8 Characteristics of Irresistible Marriages – Part 2
As we continue with the 8 Characteristics of Irresistible Marriages conversation, let’s quickly remind ourselves of the first four characteristics: Intimacy with God, Community, Mutual Submission and Purpose. If you missed part 1 of our conversation you can unpack these first four characteristics here.
Moving into characteristics 5-8, we will quickly come face to face with one of our biggest struggles in relationship, but also one of our greatest opportunities to move towards one another.
Characteristic #5: Valuing Differences
If you’ve been married longer than thirty seconds you may have noticed that you and your spouse are a bit different…or should I say a lot different! It’s likely that many of those differences are what attracted you to one another. But those differences can also cause frustration and resentment when you can’t seem to get on the same page. Our tendency can then be to focus solely on our similarities and all the things we really enjoy together and see eye-to-eye on. What if the key to a great marriage were not in the celebration of our similarities but in how we approach our differences?
When it comes to navigating the differences in marriage, there are just three approaches we can take. First, we can choose to judge our spouse’s differences as weaknesses. With this approach you have decided that your likes, dislikes, emotional needs, communication style, conflict resolution techniques, favorite vegetables and overall outlook on life are superior and your spouse is inferior in these areas. A second approach to differences in marriage sounds a little better but still falls short of creating the climate of appreciation and mutual support we all desire. You can choose to accept your spouse’s differences rather than judging them as a weakness. Acceptance is certainly more desirable than judgment but will usually cause subtle feelings of disappointment and frustration. The third and best approach for a healthy marriage is to make every effort to value your spouse’s differences as strengths and seek to better understand and support those differences. Clearly, this approach is not one that has as its foundation the support of your flesh. As discussed in the chapter on Intimacy with God, you will need the power of the Holy Spirit to love and serve your spouse in areas that go counter to your natural tendencies.
As we turn our focus towards finding the good in our spouse’s differences and valuing them as strengths our perspective on the relationship will change and our satisfaction in the relationship will increase. Choosing to value differences will fight against the disunity that those differences can cause in the marriage.
Characteristic #6: Intentional Investment
If you’re like many married couples, you probably don’t give a ton of thought to your relationship unless it is causing you some level of pain. Most couples who are attending marriage classes or reaching out for counseling are doing so because they are struggling in the relationship. It is rare that a couple seeks out help just to learn how to grow their already good marriage into one that is great. The problem is that without consistent and intentional investment in the marriage, someday there will be a point of pain that needs attention. Nobody drifts into a great relationship. You have to put in the work to have something great. . Author and business leader, Mark Sanborn, says, “Success isn’t based on what we know, believe or intend, it’s a result of what we consistently do.”
Now for some self-evaluation. Pull out your calendar or open that calendar app on your smart phone. What is the most frequent activity listed on your calendar for the upcoming week? Don’t keep a calendar? That’s fine. Just reflect on the past week and write down everything you can remember that you did each day. Based on this exercise, what would you say that you value most? Eating ice cream at 10:30 pm? Looking forward to emptying the DVR of your favorite shows before bed? Hopefully it was something a little more productive (and healthy) than that. How many of the activities in your calendar for the upcoming week or on your list from last week have to do with intentional investment in your marriage? Just so you know, I did this exercise as well and the results were not very encouraging. I had only one thing on the calendar for the upcoming week that involved my spouse and the previous week included very little intentional activity together with my spouse. That is not a recipe for a growing and thriving marriage.
Movies, tv shows and romance novels have caused us to buy into the “myth of spontaneity” when it comes to relationships. This is the belief that everything good and important in our relationships will just have naturally and organically if we are really “in love.” That’s not reality for most married couples. Healthy marriages exist when two individuals decide to intentionally put effort into the areas of the relationship they feel are valuable. Things like communication, recreational companionship, date nights and sex should be planned and even put on a calendar to ensure they occur if they are not happening with regularity. Do not fall into the trap of believing they’ll just happen when the relationship is right. The relationship will remain mutually satisfying when you decide to prioritize and intentionally invest in the areas that make the relationship great.
Characteristic #7: Boundaries & Trust
“Without trust there can be no love. Without boundaries there can be not trust.” ~anonymous~ One of my favorite shows to watch on a Friday night is Dateline. If you’ve never seen this show I can pretty well summarize the usual plot quickly so you’re up to speed. It usually starts with the disappearance or death of a person and a search for the solution to what has happened. The details are laid out, possible suspects and motives presented, and interviews with family members and law enforcement captured on video. It’s television so they try to confuse you a little but ultimately you already know that the main suspect is going to be the person’s spouse. Along the way a picture is always painted that shows the relationship between victim and perpetrator to be marked by things such as deceit, severe conflict, infidelity and abuse. The relationship is one of distrust and dysfunction.
When you find a marriage that is characterized by fear, control and dysfunction, you can guarantee this is a relationship that does not understand or implement healthy boundaries. Boundaries are the mechanism that help each spouse understand where their control begins and ends in the marriage. If there is going to be love in the relationship, each spouse has to have the freedom to make decisions and say no at times without fear of retaliation. Healthy boundaries help a couple define the areas where they do and do not have freedom. For instance, you may have the freedom to say that you would rather not go to the basketball game this weekend but you do not have the freedom to date another person if married. As long as control or the perception of control exists in the marriage, there will not be love.
Boundaries in marriage also help a couple determine who is and isn’t responsible for what. There are things in your marriage that you are solely responsible for and you must own them. There are also things in your marriage that your spouse is responsible for and you CANNOT own those. Anytime spouses stop owning their responsibilities and/or begin trying to own their spouse’s responsibilities, the marriage will become unhealthy.
When each spouse takes responsibility for what they own and freedom is given in the marriage, love naturally follows. According to authors Henry Cloud and John Townsend in their book title Boundaries, the following occurs when responsibility, freedom and love are working together in marriage. “As love grows, spouses become freer from the things that enslave: self-centeredness, sinful patterns, past hurts, and other self-imposed limitations. Then, they gain a greater and greater sense of self-control and responsibility. As they act more responsibly, they become more loving. And then the cycle begins all over again. As love grows, so does freedom, leading to more responsibility and to more love.”(Cloud & Townsend, Boundaries, p. 25)
Healthy marriages have healthy boundaries where truth is spoken, spouses take responsibility for their attitudes and actions, and where trust is given and guarded. How is your marriage doing when it comes to boundaries and trust?
Characteristic #8: Discipleship
Let’s be honest. No one has discipleship on their top ten list of things that make marriages great. Before you close your browser and decide that you’ve gotten everything you needed from this blog post already and completing it would be a waste of time, stay with me for a minute.
I have a few thoughts when it comes to life:
- Healthy things grow and reproduce
- Life is about relationships
- Our lives are not about us
- We are meant to serve others
- An “others-focus” leads to a more fulfilling life
- Passing info onto others is both biblical and beneficial
- We should always all be students and teachers
- Success is me-focused, significance is others-focused
- Every generation is responsible for the next generation
- Too many people “retire” from their responsibility to develop others
Discipleship may seem like an odd pick for a characteristic of healthy marriages because it seems to be focused on someone else rather than the marriage. That’s pretty much the point. Look at it this way. Who do you think grows and learns more, a person who reads some information or a teacher who prepares a lesson to teach someone else? In case you’re stumped, I’ll help you. The answer is the teacher.
Let me explain it another way using a natural example. The Jordan river runs through Israel in the Middle East and during its 156-mile run it forms two seas, the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is well known as one of the saltiest bodies of water on Earth and at 1,412 feet below sea level, its shores are the Earth’s lowest elevation on land. The salinity creates a harsh environment where plants and animals cannot flourish, hence, the name Dead Sea. The Sea of Galilee on the other hand, has been a source of commercial fishing for over 2,000 years and currently supplies 10% of Israel’s drinking water. Same Jordan River, two different outcomes. What’s the difference you ask? The Jordan River flows into the Sea of Galilee on the north and out of Galilee on the south. The Jordan River flows into the Dead Sea on the north but there is no outlet from the sea. This is why the Dead Sea is so salty. All the salt and sediment running through the Jordan are simply deposited in the Dead Sea and remain.
Our lives are no different. It is the flow of energy, information and wisdom into our lives and then back out of our lives that keeps us healthy. The intake of information without the dispersion causes what I like to call “Information Constipation”. If you have ever been constipated in your life you understand this is not a good state to remain in. There is something healthy about a constant flow of info in and out of our lives. Therefore, I believe healthy couples are couples who are consistently pouring their lives into the lives of other couples. That’s called Discipleship.
Healthy marriages come in all shapes and sizes so there may be a long list of characteristics that make up great relationships. The key to a great marriage, an irresistible marriage, is having a blueprint or roadmap to guide your growth. Information without application does no good. My encouragement to you is for you and your spouse to sit down and evaluate your marriage in the categories we’ve discussed and then decide how you can grow and strengthen your relationship. Your marriage is important and the work is worth it! Create a relationship that is attractive to those around you and irresistible to the person who sleeps next to you. For more depth on these characteristics and questions to help you evaluate and strengthen your marriage, check out The Magnetic Marriage on Amazon and order your copy today!