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Sunday, September 16, 2012

How To Make Marriage Work



The day of our marriage almost 29 years ago.
Marriage is the ultimate test in life. The majority of those who try it will fail at least once in life. Think about it. You take two individuals--each with their own wills, dreams, and desires—and put them in an endless situation where they have to work together as one to attain goals in this world. How is that supposed to turn out good? The truth is that it cannot turn out good unless both members of the marriage follow one rule—that is to place the happiness of their spouse above their own happiness.

That is such a simple rule to type and comprehend. Still, it is almost impossible to live. There are four little “gotchas,” any one of which will break the “rule” and destroy the marriage.


  1. The first gotcha is that both members of the marriage have to be fully participating in placing their spouse’s happiness over their own. If only one spouse is participating the marriage will fail in one way or another. But before you complain that your spouse isn’t living this rule see gotcha number 2 and 3.
  2. The second gotcha is that one spouse cannot be demanding that the other spouse be participating in this rule. The rule is broken unless it is being followed without any coercion whatsoever
  3. The third gotcha is that you cannot monitor how well your spouse is following the rule. Monitoring your spouse’s success at following the rule is breaking the rule and will break the marriage.  You monitor yourself and that’s it.
  4.  The fourth gotcha is that the rule must be followed for as long as the marriage lasts. There is no respite, reprieve, or vacation from living the rule.


Is it any wonder why marriages fail? Following the rule is asking a human being to be more than a human being naturally is. Perhaps this is what marriage is all about. We human beings are naturally selfish. A successful marriage requires that a man and a woman become something greater than what they were on the day of their marriage. Isn’t that interesting? Marriage is something that can make the world a better place by making human beings better beings.

I think most of us older, married couples will see a young couple who are courting and get a little sentimental about “young love.” The young couple will be seated close to each other in the car as if the short ride to the cinema is too long to be separated by a few feet. Then there are the loving looks between them that just melt our hearts. And yet when I hear their protestations of love for each other I almost want to laugh (or maybe cry) because I know there is a very, very good chance that their marriage will end with them hating each other. When they tell me they love each other I want to respond, “Come back still married in twenty years and I might believe you.”

I have been married for 28 years. I was 23 and she 18 when we married. That fact that we are still married now is a miracle. No, maybe it isn’t a miracle. A miracle denotes a mysterious act of God. While I think that our marriage is miraculous I know the miracle only happened due to decisions my wife and I made.

Our marriage was troubled from the beginning. Tolstoy, in the opening paragraph of Anna Karenina states that “Happy families all happy the same way. Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” I disagree with this great author. You may get a lot of writing material out of a family’s unhappiness, but the unhappiness always stems from the same cause—selfishness. I caused unhappiness in my marriage due to selfishness, only I didn’t recognize it as that. In spite of the reason for my unhappiness I remember making two decisions that made all the difference in my marriage.

  1. We had children fairly early on in our marriage. I had seen first-hand what divorce does to children and I decided that I would not make my children pay for my problems. I decided that I would never leave my wife, no matter how unhappy I was.
  2. My second decision was where the miracle was born. Eventually (I’m a slow learner)it made sense to me that if I was determined to stay with my wife no matter what wouldn’t I be a fool if I didn’t try to find a way to be happy in the marriage? I mean how much virtue can there be by choosing to stay with my wife no matter what and choosing to be miserable the whole time? I may as well look for praise and happiness by standing in ice cold water for no real reason when there is a dry pair of socks and warm boots setting on the bank nearby.

Barbara and me 29 years and eight children later.
In the days, weeks, and years that followed my decision to be happy in my marriage I must have stumbled into learning how to live “the rule” (a miracle perhaps). All I know is that I have discovered that I have the loveliest, the most graceful, the most courageous, and the most thoughtful wife a man could have.  The “mosts” could go on a lot longer, but I don’t want you to get sick of the sweetness that I savor.

Barbara and I have years to go on this Earth. We have five more children to raise, financial pressures to deal with, uncoordinated dreams to coordinate. I am not afraid. Now that we have found our footing all of these challenges represent an opportunity to learn to love each other more.

I love getting to know couples who have been married forty and fifty years and longer. When I see them hold hands and chat pleasantly I know that their love hasn’t come easily, but was forged in fires that destroy lesser marriages.  These are the gold medalists of the relationship Olympics; the superheroes of Gotham City. Move over movie celebrities and pro athletes; the people who really make a difference that matters in this world are those who find joy in marriage.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I do trust all the ideas you have introduced in your post. They are really convincing and can definitely work. Nonetheless, the posts are too short for newbies. Could you please lengthen them a bit from next time? Thank you for the post.