What Makes a Happy Marriage?

I Love my wife, I guess you already knew that. Kim and I have been married for almost 29 years, and one thing I have realized is that words like commitment, security, friendship and shared values are much more influential in a marriage than outward appearance and sexual activity. I’m surprised she stays with me because I’m not much to look at, a bit overweight, don’t make a whole lot of money, spend too much time at work and am physically broken which limits some of my activity. We have something that the world does not understand. When I think about love, this verse comes to mind:

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. 1 Corinthians 13:4-5

Love is not just all things erotic as we see in our culture. Love is not really that warm fuzzy feeling when she walks in the room. Love is a verb. All that Paul describes in this love passage involves action.

In our culture, marriages are falling apart. In fact, according to recent statistics, one out of two marriages will end in divorce. The magazine, Psychology Today (June, 1985) had an article called “Marriages Made to Last,” which gave the results of a survey by Jeanette and Robert Lauer of 300 couples with successful marriages. Here are the top reasons, in order of frequency, that the respondents gave when asked what kept them together.

Remarkably, the top seven were identical for men and women:

  1. My spouse is my best friend.
  2. I like my spouse as a person.
  3. Marriage is a long-term commitment.
  4. Marriage is sacred.
  5. We agree on aims and goals.
  6. My spouse has grown more interesting.
  7. I want the relationship to succeed.

Other reasons included “We laugh together,” “We agree on a philosophy of life,” “An enduring marriage is important to social stability,” and others.

I couldn’t help but notice that these reasons are totally consistent with biblical principles and opposite to the message of our culture. Popular songs, books, and shows emphasize superficiality and sexual stamina (notice any Cealis commercials lately?), but these successful couples spoke about liking the other person and about being friends. Society implies that relationships happen quickly, but these folks said that love takes time, and that there must be a long-term commitment.

Contemporary views of love are self-centered, expecting the other person to meet my needs, but these couples say that real, lasting love involves work and the desire to make the marriage succeed. For many, divorce is not even on the table.

Years ago (and today in other cultures) parents would arrange their children’s marriages. In those situations, both bride and groom knew that they would have to learn to love the person they married. I think we have turned it around. Instead of “loving the person we marry,” with our self-centered emphasis, we say we must “marry the person we love.” So we look and date and try relationships to find our romantic ideal, the one “just right” for us.

Let’s not return to the days of arranged marriages, but we must return to the truth that love means commitment,  that it must be learned, that it is a verb and means action. Check out 1 Corinthians 13 for a vivid description of true love. Let’s learn from these successful couples and dedicate ourselves to real love based on commitment and unselfish action.

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