Seven Secrets for a Successful Marriage

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One couple I read about wanted a quiet wedding, so they requested that the ceremony be held in the parsonage instead of the church. The minister's wife made everything spotless for the occasion.

One matter, however, was overlooked. At the precise moment the minister said to the bride, "Do you take this man to be your lawful wedded husband?" the cuckoo clock above them squawked, "Cuckoo, Cuckoo!" – no less than seven times! During the rest of the ceremony the bride never did regain her composure.

Unfortunately, too many couples come to the altar with starry eyes, but too soon they become disillusioned and lose their composure and, sadly, never regain it.

In fact, the chances today of having a successful marriage are not encouraging. In North America, for every two marriages there is one divorce. But in one of the richest and most advances places on earth, Orange County in the Greater Los Angeles area, there are three divorces for every four marriages.

According to insurance statistics, married people of all ages have a greater life expectancy than single people. This being so, and if marriage is vital for the emotional development of our children and so deeply embedded in the fabric of human society after thousands of years of experience, why is it that so many marriages fail–especially in our highly enlightened age?

One reason is that we often overlook the fact that successful marriages don't happen by chance. They happen only through constant effort–by persistently practicing basic principles such as the following seven S-E-C-R-E-C-T-S.

Married people have a greater life expectancy than single people.

S = Sort out roles. Times have changed dramatically. Among other things, modern conveniences and birth control have revolutionized married life. Wives and mothers are free to pursue careers. In many areas, two out of every three are employed. In North America, only 12 percent of families live in a "traditional" household where the husband is the bread winner and the wife stays home to care for the children.

Radical changes have brought a mass confusion of roles, which has helped contribute to the skyrocketing divorce rate. This is notably so among young couples under thirty who are four times more likely to get divorced than their parents.

For a successful marriage, both partners need to spell out and agree on their individual roles and responsibilities. If both are working (especially full time), both need to share home duties (inside and out), and help care for the children.

E = Expectations that are real. Based on our backgrounds we all come into marriage with preconceived ideas of what it should be like. Our expectations, however, are often unreal. For instance, if you had a parent who was a perfectionist and you felt you could never quite please him or her, chances are you may be a perfectionist too. If so, no matter what your spouse does, he or she will never be able fully to please you. Life can be difficult living with a perfectionist.

Or if you never felt adequately loved by a parent, chances are you may unconsciously try to get your partner to be a substitute mother or father. This obviously can never work.

These are only two examples of a myriad of ways unreal expectations develop – not to mention Hollywood's unrealistic influence. Whatever the reason, for a healthy relationship, marriage partners need to develop realistic expectations.

C = Commitment. I read about one lawyer who specialized in contract marriages. After three years, he gave up. Why? Because none of the marriages he contracted survived. Contracts without commitment are useless.

And marriages without commitment are equally useless. This means that every step necessary will be taken to make it work.

There also needs to be a commitment to one another – to the well-being, growth and development of each partner.

Marriage is a commitment of one imperfect person to another imperfect person. Without this kind of commitment no marriage today can expect to survive.

R = Responsibility. Responsibility as well as commitment are two of our greatest needs in today's world. Nowhere are they more important than in marriage and family relationships.

People who choose to get married are responsible for their choice, for fulfilling their responsibilities, and for doing all they can to make their marriage succeed. People who have children are also responsible for the well-being, growth and development of their children.

Everyone going into marriage brings into the relationship his or her personal problems and pockets of immaturity. Therefore, both partners are responsible for facing and resolving these problems and not blaming their partners for them.

Marriage is a commitment of one imperfect person to another imperfect person.

Each partner is responsible for his or her own happiness, reactions and feelings. Nobody else can make us happy. If we haven't found happiness before marriage, marriage won't provide it. Happiness is a by-product of maturity. For that, each one of us is responsible. Only happy people make happy marriages.

E = Effective communication. Another secret for any successful relationship is knowing how to communicate effectively.

Peter Drucker, renowned management specialist, says that 60 percent of management problems result from faulty communication. According to criminologists, up to 90 percent of all criminals have problems with interpersonal communication. And according to a leading marriage counselor, at least half of all marriage breakdowns are caused by faulty communication.

Effective communication is based on knowing our thoughts, desires, motives and feelings – being honest with them and expressing them creatively. People who deny or suppress their inner feelings and true desires fail to communicate effectively and can never discover true intimacy.

T = Time management. A child whose parents never spend sufficient time with him or her feels unwanted and unloved. It's the same with a marriage partner. Time – in quantity as well as quality – is needed for any wholesome relationship to flourish.

In today's pressurized society it can be quite a challenge for couples to spend quality time together. By quality time we mean giving each other your presence; that is, being emotionally with your partner and communicating at the feeling level. There also needs to be quantity time; that is, sufficient time to meet each other's needs to "keep each other's love cup" topped up. We're not talking about clinging time as that will smother a relationship, but just being there for each other relating spirit to spirit and heart to heart.

S = Spiritual commitment. Research has shown that families who are committed to a strong religious faith have a much greater chance of staying together. It is still true, the family that prays together is much more likely to stay together. Marriage was instituted by God. He has a divine order for it. We can't improve on his plan. We just need to believe in it and practice it.

A good place to start is by finding a church that not only believes in God but also is committed to building healthy personal relationships and successful families.

Copyright © 1999 by Dick Innes

© 2001 ACTS International. Used by permission.