Dan Trathen DMin, PhD Clinical Psychologist & Certified Business & Life Coach

Making Your Marriage Work

By Daniel W. Trathen, D. Min. Ph. D.

Someone once likened the adjustment in marriage to two porcupines that lived in Alaska. When winter came and the snow began to fall, they felt cold and began to draw close together. However, when they drew close to get warm, they began to stick one another with their quills. When they separated, they became cold once again. To keep warm, they had to learn to adjust to one another.

Dr. H. Norman Wright quotes a woman saying to her marriage counselor, “When I got married I was looking for and ideal. Then it became an ordeal. Now I want a new deal.”

Marital dissatisfaction pervades our society. It is experienced by people of all religions and every socioeconomic level and in every area of our country. Marital dissatisfaction can also affect couples in every stage of their relationship. Take, for example, newlyweds in the U.S. — a time when most people assume that the “honeymoon glow” will still be warming their romantic ideals. The National Center for Health Statistics predicts that marriages at this stage face a 40% likelihood of ending in divorce. An even more pessimistic picture is provided by Mace and Mace as they estimated that among marriages that do not end in divorce, 50% are unhappy and only 10% of all marriages actually reach their full potential. According to these statistics, every couple could be considered to be at risk for either divorce or marital dissatisfaction.

The degree to which “low marital satisfaction” exists in marriages that do not end in divorce suggests that the problem is both systemic and multifaceted.

Look at how difficult it is to be happily married. Each of us has a different personality and come from different backgrounds. We have learned to relate by observing different role models and assimilating differing patterns from our families. These functional and/or dysfunctional patterns contribute to marital happiness or dissatisfaction.

Factors such as poor communication, ineffective problem-solving skills and dissatisfaction with other interactions, when present premaritally or early in marriage, are warning signals of relationship distress later in marriage. These figures also pertain to Christian marriages. An honest look around your church, neighborhood or even your own relationship demonstrates that Christians as well as non-Christians have been lulled into a complacency regarding their marriages.

Having a happy, satisfying marriage takes work and a willingness and ability to change. Learning to adjust takes commitment, faith and patience. We do not simply live “happily ever after.” Instead we must understand a basic rule of life: You don’t get something for nothing. We easily forget that when we live in a society that often prefers passivity over activity and has seventy thousand watching a game that only twenty-two are playing. For many, this leads to isolation, passivity and dissatisfaction in marriage.

Everyone wants a satisfying marriage, but few are willing to sacrifice what it takes to build one. Marital satisfaction demands commitment and involvement. A happy, growing, intimate marriage is never a state of being, but rather a process of involvement and growth. It is a dynamic organism rather than an institution.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics in physics is called “entropy.” This principle maintains that any closed system left to itself will break down and collapse. Only an ordered input of energy will keep things together. We must eat and drink liquids regularly to maintain body strength and stay alive. We must exercise to keep in good physical condition. We must also put energy into our marriages if they are to be intimate and growing. If no energy is expended on the relationship, it too will eventually die of neglect. It must have a consistent daily, weekly, monthly and yearly investment of time and energy if it is to grow. A wise couple continually works on their marriage rather than waiting for it to fall apart.

Even if marriages are made in heaven, people on earth have to maintain them. The apostle Paul reminds us to be actively involved in maintaining our marriages through the processes of love (Ephesians 5:25), nourishing and cherishing (5:29) and respecting each other (5:31). These are vital, basic ingredients to the oneness which God planned for Christian marriage. These are active ingredients of marital happiness.

Good marriages focus on nurture rather than on correction. Several years ago our family moved into a new home in Denver. There I discovered that about one third of our front lawn was inhabited by bind-weed. Coming from the Midwest and East Coast, I was an experienced weed puller. I committed an entire weekend to eradicating weeds. By Sunday afternoon, I had not only taken care of the dreaded bind-weed, but I had also pulled half of my front lawn. Proud of my efforts, I called a landscaper friend who laughed upon hearing of my weekend project. He told me that bind-weed can’t be eliminated unless all the roots are dug up or the lawn was reseeded. He then gave me one of those universal principles in life.: if I spent more time fertilizing and watering my lawn and less time on the weeds, he said I could build up the root system of the lawn to the point that it would choke out the weeds. That principle holds true for marriage. The more time we spend nurturing our marriage, the more the more beautiful it will become.

Most of us do not spend enough time setting direction in our marriage. Establishing relationship goals takes time, patience and commitment. It requires listening and observing what our partner likes and dislikes and loving them accordingly. In making a marital plan there needs to be balance. We would not think of maintaining a diet with only one food. So too, the process of “nurturing and cherishing” needs a balance of loving behaviors.

To make your marriage work, there needs to be a plan as well as a commitment to work that plan. Here are some suggestions of loving behaviors.

  1. Take time daily to spend time together. 10 or 15 minutes spent talking or walking will help build positive feelings for one another.
  2. Take time daily to listen to each other. Conflict is reduced with understanding.
  3. When experiencing conflict, take time to listen and be responsible for what you are bringing to the disagreement.
  4. Take time daily to share what God has been doing in your spiritual lives. 
  5. Take time weekly to read a book together or share concepts other than the problems of life.
  6. Take time monthly to reevaluate and make necessary adjustments to your marital intimacy plan. 
  7. Take time quarterly to get away from responsibilities and rejuvenate your relationship.

These are a few ingredients to make a happier relationship. It is up to each of us to follow a plan to make our marriage work. The apostle Peter gave some instruction on godly living that has a lot to do with making our marriages work.

“Let all be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil, or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing. For, ‘let him who means to love life and see good days refrain his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking guile. And let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and His ears attend to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who evil. (I Peter 3: 8-12)”

During a hike in the woods a troop of Boy Scouts came across an abandoned section of railroad track. Each boy tried walking the rails but eventually lost his balance and tumbled off. Then two of the boys bet that they could both walk the entire length of the track without falling off. Encouraged to make good their boast, each of them jumped up on opposite rails, extended their hands to balance each other and walked the entire section of track with no difficulty at all. In walking railroad track or in marriage, teamwork helps us to achieve together what we may not be able to do alone. Our marriages can be an ideal or an ordeal, depending on whether we are willing to make them work.

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