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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Marriage, Generosity, and Football

Can watching football improve your marriage?

Last January, I wrote a post about Generosity and Marriage, and how even the simplest act of giving – like making your spouse a cup of coffee in the morning – can be a huge factor in your marital happiness.

But what about football? Can going to the big game with your spouse (or even watching it on TV) bode well for a relationship? Based on three things that happened this past weekend, I would answer that one with a definite Yes.

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First, I saw a car commercial where this cute girl picks up a guy for a date. En route, she discusses the strengths of their team’s rushing offense while using the rear-view mirror to apply eye black. When they finally reach their destination – a stadium – the guy is speechless. It’s the date of his dreams: a pretty girl, talking sports, taking him to a football game! Do I remember what sort of car she was driving? Not at all. But I will never forget the guy’s face in the passenger seat. He was soooo happy.

The second thing that happened was that my pal Anne Ferrell, who is married to the Alex Trebek of sports (Bob can name just about every college mascot in the country, from the UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs to the Fighting Pickles of UNC’s School of the Arts), told me that she doing a “30-Day Challenge” to soak up as much football intel as she can. Players, coaches, weekend highlights – they’re all on her list. (If you could have heard her discussing Navy’s triple option offense on Saturday, you would know what a dedicated student she is.) Needless to say, Bob (who played for Navy and still holds like 17 records) is thrilled.

And the third thing – the third football thing in 48 hours that made me think that the sport has clear implications for romantic relationships – was a text I received from my girlfriend, Dee, who got married last summer:

Now, Dee is not big on punctuation. I knew that. But she’s also not big on football – or at least, I didn’t think she was. Ask her what the Real Housewives are up to, or what fell out of the closet during the most recent episode of Hoarders, and her eyes fairly dance; when it comes to reality shows, she’s a curator. But televised sports? That’s blank stare territory.

“I realized,” she explained when I asked, “that if I wanted to see my husband in the fall, I would need to watch football. Because that’s what he does. On like five different TVs. And so I asked him to teach me the game.”

(And apparently he did, with great enthusiasm, because she went into a long explanation of who all the players were, what they were supposed to do, and – did I know this already? – that they had four chances to go ten yards every time! Dee thought that was good stuff.)

In each of these cases – the car ad, the 30-Day Challenge, and the newlywed football tutorial – the men were overjoyed. No surprise there. But what captivated me (and what gives credence to the whole “’Tis better to give” thing) was how utterly giddy the women were.

Dee hasn’t been this excited about television since she watched that woman sew clothes for a squirrel in My Strange Addiction. Anne Ferrell has mastered so many plays that she could coach her own team. And that girl in the car ad? I don’t think she was acting. She loved it that she could make her fake boyfriend’s day.

Proverbs 11:25 says, “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.”

Maybe every married couple should adopt that line as their motto. Because these gals started learning about football as a love-gift for their men, but honestly? They’re the ones reaping the blessings! They know the joy of making someone happy. The satisfaction that comes with learning something new. And the sheer delight of spending time (and, one would hope, eating nachos) with a guy that they love.

If your spouse’s interests include coffee in the morning (and Robbie, if you are reading this, can I just say thank you?), bring ’em a cup. If it’s football that he (or she!) values, go ahead and Google “triple option offense” (they have diagrams online; I checked).  Whatever it is that your beloved is into – old books, new cars, gluten-free meatloaf – take some time this week to learn about these things, or to give them a place amid the stuff that matters in your life.

You’ll think you’re the one doing the giving (and you are). But take it from the adorable couple in the car ad:  Generosity cuts two ways. You will both be happy. And you will wind up being refreshed.

 

 

 

 

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Marriage and Generosity: A Perfect Match

IMG_4352Robbie and I are gearing up for the Alpha Marriage Course, which starts this Sunday night at our church.  It’s a terrific class and you’d think that, having taught it five times already, my beloved and I would be coasting, but every time we go over the material, we learn something new.

One time, for instance, “we” learned that it’s not a good idea to interrupt your spouse when he is talking (even if you are pretty sure that what you have to say is way more interesting).

During another session, “we” discovered that cleaning out the garage is not, in fact, everyone’s primary love language.  Some people, it turns out, would rather have sex.

And then there was the time that we got to grade each other on questions like, My partner is good at meeting my emotional needs, and “we” got a zero.  (Honestly, though, that was not a fair question.  I mean, I didn’t even know Robbie had emotional needs.)

(But now I do.)

So here we are, getting ready to go at it again.  And this time I have a secret weapon:  I’ve been following Brad Wilcox on Twitter.  Wilcox is the brainiac behind the National Marriage Project, and his research offers everything from tips on improving your relationship to indicators that a marriage will last (inviting a lot of friends and relatives to your wedding bodes well; “sliding” into cohabitation before marriage does not).

Sometimes, the findings are surprising.  Like, you might expect things like “commitment” and “sexual intimacy” to show up as factors linked to a happy marriage.  But the third of the Big Three?  Generosity.

Generosity.  As in, being liberal with affection.  Quick to overlook offenses.  And (get this, from the research):  a cup of coffee for your marriageMaking your honey a cup of coffee in the morning.

“In marriage we are expected to do our fair share when it comes to housework, child care and being faithful,” Wilcox explains, in a New York Times Magazine article, “but generosity is going above and beyond the ordinary expectations with small acts of service and making an extra effort to be affectionate.”  And that, he says, promotes a “virtuous cycle” that leads to happier marriages.

Wilcox & Co. even have a quiz you can take to determine your generosity rating.  I’d take the quiz, but Robbie’s the one who makes the coffee around here, and I don’t want to go into Sunday’s class with another big “L” on my stat sheet.

But I am going to try to be more generous.  Like, when Robbie brings me my coffee in the morning, I will tell him I love him.  Even if it’s not hot enough, because I will know to overlook that.

See?  Who needs a marriage course?

Don’t answer that.

(But do check out The Marriage Course.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve been married for one year or 50, you’ll find it well worth your time.  Even if you already know that your man has emotional needs.)

 

 

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