The bottom line is Christian couples divorce. There are probably as many variations on the rate of divorce among Christians as there are Christian denominations.
Marriage in Trouble
So, what’s the secret to a long and happy marriage for Christian couples that make it to the finish line?
Marriages often sail into stormy seas within a few years of their wedding day. For other marriages the fractures may begin to appear much later, after the children leave the nest. This is true for any marriage, Christian or not.
When my wife Tami and I married, we were devout Christians. We put our faith at the center of our marriage.
But, our marriage hit the rocks on our honeymoon.
A marriage doesn’t begin with a blank slate. Like any story, what happens in the chapter we’re living today is influenced by previous chapters.
Tami and I brought some baggage on our honeymoon that wasn’t in the trunk of our car. It was in our minds.
Unlike the fairy-tale promise of a couple saying their vows and then living “happily ever after,” lasting happiness in marriage only results from both partners doing some work. Some of the work is hard to do, but the payoff makes it worth the effort.
As the story of our marriage unfolded, the knot we tied on our wedding day began to loosen, weighed down by the mental baggage we were dragging around.
Rather than deal with our problems, it became easier to avoid talking about the stuff that we needed to. But this produced a spiraling cycle of tension, explosions of anger, and emotional pain.
I’ll speak for myself. I said and did some stuff that hurt Tami, betrayed her trust, and built up a wall between us.
Getting Past Roadblocks (and out of ditches)
Remember the Bible romance of Jacob and Rachel?
Jacob loved Rachel so much, he worked for her father 7 years to be able to marry her. Then, her father Laban did a switcheroo on the wedding day. Laban secretly swapped Rachel with her sister Leah.
Poor Jacob didn’t discover it until he slept with Leah on their wedding night!
Through this awful turn of events in Jacob’s life, God worked on Jacob’s heart to turn him around. Jacob was running from the truth–the switcheroo he’d done on his father to steal his brother’s birthright. Jacob needed to confess his sin and reconcile with his brother. Later he did.
God sometimes puts up roadblocks in our lives to get our attention.
Tami and I eventually hit a roadblock–more like a ditch. We weren’t going any further until we worked on our marriage.
We got professional help from a counselor. The counselor helped us put the brakes on before our marriage tumbled over a cliff. He gave us some tools to use to get out of the ditch in the road we’d run ourselves into.
Tami and I have now been married for over 25 years.
The first roadblock wasn’t the last one. Occasionally we run into a new one. But since that time when we got the sense to get help, we’ve learned to use several tools that consistently infuse our marriage with happiness, and get us out of the ditch and back on the road.
Here are 7 of them:
1) Make God, first and last and best in everything
Marriages that put God at the center of their marriage are happier than those that don’t. They focus on God for the source of their happiness rather than their spouse. Get started on this by getting your spiritual superfood.
2) Discover and focus on your spouse’s positive qualities instead of defects
Think of your mood as an elevator with high moods and low moods. Focusing on the negative qualities of a person takes the elevator down to the basement of low moods. Depression, irritation, anger, stress, and fear are low moods. Curiosity about a person, brings the mood elevator up to the ground floor. Be curious about your spouse’s positive qualities, and focus on them when you find them and you’ll have more of the high moods like gratitude, hope and happiness.
3) Never hold on to thoughts that your marriage is a mistake or disappointment
These thoughts may enter your mind when times are tough. Holding on to these thoughts will undermine your will to work at improving your marriage. Let these thoughts exit your mind as quickly as they entered by going back to #2 on this list.
4) Commit yourself to be the best that you can be for your spouse
Have you tried to improve your marriage by trying to change your partner? This never works. Put the energy you’d use trying to convince your spouse to change into changing your own behavior. Not sure where to begin? Go back to #1 on this list. Unless you’re willing to give your life for your spouse, in spite of their flaws, you’ve got work to do.
5) Show at least the same love and respect that you had for each other early in your relationship
After marriage, all the effort we put into impressing our future spouse usually slips away. The less attractive aspects of our character take the stage. Why do we despise the salesman who lures us in with the bait-and-switch, but use the same tactic to land a husband or wife? If we’re not the person we pretended to be when we convinced our partner to marry, we’re obligated to become that person.
6) Encourage each other in fighting life’s battles
We all appreciate having someone on outside when life gets difficult. Don’t just have your spouse’s back–stand at his or her side and fight their battles with them. This is the best encouragement you can give.
7) Learn what makes your spouse happy and do it often
This is the kind of thing you probably used to your advantage before you and your spouse said “I do.” It shows you have a genuine interest in your spouse’s happiness when you do the things that bring them joy. Research has shown that happiness in a marriage flourishes when spouses give generously to each other. Noted marriage researcher John Gottman, Ph.D., discovered that couples whose ratio of saying or doing at least 5 positive things for each negative interaction are the most successful.
What other secrets to lasting happiness in marriage can you add to this list? Leave a comment.