I’ve heard a lot of marital advice and read a slew of books on the subject through the years. I’m certainly not claiming to have it all figured out or to have the perfect marriage. But as a Christian woman happily married for nearly 29 years and with the same man for 31 years, I’ve learned a thing or two. I refer to them as “secrets” only because the power they possess are often not given enough credit or possibly ignored.
Most of us know the biggies: love, faithfulness, effective communication, sex, and similar perspectives about money.
But before getting to the less talked about ones, I think it’s important to say something about the most important aspect of a strong marriage: Jesus Christ. He must be at the center. After all, marriage was God’s idea. He designed marriage to be between a man and a woman to meet our need for companionship and to provide an illustration of our relationship with Him.
“Everything else falls into place when daily we seek His face.”
Now that we’ve covered that, here are the less talked about secrets that help to keep a marriage strong.
Ready? Here we go …
1. Embrace Each Other’s Weirdness
I’m referring to idiosyncrasies. You know, those distinctive and peculiar behaviors that are characteristic of an individual.
Here’s an example. My husband is kind of a germaphobe, but only with certain things. When he gets home, one of the first things he must do is roll up his sleeves and wash his hands for several minutes. Seriously, you’d think he’s a doctor about to perform surgery. Oh, and if you’re sick or even think you’re coming down with a cold, don’t come over. On the other hand, his office and his car are a dusty mess. His rationale: just leave the dust alone—don’t disturb it and it won’t disturb you.
I have my weird things too. My kids think I’m a neat freak. And I’ll admit, my house is clean. But if you go into my closet (or any closet or drawer) in the house, you will see a hidden mess.
Here’s the point. I have sat with many couples who have allowed these seemingly little weirdness’s to develop into a great source of contention in their marriage. On the other hand, when acknowledged, tolerated and even embraced, idiosyncrasies can be a great bond in marriage.
We are all sort of weird, right? When our weirdness mixes with someone else, it’s a comfort and a bond.
“We are all a little weird and life’s a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love.” ~Dr. Seuss
2. Practice the 5 to 1 Ratio
This means that your relationship averages at least five times more positive interactions than negative interactions.
This doesn’t mean you must count every single positive and negative. It is, however, a good barometer.
There have been some very convincing studies done on the 5 to 1 ratio.
In strong marriages, there are at least five times more positive interactions than negative ones. When the ratio starts to drop, the marriage is at high risk for divorce.
“Be kindly affectionate to one another … in honor giving preference to one another.” Romans 10:12
3. Respect Each Other’s Needs, Likes, and Dislikes
This goes hand-in-hand with embracing each other’s weirdness. We all have certain things that annoy us. We also have those things that really float our boat. God made all of us wonderfully unique which means even though we are “one” as a couple, we don’t always have the same likes and dislikes. However, we must respect our spouse’s uniqueness.
God also created us with a love language—how we as an individual feel and receive love. In Gary Chapman’s book The Five Love Languages, we discover that not all people have the same love needs. If you have never read this book, I highly recommend it. It’s great not just for marriage but for all relationships.
4. Forgive Quickly
Most of us know the passage from Ephesians 4:26 “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.” But knowing it and putting it into practice are two different things.
Something I have learned is feelings of forgiveness follow the choice to forgive.
Often, we make it the other way around. This is not what scripture teaches. It instructs us to make mending broken relationships a priority, even urging us to stop other activities in order to address conflict (Mathew 5:23-24). Why? God knows it’s the lingering that leaves us open to great damage such bitterness.
Forgiveness is an action made in the midst of negative feelings, making it a beautiful expression of love. We can still be hurt, upset, and angry while making a choice to forgive. This doesn’t mean we pretend not to be upset or disappointed. Choosing to forgive quickly says, “let’s not allow this to contaminate the rest of the relationship. Let’s created a space for this openly and honestly and move forward.”
5. Guard Your Thoughts
Our thoughts are a powerful force. The wrong kind of thinking can do profound harm to your marriage. “He doesn’t look at me the way he used to,” “I can’t take much more of this,” “We can always get a divorce,” “So-and-so at work listens better than my wife,” This kind of thinking is a dangerous slippery slope because what we think often becomes our actions.
If you find yourself stuck in a negative thought pattern in relation to your marriage, here’s something I find help.
Replace every negative with a positive. Write them down. “He doesn’t help me enough with the kids.” Turns to, “He loves our children and plays with them while I cook.”
“And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” Philippians 4:8 NLT
“Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.” Proverbs 4:23 NLT
Having a strong marriage takes daily effort and must not be taken for granted. None of us are immune to struggles or even a divorce. We must fight to keep our marriage strong the way the Lord intended it to be.