I’m always going to call myself a work in progress. I’m far from perfect but wiser in my walk than I was before. I consider each day to be a new day to learn something new about myself, about interacting with others, and about strengthening my marriage. My marriage isn’t perfect either, but I have been able to watch it mature into something lovely over the years.
It didn’t start out on solid ground; that I can promise you. If it were not for the prompting of the Holy Spirit, it might have crumbled in that newlywed period a decade ago, but through perseverance, prayer, and the knowledge of the Lord, we have cultivated a beautiful covenant that becomes better each and every day. Here are a few tips I have found to be so very true in having a happy, healthy relationship.
1. Lower your expectations
In fact, go ahead and drop them altogether. Whatever dream person you have created in your head, let him/her go. This is reality, people. Open your eyes and fix them on Jesus. He’s the only perfect One you’ll ever find.
I discovered pretty early on that my husband and I shared more differences than similarities. Where I was a perfectionist, he was content with getting by. Where I was a planner, he was a procrastinator. Where I was motivated, he was blasé. Where I completed a task once I got started, he was fine with letting it fall away. It was exasperating.
But then I discovered something more. Where I often held unrealistic expectations for life, he was more able to go with the flow that is the reality of a tumultuous world. Where I had to have my ducks in a row, he was more open to change and going off course to achieve the same goal. Where I was overly dedicated to a task of my own making, he was open to the plans God put before us. Where I became almost obsessed with seeing a project to completion, he was more able to open his hands in surrender to allow Jesus to take it away.
I discovered we were a pretty good team. It was like it was a God-ordained union, something I had always known, but didn’t realize the details of until it was before me. You see, a huge cause of discontent in marriage is failed expectations. We have a certain idea in mind of how our spouse must be. When they inevitably fail to meet those expectations we become angry and disillusioned. We seldom stop and understand that they were made a specific way by God, and that if we believe God to be the director of our lives, then we must trust that He put two distinctive personalities together for a reason, for a purpose. Remember, the plans of man always fail; it’s God who directs our steps.
So, drop who you think your spouse should be, celebrate who they are, and most importantly, pray that they will become who God has them to be (not who you have them to be).
2. Remove your plank
I know I’m stepping on some toes now. Another big cause of marital strife comes in the form of our own judgment and self-centeredness. This is a hard pill to swallow, but the truth usually is. The problem with the human condition is sin, imperfection, and blindness. No, I don’t mean physical blindness but, rather, a spiritual one.
Our expectations for ourselves are never as high as the expectations we place on others. Because only God knows our every thought and desire, only He can always do what’s right by us. Only He will never hurt us. Now understand, our sin may hurt us, and God may allow that, but He will never hurt us. If you’ve been around people for longer than five minutes, then you know that’s not true of us.
In marriage (and all relationships for that matter), you will get your feelings hurt. The person won’t say the right thing, do the right thing, or always act in the right manner. You will be left hurt, wounded, and let down, which typically leads to anger. After all, it’s easier to get mad than stew in hurt feelings.
“He never helps me!”
“She never wants to have sex anymore.”
“Does he ever hear a word I say?!”
“Why does she keep nagging me?!”
“What’s her problem?”
“What did I do this time?!”
A relationship can become a blame game, pointing fingers, and keeping score. Who’s done more for the marriage? Who says I’m sorry first? How long until he/she disappoints me again? I’ll enlist the silent treatment; let’s see who breaks the silence and speaks first.
“I wonder how long he’ll leave his dirty laundry at the foot of the bed?”
“I wonder how long she’ll leave that curling iron on the sink?”
“I work all day at my job!”
“I work all day at this house with the children!”
It becomes a competition of who does more, who does less, and who can see the contribution you’re putting out there. We become so blinded by what we’re giving out that we miss what our partner is supplying. We become so focused on where we’re taken advantage of that we totally miss our own selfish attitude.
Who’s the most selfish person in the relationship?
It’s the one who’s breathing. It’s him, it’s her, it’s you, it’s me. We’re all selfish. That’s the easy part of marriage. The hard part is moving past selfishness and working towards servanthood. Serve your spouse; don’t spend your time wondering how he/she can serve you.
Before you become angry, fed up, or burned out with your partner, consider how you might better improve yourself. What can you do to cultivate the relationship? What plank exists in your own eye while you’re distracted with the sawdust he/she left on the floor?
From personal experience, you get back what you put in. Your reward is dependent on how you run the race. Your harvest is based on what you’re planting and feeding into the soil. Just like your banking account, the deposits have to exceed the withdrawals; otherwise, you’re bankrupt. Invest to see a future profit.
3. Learn what love is
A majority of marriages that end in divorce are because of a lack of love. They start with what they think is love, but it’s not. A lot of the time, what we assume is love is really addiction. Hang with me, now.
We are addicted to feeling good. We need to feel appreciated, taken care of, desired, found attractive. We thrive on compliments; we feel best when we are needed. It gives us a sense of purpose to take care of someone, and it gives us a sense of peace to have someone take care of us. And while yes, I believe God created marriage with a partnership in mind, we confuse love with performance. We convolute love with just emotion. So when we are hurt, our love takes a hit. We base our ability to love someone on how they love us back. We base our continued love for someone on how it feels at the moment. We take back love when ours isn’t reciprocated.
If you find yourself doing any of the above in your own relationship, don’t beat yourself up too badly. You’re in good company. It’s called being human. We eat food based on what tastes good. And we stay committed to someone based on the continued performance of our spouse. We’re basically grading our marriage, and we are using a pass or fail sliding scale.
I love ice cream because it’s delicious. Especially chocolate chip! I love my husband, but he isn’t always pleasing to my palate. Sometimes, he’s downright bitter.
If we desire a happier marriage, we have to enlist a bit of Christ-like behavior. We have to try and love more as Jesus does. We have to understand and discover that real, unbreakable love isn’t based on what we can get out of it. Real, unconditional love is the kind that dies for you even when you hate it. It’s the kind that forgives you even when you are the weapon of death. It’s the kind of love that loves the unlovable, that loves even when it gets nothing in return.
I’m not asking you to be crucified like a martyr for your marriage, but I do think you’ll grasp a taste of the divine when you can try and sample what He placed before us as an example of love. We are the Bride of Christ, and the love He’s laying down, can’t nobody model, but it comes back to that thing I mentioned in the first paragraph. Work in progress. We’re all working toward that perfection we can achieve through Him. Does that mean a perfect marriage? No. But it does mean a happier, healthier one if we can try a little harder to understand that real love He modeled.
When you walk in that kind of love for your spouse, you love him/her even when he/she says something thoughtless. You forgive him/her when he/she fails you. You love him/her when you’re not feeling like it, and you love him/her even when he/she has nothing to give in return. That is love.
We love Christ because He first loved us (1 John 4:19), and true, long-standing love is achieved through giving of yourself without expectation of what you’ll get in return.
We can’t place too much expectation on our marriage. The only perfect marriage is between Jesus and the Church. To love your spouse is to mean that, even when he/she doesn’t meet that high expectation, we still love. We love like Christ because He first loved us. I found that, by modeling that kind of love toward my husband, he, in turn, loved me the same.
My husband and I only expect perfection in Jesus, and our true joy and contentment cannot be found in one another. They can only be found in Him. We have found happiness in remembering that on a day-to-day basis. We model His love to one another, but we also understand that kind of love can only truly be found in Him.
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on briegowen.com
Featured Image by Foto Pettine