I asked various married Christian couples to share their marital secrets. I’ve summed up their responses into 12 habits of happy couples.
Valentine’s is almost here and I’ve spent eight wonderful years with my amazing Valentine. This year, as we approach that special love day, I approached ten Christian couples for the secrets to their life-long marriages. Two of the couples have been married for more than fifty years while others are in the twenty and thirty year range.
It would seem that as simple as some of these notions are, it’s hard to live them out everyday. So in honor of love day, I thought it would really great to share some pearls of wisdom from the couples I admire. A special thanks to all of them who participated! I’ve left out actual quotes and names because several insisted that God only was to receive the glory for their long marriages. I loved that. According to them here are 12 habits of happy couples.
1. They Put God First
You’ve heard it said many times that putting God at the center of your marriage, but I have found it to be a profound and nurturing command in marriage. When God’s will is above your own, when you are in pursuit of holiness, you will do things that would otherwise be impossible. Your choices look very different when you are looking to please God over man or even yourself. Forgiveness even in the midst of betrayal becomes possible. Couples who are grounded in the covenant they made with God don’t give themselves an out every time there is a roadblock or speed bump. They will attempt to work it out at all costs.
2. They Have Boundaries
In the past, I’ve written about setting healthy boundaries in your marriage. Boundaries are so important when you are dealing with families who do things differently and even with friends who might persuade either spouse. So I wasn’t surprised when several couples listed setting boundaries as one of the most effective ways to guard a marriage.
There are all kinds of boundaries that you can set in your marriage, but I think some of the most important on how you will worship, how you will interact with members of the opposite sex, what is permissible in the bedroom and rules for fighting fairly. Boundaries are not away to control or manipulate your spouse. Nor should they be a way to play “gotcha.” Rather, they should create an understanding between you and your spouse about what is permissible and what is not.
3. They Effectively Communicate Their Feelings
Many people think that discussing things that bother us will create even more tension. The truth is, in the short term, it may, but bottling up unforgiveness or anger normally only leads to deep resentment. Nevertheless, we should bring up grivences and perceived slights quickly, but constructively. Constructive conversations normally involves several things:
- Avoid using accusatory language
- Avoid name-calling, curse words, and other degrading language
- Resist the urge to assign motives. (We have a tendency to believe the best of ourselves, but the worst of others.)
- Be specific and avoid generalizations and sweeping, blanket statements
- Attack the problem and not the person
- Avoid passing blame or justifying
- If things get too heated, agree to take a time out and revisit later
4. They Listen
This might sound super basic, but one of the women I talked to said something interesting. “During an argument, most people aren’t really listening. They are just waiting for their turn to speak,” this mom of four explained. The comment actually caused me to look at my own behavior. During emotional discussions we so often want to be heard but don’t always give our spouse the same consideration. Rather, we are just waiting for them to finish so we can hammer our point a little more. If we truly want peace in our marriage, if we really want to resolve some of the arguments that are robbing our marriage of joy, we first must be come better listeners.
Our spouse’s points are just as valid as our own. I’d also add that listening doesn’t just have to be during arguments. Sometimes, it is in the everyday. Here are just a few helpful hints on how to become a better listener. I know that I’ve noticed if someone feels like they weren’t heard, the issue will often get brought back up again.
- Turn off or put down devices when your spouse speaks to you
- Resist the urge to argue in your head while they speak
- Recognize changes in tone and body language
- Ask questions when something is unclear (reserve questions for when they are done speaking)
- Confirm with, “if I’m hearing you correctly…”
- Resist interuppting
- Keep eye contact
5. They Give Up The Right to Be Right All the Time
Did you know that the most common reason for divorces aside from infidelity is arguing. Irreconcilable differences. Marriages, even good ones, have very real conflict. You will often hear people say ” we weren’t compatible.” Newsflash: no two people are totally compatible. Even though we may share things in common, we will always still have stark differences and those differences prompt arguments.
Our ego and pride often gets in the way of our resolving conflict. There are very serious problems in marriage, but many times we can get into a habit of being disagreeable. Annoyances can build up and we can find ourselves in petty squabbles over the manutia of life.
6. They Are Willing
Willingness is often understated and yet it is so important in a marriage. In my own marriage, my husband is one of the most willing people I’ve ever met. He was always willing to get up with the kids in the middle of the night. When my parents were stranded, he was willing to go across town to get them. He was willing to wait up all night for my niece until she got home safely. He is willing to work long hours, to make sacrifices, to do whatever is needed or asked of him. Be willing just means living with the attitude of a servant.
Our own Lord was quite willing. I think of all the times he could have chosen not to. He was willing to become man for our sake. Willing to eat with tax collectors, talk to Samaritans and sinners when no one else would. We know he was willing to be interrupted in the middle of teaching (Matthew 9:18-26) and we know that when the children interrupted him the disciples rebuked them, but Jesus was willing to stop and visit with them. (Matthew 19:13-15). Jesus was willing to be tortured, humiliated and crucified for the sake of sinners.
Being willing means we are willing to be inconvenienced, willing to serve, willing to sacrifice. It means that we are flexible (not stubborn), agreeable, and gracious. We have a tremendous opportunity for our spouse to come to know the love of Christ when we model this attribute.
7. They Are Kind and Gentle
Kindness is often underrated, but kindness is one of the pillars of love, the other being patience. When you are kind, you are choosing to be agreeable. Kindness causes us to look for ways to serve and meet the needs of our spouse. Additionally, kindness causes us to be gentle. Even if you have to rebuke your spouse, kindness chooses to say the words of correction with love and gentleness. Kindness chooses to offer mercy and forgiveness along with any form of correction. Both gentleness and kindness are fruits of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22-23) and therefore available to us for the asking. It should be a daily request of ours in prayer that the Holy Spirit transform and conform our hearts with these attributes of the Holy Ghost. In 2 Timothy, we are reminded that we should be actively pursuing kindness alongside holiness (2 Timothy 6:11-12).
8. They Invest In Their Spouse
When we invest our time, effort, money, and energy into something, it naturally becomes more important to us. It is harder to give up on something in which we are deeply invested. In fact, the more we have invested, the harder it is to walk away. This is why it is important to invest in your marriage and in your spouse. Sometimes investing in your marriage is the giving or devoting of yourself such as your time. For example, investing may at times require you to put aside TV time in order to spend quality time with your spouse. It can mean listening when you’d rather zonk out for the night or it can even mean working with your partner to follow their dreams or deepest pursuits.
When you invest in your spouse, you are choosing to be a participating partner in their growth and wellbeing. So long as it aligns with our Christian world view, invest in the dreams, ambitions, interests and most importantly, their spiritual life.
9. They Forgive
Oh, friend, this is such a biggie. If there is one thing I have learned in marriage and one thing that was said by these awesome couples, it’s that forgiveness needs to take center stage in your marriage. Your spouse will repeatedly fail you, disappoint you, and even betray you. It is not a matter of if your spouse will hurt you, but rather, when. Why would someone who loves you, hurt you? As Christians, we know the answer to this. Sin nature. Scripture reminds us that we are all conceived in iniquity (Psalm 51:5).
Forgiveness is hard. There is a feeling that by forgiving someone (and not staying mad) you are sending the message it isn’t a big deal or that you are letting someone off the hook. Let’s be clear. Forgiveness is actually between you and God. Unforgiveness drives a wedge between us and the Lord and we become the unforgiving servant that Jesus spoke of in Matthew 18:21-35. As much as your spouse has wronged you, you have still wrong God more. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, we can forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.
Forgiveness isn’t a single act. It’s an attitude.
10. They Seek Godly Counsel
Fighting and disagreements are inevitable and sometimes there is so much hurt and unforgiveness that our marriage feels stymied. I have learned that going to families often causes more conflict. Our families are likely to take the side of their blood relatives and may even be blinded by loyalty. I’m actually in favor of leaving families out of marital problems almost entirely for another reason. As loving spouses, we should strive to protect our spouse’s reputation. I believe that Christ-like love should work to cover faults (not expose them) in the same way that the blood of Christ covers ours (Romans 4:7). When we go to family members with catastrophic trials, it may cause our family’s opinion of our spouse to be damaged beyond repair. For that reason, I suggest seeking Godly counsel elsewhere.
There will be times where Godly counsel is needed and I can’t tell you how priceless it is to have someone rich in the love of Christ, who can shepherd the two of you through the storms that arise in marriage. Godly counsel will also lovingly rebuke you if correction is needed. Many churches offer pastoral counseling, but even if yours doesn’t, a pastor, church elder, spiritual mentor, or someone else in your church community may be a good source of advice.
11. They Make Time for Sex and Physical Affection
We live in an age where many things are bidding for our attention. We are busy and tired and devices have really made it difficult. Kids, jobs, errands, responsibilities are all clamoring for our attention. Additionally, today’s modern family faces an even bigger problem. Around the dinner table, it’s common to find members of the family engaged with a device rather than each other. Did you know there is actually a word for it? Psychologists call it “phubbing,” – subbing your phone for another human being.
Now devices have even affected marital relations. Take a look at this image below from photographer Eric Pickersgill. he took a series of images showing people engaged in everyday actions except he removed the devices from the hand’s of the subjects. we look like mindless zombies. Worse, we look disconnected from each other relationally. Research has shown that sex gets cut in half when phones are in the bedroom. I’m guessing TVs also increase that statistic.
My mother used to have a saying, “the devil will do everything in his power to get you into bed before you are married and everything to keep you out of it once you’re married.” God created an amazing bonding experience for a married couple when he created sex. A husband and wife can never be more physically close than the act of sex and sexual intimacy is the catalyst for all kinds of other emotional intimacy. They go hand in hand. Wives, we must make ourselves available to our husbands. Husbands, sex is a wonderful way to make your spouse feel beautiful and treasured. In order to have a good marriage, we must treat sex as a priority. Do it and do it often! French kiss. Cuddle. Tease. Flirt. Do it all, but be mindful and deliberate about it! Sometimes we will even have to do it when we don’t really feel like it.
12. They Pray Together
When things happen in life, when there is cause for celebration or grief, prayer should be our first response. In my own marriage, we’ve gone through all kinds of ups and downs. Miscarriage, job losses, mental illness, financial woes, spiritual depression. Praying together, inviting God into your marriage, is life-changing. If you are going to be married for a lifetime, you’ll go through everything under the sun. Now this may look like the first topic we covered – putting God first and you are right. We are making a circle. Beginning and ending with God and our relationship with him.
it’s not enough to have the same beliefs or even the same convictions, although that is important. We must also pray together and pray for one another. Pray for your spouse to become more like Christ and pray for yourself to become more like Christ. Ask God to bless your spouse, reveal himself to your spouse, and guide your spouse. Then pray together. Read the Word together. Go to church together. Fellowship with other believers together, but grow in Christ with each other. Not just when times are rough, but continually. Always.
I’m not sharing anything you don’t know. These 12 Habits of happy couples, are just good reminders. Sometimes we need to stop and recalibrate. It’s my sincerest hope that today, you will think about what you can do to nature your marriage. In the comments below, let me know how I can pray for you and don’t forget to share this post on Facebook!