Marriage is quite a controversial topic these days, although current evidence seems to support its superiority over the alternatives. Here are some principles that have helped me – I’ve been married for nearly 33 years, and I would vouch for each one of them!
1. Live in reality with each other
So many relationships founder on hidden secrets and a lack of honesty or integrity. The ancient Greek word for “falsehood” is “pseudos”, and it refers to something that appears to be one thing, but in reality is something different! We know what “pseudo-living” is: it’s sham or fake living, where secrets and deception lie under the surface. Living in integrity and honesty is the bottom line for all relationships, but especially in marriage – no secrets, no pretence. That’s not always easy, but as Brene Brown discovered, people who live the whole-hearted life turn out to be the most willing to be vulnerable to others. All of which leads on to the second point…
2. Communicate, communicate, communicate
In my view, we can never over-communicate. Effective communication is a two-way affair, which requires all the integrity and honesty of point no 1. How we speak to the people we live with every day reveals what is truly within us, and shows just how much our profession of faith really works in practice. Words are powerful, and can either build trust or bring destruction! And it’s not just speaking – perhaps one of the most important but underused skills in relationships is that of listening. True listening requires a lot from us, since we have to put our opinions on hold as we concentrate on what our partner is trying to say to us – and especially “reading between the lines”, listening to what they are not articulating, but feeling deeply inside! Speaking positives to and about our spouses is crucial – apparently the ratio of positive to negative exchanges predicts whether a marriage will succeed or not. Fall below 5:1 and it doesn’t look hopeful! One aspect of this is expressing gratitude and appreciation for each other – saying how much we value each other is a powerful way of developing affection and trust.
3. Keep short accounts
Here are five words that save a marriage: “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you”! They seem so simple, so easy – but if they were, we would use them much much more than we do! One ancient suggestion is, “Don’t go to bed angry”. Good advice, which brings rich rewards. It’s so easy to harbour feelings of “righteous” anger, but unless they are discharged and resolved, they will almost certainly lead to toxic grievance, rage or passive aggression. Learning to argue well, picking the right battles to fight in the first place, and acting to bring swift resolution to arguments will stand us in very good stead for a lifetime of married life!
4. Commit to the long term
We live in an “instant” society, with quick fixes and “Five easy ways to live a successful life” littering magazine articles. It’s also a “throw away” society, in which commodities (and even relationships) can be discarded if they don’t measure up to our expectations. But enduring relationships take work – a lot of work! We all bring past hurts and pains into our relationships, and every marriage hits significant issues at some point. It takes time and effort to work these through, but the commitment we make at that critical point may well make the difference between success and failure.
5. Work on your own issues
Someone once likened marriage to two people coming to each other carrying buckets. Some have buckets full of good things – secure foundations, a healthy self-image and emotional resources available to offer the other person. Others’ buckets are empty and they enter marriage desperately hoping that the other person will fill them up with good things! If both come with empty buckets, it won’t be long before something traumatic happens! My “empty bucket” had to do with insecurity about myself, brought forward from childhood, and being too sensitive to what others close to me say and think. In marriage, I found myself retreating back into (childhood) comfort zones, feeling sorry for myself in conflicts. It took time, but I learned to step out of childish attitudes into adult thinking and behaviour. It’s amazing how many of us are still stuck in childish patterns of thought and action. The only person I can really change in my marriage is me, and marital harmony starts with my choices about my “emotional baggage.”
6. Look outwards as well as inwards
Who is marriage for? Is it just for me? Or just for us as a couple? Or is there more to it? Much of our culture is orientated towards the self – “I’ll enter this relationship for my own happiness”. But marriage isn’t just for me – it’s for my spouse too. And not just for “us” – it’s the best place for children to grow and flourish. More than that, in many cultures, it’s not just for the nuclear family (which is a relatively modern phenomenon) – it’s for the extended family too. How might my marriage demonstrate that principle?
7. Keep a sense of humour
One final thing. Don’t be too intense in your marriage – find time to laugh at yourselves!
 Martin Seligman, ‘Authentic Happiness’ p55-56;
‘Are married people happier?’ | Greater Good Magazine (6 June 2012) | by Stacey Kennelly | last accessed 23 January 2018
‘Marriage vs Cohabitation – is there any difference?’ | Sam Owen Relationship Coach (4 March 2015) | by Sam Owen | last accessed 23 January 2018
‘Marriage Math’ | Psychology Today (16 March 2004) | by Hara Estroff Marana | last accessed 23 January 2018
 ‘The power of vulnerability’ | TED Talks (3 January 2011) | by Brené Brown | last accessed 23 January 2018
 ‘Marriage Math’ | Psychology Today (16 March 2004) | by Hara Estroff Marana | last accessed 23 January 2018