In this article, We discuss what makes a marriage work. Underneath all the traditional advice is a principle that many couples miss. We explore that principle here.
We’ve all heard the standard responses:
– Practice Good Communication Skills
– Spend Quality Time Together
– Be Faithful
– Forgive One Another Daily
– Create Trust In Your Marriage
– Have Shared Values You Believe In
These are certainly not bad advice. But underneath is an ingredient that is often overlooked. It is a principle that guides all these things.
In This Article
- 5 Underlying Principles That Make Marriage Work
- Final Thoughts on What Makes Marriage Work
The Airport Encounter
I recently ran across a beautiful story of marriage done right. It embodies the principle I’m talking about.
Instead of retelling it, I want to share it verbatim. (Source)
Bare with me. It’s worth the read. At the end, I have a few comments and conclusions that will help you create this type of relationship.
Here is the story:
While waiting to pick up a friend at the airport in Portland, Oregon, I had one of those life-changing experiences that you hear other people talk about — the kind that sneaks up on you unexpectedly. This one occurred a mere two feet away from me.
Straining to locate my friend among the passengers deplaning through the jetway, I noticed a man coming toward me carrying two light bags. He stopped right next to me to greet his family.
First, he motioned to his youngest son (maybe six years old) as he laid down his bags. They gave each other a long, loving hug. As they separated enough to look in each other’s faces, I heard the father say, “It’s so good to see you, son. I missed you so much!” His son smiled somewhat shyly, averted his eyes, and replied softly, “Me, too, Dad!”
Then the man stood up, gazed in the eyes of his oldest son (maybe nine or ten), and while cupping his son’s face in his hands said, “You’re already quite the young man. I love you very much, Zach!” They too hugged a most loving, tender hug.
While this was happening, a baby girl (perhaps one or one-and-a-half) was squirming excitedly in her mother’s arms, never once taking her little eyes off the wonderful sight of her returning father. The man said, “Hi, baby girl!” as he gently took the child from her mother. He quickly kissed her face all over and then held her close to his chest while rocking her from side to side. The little girl instantly relaxed and simply laid her head on his shoulder, motionless in pure contentment.
After several moments, he handed his daughter to his oldest son and declared, “I’ve saved the best for last!” and proceeded to give his wife the longest, most passionate kiss I ever remember seeing. He gazed into her eyes for several seconds and then silently mouthed. “I love you so much!” They stared at each other’s eyes, beaming big smiles at one another while holding both hands.
For an instant, they reminded me of newlyweds, but I knew by the age of their kids that they couldn’t possibly be. I puzzled about it for a moment then realized how totally engrossed I was in the wonderful display of unconditional love not more than an arm’s length away from me. I suddenly felt uncomfortable, as if I was invading something sacred, but was amazed to hear my own voice nervously ask, “Wow! How long have you two been married?
“Been together fourteen years total, married twelve of those,” he replied, without breaking his gaze from his lovely wife’s face. “Well then, how long have you been away?” I asked. The man finally turned and looked at me, still beaming his joyous smile. “Two whole days!”
Two days? I was stunned. By the intensity of the greeting, I had assumed he’d been gone for at least several weeks – if not months. I know my expression betrayed me.
I said almost offhandedly, hoping to end my intrusion with some semblance of grace (and to get back to searching for my friend), “I hope my marriage is still that passionate after twelve years!”
The man suddenly stopped smiling.
He looked me straight in the eye, and with forcefulness that burned right into my soul, he told me something that left me a different person. He told me, “Don’t hope, friend… decide!” Then he flashed me his wonderful smile again, shook my hand and said, “God bless!”
– by Michael D. Hargrove Used with permission
I love this story because it embodies the principle of decision. This man (couple) decided to have a great marriage.
The decision was firm, resolved, and committed. Once the decision was made, their actions came into alignment with that decision.
At the risk of sounding overly simplified, this one truth can help you create a successful relationship.
5 Underlying Principles That Make Marriage Work
Here are 5 underlying principles we can learn from this story that help us make our marriage better.
1. Decide Who YOU Want To Be
The biggest part of the battle is deciding (making up your mind) what kind of person you are going to be.
Too often couples start with the relationship. This is the wrong starting point. You have to start with yourself.
What kind of person do you want to be?Keep in mind that the kind of person you become determines the type of relationship (and the quality of marriage) you have. Click To Tweet
Keep in mind that the kind of person you become determines the type of relationship (and the quality of marriage) you have.
You cannot start with the marriage. It is only a reflection of who you are.
Most people miss this and they spend years trying to fix the wrong thing.
Problems With Our Pontoon Boat
A few years ago we bought a pontoon boat so we could spend time on the lake. We thought it would be a great way to entertain our grandkids, plus a nice mini-vacation for us.
I found a used boat for sale, gave it a test drive, paid the guy cash, and hauled it to our house for cleanup and a little cosmetic makeover.
When we took it to the lake we started having problems. It would start, but wouldn’t run very long.
We spend the first week trying to figure out what was wrong. It would run great for a while, then ‘choke out.’
I watched Youtube videos to try and diagnose the problem. I tinkered with the motor although I’m not much of a mechanic. I know enough to get by, but this was beyond my expertise.
I finally took to a local boat mechanic. He was retired but agreed to give it a look.
It didn’t take him long to figure out the problem. In fact, he didn’t even start the motor. But he zeroed in on the issue.
It had water in the fuel.
Sounds like a no-brainer when I look back. My problem was I was focused on the motor, not the fuel. I had tunnel vision.
Here’s my point. You can’t fix the problem if you are working on the wrong thing.
When it comes to marriage, the best place to start is you. Work on you and you will see changes in your relationship.It's impossible to better yourself and not see changes in your relationships. When you are different, your relationships are different. Click To Tweet
It’s impossible to better yourself and not see changes in your relationships. When you are different, your relationships are different.
2. Deciding Is Not About Feelings
This is another big misconception. We often try to connect the two, but they are two separate (and not equal) things.
How you feel should not determine the decisions you make.
I trust you will hear this with a balanced mind and heart.
I’m not suggesting your emotions do not play a role. They do. But too often we give them the lead role. And emotions are terrible at leading.
Note: I’m not talking about intuition and spiritual discernment. I’m referring to raw feelings.
You can’t afford to be led by your emotions when you are working to make your marriage everything it should be.
If you allow emotions to lead, you will be up one day and down the next. Committed one week, questioning if you should even be together, the next. Emotions will run you ragged.
Decisions are based on something deeper than feelings. They should be anchored to deep desire.
Yes. There is a difference.
Deep desire is connected to the thing you want down deep in your heart. It is that longing that lasts when everything else disappears and vanishes away.
Deep desire comes when you know what you want – really want – deep in your heart.
It is not based on a whim. It is that inner longing you crave in your marriage.
3. Deciding Is About Resolve
Too often I talk with couples who are dissatisfied with their relationship. They want things to change, so they try a lot of things to see if they get the result they want.
Most of the time they do not.
Why? They want things to change without changing themselves. We’ve already mentioned this above, but here is something else to consider…
When you resolve to change – you make a resolute decision to do life differently, things fall into place. Without that resolve, you are merely stabbing in the dark trying to see what works.
Trying is not doing. Trying is not enough. You have to decide.
When you make a resolute decision something changes in the brain. It dictates your thoughts, actions, and plans.
When that happens, change comes almost effortlessly.
- Are you resolute about the kind of marriage you will build? Or are you just hopeful?
- Are you resolved to be the person you were meant to be so you can be the husband or wife your spouse needs? Or are you merely wishful?
- Have you decided to have a great marriage? Or are you simply trying different things to see if it changes?
If you are not resolute, your marriage will not change.
If you have not decided firmly, you are on the fence. And you can’t lead or change things from the fence.
4. Deciding Is Not Merely Choosing
I can hear the gears of your mind grinding to a halt with that statement.
Allow me to explain.
Years ago, a psychologist by the name of William James studied patients and noticed a subtle (yet meaningful) distinction between choosing something, and making a decision. (Vanderbilt Study)
One of the big differences he noted is a choice is based on alternatives.
We choose a milkshake over a soft drink. Or we choose a bike ride over a hike. Choices involve equal or similar options or alternatives.
A decision is not based on alternatives. A decision eliminates options.
I choose to hike because I want to stay in shape and enjoy the outdoors. My decision to be healthy pushes me to find ‘ways’ to bring this decision to fulfillment.
A decision eliminates all other options.
An example from the Vanderbilt study will help make this clear:
Choice: A choice happens when you go to a vending machine, put in your money, and choose a Dr. Pepper over a Coke.
It may involve some deliberation, or it may not. In other words, you may have made up your mind to select Dr. Pepper before you put your money in or not, but you choose a Dr. Pepper OVER a Coke.
Decision: A decision happens by predetermining you want a Dr. Pepper. So you go to the vending machine and discover they do not have Dr. Pepper.
Since you have decided you ONLY want a Dr. Pepper, you leave and try to find another vending machine that has what you want.
It may appear to be subtle, but the difference is life-changing.When you decide to have a healthy marriage, you are not merely choosing between options, you are removing any other possibilities. Click To Tweet
When you decide to have a healthy marriage, you are not merely choosing between options, you are removing any other possibilities.
This is why this story is so powerful. This couple refused to allow any other option to have a place in their thought life or actions.
5. Deciding Doesn’t Replace Doing
Deciding to have a great marriage doesn’t mean you don’t work to make it happen.
Deciding doesn’t replace doing. It fuels it.
Here’s what I mean.
Studies show that we do things for various reasons. For the sake of simplicity, let’s put our actions into two categories: Automatic (easy) actions, and forced (not so easy) actions.
Automatic behavior happens because we’ve trained our brains (and bodies) to perform certain activities. They are subconscious. They operate below the realm of thoughts. They are more responses than thoughts. We often call them unconscious habits.
I brush my teeth first thing every morning. I do not even think about it, I just grab my toothbrush and do it.
In the vending machine example, an automatic action would be reaching for the money in your pocket to purchase a Dr. Pepper.
You don’t really think about it, you just go for your wallet or pocket to find the money.
Forced action is when we have to think about what we are doing.
Forced action is having to choose whether you want a Dr. Pepper or Coke. It takes mental energy to think through the options.
I realize that is oversimplified, but I want to drive home a point…
Once you decide something, you start the process of moving it from a forced action to automatic action.
That’s the goal. To do things automatically that help you serve your spouse and create the marriage of your dreams without sabotaging your efforts.The goal is to do things automatically that help you serve your spouse and create the marriage of your dreams without sabotaging your efforts. Click To Tweet
It takes time and energy to train your brain (and body) to do things differently. Making a decision is the first step.
From that point, you eliminate all other options and you retrain your mind to think about what will benefit your spouse and build your marriage.
The point is, you have to DO things to make your marriage great. But you do them from a place of decision and resolve, not merely wishful thinking.
Final Thoughts on What Makes Marriage Work
In this article, we discussed the underlying principle that motivates our actions and efforts to create a great marriage. The key that supports all our efforts is deciding.
Too many couples wish and hope for a good marriage, but they don’t decide to make it happen.
Recap of What We Discussed
- 5 Underlying Principles That Make Marriage Work
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