We often think it will be what we have in common, how we are similar or compatible that will make a marriage last. I love the scene in the movie, Nacho Libre, in which Nacho tells Sister Encarnacion that her favorites are also his favorites every day. Commonalities draw us together, but do they make it last?
What will make the relationship last?
Brian and I quickly began to like each other’s company after a quick introduction. I liked that I found character qualities in him that I thought were important in a man. But if I am honest, I also liked how he made me feel. His intentionality, interest, and thoughtfulness just made me feel plain good. Of course I liked feeling special, significant, and valued. His attention made me feel all of those things. But what about the days ahead, when I knew I wouldn’t have all those feelings? What about at the end of a day when I didn’t think my needs were met?
The Short list
There is a short list and a long list. This is the short list. It is not an exhaustive list of all the things that contribute to a lasting relationship. No, there are just three things on this list. After twenty-two years of marriage there are three things Brian and I point to as vital for a lasting relationship. You don’t have to wait to get married to practice or benefit from each. This is one reason I like these– right now, wherever you are, no matter your relationship status you can work on these three things.
1. Complete and Full
Early in marriage couples often expect their married life to be similar to when they were dating– more carefree and with little responsibility. Each is always thinking about the other and making them feel good inside. With time and additional responsibility, comes change. He is not always thinking about her. She is not always meeting his every need. Personally, if I am dependent on Brian’s continual affirmation, presence, and gestures to feel valued, then I will soon feel empty. If I am waiting for him to meet my every need, to always affirm me, and to sort of “fill” me up, I am going to be utterly disappointed.
Even though we “complete” each other as a couple, our “completeness” or “fullness” as an individual must come from something much greater, more abundant and vast in resources than another person. It needs to come from something with reservoirs which are able to fill me up continually. In Christ, I am complete. He fills me up.
Being complete in Christ is something that Brian and I have come to find as foundational in our relationship. If we are full in Christ, complete in Him, we have much more to give. Sometimes I don’t feel full and I want Brian to make me feel better– to meet my deepest need for love, value and significance. If I try and demand this from him, our relationship will not thrive. Brian often points me to these truths. When I have failed, care too much what others think, feel let down or left out, he reminds me that he loves me, but also that I am completely loved by God. God’s love offers satisfying fulfillment with deep reservoirs. The best thing we can do for our marriage is to find our completeness in Christ and to experience the fullness of God’s unfailing love. When we are full, we are each a better spouse. When we are full, we don’t have to demand our needs be met. When we are full, we have much more love to give.
Value: I must become a person who is full– full of God’s love. I need to become a person who lives, loves and operates out of this “fullness.” Also, in marriage I need to point my spouse to the fullness they have in Christ.
2. Freely Forgiving
Even before we got married, I discovered that forgiveness is powerful. It has the power to restore, redeem and alter the worst of situations. And the lack of forgiveness also has power. It can fester, keep score, build walls and separate.
There is a lot at stake if I don’t forgive. In our engagement Brian and I got into this argument that really brought out both of our weaknesses. I was trying to control him and tell him what to do, and he decided to run away from me (Literally, he ran away. We were on a run together and he took off!). Were we going to choose to continually forgive and work things out?
This is why Brian and I think forgiveness is vital for a lasting relationship and why I wrote a short article a few years ago on forgiveness called, “One thing that is Saving my Marriage.” Small offenses do not stay small. Left unchecked, they creep up in another form, wait as ammunition, or snowball for destruction. Unforgiveness is an enemy in marriage.
I think we probably all know that forgiveness is important. But we also find that forgiveness is challenging– whether asking for it or choosing to give it. It is a challenge and doesn’t feel natural. What often feels natural is to manipulate, be angry, give the silent treatment, hold offense, or make the other feel guilty.
Then there is this verse that makes it seem even more unnatural and challenging:
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:32
To forgive just a little seems a challenge, but to forgive completely can seem impossible. But this is how we must forgive in our marriage, just as we have been forgiven– freely and completely. If you have experienced being freely, fully and completely forgiven, then you understand the freedom that forgiveness brings. Total forgiveness frees us from a debt. It creates unity. It gives hope. This is what marriage needs. There must be abundant forgiveness for a lasting marriage.
Value: I must become a person who learns to forgive quickly and completely. I need to forgive as I have been forgiven.
3. Common in Purpose
In marriage we become a “we.” We are no longer to live independently, chasing after our own dreams and desires. A “oneness” is created. A healthy marriage needs a purpose that goes beyond the two individuals. One thing that Brian and I have found which helps a marriage to thrive is having a common purpose in life– one that is bigger than our marriage and beyond the children we raise or an occupation we have.
For us, our purpose together involves making disciples. We are unique in that our actual “job” overlaps, and we work together. No matter, though, what we work at or for, we desire to live with a eternal perspective and point ourselves and others to Jesus’ life and example.
We see our common purpose influence decisions about how we raise our children, how to invest our time and money, what sort of house we live in, how to live out the gospel, and how we keep in close communion with the Lord.
For Brian and I, our purpose was generally settled before we got married and it definitely influenced who we would marry. Having a common purpose gives clarity, encourages unity, fosters oneness and enhances effectiveness.
Value: I must become a person with a purpose. I need a purpose that is greater than myself and that transcends the here and now, and the circumstance of life. Following Jesus and his example is the best place to start.
What do I want from life?
My husband often does a picture survey called, “Soularium,” with students to foster discussion about purpose in life and the spiritual journey they are on. Frequently, there is one photo that stands out, that is often chosen. It is a photo of a gray haired elderly couple walking and holding hands. (Brian says that is looks like they are leaving Walmart together.) Students want lasting love. Unfortunately, a good majority of students have not seen an example of this or will not experience it for themselves– even the ones that seem to be doing “well” right now. We know. We have seen and heard the stories. We have sat down with them and talked with them about it.
We are challenged by this verse that precedes the above verse.
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:1
A marriage that lasts can make a huge difference. Our oneness and unity speaks volumes to the world. It is a continal giving of ourselves that reflects Christ. These three things matter: being complete and full, freely forgiving, and common in purpose. These are vital for a relationship that will stand the test of time, the dailyness of life and the storms that will come.