3 Basic Decisions Required for Establishing and Maintaining a Loving, Long-lasting, and Rewarding Marriage Relationship
A common viewpoint many newly married couples have shared with us over the years is the perspective that married life “isn’t as easy as we expected or hoped it would be.” Sometimes first-time marriage, never married couples have unrealistic expectations about marriage.
Establishing a long-lasting, positive marriage relationship requires much more than logging time together through the dating or cohabiting experience. First, the level of personal commitment, time investment, and selfless sacrifice required in a committed and enduring marriage differs from the short- to long-term dating experience. If you have a change of heart regarding the person you are dating, you can call it quits at any time. Although it may be temporarily painful for you or the other person, you can end the relationship without binding obligation by simply walking away, etc. In contrast, you cannot really end a marriage relationship by just calling it quits—without consequence. Marriage has interwoven spiritual, financial, sexual, and legal benefits and obligations. Next, developing a healthy, long-lasting marriage relationship requires commitment, unconditional love, agreement in spiritual beliefs and shared values, extraordinary motivation and mutually persistent effort to support the relationship over time.
Vows: For Better or For Worse…
Almost twenty-six, story-filled years have passed since my wife and I exchanged our wedding vows. Before God and witnesses we promised, respectively: “to take her (him) to be my wife (husband), to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part.”
Over time, we have learned and celebrated our contrasting differences and similarities as a couple. Our lives have been imperfect so, our marriage as well has not been flawless. Bottom-line, our marriage journey has included difficulties, disappointments, and setbacks; counterbalanced by faithfulness, committed love, abundant joy, fruitfulness, and reward. We share this article to underscore and to begin a conversation with you about the vital importance of learning, establishing, and practicing unwavering life disciplines as early as possible. Couples who know and consistently practice marital ‘basics’ can develop, enjoy, and experience an extraordinarily fulfilling, loving, long-lasting marriage relationship.
1) Discipline: It Is Not Cheap, Easy, Painless, or Stress-free But It Is Necessary and Ultimately Rewarding
You Choose to be Disciplined: To favorably co-exist in a healthy marriage relationship both spouses must undergo self-discipline. The absence of self-discipline, of one or both spouses, results in a dysfunctional, unhealthy, and generally unstable relationship. The Bible well-articulates a truth about “self-discipline “in Hebrews 12:10-1, “For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in His holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.” To win in life and especially marriage a couple must submit to life-giving disciplines.
Marital discipline includes:
Mutual transparency in spousal communication: both spouses are present mentality, not just physically in the same space and conversation; assertiveness and active listening.
Mutual love and respect: both spouses freely give and receive love to one another in spite of their gender and personality differences; both spouses ‘submit’ to each other in the relationship.
Leadership: One of my mentors is John Maxwell, the leadership expert and author. In his book, “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership” he states, “Leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less.” Also, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” If ‘everything’ includes marriage, this should cause any married person to ask themselves, 1) Do I have influence in my marriage relationship? If so, is my influence a positive or negative? 2) What do I need to change in my own thinking, habits, and behaviors to be a better person, influence, and spouse in my marriage?
Sexual faithfulness, romance and affection: Plan and schedule regular dates for affection (non-sexual expressions are important too), romance, and sex. By the way, for women sexual intimacy flows from emotional intimacy; for men emotional intimacy flows from sexual intimacy. In other words, husband, give yourself to your wife (emotionally) and you’ll get what you desire (sexually). Conversely, wife, give yourself to your husband (sexually) and you get what you desire (emotionally). (See the Bible, 1 Corinthians 7: 1-9).
Conflict resolution: In the creation of mankind, God designed the husband and wife connection to be intimate—a ‘one flesh’ relationship intended to co-exist and work as a unit. Learn to be a problem solver and decide to resolve issues unified—not as disunified enemies… when couples refuse to jointly resolve their conflicts they are essentially working against their own best interest because there will be unforeseen (prospectively negative) consequences. If you need help from an experienced pastor, licensed counselor, or other trained professional, there is plenty of help available for the asking.
Stable and wise financial management: It’s never too late to learn and practice good stewardship of God-given resources. Avoid creating debt because it suffocates financial freedom, limits living options, and creates undesired stress in the family relationship. Learn to be intentional about how you use money. Learn to sow generously, save and invest prudently, and spend wisely.
Couple recreation and leisure: Another ‘secret ingredient’ is being intentional about scheduling regular times when you can refresh, have fun and laugh together as a couple.
Time management: Learn and practice effective time management and personal organization. This item dovetails with all the preceding items listed.
2) Forgiveness: A Foundation of a Healthy, Thriving Marriage Relationship Begins With Forgiveness
You Choose to Accept or Reject God’s Love and Forgiveness: We have a model to follow and possession to freely give away to others when we receive God’s forgiveness. Jesus Christ, the Son of God paid the price, for my sin and yours, with his life so that we could be reconciled to God. The forgiveness of our sins (humanity’s disobedience and rebellion against God) comes through Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:21 of the Bible reads: “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.”
By the way, professional research conducted regarding marriages has shown one of the common complaints of ‘unhappy’ couples are “unresolved differences in spiritual beliefs.” So, if you are a Christian and dating, consider exclusively dating and marrying a Christian.
You Choose to Forgive Your Spouse/Others: Favorably achieving and sustaining a healthy marriage (or any other relationship) requires the discipline of forgiveness. Forgiveness is not relieving the other person of responsibility; accepting what the other person did was right; pretending you or another was not hurt; a feeling; holding a grudge against the person , becoming bitter, and seeking to payback; or perceived; or instantly trusting the other person again. In the context of marriage, forgiveness is continuing to treat your spouse with love and acceptance in spite of wrongs experienced or perceived. Forgiveness is a decision which only you or I can make; it is a personal decision, one which we individually own.
So why forgive? When we forgive others it is obedience pleasing to God, and is beneficial for you and me. Forgiving the other person yields your freedom. The Bible provides life-giving instruction regarding forgiveness in Matthew 6:14-15, “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” People are not mind-numb puppets or heartless robots. We were born into life with the ability to think and exercise personal choice, to choose what is “right” and to reject what is “wrong.” Each of us is responsible for our own attitude, emotions, and personal behavior.
Bottom-line, a foundation of a healthy, thriving marriage relationship begins with forgiveness. When an offense occurs in your marriage one of the ‘secret ingredients’ is to freely and quickly forgive the other spouse as often as needed.
3) Service: Faithfully Serve Your Spouse, “For Better or For Worse…”
Perhaps a personal story will illustrate one of many decisions which we’ve made in our marriage regarding mutual service, selfless sacrifice, and submission.
Earlier this year my wife experienced a ‘freak’ accident in a fall from her mountain bicycle. Her pelvic/torso injury resulted in a chronic pain and a temporary loss of mobility. Consequently, she wasn’t able to perform some activities of daily living on her own without my assistance. In our household there are some responsibilities that we share and others that we do solo because of availability, choice, or know-how. For example, my wife primarily cooks our meals and I perform the outside labor like lawn care. For several weeks after her accident I assumed lead responsibility for meal preparation, her tasks my tasks, exclusive responsibility as her personal assistant, plus my work.
Her physical injury made walking or changing from a lying, sitting, or standing position difficult without assistance. I gave her physical assistance as needed. Subsequently, we cancelled or deferred some personal commitments planned for the summer during the period of her medical care and extended recovery.
A short-list of my learning from the spousal care-giving experience follows:
• I was fully committed to serving my wife during a critical and vulnerable episode in our lives. However, if I hadn’t been helpful, saying she’d be “disappointed in me” is an understatement. Our ongoing relationship would have suffered greatly and been in jeopardy.
• Other than allocating personal time for prayer and maintaining a relationship with God, nothing else warranted the same level of personal commitment and time needed to care for my wife.
• Thankfully, my wife’s injury was only temporary and not life-threatening. However, through our temporary experience we developed an empathy with individuals and couples permanently living with various emotional, neurological, and physical disabilities.
• My choice to love and unconditionally serve my wife didn’t occur in reaction to her accident but it was the result of a decision which I made over twenty-five years ago. I promised before God and witnesses “to take her to be my wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part.” I have a duty to follow through on my promise to her.
• We continue to grow and thrive as a couple because we seek to have God’s love; joy; peace; patience; kindness; goodness; faithfulness; gentleness; and self-control in our lives and marriage.
For over two decades one of our personal and vocational passions has been mentoring pre-marital, married couples, and teaching others to do the same.
So, what have been your experiences and highlights in marriage? Let’s talk!