Elements of a Strong Marriage Expanded
In the last blog we talked about certain elements that make for a successful relationship and marriage. I want to expand this now.
1. Healthy, well-written marriages are made up of two people who make and keep promises. Someone once said, ‘When all else is destroyed, what is left is God’s Word and relationships. And at the base of both of these is a promise. God makes and keeps promises, and we can trust Him as a result. When two people are joined together in marriage, they make a promise. When I make a promise in marriage, I form a bond, tying myself to my spouse, making us both secure. The promises we make and keep with each other gives birth to the trust we have in each other. When we keep the promise “to have and to hold from this day forward, till death us do part,” we reach into the future to bring some certainty in a very uncertain world.
2. Healthy couples are comprised of two people who have left their families of origin. Genesis 3 speaks of marriage as a leaving and a cleaving. First we leave. This involves an emotional separation, not so much a physical separation. When I’m too close to something or someone I can’t maintain my perspective or see from different angles. I will tend to focus on particular flaws or assets without seeing the whole person. As I get distance, my perspective changes. I learn to see my parents’ good and bad they did in my life. The paradox of marriage is that two separate, well-defined individuals can enter into a bond much more closely and fully, while maintaining their individuality.
3. Healthy couples know how to serve one another and share power with each other. Power is such a misunderstood concept in life. Relationship cannot exist without power. And yet, power has been misused over and over again throughout history. Then Jesus arrives on the scene, and turns the concept of power upside down, both in word and deed. “If you want to exercise power correctly, then you need to begin by washing people’s feet, beginning with the lowliest of those among you.” How counter-intuitive is that? Power within marriage to my way of thinking has been greatly misunderstood and abused. Male headship has been twisted to mean men ‘rule the roost’ and tell their wives what to do. To my way of thinking, husbands and wives are mutually bound up in a service relationship: who can out-serve the other if you will.
4. Healthy couples keep clear boundaries between themselves and others. The marriage relationship is a special relationship, the couple maintaining a clear boundary between themselves and the outside world. And this includes their children. Problems develop when couples allow others to enter their special relationship in inappropriate ways. This often involves one of the children, whom mother or father will confide intimate details about the relationship he or she has with the spouse.
5. Healthy couples know what love is all about. Love is so much more than a feeling. But our culture – in songs, movies, and TV shows – makes love a feeling that can come and go. Well, that is the nature of feelings. These come and go depending on a myriad of factors. But love is something different (though feelings enter the equation, they don’t drive the equation). Love first has to do with commitment – a promise. “I promise, for better or worse, in sickness or health, for richer or poorer.” If our relationship is better, healthier, and richer, my feelings will undoubtedly be positive. If it’s worse, sickness, and poverty, my feelings will reflect those circumstances. But what holds a relationship together is not those feelings. It is the commitment we make to each other, a promise, that binds our futures to one another.
6. Healthy couples are composed of two people who know how to be intimate. Intimacy is far greater than being sexual with each other. It has to do with an openness and honesty between two people that involves the mental, the spiritual, the emotional as well as the physical. Some people, most likely because of how they are ‘wired’, find intimacy much easier than others. This is often true of women, who have learned how to share openly with one another since childhood. Men often find the language of intimacy very difficult. And more than just the language, men (and some women too) have great difficulty identifying what they are feeling (except for anger and happiness). But the language of intimacy can be learned, if people value this. Intimacy draws two people closer to one another and tightens the bonds of love.
In the next blog, we’ll continue these elements that make for a lasting and satisfying marriage relationship.