Editors’ Note: Sister Laura Brotherson, a good friend of ours, has dedicated her life to helping strengthen marriages everywhere. Her website has some wonderful aids www.StrengtheningMarriage.com and she has published nearly 30 articles on Meridian concerning intimacy, sexuality and spirituality in marriage. To access many of her articles, please click here.
How many happily married couples do you know? Would others describe you as happily married? If not, do you know what it takes to not just get by, but to thrive in marriage?
Thriving in marriage is a worthy goal, but it’s more than just for the benefit of the couple. Research tells us that many young people have lost faith in marriage. They are afraid that happiness and long-term marriage aren’t even possible anymore.
How many truly happy, long-term married couples do you know that you could accurately describe as having a thriving marriage relationship? Many young people are not learning how to create a strong marriage, and there are too few examples to show them that long-term happiness in marriage IS possible.
Happily married couples are needed now more than ever to shine a light on the joys and possibilities in marriage. Dr. Greg Popcak suggests that it is up to the “happily marrieds,” those that are thriving, to remedy the situation:
“People who are married have a two-fold obligation. First, they need to commit to constantly working to make their marriage and family even stronger. Second, they need to be willing to share their positive, hopeful experience of marriage with others. Couples need to overcome their fear of setting themselves up as an example. We need examples. I think that married people standing around the water cooler unnecessarily complaining about their spouse just to ‘fit in’ do almost as much to undermine the culture of marriage as anything else…. If a couple or family needs help, then by all means get it, but if you’re happy in your marriage…the world needs to hear from you.” (Greg Popcak, Exceptional Marriages for Normal People, Nov. 10, 2006.)
Let Your Light Shine
Without being self-righteous or prideful, couples can do a little more to let the light of their marriage shine. Being a marriage advocate and marriage educator can help others restore their faith in marriage, and help them find greater happiness in their own marriages. You need not be a perfect couple with a perfect marriage to help others strengthen their marriages.
It’s difficult to create a happy marriage if you haven’t seen, nor had any personal experience with “thriving” couples. Many people do not even know what it really takes to find happiness in marriage. This article has a three-fold objective to inspire more of us to thrive in our marriages; to suggest some ideas of how to do so, and; to encourage couples to let their light shine, so that others may be encouraged as well.
Keys to Thriving in Marriage
So what are some of the keys to thriving in marriage? The following characteristics can help us create a vision of how to thrive in our marriages.
- Acceptance of self and spouse
- Emotional connection
- Playfulness and humor
- Sexual intimacy
- Personal growth
- Shared journey
Acceptance of Self and Spouse
One of the keys to thriving in marriage is acceptance (and its closely related principle of unconditional love). Acceptance unlocks the door for change to occur in both ourselves and in our spouse. Acceptance says things like, “It’s okay for me to be me, and to be imperfect.” “It’s okay for my spouse to be him/herself,” and “It’s okay for us to have differences.”
With a foundation of acceptance, we don’t waste valuable time and effort trying to “fix” or change our spouse. We instead focus our attention on improving ourselves. That can usually keep most of us pretty busy!
Disciplining our thoughts to focus on the positives about our self and our spouse is a necessary skill for thriving in marriage. Expressing gratitude for the good things our spouse does is a great way to show our love and acceptance.
To thrive in marriage there must be an ongoing, open and honest sharing of thoughts and feelings – a sharing of the heart and soul. Feeling safe enough to share your joys and dreams, as well as your sorrows and fears feeds the emotional connection in the relationship. Emotional intimacy helps couples to thrive amidst the ups and downs of life.
It is interesting that the Lord uses the word “know” to indicate the connection and the intimate relationship between a husband and wife. Learning to connect not only emotionally, but spiritually and sexually as well helps couples thrive as they truly come to know each other.
Playfulness and Humor
Recently my husband and I were discussing what it takes for a marriage to thrive. We decided that the one thing that really distinguishes a thriving marriage from a mediocre marriage is how much playfulness and humor couples share. One woman told me that she could always tell how their marriage was doing by how playful she and her husband were with each other.
An important part of playfulness and fun is making sure you and your spouse schedule time for a weekly date. Marriage requires constant nourishment and attention if it is to survive and thrive. Spending time together and enjoying each other helps couples to thrive.
Related to playfulness and fun is affection. Couples that are thriving in their marriage like to touch each other, and do so naturally and frequently. For some of us affection is a learned behavior, especially if we come from non-touchy families.
But non-sexual touch is a key habit for you and your spouse to learn if you want your marriage to thrive. Look for opportunities to hold hands, or for a chance to steal a hug or a kiss!
When non-sexual touch or affection is plentiful and playful it builds the sexual relationship as well. In thriving marriages, couples not only make sex a priority, but they both enjoy the sexual relationship that they share.
For most couples sexual compatibility is a learned behavior. Learning how to nourish and enjoy your relationship sexually is an important endeavor that keeps the passion alive and thriving.
A willingness to continually learn and grow personally is a must for marriages to thrive. One of the key areas of personal growth is that of learning to tune into and stretch to meet our spouse’s needs, which can sometimes be a real challenge. Many of the most important changes couples need to make within themselves require God’s assistance because they require a change of heart.
Self-awareness, self-understanding, and self-development are an ongoing process that couples must both engage in, in order to truly thrive in marriage. Taking responsibility for one’s self, one’s growth, and one’s happiness removes psychological pressure from one’s spouse, and creates a personal reservoir from which spouses are more able to love and nourish each other.
Couples who thrive in marriage don’t expect each other to make them happy. They’ve learned how to be happy within themselves, and then turn their focus to each other. This brings strength and resilience to the marriage. Personally striving for wholeness rather than needing the other to make us whole encourages us toward a marriage of 1 + 1 = 1 instead of ½ + ½ = 1.
To thrive in marriage requires a sense of a shared spiritual journey toward something greater than yourself. This sense of purpose generally comes from a spiritual journey toward God.
I have always felt that my husband and I had an important work to do together. I imagined that we would someday serve together in some capacity after our children were grown. That knowledge has been like spiritual insurance for our marriage.
Knowing that you are both heading in the same direction with shared hopes and dreams helps marriages to thrive. Understanding marriage as a mutual refiner’s fire toward a grander, divine purpose helps to make the challenges of life easier to endure.
Learning to thrive in marriage is vital not only for the couple, but also for their children, as well as those who might be positively influenced by their efforts. The joy that can come from marriage is one of God’s great gifts. It’s not always easy, but it is worth it.
Thriving in marriage doesn’t mean that everything is perfect, but it does mean that you willingly work through the challenges that arise, and make it a priority to make your spouse and your marriage a priority.
Allowing others to see the love you have for your spouse and the joy you feel in your marriage is one of the ways you can let your light shine and restore some of the luster to the institution of marriage.
Laura M. Brotherson is the author of a groundbreaking book on sexual intimacy and marital oneness entitled, “And They Were Not Ashamed — Strengthening Marriage through Sexual Fulfillment.” Laura shares her passion for building strong marriages and families as an author, intimacy educator, blogger and podcaster. Visit her website www.StrengtheningMarriage.com to learn more, and to sign up for her “Straight Talk about Strengthening Marriage” newsletter.