By: Gregory Popcak
In my work with engaged and newly married couples, one of the most common questions I am asked is, “How can we be sure our love will last?” Whether we are talking about Generation X’ers (those born between 1961-1980) or so-called “Millenials” (Those born between 1981-2000), we are living in the second generation of adults who were raised in the divorce culture. Confidence in both the permanence of marriage, and perhaps more importantly, an individual couple’s ability to exhibit the skill that can enable them to go the distance is at an all time low. One of the most common questions I encounter from engaged and married couples is, “How do I know ‘it’ can last?”
The good news is that there is no “it.” Marriage is not an “it”; some store-bought product with a shelf-life or an expiration date. It has no life of its own except for the life that the husband and wife pour into it. Although this can be an intimidating idea to confront, it is really very freeing, because it means that you don’t have to contend with magical forces to enable your marriage to survive, you just have to commit yourself to doing the work that marriage requires over the long haul. Here are some examples of some practical steps you can a take.
1) Pray Together
I can’t tell you the number of otherwise faithful couples I work with who would never think of praying together. “It’s too personal.” “It feels awkward.” “I might get cooties!” All right. Nobody says that last thing, but they might as well. While learning to pray with someone can be awkward, the process of “two becoming one” isn’t just a physical process. It is a spiritual reality as well. The couple that prays together, plugs into the power source of their love for one another–God. They put themselves in the position of learning to love each other as God loves them. Imagine that you wanted to heat a room with a space heater that was either not plugged in or not plugged in all the way. The couple that doesn’t pray at all is the couple who hasn’t plugged in the heater. The couple that only prays alone is represented by the space heater that is only plugged in part-way. Only the couple who prays together can benefit fully from the warmth and light of God’s loving dwelling in their hearts and in their home.
2) Say “I Do” Everyday
Every day, a couple has the opportunity to say, “I do” or “I don’t” to their marriage all over again. Every time a couple chooses to say, “yes” to a request from a spouse (assuming they are not asking for something immoral or demeaning), or offers assistance (bonus points for offering without being asked), or perform some act of service that makes life easier or more pleasant for the other partner, the couple is says, “I do” all over again. But each time a spouse refuses a reasonable (i.e., not immoral) request, declines to help, or behaves annoyingly, that spouse says, “I don’t.” Research shows that it takes at least 5 “I do’s” to make up for each “I don’t” and couples who are “marriage masters” exhibit 20 “I do’s “ for every 1, “I don’t.” Making love last is as simple as saying, “I do” from moment to moment, all day long.
3) Act Married
The term, “married single” describes a spouse who is married, but still acts as if he of she has the right to disregard his or her spouse when planning activities, making choices, or setting the schedule. While a husband and wife don’t have to constantly hover over one another to have a successful marriage, they do need to consider each other first when making plans. Fidelity in marriage doesn’t just mean avoiding other sexual partners. It means being willing to put limits on all other relationships (including work) that compete for primacy with the marital relationship. That can sometimes be a challenge, but it needs to be a challenge that is actively engaged by the couple, not avoided.
4) Live for a Greater Purpose
Remember that your marriage is about something much bigger than your mutual comfort and convenience. Ultimately, your marriage is about living out a commitment to helping each other become everything God created you to be in this life and helping each other get to Heaven in the next. Investing time and energy into your relationship is not simply necessary for the success of your marriage, it is necessary in order for your spiritual well-being. That’s what it means to say that marriage is a “vocation.” For the married couple, striving to be an exceptional spouse is the way you fulfill the identity you were given at your baptism. It is the primary way that you will strive to become more like Christ. Recognizing this profound spiritual dimension of your marriage enables you to live out what I call, “a marriage made for heaven.” That is, a relationship where two people never take each other or their marriage for granted because they realize what’s at stake is not just their earthly happiness, but their heavenly destiny.
5) Maintain Your Marriage and Know When to Seek Help
Too many people think that a marriage is something they “have.” In other words, they treat it like a rock collection or some knickknack they acquired and will be just fine if you leave it to sit on a shelf. But a marriage is not so much like a trinket as it is a plant–something that needs care and attention in order to be maintained, much less flourish. Make the commitment that you will regularly read books about marriage, go on marriage retreats to learn more about marriage, and if you run into a problem that you can’t resolve easily on your own, don’t ignore it, get counseling help early–before you NEED counseling. Marriage–like life and love–is what you make it. Make the effort to have a marriage that will make the angels smile, and the neighbors sick with jealousy!