Marriage can either give you a glimpse of heaven or a taste of hell. Let me repeat that…. A healthy marriage truly gives each person a glimpse of heaven on earth. But an unhappy marriage, a marriage dying on the rocks, is one of the most painful things I have ever seen, a true taste of hell. Nobody wants a taste of hell to linger in their life. We want a glimpse of heaven instead. So, how do we develop a healthy marriage? What are the essentials of a healthy, happy marriage? Let me share five….
A healthy marriage develops a daily habit of sharing gratitude and appreciation for one another. They acknowledge what they adore and admire in their spouse as often as possible. This daily habit of looking for things to admire, appreciate, adore, and show gratitude for one another builds friendship…and friendship is crucial to any healthy, happy marriage. In fact, some would say a strong friendship with your spouse is foundational to a healthy marriage and I agree.
People in a healthy marriage enjoy spending time together. They play together. They enjoy activities together. They like to talk to one another. They are best friends and they love spending time together. In fact, research suggests that engaging in “novel activities” together strengthens marriage (Get Self-Expansion Without the Chubbiness). So, enjoy date nights with your spouse. Plan some date nights around new (or novel) activities. Have fun together.
People in happy marriages think as a team. They turn toward one another to celebrate and grieve. When one spouse has a problem, the other spouse supports them, comforts them, and problem-solves with them. When one spouse does well, the other spouse rejoices…and they can’t wait to rejoice together. When all is said and done, whether in good times or bad, people in a healthy marriage know they can count on one another 100 percent of the time.
People in a healthy marriage know how to manage stress and conflict. Each individual has learned how to soothe their own negative emotions. They can calm their stress. Each one also remains aware of their partner’s emotions; and they use that awareness to build their relationship. They don’t “push buttons.” They don’t want their spouse, their best friend, to hurt so they comfort and nurture them. They take time to listen and accept. They become curious to learn their partner’s thoughts and feelings rather than dogmatically assert their own. They compromise and even agree to disagree. (Gottman notes that up to 69% of marital disagreements are unsolvable, which actually presents a wonderful opportunity to love someone who thinks differently than us.)
People in a healthy marriage share a mission, a value. They have a shared meaning. Couples may find that shared meaning in religious service, family, environmental action, justice, or something other value bigger than the self. The mission that creates a shared meaning for a couple may change over time and with various “seasons of life.” However, whatever the shared meaning is, it represents a mission rooted in some higher value. What is the shared meaning of your marriage? Raising a family, participating in religious service together, standing for justice, caring for nature?
Marriage can bring a glimpse of heaven. Practicing these five habits in your marriage will set it on the path to see that glimpse of heaven. Even better, you can live in that glimpse of heaven…and isn’t that better than hell.
Meaning and routine…those are two words we don’t often think of together. Instead, we think of routine as dull, the “same old thing,” and “stuck in a rut.” Who finds meaning in that? Research, on the other hand, suggests that we gain a greater sense of meaning in our lives when we practice routines. Yes, routines…like starting the day with a simple prayer or daily exercise, walking the same route to work each day or reading a chapter before bed, Friday night pizza or a cup of coffee each morning…routines! Rather than making life dull and predictable, research tells us that such routines actually make life more meaningful! (Read Everyday Routines Make Life Feel More Meaningful and A New Psychological Insight Makes Me Feel Much Less Boring for more). “How can that be?” you ask.
Daily routines help us develop a sense of coherence, a sense of self that remains the same over time and place. Routines help us define “who I am” and “what I do.” We become a person who enjoys coffee or a person who enjoys taking a walk. We come to know ourselves as a person who enjoys quiet times of prayer. Whatever routine we develop becomes part of our identity, our sense of self that remains the same across time and place. Of course, this means we need to use caution in developing our routines. We will do best to develop routines that contribute to a positive sense of self. After all, who wants to be the person known as a grumbler because they start every day with complaint? A positive daily routine, on the other hand, can help us develop a stable and positive identity.
Daily routines also build a sense of predictability into life. Having a sense of predictability, having an idea of “what comes next,” provides a sense of safety, especially for children. This sense of safety provides an anchor that frees us to take healthy risks in other areas of our lives…which leads to the next point.
Daily routines free us to pursue significant goals in our lives. Over time, the routines become a natural part of our day. We don’t have to waste mental energy remembering to do them or even how to do them. Instead, we can focus our energies on goals we consider significant and important to living out our values.
Of course, having the energy and thought to pursue more significant goals also gives our life a greater sense of purpose. We can thank daily routines for making this possible.
Daily routines for families also provide regular times to develop family relationships, which translates into greater family identity and family intimacy.
In other words, routines have a ripple effect. Positive routines help build a positive identity and a sense of predictability which allows us to pursue significant goals and build a greater sense of purpose. Family routines help build family identity and family intimacy. So, if you really want to help your family and your children build a greater sense of meaning in life, build family routines! Here are a few your children and your family might enjoy.
A daily family meal.
Taking time each night to read with your children.
The “good-bye kiss.”
The “I’m home kiss.”
Fishing on the weekend.
Friday pizza night.
You get the idea. The kinds of healthy routines you can develop are limited only by your imagination. Whatever you choose, get on out there and establish some family routines. Your family will benefit from gaining a sense of identity and personal meaning. Your children will benefit from a greater sense of identity and personal meaning. You will benefit from enjoying it all!
Marriages benefit when partners take the time to reflect on their marriage and establish the driving values of their relationship. Your marriage will grow more intimate when you and your spouse acknowledge your common purpose and the values behind that purpose. Discussing your marital values and purpose will set you marriage on a trajectory of deeper intimacy, love, and joy. Establishing your marital values and purpose does not typically happen by chance. It requires you, as a couple, to intentionally bring your individual values, dreams, and life purpose to light so you can integrate them with your spouse’s. It takes at least four ingredients to develop a strong marital purpose based on your values.
Building a purpose-filled marriage takes HEART. It requires that you sit down as a couple to have a heart to heart in which you courageously discuss your passions and priorities. In other words, you need to reveal the deep passions and dreams of our heart to one another. What are your most cherished values? What are your most important values in regards to marriage? What do you want to reveal through your marriage to inspire your children and those around you? What passions excite you? What dreams call to you? How can you work together to fulfill those dreams and passions? Building a purpose-filled marriage means learning the heart of your spouse and supporting the desire God has placed deep within their heart.
Building a purpose-filled marriage takes EARS. Learning our spouse’s deepest longings requires that we listen to one another deeply and intently. We listen beyond the words to hear the emotions, needs, and passions driving their words. This type of listening builds relational security and enhances intimacy. Intimate communication and mutual cooperation thrive in the midst of this type of listening. You will find your marital purpose becomes more clear and your work toward that purpose more “in-sync” when you learn to listen well.
Building a purpose-filled marriage requires VISION. A purpose-filled marriage looks to the future as well as the present. By looking to the future, a purpose-filled marriage develops direction and keeps a long-term perspective. Vision keeps an eye toward the activities you plan to engage in together, dreams you plan to pursue together, and places you plan to visit together. Keeping this long-term perspective puts daily hassles and minor conflicts into perspective as temporary and requiring resolution so they do not interfere with an exciting and highly anticipated future together.
Building a purpose-driven marriage requires EMBODIMENT. A purpose-filled marriage is more than talking, planning, and dreaming. A purpose-filled marriage is lived out daily. Embody the values. Have fun. Play. Engage. Becoming active in your marriage enhances intimacy. It will help each of you grow as an individual and as a couple. You will learn to work as a team. You will learn to play and have fun, express intimacy and enjoy one another’s dreams. You will learn to resolve conflict and enjoy discussions. You will embody your purpose in your daily life.
Building a purpose-filled marriage is not necessarily easy. It takes heart, ears, vision, and embodiment. But, the dividends are amazing—a long and happy marriage filled with purpose and inspiration.
I had the opportunity to volunteer in a nursing home throughout my teen years. My father was a chaplain in the home and I would help “wheel” the residents to church or some other activity. I also had the opportunity to help at an inner city mission several times during my teens and early twenties. In a different vein, my family often went camping. We spent a week each summer living in a tent, swimming, fishing, building fires, and enjoying (most of the time) family adventures. Little did I know that these different teen experiences were contributing to a budding sense of identity and purpose in my life.
Lecturers at Stanford have identified three factors that come together to foster a sense of purpose in teens: a need in the world, a person’s skills and gifts, and what a person loves to do (Read Greater Good: 7 Ways to Help High Schoolers Find Purpose for more). Let’s take a closer look at these three factors and how we can use them to help our teens find meaning in their lives.
Skills and abilities. Our teens need the opportunity to explore various skills and abilities rather than getting pigeon-holed in the first activity they enjoy. They may enjoy music but be great at sports as well. Or, perhaps they show talent as an athlete but love to cook. Let them explore a variety of interests and skills. Recognizing their own abilities and interests will help them discover what gives meaning to their lives.
As they explore their interests and abilities, allow them to experience failures and setbacks. Offer support while trusting your teen to survive these setbacks. Encourage your teen to learn from failures and teach them to see failure as an opportunity to grow. As they overcome setbacks and bounce back from moments of failure, they come to better understand their potential and how it fits into the world of need around them.
What your teen loves to do. As your teens explore their skills, talents, and abilities, they will discover things they love, things that inspire them. They will turn to these activities when they have no other demands on their time. These activities will light them up, bring them to life. Sometimes your teen will love an activity you don’t enjoy. You may hope they become an athlete and they take up theatre…or vice versa. Don’t hold them back. Be excited with them. Remember, you are helping them find purpose for their life not a way to live your
A need in the world. To gain a sense of purpose, teens need to connect their skills with a need around them. This demands a mature awareness of needs in the world around them. Parents can facilitate this awareness by providing opportunities to serve others. Scouting, volunteering, working in the community, or engaging in service activities will help build this awareness. Traveling, spending time in nature, and contemplation also help increase awareness of needs and how “my skills” may meet that need.
All three of these factors demand our teens have time to explore. It requires we provide them with opportunities to step away from the boring repetition of school, get off the treadmill of over-achievement, and experience the world from a new angle, to see the world with new eyes. The best part of all this: you get to spend time with your child in the exploration. You get to see their eyes light up with excitement as they try new things and discover what they love. You also get to develop a deeper understanding of your teen and a closer relationship with them in the process. Then you get to stand with pride as they actively engage the world in a meaningful way!