Sunday, March 9, 2014

Making a Happy Marriage

As I’m typing this, I am privileged to be celebrating over 20 years with my bride, and I’m fortunate to have a very happy marriage. I know there are so many things that go into a happy marriage, and I know that it takes both God’s grace and our willingness to cooperate with Him that ultimately creates and sustains a happy union. Life is sometimes hard, and when marriage gets difficult it’s easy to think there’s only one of two options available: 1) suffer through it or 2) get out of the marriage and have a chance at happiness. But there’s a third choice, and I believe it’s the best choice: Join God in making a happy marriage. By the way, to all the young, unmarried people out there, don’t think this message doesn’t apply to you. The habits and attitudes that you develop now will go into your marriage, so much more than you realize! 

So flash back over twenty years and relive a scene with me: a much younger, thinner, and more arrogant version of me late one night in Washington DC talking to a stunning blonde about the nature of love. In the course of that conversation, I was surprised to hear this beautiful lady say that even though love is an emotion, she believes it is more of a decision or commitment. I knew at that moment that she was the woman for me. Shortly afterwards, I asked her father for his blessing and subsequently proposed. We have remained committed to each other since that time, and with God’s help will forever be happy in our mutual dedication. 

I emphasize “with God’s help”, because I know it takes more than just our will power. Our will is fickle and often just not enough. We are, each of us, capable of doing the most wicked things, and our culture encourages selfish pleasure-seeking that leads down the wrong path. I was saddened to read about a billboard that encouraged marital infidelity. 

Compare this to Proverbs 7: 
With persuasive words she led him astray; she seduced him with her smooth talk.
All at once he followed her like an ox going to the slaughter,
like a deer stepping into a noose till an arrow pierces his liver,
like a bird darting into a snare, little knowing it will cost him his life.
Now then, my sons, listen to me; pay attention to what I say.
Do not let your heart turn to her ways or stray into her paths.
Many are the victims she has brought down; her slain are a mighty throng.
Her house is a highway to the grave, leading down to the chambers of death.
Proverbs 7:21-27
God’s Word is very serious about marriage. Sadly, I heard a statistic on the radio the other day that over 50% of Christian marriages end in divorce, and that caused to me to wonder how many are staying miserable in marriage. We need to fight for happy marriages… not perfect marriages, but ones filled with love and joy. As a consultant, I’ve worked with many different organizations, and I point out the very hard-to-implement fact that healthy businesses, just like healthy people, acknowledge the issues, discuss the issues and work to resolve the highest priority issues. Every person, every marriage and every organization has issues, but the only way to get healthy is to address the issues in an appropriate, collaborative manner.

Imagine if you will a very over-weight person. It can be a man or a woman… it really doesn’t matter. Now imagine this person really wanting to lose weight, even praying desperately to be thin, but there’s no change in lifestyle. Imagine this person eating unhealthy foods and avoiding physical activity while crying out to God to be thin.  Is God ignoring this person’s cry for help? No, but if this person really desires to be thinner, they will take active steps to get there. I’m not saying that God couldn’t make the person thinner and I certainly don’t believe the unbiblical saying that “God helps those who help themselves”. But the reality is that we are called to join Him in the work He’s doing, whether that work happens to be in us, through us, or despite us. 

It’s the same principal in a happy, healthy marriage. God has a “Happy / Healthy” plan for EVERY marriage, but it’s up to us to join Him in that work. Like losing weight, we may say we want a certain outcome, but once it requires effort and sacrifice on our part. We may be tempted to shy away from the task, which is both selfish and foolish. Selfish, because it fails to consider all the people that are impacted by the decision: spouse, children, family and friends. Foolish, because the same (or similar) issues tend to pop up in the next relationship, and rather than learning how to work through the issues together, passing that wisdom to others so they can benefit, we repeat cycles of frustration and wounding.

Ultimately, a happy marriage flows from a decision to “give” rather than the desire to “get”.  Love is about “giving”, while lust is all about “getting”. Ephesians 5 talks about husbands loving their wives and wives respecting their husbands, but I wonder if our modern English loses some of the intent. I believe that husbands are called to “cherish” their wives; likewise, wives need to “admire” their husbands. Deep down, I believe every woman has legitimate need to feel cherished, and every man has the good desire in his heart to feel admired. A healthy marriage has two people committed to giving so that these legitimate needs can be met. But if even only one person is committed to loving / giving, that may be enough to evoke a response in the other person. I can also say from experience that it’s precisely in those moments when we feel as if the other person doesn’t share our commitment that we need to trust that God is committed to our happy union, and we need to join Him in prayer and action to make that a reality.

I can honestly say I have a beautiful wife, more beautiful today than on that wonderful night in Washington DC. We are both stronger now than when we were younger. We have a lot of miles that we’ve traveled together, and I’m looking forward to the road ahead with her. We still have issues, but with God’s help, we will work through them and be a stronger couple because of them. With God’s help, we will continue to fight the good fight.

copyright ©2014 Mitchell Malloy (