The Secret to a Successful Marriage

“Why can’t marriage always be like that?” We had just finished watching Pride and Prejudice with Kiera Knightley and were preparing for bed. My wife was deeply moved by the noble and passionate love of Mr. Darcy that is revealed in the end. I was mildly suspicious that this was a set up to expose my lack of romanticism. “Because it’s unsustainable,” I stated, a bit too matter-of-factly. This launched a conversation that spanned two nights in which we explored my wife’s longing for and my own dismissal of this expression of love. It was a circular route, this conversation, but it arrived at a satisfying end. We both had something to learn.

And this is our marriage – two people who love each other deeply but have much to learn about ourselves and each other. Sometimes we stumble over each other’s feet, and sometimes into each other’s arms. Either way, this is a shared journey. In this case, the vulnerable and risky dialogue that paved the way for mutual insight was more than just dialogue – it was intimacy. One more log on the fire of love. A fire that sometimes blazes and other times smolders.

Durable love
I have a marriage that most people would envy. It is not perfect, but it is durable. Seventeen years of marriage have weathered this relationship. Through the years, our love has been pressed and twisted until well worn. It survived a crisis that brought the relationship to the brink and led to a period of brief separation about six years ago. We have fought hard to preserve this union. We have the scars to prove it. But the tattered complexion of our love has resulted in a bond that only shared struggle can account for. There is security in a relationship that has been tested and tried.

Marriage enrichment
Recently I was reading a marriage enrichment book that promised, in the subtitle, to reveal the secrets of a successful marriage. It was full of helpful tips and techniques for solving conflicts, negotiating change, handling money and raising children. It was exceedingly practical. But it did not deliver on its promise. Techniques are not the secrets of a successful marriage.

I react against the glut of marriage books that focus on methods. Marriage is reduced to a skill set, akin to playing chess. Learn the rules, get some strategy, and you can win. But the reality of life is much more dynamic than a chess game. Techniques are tools. Tools can be useful. But having the tools does not hinder these issues from continuing to infiltrate my marriage.

In most cases, the techniques are common sense. But even familiar principles still trip me up. Knowing does not always equate to practicing. If our fundamental need was for techniques, then scripture would read more like a marriage enrichment book.

Secret to a successful marriage
So maybe there is just one secret to a successful marriage, though not really secret. But indulge me for a moment. Grant me the leeway to unveil it with flourish, as if something new and novel. Gather ‘round as I pull back the curtain on this profound insight. The secret (wink, wink) to a successful marriage is the ardent conviction that marriage is a sacred covenant. It is a holy relationship intended as a model and metaphor of another holy relationship – one even more intimate and hard won. It is a promise before God to be faithful to another; a promise not lightly entered, and not lightly broken. As such, it is worth fighting for. This is what holds us together. Even when the relationship itself was quite ugly, we fought to restore it. It was a sacred ugliness that we would not give up on until all options had been exhausted. God honored our perseverance. Techniques were useful in fleshing that out, but always secondary to that bedrock resolve.

Marriage suffers when we downgrade its holiness. Our rush to techniques feels to me like we are slipping toward this downgrade. Techniques are secondary. A devotion to covenant faithfulness is primary. Keep this in focus and you will have a successful marriage. Keep this in focus and even “successful” will seem like a cheap word to attach to marriage. Even better, marriage is holy and blessed; a sacred ugliness transformed into sacred beauty.

Phil Huber is a freelance writer. He blogs regularly at aploddingpilgrimage.blogspot.com.

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