Three hallmarks of a healthy marriage.
Entering marriage, I fully expected my wife & I to have a happy marriage. We were two good people — I thought that’s all it took.
But we soon lost our way.
I reached out to friends for marriage advice. One friend urged me to “get over it.”
He explained: “The initial passion wears off, and you end up bickering the rest of your lives. Get used to it.”
How you think about marriage profoundly impacts the quality of your marriage.
A marriage filled with bickering and emptied of passion — my friend thought this was normal — and he resigned himself to this fate. How sad.
I was not ready to give up so quickly. I undertook a deeper study of marriage and have come to embrace a “philosophy of marriage” that has given meaning to our struggles — and which continues to provide us inspiration to this day.
We are two good people, but I have come to believe marriage is not supposed to be easy. A good marriage is not about cruising through life together — it’s about growing through life together.
Our marriage is a “work in progress” — we are “works in progress” — what’s important is that we continue to make progress.
Stagnation is the enemy.
Here, then, are three hallmarks of a healthy marriage:
1. Love is creative — not critical
What does it mean to love someone?
My wife & I have many failings. These failings were weighing us down early in our marriage. Then I came across this passage from the Polish playwright Karol Wojtyła:
One does not love a person because it is easy.
Why does one love at all?…
[In the end] one question is important:
Is it creative?
Creative! If I love my wife, I will build her up. I will focus on the “good and beautiful” in her and seek to draw that out of her. I will encourage her to become, over our lifetime together, a more complete person. This is a creative love.
Too many of us choose to go down the opposite path — we tear each other down. We were tearing each other down.
Banish bickering & boredom
Bickering — pointing out each other’s flaws, again and again — is the leading cause of divorce for couples married less than seven years.
Boredom — a failure to be creative in love in a deeper way — is the leading cause of divorce for couples married longer than seven years.
I had thought my wife & I were good as long as we weren’t fighting, but “getting along” is not enough. Marriage is too long for that.
If we are going to enjoy being married to each other for a lifetime, we need to keep our time together interesting.
And that means — throughout our married life — we need to encourage each other to grow. We need to continually build each other up.
We need to challenge each other. We need to work as a team to make our individual and shared dreams come true.
That is a creative love.
2. Love is joyful — in good times and in bad
A second insight into what makes a marriage healthy came when that same Polish playwright argued love is joyful. Your home should be a happy home, day in and day out — not just every now and then.
At the time, I was hoping for a peaceful marriage. After a long day of work, all I wanted — I thought — was a quiet evening at home.
But we are not meant to live peacefully together.
Marriage does involve struggle — but marriage is supposed to be joyful — even in the midst of struggle.
I have a long commute. Early in our marriage, I spent six months of train rides home reflecting on the question, “what do I truly need from my wife?”
My answer: “I truly need just one thing. I need my wife to smile at me when I walk in the door.”
Her smile makes me feel welcome in my own home. Her smile shows me the love of my life is happy I am alive. I want to feel this way every single day.
“I will love you in good times and in bad”
My wife & I made a promise, on our wedding day, to love each other in good times and in bad.
When I made this promise, I was thinking about the big bad times we might face — “I will love you if you are ever diagnosed with cancer.”
But the promise to love also applies to life’s many “small bad days.”
I promised my wife I would love her after a good day at work — that’s an easy promise to keep — but I also promised to love her after a bad day at work. I did not keep this promise!
I urge couples to truly live your wedding vows. Pay special attention during the “small bad days” of your life, as this is when you are least likely to love.
Make a commitment to love more — not less — when you are tired, frustrated, stressed.
Give each other the gift of a joyful marriage — in good times and in bad — each and every day of your married life together.
And — there is no better moment to show your love for each other than the moment of reunion.
How you greet each other sets the tone for your marriage and family life. Always greet each other with joy.
3. The purpose of marriage is to challenge you to grow — to grow as individuals and to grow together as a team
Marriage is a long time to spend with one person.
I have come to believe the only way we are going to enjoy our married life together is if we each grow as individuals — and grow together as a team.
In the early days of our marriage, it didn’t take me long to realize I needed to get better at lots of things if my wife was going to be happy living with me.
To cite just one example, my wife wanted me to be more affectionate. I could have told her, “Sorry, that’s not who I am.” Instead, I committed to daily rituals that challenged me to grow in affection, little by little, every day (we made a commitment, for example, to dance with each other every day at the moment of reunion).
Today, I am an affectionate husband. We are both so much happier as a result.
They say you shouldn’t expect your spouse to change — and there is wisdom in this – but it is not wrong to ask.
Embrace growth — out of love for your spouse
Most importantly, you should look at yourself. Out of love for your spouse, you should try to change.
You can change.
What gives marriage and family life its majesty is that it is an engine for growth. But growth is not automatic.
Growth needs to be embraced.
Marriage is a great adventure — and you will want to be in your marriage for a lifetime — if your marriage is motivating you to become a better and more complete person.
Don’t “get over it” — grow
My friend was wrong. You don’t need to “get over it.”
You can choose to live by this philosophy of marriage:
Marriage is about encouraging each other to grow. It’s about seeing challenges as opportunities to grow. It’s about growing as individuals and growing together as a team. It’s about embracing this hard work with a joyful and generous spirit — in good times and in bad.
This blog is dedicated to teaching you how can live this beautiful philosophy in practice.
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