is a symbolism of by the way.  Man and wife coming together as one, just as Christ become one with the church.  And how do you become one?  Knowing each other inside and out.

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.    

Philippians 2:1-2

Key #4 to a successful marriage – Respect differences

To piggy-back on the point above, God created us all to be so uniquely different but yet, at the same time, to compliment and coincide with each other so well.  Bruce and I are so alike in many ways, but are so, so different in many others.  But you know what?  We need both of us for our household to run smooth.  There is purpose for Bruce in our home, just like there is purpose for me.

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.   

Ephesians 2:10

God knew his plan for each one of us, and he knew the skillsets, personality traits, gifts and experiences we would need in order to fulfill that plan.  And part of that plan is the marriage you are in!!

7 keys to a healthy marriage

But beyond respect how different we are from one another; we need to be willing to meet each other where we’re at.  Bruce has been laid up recently and unable to walk well.  His love language is service.  I could cuddle up to him and kiss him all I want (and he probably wouldn’t turn me away), but he won’t feel as loved as he did the day the kids and I ran around the house completing all the little chores that he hasn’t been able to get to lately.

In the same way, my love language is quality time (to be honest, I think that I am a sixth love language that isn’t exactly documented – “effort”, but that’s another post for another day).  You could run around the house completing all sorts of chores, and I am not going to bat an eye.  But if you give up your own time to spend it with me…….THAT will make me swoon!!

Key #5 to a successful marriage – Communication

It is commonly said that this is the foundation of a good marriage.  But not everybody is good at communicating!  The key is finding out how you communicate best.  Forget all the instructional how-tos of communication.  They might have good tips, but all of those are for not, if the method just doesn’t work with who you both are.

For Bruce and I it was email.  Oh, we would fight in person.  We were the masters at me escalating and him following me from room to room, not giving me a chance to come back down.  (Seriously, he would follow me all around the house…..even going so far as to unlock doors that I had locked.  I finally resorted to taking the car for a drive, until the day that I found myself in the middle of nowhere suddenly aware of how similar the atmosphere looked to the Walking Dead.  I stay home now.)  But we would always find our resolution the next day over email.

Writing it out is what worked for us for many years.  We were both in a corporate environment and email was a natural form of communicating throughout our day.  With email, we were able to write out our thoughts, frustrations and feelings, and then edit and rewrite it until it perfectly reflected something we were comfortable sending.  Admittedly, it always took a few back-and-forths before a resolution could be found.  But it taught us how to communicate and articulate well.

Find what works for you.  Is it an in-person conversation over a glass of wine?  Or maybe you’re better over the phone because its easier than staring each other in the eyes.  Could it be better for you in bed while you hold each other in the dark?  However it works for you, just do it.  Communicate everything to each other.  Hold nothing back.  Start with the small things and work your way up to the large as it gets more comfortable.  Practice sharing your feelings, your hurts, your fears.

What does God say?

While there may not be any rules for the right method of communication, the Bible does have a lot to say about how we talk to one another.

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.   

James 1:19-20
7 secrets to marriage

One of the reasons our email system worked so well is it gave us a chance to read it, react privately, and calm down before we responded.  When emotions are involved, it is really hard to hear correctly the first time, so we react to what we think we hear instead of actually hearing the true heart behind the words that have been shared.

A gentle answer turns away wrath,
    but a harsh word stirs up anger.    

Proverbs 15:1

We all know those buttons to push.  The ones that will send the other into next week in two seconds flat.  And somehow when we argue, those buttons become larger and harder to avoid.  How about if we didn’t push them? What if instead, we took some time to calm down and deescalate?  Imagine if the conversation could stay at a tense discussion, instead of the elevated brawl that can take days to recover from?

It may seem impossible.  But if you have invited the Holy Spirit to come and dwell within you, then you have the power to control your side of the conversation.  Your spouse may be slower to catch on, but if you are able to consistently exercise self-control in your responses, over time they will match the tone.

Key #6 to a successful marriage – Show honor

Unfortunately, it has become our culture to bag on our husbands.  (Or maybe just spouses in general, Bruce says men are just as bad in complaining about their wives.)  It’s all over t.v. as a social norm, it’s spread across all social media platforms, and we are teaching it to our kids. This practice is extremely damaging to your marriage, and it needs to stop.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that we all need an occasional chance to vent to a close friend as specific circumstances arise.  But this is different, this is character bashing.  This practice will not bring healing to your marriage, it will only continue to destroy the way you view your husband.  It will only confirm in your mind all the things you are fixated on.

Healthy Marriage - 7 secrets to live by

Talking about your spouse this way is also not edifying to the person you are talking to.  It will either give them a wrong impression of your marriage, or it will encourage them to talk that way about their own spouse.  There is no redeeming quality to this line of conversation.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.   

Ephesians 4:29

Admittedly, this is an area I’ve had to work on over the years.  The closer I grow to the Lord though, the more I see this clearly.

Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.   

Romans 12:10

Key #7 to a successful marriage – Show grace

Forgiveness.  One of the hardest things for any of us to learn.  Marriage can be so hurtful sometimes, and there are things that are really hard to let go of.  Sometimes we need to seek help in working through some of that hurt, and that’s okay. But we are called to forgive.

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.   

Ephesians 4:31-32

Bruce and I forgive differently.  As long as I am given some time to calm down, I can see reason pretty clearly and come to a point of forgiveness and repentance.  For Bruce though, he’s a grudge holder.  He has a hard time not seeing my quick turnaround as flippant and insincere, and I have a hard time not resolving the issue that same day.  What’s important though, is that we do come to a point of resolution and forgiveness.

Everybody is different in this.  God made us that way.  What is important is that you do work toward a forgiving heart.  It is important that you can come back together and heal.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.   

Colossians 3:12-15

For more information on who God is, and what He could mean for your life, please see the blog post, Why is Jesus Important?  Please know that I’ll be praying for you as you embark on this crucial journey!

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