By Dolores Smyth, Crosswalk.com
Like any other relationship that matters, marriage is hard. Couples who are committed to their marriage want their marriage to do more than just survive, they want their marriage to thrive.
Thriving marriages require dedication, cooperation, and effort to continue nourishing the marital ties between spouses.
While no two marriages are alike and while what works for one couple isn’t practical for another, there are certain key elements at the core of successful marriages. Here is a brief look at 5 of those elements.
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1. You Have Realistic Expectations of Each Other
Many of us have had single friends who insist that they will only marry someone who meets their long laundry list of “requirements” in a spouse.
Those friends claim that they will only marry someone who agrees to such “deal breakers” as: that every future event or outing be attended as a couple and never individually; that each spouse do exactly half of the housework and child-rearing all of the time; that after having kids, each spouse take turns attending school functions equally; and (the catch-all) that each spouse gladly agree to change anything about themselves that upsets the other spouse.
Whether you have single friends who talk that way—or whether you were someone who said these things before you got married!—couples in healthy marriages embrace a more mature understanding of what a good relationship looks like, and that includes accepting each other’s quirks and shortcomings.
For example, if your better half is socially anxious, you may expect your beloved to attend important events with you but you also graciously cut him or her some slack when it comes to skipping less important events like outings with your friends or casual company events with your co-workers.
Likewise, you may have married someone with zero cooking or other domestic skills. Rather than expecting your spouse to turn into Jamie Oliver or Martha Stewart, those in thriving marriages choose a more realistic approach.
In particular, partners who are bothered by their significant other’s lack of domestic abilities learn how to cook and do things around the house themselves, they pay someone else to do it, or they ditch the “household chore scorecard” and engage in some teamwork with their spouse to come up with a fair way to tackle the household chores that have to get done and learn to live with those that don’t.
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2. You’re Past Playing the Comparison Game
Couples in thriving marriages know that, just like every individual is unique, every couple is unique too.
Healthy couples have learned that comparing your marriage to someone else’s marriage overlooks that uniqueness, and risks luring you into making changes to your marriage that might suit someone else’s relationship but that may be a poor fit in yours. Successful couples also know that idealizing someone else’s marriage is a dangerous waste of time that distracts them from nurturing their own marriage with what it needs to flourish.
Since no one is perfect, it stands to reason that no marriage is perfect either, no matter how it looks from the outside. And frankly, you don’t know what goes on behind other people’s closed doors. You may very well be green with envy over a couple who claims that they never fight only to find out that, in reality, one of those spouses routinely bullies the other out of having their own opinion.
People in strong marriages understand that each marriage has its own set of wants and needs, and they concentrate on doing what’s best for their relationship instead of getting hung up on “keeping up” with other couples.
By moving past the need to compare yourself to someone else’s union, you’ll be refocusing on upholding your marital vows to love and cherish each other as you are, not as how comparisons would deceive you into thinking you should be.
And, remember what Theodore Roosevelt aptly points out, that "comparison is the thief of joy."
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3. You Make Time for Each Other
Life can get busy and, if you aren’t mindful, your schedule can get so out-of-sync with your spouse’s that you become like two ships passing in the night.
Since the marital union is the bedrock of the family, couples are wise to avoid cracks in the foundation by finding ways to make spending time with each other a priority.
Time management gurus will tell you that the key to time management “is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” One way to schedule time for your spouse is to go back to “dating” each other.
Couples in happy marriages know that little moments can be just as meaningful as big ones. For example, stealing twenty minutes a day to sit at the kitchen table just the two of you and enjoy conversation over your beverage of choice can be as enjoyable a way to reconnect as going out to a fancy restaurant for the night.
Whether you schedule time with your beau in short slots throughout your day or plan a longer get-away together, the most united married couples recognize that fanning the flames of their union often requires some conscious planning.
To make your marriage a happy and healthy one, make a commitment today to prioritize your marital bond and schedule alone time with your spouse. Your marriage can only benefit from the recentered priorities and the revitalized romance.
Be aware of any guilt that is associated with prioritizing time with your spouse, and fight back with the truth!
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4. You Take a Respectful Approach to Enjoying Separate Interests
As important as it is to make time for each other, maintaining separate interests in a respectful way is also key to a good marriage because it allows each spouse to unwind and come back home refreshed.
Although you and your spouse may have done everything together when you first got married, after the “honeymoon period” you likely realized that spending every waking moment together doesn’t leave room for pursuing the interests you want to pursue but that your spouse finds boring.
Instead of strong-arming your significant other into liking the same things as you, loving couples accept that spouses do not—and should not—have identical interests. In fact, foregoing all of your separate interests for the sake of appeasing your spouse is a surefire way to cause resentment to take root in your household.
If your spouse loved doing absolutely everything you love to do, what need would you have for other relationships? Or where would you have the space to find solitude and refreshment with God?
You don’t have to give up the things you love doing simply because your spouse doesn’t enjoy doing them, too. What you do have to do is put respect for your marriage first when choosing a particular activity to do without your spouse and when deciding how much time to allot to it.
When you and your spouse can enjoy occasional outings separately in a balanced way, you’ve reached a stable place in your marriage that’s rooted in trust and respect for each other’s different interests.
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5. You Have Each Other’s Back
No one is happy in a marriage where their partner makes them feel unsupported, or where their partner stands beside them in the good times but leaves them hanging out on a limb alone in the bad times. Those in strong unions have each other’s back in the easy and hard times alike.
You can show your spouse support in many different ways. For example, you show support when you stand by your spouse’s choice in a matter, even if you don’t necessarily agree with that choice.
You also show your spouse support by speaking your love to your spouse on a regular basis, and by acting like someone he or she can count on in moments of doubt or conflict. In addition, you have your spouse’s back when you do what it takes to make things easier when your beloved is struggling with some aspect of life, even if that means rescheduling or outright canceling events in your own.
You can also show solidarity by celebrating your spouse’s wins and by commiserating during his or her losses.
Importantly, you can fortify your marital bond by asserting respectful yet firm boundaries with anyone who routinely disrespects your spouse or causes tension in your marriage.
Asserting boundaries can be especially challenging when dealing with relatives or close friends. However, maintaining strong boundaries within and around your marriage bolsters unity at the core of thriving marriages. Protecting your marriage from those who cause division within the marriage—whether intentionally or not—also upholds God’s Word that a husband and wife are to form their own family unit and become one flesh (Genesis 2:24).
Every couple who walks down the aisle wants to be a part of a happy and healthy marriage. With dedication and commitment grounded in love and respect for one another, every couple can meet that worthy goal.
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