New Post: What Makes a Good Marriage?

What makes a good marriage?

That’s the question I popped at a small dinner gathering not long ago. Looking around the room–two couples were newly engaged, two others had passed the thirty-year mark, and the rest were somewhere in between–I wondered what people would say.

“You need to look for ways to serve one another,” one husband said, “putting each other’s needs ahead of your own.”

“It helps to remember that you’re on the same team,” added a young wife. “You don’t want to ‘win’ a fight because that means your spouse has to lose. It’s not you-versus-them; you want to be fighting for your marriage together.”

“Share each others’ passions,” chimed in a third couple. “If you don’t love something the other person enjoys, learn more about it. You might discover you like it, after all.”

(That last comment reminded me of a post I wrote five years ago about how watching football can upgrade your marriage.)

I loved everything everyone said. The simple words spoke volumes and reinforced something I’d read about satisfaction in marriage: namely, that kindness glues couples together.

Kindness is key to satisfaction in marriage

You might think that the secret to a successful union comes down to other things. Good communication, perhaps, or sexual compatibility. Or not having money problems, or issues with in-laws.

These things all matter, of course. But when it comes to predicting long-term stability and satisfaction in marriage, kindness is what matters most.

What makes a good marriage? Kindness

Kindness counts.

And it’s not just bringing your spouse a cup of coffee in the morning (although researchers at the National Marriage Project are big on little “I love you’s” like that); studies show that having a generous mindset–appreciating your spouse’s intentions, even if the even if the execution is iffy–is key.

Your husband, for instance, might not have been “deliberately” trying to annoy you when he left the toilet seat up; it could be that he’s just absent-minded. Your wife might not be late for dinner “on purpose.” Maybe she just had to stop by the store to pick up your gift.

(As someone who often keeps her spouse waiting but rarely shows up with a gift, I will go ahead and tell you that I did not make up those examples. I got them from one of the “Love Lab” psychologists quoted here.)

But you get the idea. Instead of being on the lookout for your spouse’s mistakes, look for things you can appreciate and say ‘thank you’ for. Be intentional about showing respect. In humility, as Scripture says, value your spouse above yourself, looking not to your own interests by to theirs.

But…what if I’m just not that nice?

I can imagine what some of you might be thinking. I thought the same thing, when I read the research. “I want to be kinder to Robbie,” I said to myself, “I really do. But…I’m just not that nice.”

(It’s true. My husband is way more thoughtful and generous than I, both to me and to others. As I’ve often said, “I might make friends for us, but Robbie is the one who keeps them.”)

But here’s the thing about kindness: It is not something we have or we don’t. The Bible says kindness comes with our salvation as the Holy Spirit transforms our hearts. “The fruit of the Spirit,” Paul writes, is “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Kindness, like all of these other God-given attributes, is available to every believer.

It works like a muscle, getting stronger with use.

And it also gets stronger with prayer.

Which, actually, brings up some other interesting marriage research. According to a Wall Street Journal article that came out a few months ago, prayer makes a difference–even when one or both partners are being unkind. “When people pray for the well-being of their spouse when they feel a negative emotion in the marriage, both partners—the one doing the praying and the one being prayed for—report greater relationship satisfaction.”

“Greater relationship satisfaction.” That sounds very important and official. But let’s put it plainly, shall we?

If you’re annoyed with your spouse–they left the toilet seat up, they were late again, they did whatever–don’t get mad. Try praying for them instead.

It will make you both happier.

Heavenly Father,

May ______ (insert your names or the names of another couple you love) be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ you forgave us. (Ephesians 4:32)

Amen

P.S. Robbie and I celebrated our 35th Anniversary this week. When I look back at our wedding photos, I am struck by two things.

First, I could not have imagined how incredibly kind my husband would be, or how much more I would love him today than I did back in 1985:

Robbie and Jodie marriage photo

And second, I wonder how on earth I held that ginormous bouquet without my arm falling off. But hey; it was the 80’s. As one son-in-law said when he looked at our pix, “It could have been a lot worse.”

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Three Ways to Pray for Your Child’s Marriage Partner

Children looking out church window

It’s never too early to start praying for your child’s marriage partner. We can ask God to choose our kids’ spouses and, through prayer, we can forecast his favor and blessing on our sons- and daughters-in-law, long before we ever meet them in person.

Consider how Abraham did it.

When the time came for Isaac to marry, Abraham had some fairly concrete ideas about the type of wife he wanted for his son. She couldn’t be a Canaanite; rather, he wanted someone from his own country, someone whose family acknowledged the Lord. Too old to make the journey himself, Abraham sent his servant to find a good match for his boy.

The servant stood beside a spring in Abraham’s hometown and, as the young women came out to draw water, he prayed a very specific prayer: “May it be that when I say to a girl, ‘Please let down your jar that I may have a drink,’ and she says, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels too’ — let her be the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac. By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master.”

Obviously, Abraham’s servant was asking God for a sign. But I think there was more to his prayer than this. I think that when he prayed for a girl who would offer him water — and water his camels as well (all TEN of them!) — the servant was asking God to show him a girl with the kindness, thoughtfulness, generosity, patience, and strength that Isaac would value in a wife. And indeed, Rebekah turned out to be all of these things, and more.

Be specific when you pray about your child’s marriage partner

Over the years, I’ve talked with parents who’ve come before God with all sorts of requests regarding their child’s marriage partner.

One of my friends — whose own folks divorced when she was a young girl — prays that her children will marry men and women from unbroken homes. Another mom asked God to let her kids find their mates early in life, both so they can enjoy the blessing of marriage as they “grow up” together and to lessen the pressures of sexual temptation during their young adult years. Two young men we know are praying for wives whose lives are marked by honesty, virtue, and a good sense of humor. And I recently met a young soccer player who led her team to a DI conference championship; she told me that she couldn’t imagine marrying anyone who didn’t love playing sports, so she’s asking God to set her up with an athlete.

Is it wrong to be so specific with God?

I don’t think so — particularly when our prayers are wrapped in an overarching desire to see God’s will be done. In fact, I think our heavenly Father loves to grant these requests. Not long ago, I heard from a young gal who was in a Bible study I once hosted for middle school girls. She’d just gotten engaged and when I asked her how she knew that “he” was the one, she laughed. “It was obvious!” she exclaimed. “He checked off every one of the prayers that I’d put in my journal when you told us to pray specifically for our future husbands. After praying these things for over ten years, he was easy to recognize!”

Three ways you can pray for your child’s marriage partner

So let me ask: What are your desires for your children’s marriages — and, in particular, for the people that they will marry?

Truth be told, I have kind of a long prayer list when it comes to my kids and their spouses, including the prayer prompts I shared in Praying the Scriptures for Your Children, and then added to in Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children. (Because just like it’s never too early to pray for your child’s marriage partner, is it also never too late.) But there are three things that are tops on my list, prayers I return to again and again:

I pray that my kids will marry people who love God deeply — with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength — and who will love their neighbors as themselves. That’s a request rooted in Mark 12:29-31.

I ask God to give my children and their spouses good relationships with their parents, to grant them the blessings that Exodus 20:12 promises to those who honor their fathers and mothers.

And I pray that my kids’ marriages will be marked, as Ephesians 4:32 says, by kindness and compassion and a willingness to quickly forgive. (What marriage doesn’t need that?)

“Let him/her be the one You have chosen”

Our two eldest children, Hillary and Annesley, got married within four months of each other. Planning two weddings at once was…interesting. But what a joy it was, when Charlie and Geoff sought my husband’s blessing to marry our daughters, to look at these two young men — each one a living, breathing answer to twenty-plus years of prayer — and think to myself: “So it’s you!”

Annesley and Geoff leaving their wedding

 

Hillary and Charlie wedding photo

It’s never too early (or too late) to pray for your child’s marriage partner. It doesn’t matter whether your kids are single or married, four years old or forty, walking closely with Jesus or still finding their way; God hears every one of our cries. And his answers continue to unfold, long after we finish praying.

So let’s join our voices with generations of families who’ve gone before, praying as Abraham’s servant did: “Let her/him be the one you have chosen.”

Heavenly Father,

You can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. (Job 42:2)

Grant that our children will be people — and marry people — who love you deeply. May they love others well and enjoy good relationships with their parents and in-laws. May they be kind, compassionate, and quick to forgive. (Mark 12:29-31, Exodus 20:12, Ephesians 4:32)

Amen

❤️

P.S. Annesley and Geoff celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary tomorrow. If you or someone you know is planning a wedding, you might find encouragement from reading their story. What’s that old saying? “Man plans and God laughs…”

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A Mantle for Your Marriage (plus a prayer you can print!)

So I was poking around in the Book of Common Prayer the other day (and if you think that sounds uber-holy, maybe don’t. Truth be told, “Organize Office” was on my to-do list. But there’s a copy of the BCP* on my desk, and I got a little sidetracked).

And anyhow. I came upon this sentence:

BCP Marriage Prayer

That’s just one little line in a much longer prayer, but it caught my eye. I had to read it again. And again.

“Let their love for each other be a seal upon their hearts, a mantle about their shoulders, and a crown upon their foreheads.”

Those words from the marriage service–so incredibly rich–speak to the almost inexpressible power of love.

seal conveys security and ownership. It marks something as authentic. Could there be any better imprint than love (with its inherent patience, humility, and unwillingness to keep a record of wrongs) to guard a couple’s heart as they give themselves to each other?

A mantle, in Bible times, was a covering that represented a call to service, a purpose before God. Could there be a more potent mandate for husband and wife than to serve God and one another in love?

And the word crown points toward the promise of eternal life, as marriage reflects the covenant relationship between Christ and his bride–the one where Jesus wore a crown of thorns so that we could wear one of beauty. Could there be a more exquisite portrayal of life-giving love?

See what I mean? This is a fabulous prayer! And if you’re looking for more of the same, I’ve got good news and bad.

The good news is that The Celebration of Marriage is chock full of Scripture-based prayers; I’ve pulled a few favorites and put them on a two-sided card you can print. The front side is the blessing, and the back shows where you can find the roots of these prayers in the Bible.

Printable Marriage Prayer

The bad news is that once you start praying this way (whether it’s for your own marriage or for another union you want God to bless), it can be hard to stop.

Which means that “office organization” might not happen anytime soon….

❤️

Heavenly Father,

Give ____ such wisdom and devotion in the ordering of their common life, that each may be to the other a strength in need, a counselor in perplexity…

(Want the rest of the prayer? Click the download–or better yet, get a copy of the BCP and savor it for yourself!)

*And P.S., I didn’t grow up in a church where they used prayer books (or robes, or candles, or really anything except the Bible and Jesus), and I didn’t know what a “BCP” even was. Now I do. And if you ever find yourself in a church where you don’t know all the lingo–words like unction, or epistoler–don’t worry. Just go home and check the phrontistery.

(Which is a real thing.)

(Because you can’t make this stuff up.)

 

 

 

 

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Launch Week Fun!

Ok Y’all. It’s Launch Week for Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult ChildrenWhich means all kinds of fun. Like, look how happy my kids are.

First of all, thank you! Thank you for letting me test drive so many thoughts and prayers in this space. It’s been a delight to partner with you as we bring our loved ones–our kids, our spouses, our friends–before the Lord every week, and then wait and watch as his faithfulness unfolds in our lives.

And thank you for jamming up Amazon. I mean it. The book earned Amazon’s #1 Bestseller flag on Launch Day–thanks to you!–and the Mother of All Retailers ran out of stock. They say they have more, but I’m picturing (and praying for) their 120,000 new seasonal employees as they drive forklifts around big warehouses, looking for boxes marked “Berndt.”

In the meantime, I have my own stash of books and I’m itching to share! Post a comment on this blog–it can be a prayer request, a favorite Scripture promise, or just a Merry Christmas wish–and I’ll pick three winners at random, who will each get a copy of the new book. Whoop.

And there’s more.

My good friend Susan Alexander Yates (you’ve met her in this space) graciously offered to let me guest blog for her this week. I talked about praying for your child’s marriage and created a Marriage Blessing from the collection of Scripture prayers you’ll find in the new book. If you want your own copy of this prayer, you can download it here.

(And P.S., the prayer card is two-sided, with the prayer on the front and the Scripture references on the back. If you want to frame it as a Christmas present for your spouse, your married children, or a even a new bride, Amazon offers a great selection of clear stand-alone frames; one of my favorite styles is here.)

(But don’t ALL of you order today. I don’t want to make those forklift people any more crazy than they already are.)

And finally… Maybe you saw this pic on Fox News.

Annesley says I blog about her too much (and lately, she’s right), but when I got the chance to write a post for the media moguls so that they could give folks some Good News this Christmas, I couldn’t help myself. Y’all know I’ve made some pretty jolly mistakes (the sweater, the posture brace), but money-wise, this one was the worst. If you missed it on the Fox News site, here’s the story.

And again, you all. Thank you. Thank you for your friendship, your encouragement, and your prayers. May the Lord continue to encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word. (2 Thessalonians 2:17)

You are loved.

 

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