“Success in marriage does not come merely through finding the right mate, but through being the right mate.” – Barnett R. Brickner
Two years ago, my family and I embraced a minimalist lifestyle. We decided that too much clutter had collected in our home and that it was demanding too much of our money, energy, and precious time. And thus, we embarked upon on a journey to sell, donate, recycle, or remove as many of the nonessentials possessions from our home as possible. It was one of the best decisions we ever made.
When we began removing the “stuff” from our life, we found a whole new world open up. We found that we had more time for the things that we valued most. Now, as a result, we spend more time at the dinner table, we take longer walks as a family, and we have been able to save money for some worthwhile experiences… like a weekend at the beach, for example. Removing the nonessentials has allowed us to focus more on the essentials. And we have discovered that true life is found there.
Often times, our marriages follow the same trajectory. At first, when we have nothing but each other, we focus intently on the important building blocks of a healthy marriage. But as our relationship continues forward, “stuff” begins to accumulate and begins to distract us from the very essentials needed for a successful marriage. Suddenly, we worry more about the appraisal value of our home than the value of our relationship. We check the health of our retirement account far more often than the health of our marriage. Or we spend more time taking care of the car in the garage than the other person in our bed. Things begin to accumulate in our homes and lives and soon demand our money, energy, and precious time. As a result, we have little left over for the very elements that keep our marriages successful.
Wise couples realize that a nice home, car, or retirement account may appear nice to have, but they do not make a successful marriage. They understand that there are far more important principles at play. As a result, they have learned to invest their money, energy, and time into the 8 essentials of a healthy marriage:
1. Love/Commitment. At its core, love is a decision to be committed to another person. It is far more than a fleeting emotion as portrayed on television, the big screen, and romance novels. Feelings come and go, but a true decision to be committed lasts forever – and that is what defines true love. It is a decision to be committed through the ups and the downs, the good and the bad. When things are going well, commitment is easy. But true love is displayed by remaining committed even through the trials of life.
2. Sexual Faithfulness. Sexual faithfulness in marriage includes more than just our bodies. It also includes our eyes, mind, heart, and soul. When we devote our minds to sexual fantasies about another person, we sacrifice sexual faithfulness to our spouse. When we offer moments of emotional intimacies to another, we sacrifice sexual faithfulness to our spouse. Guard your sexuality daily and devote it entirely to your spouse. Sexual faithfulness requires self-discipline and an awareness of the consequences. Refuse to put anything in front of your eyes, body, or heart that would compromise your faithfulness.
3. Humility. We all have weaknesses and relationships always reveal these faults quicker than anything else on earth. An essential building block of a healthy marriage is the ability to admit that you are not perfect, that you will make mistakes, and that you will need forgiveness. Holding an attitude of superiority over your partner will bring about resentment and will prevent your relationship from moving forward. If you struggle in this area, grab a pencil and quickly write down three things that your partner does better than you – that simple exercise should help you stay humble. Repeat as often as necessary.
4. Patience/Forgiveness. Because no one is perfect (see #3), patience and forgiveness will always be required in a marriage relationship. Successful marriage partners learn to show unending patience and forgiveness to their partner. They humbly admit their own faults and do not expect perfection from their partner. They do not bring up past errors in an effort to hold their partner hostage. And they do not seek to make amends or get revenge when mistakes occur. If you are holding onto a past hurt from your partner, forgive him or her. It will set your heart and relationship free.
5. Time. Relationships don’t work without time investment. Never have, never will. Any successful relationship requires intentional, quality time together. And quality time rarely happens when quantity time is absent. The relationship with your spouse should be the most intimate and deep relationship you have. Therefore, it is going to require more time than any other relationship. If possible, set aside time each day for your spouse. And a date-night once in awhile wouldn’t hurt either.
6. Honesty and Trust. Honesty and trust become the foundation for everything healthy in a marriage. But unlike most of the other essentials on this list, trust takes time. You can become selfless, committed, or patient in a moment, but trust always takes time. Trust is only built after weeks, months, and years of being who you say you are and doing what you say you’ll do. It takes time, so start now… and if you need to rebuild trust in your relationship, you’ll need to work even harder.
7. Communication. Successful marriage partners communicate as much as possible. They certainly discuss kids’ schedules, grocery lists, and utility bills. But they don’t stop there. They also communicate hopes, dreams, fears, and anxieties. They don’t just discuss the changes that are taking place in the kid’s life, they also discuss the changes that are taking place in their own hearts and souls. This essential key cannot be overlooked because honest, forthright communication becomes the foundation for so many other things on this list: commitment, patience, and trust… just to name a few.
8. Selflessness. Although it will never show up on any survey, more marriages are broken up by selfishness than any other reason. Surveys blame it on finances, lack of commitment, infidelity, or incompatibility, but the root cause for most of these reasons is selfishness. A selfish person is committed only to himself or herself, shows little patience, and never learns how to be a successful spouse. Give your hopes, dreams, and life to your partner. And begin to live life together.
This is a simple call to value our marriages, treat them with great care, and invest into them daily. Accomplishing the items listed above will always require nearly every bit of yourself… but it so worth it. After all, a successful marriage is far more valuable than most of temporal things we chase after with our lives. And will always last longer.