Every Officiant hears this question occasionally: “What’s the secret to a successful marriage?” Even after eight years of helping couples get married, I’ve yet to have a satisfactory answer to give. If we ever did find the answer, then we could probably retire to our private island in the Pacific and live out the rest of our lives walking our personal beach, looking for for sand dollars!
A successful marriage is a continuous work in progress, beginning on the first day. No matter what you think you know about your spouse, you’re in for all sorts of surprises along the way. Marriage takes work, time, a sense of humor, and above all, perseverance. There’s no single element that guarantees success, which makes sense. There’s nothing absolute when you’re talking about something as relative as human love.
That said, there are some “best practices” that, if followed, tend to maximize the chances a marriage will be successful.
First, listen to each other. Try to hear what your mate is really saying. The Bible says: “Be quick- to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” What you say and how you say it is the foundation upon which to build your marriage. Say things that will encourage and support your partner. Take those words you hear from each other into your heart and let them become building blocks for a solid marriage, stepping stones to happiness. Communication is very important in marriage. Take the time to talk with each other, but more importantly, take the time to listen, for in listening, you communicate that you value your partner’s thoughts and feelings.
Second, learn from each other. Both of you are different in many ways. You each bring certain abilities and specific gifts into this relationship. Learn what those talents are, then accept each other’s strengths and combine them with yours. Every day will be an adventure as you learn and understand something new about your mate. If you learn from each other, not only will you be better individuals, but also a better couple. Your marriage will grow stronger because of your desire to understand your partner. So take time to learn all you can about each other.
Thirdly, be willing to work on your relationship. Someone once said, “Anything worth having in this life is worth working for.” Make every effort to make this the very best marriage on earth. You don’t find precious gems lying around above ground. You have to dig and work hard to get to them, but once you find them, they are worth the effort. If you work on your relationship, it will be like finding precious gems, and you’ll “strike it rich” from your labor.
Fourth, learn to laugh. Laugh at yourself and laugh at each other. It’s often been said that “laughter is the best medicine.” Getting married is a serious step, and you should take it seriously. However, having fun and being able to laugh at our mistakes and shortcomings goes a long way toward solidifying the mortar that holds together the institution of marriage. Studies show that laughter has a profound and positive effect on the body. Laughter really is the best medicine for a long and happy life. It can be said that he who laughs… lasts, and the best way to make your marriage work is to make it play.
Finally, of course, is love. Countless songs have been sung about it. Countless poems have been written to describe it. Books as numerous as the stars in the sky have been authored by both men and women trying to help us understand it. The Bible simply defines love this way:
“Love is very patient and kind, never jealous or envious, never boastful or proud, never haughty or selfish or rude. Love does not demand its own way nor is it irritable or touchy. It does not hold grudges and will hardly ever notice when others do it wrong. It is never glad about injustice, but rejoices whenever truth wins out. ‘This kind of love knows no boundaries to its tolerance, no end to its trust, no fading of its hope, no limit to its endurance. It can outlast anything. Love is, in fact, the one thing that still stands when all else has failed.”
Edmund O’Neill may have come as close to the “secret” of a successful marriage as anyone, when he wrote that “Marriage deepens and enriches every facet of life. Happiness is fuller; memories are fresher; commitment is stronger; even anger is felt more strongly, and passes away more quickly. Marriage understands and forgives the mistakes life is unable to avoid. It encourages and nurtures new life, new experiences, and new ways of expressing love through the seasons of life. When two people pledge to love and care for each other in marriage, they create a spirit unique to themselves, which binds them closer than any spoken or written words. Marriage is a promise, a potential, made in the hearts of two people who love, which takes a lifetime to fulfill.”