I'm performing a marriage ceremony this afternoon. The weather doesn't look promising for the planned outdoor event, but no worries, we have a back-up plan. But these days of such promise always get me to thinking about what makes a marriage work. We hear so often about the failures. But there are many success stories out there as well.
Here, then, are some of the things I hope people entering into the grand adventure of marriage know, take on board and keep:
1. No, I cannot tell whether you will succeed or fail as a couple. Chance are neither can you. The
Sometimes the promise is the only thing that holds.*
2. There are three rings rather than two. Visualizing the covenant aspect of marriage, where God is the other party to the compact, friend Jim White pointed yesterday to three wagon wheels fused together as his vision of marriage – there are three rings, not two, he observed. Jim’s right. God is in the mix. Always. Forgetting that is costly.
3. Be sure you like each other. Love and desire are fine things. But if you do not, cannot, like the person, you cannot, you will not, last.
4. Matching values matter. You don’t have to be identical. You can even be very different. But your values, the core things you hold dear, should match. It’s a pretty painful life to spend with someone who thinks what you hold dear or sacred even is silly, foolish, unimportant or something to be daily trounced.
5. You can’t cure each other. If there are blindingly obvious problems, they will not get better. They will, in fact, get worse. Neither of you are the cure for the other. Marriage is not a hospital.
6. Don’t forget to dance – often. Have fun together. Laugh together. Dance together.
7. Don’t make the other person your ‘half’ of anything. If you are not already whole, they cannot, contrary to Jerry Maguire, complete you. It isn’t their job, it isn’t within their ability and it’s a recipe for disaster to expect.
8. Your failures are no one else’s fault. Never blame each other for what you have done or failed to do. Regardless of circumstances or context, your choices are just that: yours. Own them.
9. Words matter. Use them wisely, lovingly, judiciously, always. Ditto for refraining from using them. Keeping silent is the best option when all you’ve got to say is hurtful.
10. Money doesn’t. Unless you let it. Fights about money are always about something else: power, control, security, felt needs, fear. Respect, mutuality, shared values, these are what you’re really searching for when you fight about money.
11. Only God can be your god. No one person can fulfill all your expectations, desires, wishes, needs. So have other friends. And do not make of your spouse an idol, for he or she will surely disappoint if you do.
12. Trust is something given as well as something earned. Actually, trust is more about grace than it is about merit. We trust not because someone is trustworthy. We trust because we are trusting. If there is no trust, if there is jealousy, insecurity, questioning of every motive, every action, there is no trust. And the absence of trust is a killer of any relationship, especially a marriage.
13. Believe, desire and work for the best for your mate as well as for yourself. Always.
14. Forgive often.
*I am speaking here not of abusive or extreme situations, but of ordinary marriages with ordinary challenges. For even then, living side-by-side with the same person, year in and year out, is hard. Really hard.