No one gets married hoping to end up unhappy.
We meet someone special, fall in love, and pledge our lifetime commitment to that person. We expect a relationship with ups and downs, but we hope that our love will rise above difficulties. We believe that our marriage will remain a source of joy and pleasure.
Often, though, life problems turn out to be more challenging than we anticipated. We encounter hardship, tragedy, or suffering. Our spouse turns out to have struggles, quirks, and sin issues beyond what we could have imagined. As the years go by, marriage can start to feel less like a blessing, and more like a source of stress and unhappiness.
Where do you turn for the best marriage advice when you find yourself in an unhappy marriage? Advice comes from a huge variety of sources. Who is offering helpful counsel that will lead to a thriving relationship?
As Christians, we believe that the Bible is our source of infallible wisdom for life and marriage. We want to seek what God tells us and follow his Word and ways. But, sometimes it can be difficult to discern how to apply biblical principles to your unique situation. Wise mentoring and fellowship with other believers can help you apply God’s Word to your marriage.
Here are some components of a happy marriage and how to find the best marriage advice.
1. Recognize you can’t control your spouse. You can only control yourself.
As a relationship moves out of the infatuation stage, which usually lasts about two years, differences can start to become more pronounced and noticeable. You don’t get along as easily as you used to. Instead, you have to work at things, as both of your flaws and shortcomings become more apparent long term.
At this point, it’s helpful to remind yourself of what part of your relationship you can control. Sometimes marriage can feel like a burden because one spouse takes too much responsibility for the success and happiness of the relationship.
Have you fallen into this pattern? Do you think that if you can set the right tone, structure the right activities, have the right conversations, and achieve the best balance in all areas, you’ll have a happy marriage?
It may take some pressure off to realize that all you can do is choose how you act, how you respond, and the contribution you make to your relationship. This can be discouraging since it reveals your vulnerability to the decisions your spouse makes.
It’s also freeing to lift the weight of your marriage off your shoulders, allowing you to take responsibility for yourself. Remember: just because you don’t have control doesn’t mean you don’t have influence, by virtue of:
- The decisions you make
- The way you live your life
- Your example
- Your words
- The things you share with your spouse
- The ways you serve your spouse
- The boundaries you set
- The prayers that you pray
Your choices in these areas have a major influence on the health of your relationship. You can’t have a healthy, happy marriage by yourself, but you can be a healthy person, and that will make any situation better, no matter how difficult it is.
2. Focus on effective communication.
Effective communication is 95% of the battle in marriage. No matter what the issue is, no matter whether you agree about things or not, if you have the skills to communicate well, you’ll be able to solve any problem life throws at you.
How can you learn healthy communication in marriage? Ellie Lisista of The Gottman Institute says, “The root cause of our conflict is often simply our inability to adequately express our differences, feelings, and needs.” The skills involved in healthy self-expression include:
- Putting feelings into words
- Asking open-ended questions
- Expressing empathy
In other words, seek to relate to your spouse in an understanding and appreciative way.
You can’t solve problems as a couple if you don’t trust and understand each other. So if these aspects of communication are missing in your marriage, make working on them a priority instead of solving other frustrating issues right away.
3. Treat your spouse with courtesy and respect.
Both men and women need to feel loved and respected in their relationship. The Bible commands husbands to honor and cherish their wives, and wives to respect and submit to their husbands. Scripture also instructs us that as believers, we should all “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21).
The instructions in Scripture are a recipe for:
- mutual honor
- putting each other’s needs before our own
- and loving sacrificially
Think about how you speak to people outside of your marriage when you want to convey a respectful attitude. You probably listen without interrupting, give them the benefit of the doubt, speak politely, and share any concerns in a constructive manner.
It can be difficult to maintain these standards over decades of marriage, particularly if your spouse does not treat you with similar courtesy but by maintaining high standards of courtesy, politeness, and respect in your marriage, that does not mean you accept put-downs or sweep important issues under the rug.
It simply means that you respect your spouse as a human being who has inherent value, and more than that, as your partner for life.
You will find that as you respect your spouse, even when they don’t deserve it, your self-respect and dignity will grow. Your spouse will be more likely to speak well to you when there is a culture of politeness in the home.
(If there is a culture of verbal, emotional, or physical abuse in your marriage, respecting your spouse does not mean that you have to accept this behavior. If this is happening to you, please seek appropriate help for your situation.)
4. Try Christian marriage counseling for a healthy relationship.
For the best marriage advice, sometimes it’s helpful to get counsel tailored to your individual situation. Each marriage is a unique entity made up of two unique people. So, it can be hard to apply one-size-fits-all relationship advice to your specific circumstances. Christian marriage counseling can help you if you’ve hit a rough patch, are going through a crisis in your marriage, or simply want to proactively cultivate a healthy relationship.
The secret to a happy marriage is that there is no secret. You can’t make your marriage happy on your own. You can pray for God to change your spouse’s heart if there are sin issues.
You can address destructive patterns by gentle confrontation and seeking appropriate outside help if necessary. You can meet with a professional Christian counselor to get experienced, compassionate help in making your marriage the best it can be.
You can be happy even if your marriage isn’t, but the more you pursue God’s Word and his calling on your life, the more he will work miracles in your heart and your marriage. Christian counselors often have the privilege of seeing marriages redeemed even after they’ve been through very difficult trials and struggles. Take the chance on this experience yourself.