Hey you, “Lovey, dovey, kissy kissy kiss kiss” thinking of tying the knot. This article is for you. But not just for you, it’s also for you “my marriage isn’t working” and “not sure what’s gone wrong” and “we’ve lost that lovin’ feeling”. And it’s for you “I’m a master of love”. Why? Because we can all appreciate a little good love advice in a world that's growing increasingly cold.
It’s a little confronting. Here a divorce. There a divorce. Everywhere a divorce. And not out there somewhere in paganland. Right here in our churches and in our families.
So rather than groan about it, why not ask a few people with runs on the board for their secrets? What advice do they have? Is there anything we can learn from each other and apply?
Note that most of this advice comes from couples with a few years under their belt. Why? Because let’s face it, everyone is happy as can be on day one of marriage. It’s the “ever after” part that can get a little complicated. Have some advice that we’ve missed here? Add your thoughts below.
Love is the most beautiful of gifts God has given to us. It’s worth taking a few minutes to figure out how to keep it alive. Let’s begin at the top . . .
Marry Irene Maberly
My paternal grandparents were married for 67 years; my grandfather would say, "without a cross word". Asked what was the secret to a long, happy marriage, he would reply, “Marry Irene Maberly" (that was my grandmother). Underneath this cryptic comment is a valuable insight—you should marry someone you love and are compatible with.
In my late teens and early twenties I dated a number of girls. Only one of them I really fell in love with. The heart ached for her and there were lots of romantic words exchanged. However there were issues: she was from a different country and did not like Australian culture—we were too insensitive; she could not cook; she was ALWAYS late in going places . . . All of these things annoyed me greatly and although it "broke my heart" we parted company. Soon after I met my wife Pamela. The heart did some mysterious moves as we spent time together. The difference in being in love this time was that we were compatible. We liked similar things: sports, camping, nature. We had similar values: God first, family. She had a wacky sense of humour and was not so sensitive. We did things together and mainly on time (if anything I'm the one who is a bit late). So choosing love and compatibility is one key to our good and growing marriage.
Pam and I are very focused on following God’s call. We believe that when God calls He does not just call the pastor but the marriage partner and family as well. I have declined a couple of calls from the Church to take up other responsibilities. On each occasion they were better opportunities from others' perspectives but were not good for one of us or one of our children at the time. Being united in purpose and trying to follow God’s will has meant sacrifices for Pam too—she has had to leave good jobs many times. Unity on life’s purpose cannot be underrated as our marriage secret.
Both Pam and I share "acts of service" as a love language. So if we are doing things for the family inside and around the house we know we are still "in love". However that is not enough to keep the relationship spark fresh. Her and my schedules are crazy at times, work can dominate, so when we are together we try to make the most of it. Even if it's just walking together and talking—which we do most mornings. However that again maintains; it does not provide the spark. Scheduled dates and holidays are key. Almost no emergency will disrupt a preplanned holiday or date with each other or the family. The date or holiday may not be in an exotic place but the time together is very important. Pam and all my children have "spending quality time" as a key love language.
So in summary, the three tips for a successful marriage are:
- Choose love and compatibility.
- Be united in purpose and willing to sacrifice to make that happen.
- Schedule dates and holidays.
Make not a bond of love
Michelle Abel and Chris Jenson
- Never go to bed on an argument.
- A relationship without mutual respect is not a relationship.
- There is no such thing as a perfect match—all relationships change and grow and go through seasons.
- Don't be dependent on your partner for your self-esteem or personal fulfilment.
- Kahlil Gibran’s poem, “On Marriage”, was read out at our wedding—18 years later it rings even more true than it seemed then:
Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow.
Prayer and godly advice
- Even though marriage is a culmination of love between a man and woman it should not be entered only on the basis of emotions. For us it took a lot of prayer and confirmation by God-fearing people we trust within our church. This created a good basis for our marriage.
- Worshipping together, at home and church, and reading the Word of God shaped our thoughts and provided trustworthy answers to life’s challenges.
- We endeavour to raise a family that looks forward to spending eternity together. We are focused on raising our children in the fear of the Lord and doing our best to serve Him and enjoy life. We provide a balanced environment for our children to grow and achieve their best. Celebrating the children's achievements is the icing on the cake.
Marriage is one of the two blessings that we have inherited from the Garden of Eden. Let us do our best to enjoy it here on earth and look forward to spending eternity with the families the Lord has blessed us with.
Marriage is a vow, not a contract
Wayne and Carol Boehm
Carol: First and foremost, communicate. Don’t hold back. Talk it through. And be realistic. It's OK to say that at times it's tough, lonely—a hard slog. Especially when hubby travels or kids have an agenda that we have differing views on. But the underlying belief that the marriage is rock solid and WILL last the distance, and that God blesses us when we honour the promise we made to Him 21 years ago is a powerful framework that holds everything together.
Love and respect are crucial—and they have to be earned; they're not there in the first 12 months, no matter what all newly marrieds think. They grow, especially through rough times. Otherwise how could I say that “I love you 10 times more than I did on the day we got married”; I don't think I even knew my husband back then!
I hope we have another 21 happy years together (which will lead into eternity!!!).
Wayne: Marriage is a miracle whereby two lives become one. This is not simply a physical union but also a spiritual union. This union does not happen in the first few weeks of marriage but is the work of a lifetime.
We have found that marriage needs to have a continued focus on Jesus. This is both individually and together. Through this development we are restored into His image—work still in progress! This bonds us as individuals to Him and to each other.
Marriage is a VOW to each other before God, NOT a contract. This brings endurance during good and difficult times. We are in this together. We are on a shared journey in which we totally support each other.
We both have good role models in our family. But if you don’t, look for people you can learn from. Marriage is like anything—there’s some skill to it. It also helps to be active in the church—our church family supports us and unites us in mission and values.
We also make time to have fun together. And not just the two of us, our boys too.
And there are a couple of other things too:
- We were blessed to have families with similar life stories before we were married.
- We have been blessed to share in ministry together.
- We have been blessed to be in mission service together—this single event created a deep bond where we saw evidence of God’s presence and power in the world and also in marriage.
- Have there been difficult periods? Yes, particularly in the early days—poor communication, self-centredness—but we remained faithful to our vows. And now, after 21 wonderful years of marriage, I love how I can think it and Carol will say it and vice versa. We are still learning, still growing together and loving the journey—and I praise God for what He is doing in us.
Remarriage after divorce can work!
We interviewed a wonderful family for their views on what it takes to make a second marriage strong.
What if you marry someone who was previously divorced? From our perspective it's particularly important to be patient with your partner and understand that certain situations and discussions will trigger memories for them. Be prepared that this may set them back emotionally. In the beginning I couldn't understand why some of our disagreements became heated so quickly until I realised Michael was reacting to the dynamic of his former marriage—not to me. Set new patterns and be purposeful about it. Help your partner understand they are safe with you.
When it comes to blended families, remember that first the relationship between the two of you has to be strong to make it work. And it will be a lot of work.
Planning is very important. We went to a step-parenting course before becoming engaged. We have worked hard to put this family together.
Understand how the new family structure changes all the children's roles in the family and that this can be a really difficult process. Luke is the eldest child when he's at his mum's place but he's not at our house. Often a child will have a single parent's undivided attention before a new partner comes into their life and they miss it. Try to understand when children act up—and listen to their feelings.
Don't try and take the place of their birth parent. I can remember the huge relief on Luke's face when I told him that I would never try to be his mum. He has a mum—he doesn't need another. But I will love him as much as a mum would and I will do all the things for him that a mum would do when he's at our house. He doesn't have to have divided loyalties; he has a mum and he has me, and he knows I love him very much.
Try to let the birth parent handle the heavy discipline. It's better for the child, for the step-parent's relationship with the child and the birth parent will appreciate it too.
Don't expect that you will immediately feel the same connection toward your step-children as you do toward your own. Make a conscious effort to develop the relationship and remind yourself that they are their own little people and will not necessarily behave the same way your children do.
We don't use the words step, half, foster or adopted in front of the word brother in our house. We only say “brothers”. That's all that matters.
Always remember an opinion, no matter how strongly we feel it, may change if we wait and just listen.
We have three other general pieces of advice that apply to anyone:
- Talk. About good things, bad things and everything in between. When you disagree, choose your words carefully. Talk about how things make you feel not about whether they are right or not (Rather than "You never do the dishes!", try "I'm feeling overwhelmed by all the housework; if you could do the dishes tonight it would really help"). Never use the word never—it always gets me into trouble.
- I think it's important for couples to go through disagreements and hard times before getting married. Look at the way you got through those times as a couple. Does it make you confident about your future? Was your partner supportive? Did they still treat you respectfully even if you didn't see eye to eye?
- Have fun together! Be best friends and make time to hang out without the responsibilities of life. Find someone who you can be yourself with and who enjoys lots of the same things you do.
Five laws of love
I once saw a parody that has stuck with me. It was a picture of a traditional family seated around the dinner table, with the caption: “giant sex for security racket uncovered”. The sardonic caption comes with a very real point: there are parts of marriage that involve a complex, unspoken bargain. And when that bargain is broken, marriages tend to falter. At least that's what I’ve observed as I’ve seen many marriages of those around me go down the gurgler. Here are five of those generally applicable laws:
The first law is that, as a general rule, if one partner consistently denies physical intimacy to the other, things probably aren’t going to work out too well in the long run. And in the short run, it will probably be a lot less fun.
The second law is that, when economic circumstances permit, women can generally choose whether or not to engage in work that generates income. Income generation for men, however, is not optional. Get a job guys, or die trying.
The third law is that if one spouse wants a child, the other should accede if they want the relationship to succeed. Though there is a diminishing return on this law. Once you have, say, three kids, you aren’t required to accede to more no matter what your spouse has to say about it!
The fourth law is that men and women need to be admired but in different ways. Men generally need to feel important. Women generally need to feel attractive.
Finally, getting your kit off with someone who is not your spouse will generally destroy your marriage, or make it so miserable you wish your marriage was destroyed.
And, for good measure, the most important law of all: If you want a match made in heaven, let heaven make your match. There are lots of mistakes we can make with relative impunity in life. A mistake in who we marry? That has the capacity to absolutely rip us apart. So seek God with all the intensity you can and listen very carefully for His answer. Let His still small voice guide you. He will not fail you. He certainly didn’t fail me.
What we’ve learned in 27 years of being in love
Kent and Miriam Kingston
- Learn your spouse’s love language and use it.
- Get the balance right between individual and joint interests.
- Love unconditionally and forgive often.
Our families of origin are quite different. Miriam’s background is migrant working class; Kent descends from a classic line of Australian Adventist pastors and teachers. This can make for some interesting debates about the importance of hard work, how to spend money and gender roles in the home.
A few things have kept us together though. First, we married young and this gave us the opportunity to grow up together so that even if we don’t see exactly eye to eye about these things, we’ve reached workable compromises.
Secondly, our personalities are essentially compatible—we’re each able to lead or follow in different situations, we’re both fairly open communicators and our physical attraction for one another has remained strong.
And thirdly, since we’re both from Adventist families we share very similar spiritual and moral values—a common foundation for living.
Jarrod and Lina Stackelroth
We were told from the outset that cross-cultural marriage would be hard. And it is. And it’s not. Back in the day it was even looked down upon—in society and even in the Church. But it's becoming more and more common. Here are a few things we've learnt.
Every marriage is the joining of two cultures, as your family culture is unique.
There are broad similarities and stereotypes about cultures but individuals and families within cultures vary dramatically. The Genesis template of marriage calls for a couple to leave and cleave—leave their family of origin and cleave to each other. That means discovering and creating your own family culture. You can have a richer experience from taking the best and leaving the rest. And you must be on the same page. It can be a balancing act—supporting family and fulfilling obligations as well as making sure your own new family is strong—but you must make ALL important decisions together. If there is tension and disagreement, then reconciliation is not an option, it’s your responsibility. You are stronger together and committed to eternity so make sure you are open, transparent and communicative and you will navigate any challenge, cultural or otherwise.
Mastering your marriage
Trafford Fischer—from the December 2015 Signs of the Times
Dr John Gottman set up a “Love Lab” with his colleague Robert Levenson to observe newlyweds interacting with each other. But the couples weren’t just being watched—Gottman and Levenson also wired them up to heart-rate machines, bloodflow monitors and instruments that measured how much sweat they produced. They even installed a “jiggle-o-meter” that would measure how much the couples moved around in their chairs! Gottman’s sole aim was to uncover answers to questions such as, Why is marriage so tough at times? Why do some lifelong relationships click while others tick away like a time bomb? And how can you prevent a marriage from going bad or rescue one that already has?
After many years of observing and recording hundreds of couples’ interactions, and then following up with them over a number of years to see whether they stayed together or divorced, Gottman claims he can now answer these questions. In fact, he claims he can predict the success or failure of a marriage after observing a couple interacting for as little as five minutes—with an accuracy rate of 90 per cent!
Do you want to know the difference? Click HERE to read the full Signs article.