People have different ideas about what makes a happy marriage. But, for many, the question is one they have not asked themselves. Or at least if they have, they don’t have a definitive answer in mind. So I think it’s worthwhile to look at how other people define a happy marriage.

Judith Wallerstein and Sandra Blakeslee undertook the task of interviewing successful couples across America to find out how people define a happy marriage. They report their results in a wonderful book called The Good Marriage. Here are the types of things they found that go into the making of a happy marriage:

  1. Respect between the partners
  2. Each person cherishes the other
  3. Each person likes the other
  4. Each finds pleasure and comfort in the other’s company
  5. Emotional support of each other
  6. Mutually satisfying physical intimacy
  7. Expression of appreciation between the partners
  8. The creation of fond memories
  9. A feeling of safety, friendship, and trust
  10. A feeling that the spouse is central to his or her world
  11. An admiration of positive qualities such as honesty, generosity, decency, loyalty, and fairness
  12. A strong sense of morality
  13. The conviction that each person is worthy of being loved
  14. A sense of reality, in that there are some problems but that they are surmountable
  15. A view that each partner is special in some important regard
  16. A sense that the marriage enhances each partner
  17. The sense that there’s a unique fit between each partner’s needs and the spouse’s willingness and ability to meet those needs
  18. The sense that each partner is lucky to have the other
  19. An equitable division of household tasks and childrearing
  20. A sense that the success of the marriage is attributable to both partners
  21. An ability to express both positive and negative emotions
  22. A shared view that the marriage takes constant attention and work


This is quite a list, isn’t it? Surely any couple that has these things has a wonderful, blessed marriage!

However, it’s important to note that such a marriage doesn’t come about by accident. It takes years of dedicated work to bring this kind of relationship into existence. The good news is that it’s certainly doable; in fact, millions of couples have just this kind of relationship. It does, though, take a major commitment on both parts to continually work on the marriage.

While I say that it takes a commitment from both people, please recognize that at any point in time the task of keeping the relationship together may fall more to one person than the other. At the time, it may seem unfair. But that’s the way relationships are.

Sometimes one of the partners goes through a period of intense personal challenge, severely hampering his ability to contribute to the marriage. During these times, if the marriage is to survive, it’s up to the other partner to keep the relationship together.

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These are dangerous times in a relationship, dangerous in the sense that one person can come to feel so overburdened that she decides to end the relationship. Even the person facing personal challenges may decide he would be better off if the marriage ended. Some even come to believe the partner is the cause of the problems.

If marriages are to survive long enough to cultivate the wonderful characteristics listed earlier in this chapter, then both partners must agree to stick with the marriage until challenges can be met and overcome. Also in these times of great strife, the one factor that may save a marriage from dissolution is active participation in a faith community. Doing so cannot only provide avenues of encouragement for the couple to stay together but can provide the sustaining power of prayers from the faith community.

I think it prudent here to add a note of warning. In times of strife, couples often quit going to church, cut themselves off from their faith community, and cease all activities that are necessary to sustain their faith in God. Often this happens out of shame and sometimes out of depression. Whatever the reason for doing so, nothing could be worse. Having faith and a supporting faith community can make the difference between being able to keep a marriage together during times of trouble and ending up in divorce court. While it may take energy and courage that seemingly is unavailable in times where stress has used up all available resources, digging down deep to sustain your faith will, in the end, pay off hundredfold.

And the payoff comes in the long run, when surviving the rough times eventually strengthens the marriage and your faith. In a way, it’s like a bone that breaks. When it heals, the fracture becomes the strongest part of the bone. So too, can a marriage survive difficult times. Once overcome, the problems may well become a source of strength to the marriage and to your faith.

In sum, your marriage can become one of great satisfaction and enduring love. But it will take lots of work and a commitment to staying in the marriage even through the rough times.

Excerpted from Happily Married for Life by Larry J. Koenig, Copyright © 2006. Published by Life Journey. Used with permission.

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