The One Path to a Great Marriage

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Here’s to a GREAT Valentine’s Day, my friends!

There are many ways to have a GOOD marriage. Many paths to enjoying a totally-acceptable, definitely-not-terrible, better-than-most type of marriage. Find a hobby you both like and do it together. Go on regular dates, have fun, and make new memories together. Think your spouse is sexy and surprise each other with affection from time to time. Raise kids or build a career together. Have profound respect for each other and earn trust over time. Go to church and find ways to serve those in need together. In fact, if you’re not doing these things, stop reading, pick one, and put it on your calendar right now. However…

These are ways to have a GOOD marriage…But not a GREAT marriage.

There’s only one way to have the best possible love relationship. Only one path to the maximum amount of happiness you could ever get out of marriage. Here’s the secret: You need to give your life away. Pour your life out into your spouse. Focus on meeting their needs first, not your own. “Wait a second,” you’re thinking, “then how will my needs be met? What’s in it for me?” Good question! Your spouse needs to give their life away, too. Pour their life into you. Your lives will look like two pitchers continuously pouring into each other—never lacking, always full. This is the one path to a great marriage.

But wasn’t this what you both vowed to do back on your wedding day? To have/hold/love each other for better/worse, for richer/poorer, in sickness/health? Your vows weren’t based on how well your spouse would meet your needs; they were unconditional! But let’s be real; it’s far easier to love someone in the good times—especially when you have a GOOD marriage (see above). But when times get tough, I don’t know about you, but I all-to-quickly create a points system for whose turn it is to serve whom in my marriage (I cleaned the bathroom, so that’s what, 10 points? What have you done lately?!?).

But your wedding vows were a promise of future love—made especially for the hard times. I love how Timothy and Kathy Keller write about this in, The Meaning of Marriage, saying,

“Wedding vows are not a declaration of present love but a mutually binding promise of future love. A wedding should not be primarily a celebration of how loving you feel now— that can safely be assumed. Rather, in a wedding you stand up before God, your family, and all the main institutions of society, and you promise to be loving, faithful, and true to the other person in the future, regardless of undulating internal feelings or external circumstances.”

I need to use the word “undulating” more often.

Who First?

It’s only natural to think about your needs. Afterall, you are you! But when you focus on meeting your needs first in marriage—a me-first marriage— it’s a zero-sum game. When your spouse wins, you lose. Or when you win, your spouse loses. Even if you put your marriage first in the priorities of your life—an us-first marrage—it won’t stay us-first because we naturally gravitate back to me-first when things get hard. But when you have two people giving their lives away for the other—a you-first marriage—when one of you wins, you both win. If I serve Holly and my goal is her long-term health, happiness, and spiritual growth, then when she’s happy it’s a win for me. And vice versa.

This is the one path to a great marriage because it’s the way God wired us to love one another. Why? Because we’re made in the image of God and this is the way God loves. Unconditionally. Sacrificially. Putting the other’s needs first. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” (1Jn 3:16) If you love your spouse with a Jesus love, your marriage won’t be easy, but it will become great.

But what if…

Your spouse doesn’t love you like this.

Then it’s time for a talk. You need to be honest about what you see. You can be a huge blessing by being a gentle mirror, revealing the truth to your spouse. But you most likely need a professional counselor to help the process. Marriage is a two-way street. If one spouse is pouring out their life and getting little to nothing in return, it’s not healthy. Pray for your spouse. Pray for wisdom. And get help. Everyone can change.

You don’t want to love like this.

Ok, ok. Maybe you weren’t paying attention to the whole vows thing back on your wedding day, but you didn’t realize what you were signing up for when you got married. And this “you-first” marriage sounds even more difficult!! Well, consider this: marriages have a generational impact. Your marriage has the power to outlast you. I know families where a single unhealthy marriage created dysfunction, identity/relationship issues, resentment, bitterness, anger, and misery for multiple generations. On the other hand, I know families where a single healthy marriage created an environment of flourishing life both horizontally and vertically. Horizontally out into their community impacting marriages outside their own family and vertically, down through the generations that followed. Isn’t that the type of impact you’d like to make on this world?? Isn’t that worth working toward?? Pray for the will to work at it. Pray for your marriage impact. And find a small way to serve your spouse today. “Do the difficult things while they are easy. And do the great things while they are small.” (Chinese proverb)

So, what about you? Do you want a great marriage?