What makes for strong relationships in marriage? What makes a marriage great? How can couples stay together for decades? How do two completely different people make a relationship last through family crisis, financial struggles, disease, and other disappointments?
First, I am not a marriage counselor, nor do I play one on TV. However, I have some suggested answers. I have some marriage advice from my readings, study, and observations over the last few years (including my own 22 year marriage).
1. Long-Term couples COMMIT to each other and to the relationship. The idea is what the Biblical writers call submission. When a couple submits to one another (cf. Eph 5:21) they are saying to their spouse, “You are more important than me.” One college professor reminded us that “we” comes before “I” in “wedding.”
2. Long-Term couples UNDERSTAND (learn to understand) each other. You and your spouse are different people from differing backgrounds, and of different genders. You are in a mixed marriage and have to learn to know each other. Again the Biblical writers tells us to live with each other with understanding (cf. 1 Pet 3:7).
3. Long-Term couples FORGIVE each other. I can only speak for myself, but I know there are things I said or did that hurt Amy. I needed, no need, and desperately desire forgiveness from her when I am in the wrong. (BTW: She is quick to forgive me and gentle to help me grow.) If I want forgiveness, I need to learn to forgive. Once again, we can learn from the Biblical writers who remind us to be forgiving to each other – cf. Eph 4:32.
4. Long-Term couples learn to COPE with life’s struggles. The world has a way of stretching us like a taffy-pull or pulling us down like gravity itself. Apparently the cosmic forces of this world know when I am getting ahead in life, because that is when something needs repairing or replacing. And just when everyone seems to be healthy, someone gets sick or receives an unwanted diagnosis. Couples who make it through these times intact, learned through smaller struggles how to work together to get through them. Many if not most of them are able to cope because of their faith. The Apostle Paul makes the necessity of faith clear in confessing his struggles yet ability to survive and even express contentment – cf. Phil 4:10-13.
5. Long-Term couples experience JOY together. They learn to enjoy spending time together. This goes back to the idea of submission. When we first married, I was young and thought I was masculine. I did not appreciated what we men-folk call “chick flicks.” However, I submitted to my wife and learned to enjoy them with her as we sit very close on the couch ;-). This idea of joy includes learning to laugh together – even at our mistakes. We can look back now and laugh at some of early days together. Remember a cheerful heart is like good medicine (cf. Prov 17:22) not just for you as an individual, but you and your spouse as “one-flesh.”
6. Long-Term couples live in LOVE. Love is more than a feeling. Love is more than strong desire. Love is an active pursuit of pleasing and demonstrating care for the other person. Love attempts to outdo the other person in showing honor – cf. Rom 12:10. “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. . . . love will last forever.” (1 Cor 13;4-8 NLT).
Give these a try for the next 50 years and see if your marriage does not last.