4 Secrets to a Happy Marriage

Saturday my husband and I renewed the wedding vows we made a little more than 25 years ago. The service was scheduled to be outdoors at 4 p.m.

But then life happened. My hubby was still getting gussied up in his cute new outfit at the time I had hoped to arrive, so we skidded in on two wheels at 3:55 p.m. My daughter forgot her scripture reading at home, and my son thought it started at 4:30. When he finally showed up, about 4:20, he brought the rain with him.

I’d like to tell you this was an aberration, but it is so much a part of the fabric of our family life that it even has a name: “Getting Kirsched.”

In the midst of our messes, however, God is always faithful…He showed up even as we were getting our collective act together, and we gave Him the glory for creating our marriage and carrying us this far, and sought His guidance for the road ahead.

As part of the service my husband and I each offered reflections for our children and the handful of others who stood with and for our marriage. Mine is excerpted below for posterity and in hopes that what we have learned may help others seeking to “do marriage God’s way.”

Kirsch Fam 0422 2017

During our wedding, our friend and officiant, Father John Skirtich, delivered a message that “Love is a decision.” Somewhere inside I might have known it to be true, but it was in the same way I knew dessert or a favorite glass of wine was a decision…it didn’t come at a cost.

We were young and in love, and we believed our marriage would be a great example to our community of friends and fellow believers, and to our children.

But then Life Happened.

My husband always tells young couples that you never know what God will call you to walk through together or how much you will have to lean on one another. That certainly has been our experience.

Last fall, as our silver milestone approached the bumps in the road had all but obscured the path we had traveled together, and the love and joy that had kept us growing and changing together. Throughout this season the Lord kept bringing this verse to my mind:

See, I am doing a new thing!

Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?

I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.

Isaiah 43:19

I did not perceive it…

at least not right away. But looking back now I can see God’s faithfulness as He began to clear out the death and decay that had crept into the dark corners of our marriage and restored new life.

I want to share the four secrets that breathed new life into our marriage; the ones we are working to live out together each day.

1. Change Yourself.

To change your marriage you must change yourself…because that is the only person you can change. Once I stopped looking at what I wanted my husband to do differently and focused only on what I needed to change — and then he began to do the same — our marriage got healthier quickly. (Wives, accept that you will likely be called to make the first move here, but as you see how your husband responds you’ll know it is well worth it.)

Marriage is the only place where you reveal your true (bad) self, so God uses that space to refine us and teach us how to love more like Jesus—unconditionally.

2. Love is indeed a decision.

Sure, it begins with googly eyes and butterflies, but as Scripture teaches:

  • The heart is deceitful above all things. (Jeremiah 17:9)
  • Out of the abundance of the heart our mouthes speak. (Luke 6:45)
  • For as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he. (Proverbs 23:7)

What I am about to share is true in all relationships, but it’s most visible and important thoughts-1in marriage: It is our thoughts that create our feelings, which lead to our actions.

Changing how I feel about my husband begins by examining my thoughts about him. As I replace any negative thoughts with what I love most about him– and how God sees him–my feelings warm and I act out of love. (Read Love is a Decision)

Once I understood this cycle, Paul’s instruction took on new relevance and importance:

Take every thought captive to Christ

2 Corinthians 10:5

3. The Power of Neutrality

There is no excuse for an angry outburst. While we inevitably experience anger, it is possible to diffuse it without hurting your spouse or relationship by following two simple rules:

  1. If you can’t say it neutrally you can’t say it. (That has created a lot more quiet in our marriage to be sure!) We are learning to voice our complaints, after the anger subsides, in ways that build up our marriage. It sounds corny at first, but it works:

State the complaint neutrally: Honey, when you don’t call me when you’re running late…

Name your feelings: I feel worried for your safety and disrespected regarding the value of my time.

Make a simple, forward-looking change request: In the future I’d like to ask that you call me if you are going to be more than 15 minutes late. Can you do this?

If your spouse consents, great; if he/she declines you can calmly discuss alternatives or drop the topic and try again later.

2. Our need as human beings is to be heard; it far exceeds our need to be right. That seemed shocking at first, but it is an incredible truth in practice. As we learn to listen to each other well, even if the issue doesn’t get resolved right away, we are learning how to love one another even in our differences.

4. The Healing Power of Forgiveness

Perhaps the most valuable secret of all is the tremendous, healing power of forgiveness. (Unforgiven) The turning point in the marriage retreat we attended last winter came when we were asked to write apologies that would speak to our spouse’s heart. It was a powerful, healing experience. James 1:19-21 (MSG) says:

Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God’s righteousness doesn’t grow from human anger.

So throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage.

In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life.

Now I Perceive It!

I wish I had learned these secrets sooner and put them into practice in my life and marriage. But as my husband and I strive to “do marriage God’s way” in our imperfect humanity, we hope to become a better example of Christian marriage and a testament to how awesome and faithful our Father is.

Baptism of the Stars.jpg

This beautiful painting was created by our friend and artist, Corey Mason. He calls it “Baptism of the Stars.” It is a gift of remembrance of the journey we have shared. The light and promise that dominate the darkness are from God, who is ever faithful to make a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.

Love is a Decision

This week my husband and I celebrated 25 years of marriage. The sermon at our wedding was, “Love is a decision.” It has taken me this long to fully appreciate the truth in that statement. That’s because one of the enemy’s most destructive lies to relationships is this one:

I can’t help how I feel.

Compare that to what God says of our feelings:

The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.

Jeremiah 17:9

Words Mean Things

Early in my study of the Bible I became aware of the connection between my heart and my words. 

Out of the abundance of the heart our mouthes speak.

Luke 6:45

But recently God has been doing a new thing in me, taking this idea up a notch, challenging me to begin with my thoughts, use wisdom to discern truth from lies, and rely on the power of my thoughts to direct my feelings and ultimately my behavior toward others.

Mind over Matter

For as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.

Proverbs 23:7

Our thoughts produce our feelings which prompt our behavior. So to change our behavior we must run the cycle in reverse and identify the feelings that drove our actions, and then go one step further and ask: “What thoughts are behind those feelings?”

thoughts-1

Note: The following incident is fictional; any resemblance to real life is purely coincidental. 😉

Imagine that my husband greets me in the kitchen with a cheerful, “Good morning, darling,” and it elicits only a grumble from me in reply.

If I step back and examine the feelings that prompted my reaction I realize I am feeling frustrated, resentful and uncared for. Wow. That’s a lot of emotion for a simple “Good morning.”

What thoughts produced those feelings?  Turns out it is garbage day and my husband forgot…again.

…Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind so that you may know what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:2

What if instead of reacting based on those feelings I consciously redirect my thinking: The garbage is my husband’s responsibility, so whether it goes out or not is up to him. I know for sure he doesn’t fret one second over the status of my laundry. And, I remind myself, my husband takes great care of many things for the kids and me.

Suddenly those positive thoughts, grounded in truth and love, wash those negative emotions away. Now, after just a slight pause, I am able to greet my husband with a respectful and equally enthusiastic, “Good morning!”

Mastering Our Thought Life

God intended for our minds to be masters over our hearts, not the other way around. And yet our human nature is to allow our fickle hearts to rule our lives far too often. The Bible is full of examples we can learn from beginning in Genesis.

Look at the thoughts that precipitated the Fall: Eve told herself first of all “that the tree was good for food,” “it was pleasing to the eyes” and it was “a tree desirable to make one wise.” (Genesis 3:6) Because we are talking about love, let’s look at these thoughts in the context of relationships:

God said she and Adam could eat from the abundance of the garden, just not from that single tree. How often are we drawn to forbidden fruit over the good things in our own relationships? How often do we look at other relationships and imagine them to be better than our own?

What is pleasing to the eyes is not always what is pleasing to God, in fact it’s often just the opposite.

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.

1 Peter 3:3-4

This world defines beauty very differently from God’s definition, emphasizing the surface and the temporal over the deep and enduring beauty of heavenly things:

Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Philippians 4:8

Finally and most perilously Eve convinced herself that the tree was “desirable to make one wise.” Well what could be wrong with that? Are we not all to pursue wisdom?

It wasn’t really wisdom Eve was pursuing, for this was the “tree of knowledge of good and evil.” Up to this point she and Adam had lived only in the knowledge of good, their focus fixed firmly on God and His provision.

Yet, how irresistible it is to want to “know evil.” Evil is love of self above love of God or love of others; it is pride. Selfish motives darken our hearts and lead us down the wrong path in our relationships. We want to be first, not last. We need to be right more than we desire to hear and care for the needs of another. We want what is good for ourselves more than what is good for another, even someone we profess to love.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.

Philippians 2:3

The only hope for us is to make the decision to love. Fortunately, God in His wisdom gave us the perfect rubric by which to mind our hearts and think the thoughts that will produce loving feelings and actions in our marriages and families:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

1 Corinthians 13: 4-8