BUILDING A HEALTHY MARRIAGE
By Richard (Dick) Innes
By all outward appearances Sharon and John were the perfect couple. Their parents and friends said theirs was a match made in heaven and if any couple would make it, they would.
Ten years and three children later their marriage ended in divorce. Sad to say, their story is not unusual. At least in the western world marriages continue to crumble at an alarming rate. While we have made profound advances in the technical and scientific world, we have made little progress in the relational world—the success of the latter being the glue that holds families and nations together.
The causes of marriage breakdown are usually complex and multiple. The following steps can help you avoid this heartache.
First, work at growing in love rather than falling in love. When one country and western singer reported his symptoms to the doctor: “My hands are sweaty and my knees are weak, I can’t eat and I can’t sleep,” the doctor replied, “Sounds like love’s got a hold on you!” This kind of romantic attraction often based on physical attraction can be very exhilarating and can lead to love, but it isn’t love and it doesn’t last. We call it falling in love. The trouble with this kind of love is that it is just as easy to fall out of it.
Keeping romance alive in a marriage is very important as is keeping true love alive, but these don’t happen by chance. They take considerable effort and need to be made a high priority.
“Work at growing in love
rather than falling in love.”
It is amazing, too, how many of us are romantically attracted, albeit unconsciously, to someone just like our mother or father—especially the one whom we felt never loved us. There is an unconscious drive deep within us that draws us to this person because we are still seeking to get the love we never found as a child. Too late we discover when the honeymoon is over that we have married our “mother” or “father.” Instead of getting the love we never received, we have more of what we didn’t get as a child. This can be very disillusioning but if both spouses are willing to see what they have done and resolve their “mother” and/or “father wound,” they can overcome this major reason for marriage failure.
Second, own your own problems. The reality is there are no innocent parties in any marriage conflict. Each person is contributing something. Only as each admits, owns, and takes responsibility for his or her reactions and especially, over-reactions, can a healthy relationship be sustained. If I blame anyone else for my over-reactions I will b—lame!
Third, resolve past issues. We may be able to hide our problems before we are married, but once the knot is tied, sooner or later they surface. For example, if a husband had a negative relationship with his mother, or a wife had a poor relationship with her father (or either parent for that matter), neither one will be prepared for a healthy relationship with their spouse.
If a man is angry at either parent and hasn’t resolved this, he will inevitably take out his anger on his wife and children. The same principle applies to every unresolved relational problem from the past. So, to build and sustain a healthy marriage in the present, it is imperative that we resolve the emotions in us that were caused by any impaired significant relationship from the past.
Fourth, be forgiving and let go of grudges. When couples lash out and hurt each other or withdraw when they feel hurt or angry, a wall of resentment and fear builds up between them—a wall that blocks out love and makes closeness impossible. As the Bible teaches, “Don’t let the sun go down with you still angry, get over it quickly.” (Ephesians 4:26 TLB) All negative feelings need to be resolved as quickly as possible so forgiveness can be given and closeness maintained.
Fifth, establish good communications. At the center of effective relationships is effective communication, which is sharing not only what we think, but much more what we feel. Eighty percent of close relating is at the feeling level so we need to learn how to share honestly what we are genuinely feeling without blaming the other person for these feelings. This is the heart and soul of intimacy.
Sixth, grow in maturity. Selfishness, blaming others for our problems, overreacting, being oversensitive and getting our feelings hurt too easily, insecurity, lack of healthy boundaries, being defensive, expecting perfectionism in yourself or others, are all symptoms of immaturity. All are destroyers of meaningful relationships. To have a healthy marriage we need to take ownership of and responsibility for resolving all of our personal problems and go on to maturity.
“Research has shown that one
of the main qualities in
relationships that last is the
measure of spiritual
commitment each partner has.”
Seventh, build commitment. Among other things, love is a commitment of one imperfect person to another imperfect person. Everybody has some faults, but as each partner admits his/hers and is committed to overcoming them and is willing to accept his/her partner with their faults, a healthy and strong relationship can be built.
Eighth, have realistic expectations. I know one woman who has been divorced twice who says that she just can’t find a man to measure up to her father. Chances are that she never will. The Hollywood hoax hasn’t helped either. The silver screen, as do glamour magazines, can hopelessly distort our view of beauty, sex, and love and leave us with totally unrealistic expectations. To have a real marriage we need to get real!
Ninth, have similar interests and purposes. Over the years when one partner is going in one direction and the other in a totally opposite direction, little by little, they slowly drift apart. All interests don’t need to be the same, but it is important to develop enough common interests that you enjoy together.
Tenth, last but not least, develop a strong spiritual commitment. Research has shown that one of the main qualities in relationships that last is the measure of spiritual commitment each partner has. We humans are much more than intellectual and physical beings. We are also spiritual beings with an innate need for God.
Committing your lives together to God as a couple and trusting Him to guide you makes a solid foundation for any relationship. Add the preceding nine steps to this commitment and you will have a much greater chance of not only making it together but having a very happy marriage relationship.