My husband, Greg, and I have found that one of our favorite things to do together is to watch a great Hallmark romance movie. I know you were expecting that it would be my favorite thing to do and that Greg would be watching the adventure and action movies. At times that is true. However, Greg and I together have become Hallmark Channel "junkies" — we love a great romance!
Unfortunately, our kids have stopped watching romantic movies with us. When we sit down as a family to watch one, they start moaning at the thought of a Hallmark flick. Although we have stressed how clean and moral these romance movies are, our kids claim that they are all the same — the same premise, plot and ending. The more they repeated this complaint, the more intrigued Greg and I became. We soon discovered that there is in fact a formula for great romance stories.
According to the Writers Digest online, we discovered that every romance story contains four crucial elements:
1. A man and a woman to fall in love. There can be no story without two people who fall in love. Since most readers or movie watchers will spend a good amount of time with the characters, those characters have to be intriguing enough to make the audience want to know more.
2. A problem that creates conflict and tension between them and threatens to keep them apart. Tension between the main characters is typically seen in conflict — the difficulties that threaten to keep them apart. It's the part of the story that inspires the audience to root for the man and woman to push through the difficulties so they can once again be together.
3. A developing love that is so special it comes about only once in a lifetime. This element of story may seem like a no-brainer because everyone understands there has to be a romance in a romance story. Over the course of the story, the main characters must fall in love even as the audience gets to know them and their journey together on a deeper level.
4. A resolution in which the problem is solved and the couple is united. One of the most important parts of a romance story is the ending. Think about the satisfaction a reader or viewer feels after falling in love with the hero and the heroine and their story is completed with a wonderful, unified ending.
As we looked at the steps (which were oddly very familiar to Hallmark productions), we realized they were similar to the keys to a real-life marriage romance — including our own story.
Think about it:
1. A man and a woman fall in love.
"The characters need to be intriguing." Well, I know there is a lot that is intriguing about my husband, Greg. First and foremost, he is a man. Wow, we are so different as male and female! But these differences truly intrigue me. I often wonder why God made him so practical, analytical and often quiet. And then why did God make me wired to talk about a variety of different topics all in a matter of seconds. Yes, men and women are different, but what a gift this is to marriage, because it can bring tremendous balance and strength to the relationship.
When I think about Greg, these intriguing qualities come to mind: He is hilarious; he is a hard worker; he is a great dad; he appreciates me.
What is it about your spouse that intrigues you? What do you love about your husband or wife? What personality traits, character qualities or little quirks enthrall you? Make a list of those intriguing qualities, and keep it to review during those times when you just might forget what you love most about him or her.
2. A problem that creates conflict and tension between them and threatens to keep them apart.
In real life, all couples experience conflict (and tension) at some point in their relationship. If you are like Greg and me, the challenging seasons of life provide opportunity for us to create a different conflict a dozen times a day! And regardless of the season, one thing is for sure — our enemy Satan loves to create conflict and disunity in marriage.
Scripture acknowledges in Luke 11:17 that "a divided household falls." That would explain why Satan fears the power of a strong and unified marriage. He knows he needs to mix things up by creating tension, conflict and disunity between a husband and wife. Because Satan can cause a married couple to suspend unity when they are mad at each other, he will do whatever it takes to create division.
1 Corinthians 7:28 (NIV) says, "Those who marry will face many troubles in this life." Challenges will come to your marriage — either internally (from within the marriage relationship) or externally (from outside sources) — but you can choose to see those challenges as opportunities for growth.
Spend some time reflecting on the treasures you have received in your relationship amid the difficult times (challenges) you've faced in married life.
3. A developing love that is so special it comes about only once in a lifetime.
We all have our own unique love story. Most couples are enthralled with each other throughout their dating and engaged years, but as they settle into an everyday marriage, they often stop being curious about each other. They begin to assume they know all there is to know about their mate.
But that isn't true in the slightest! We must continue desiring to know more about our spouse, endeavoring each day in our marriage to learn more about him or her. When talking with other couples, Greg and I like to say, "Earn a Ph.D. in your spouse!" This statement simply encourages husbands and wives to be great at asking questions, staying current with your spouse's likes and dislikes, and being keenly aware of what is needed in each season of life. It could even be as basic as keeping up-to-date on your spouse's favorite coffee or ice cream preference.
Take some time to look back and see how far you and your spouse have come. Reminisce about the early days, the first time you saw each other, your first date or your proposal. The goal is to realize just how good you two actually are together.
4. A resolution.
Sadly, married couples seldom spend time thinking beyond the start of their love story to consider the end of their love story — what kind of legacy will they someday leave. And beyond just thinking about it, they would do well to be intentional about building a strong marriage. You cannot put your relationship on autopilot.
One way Greg and I have discovered to keep our marriage strong is to stay united through pursuing a dream together. There is nothing more satisfying than when I accomplish something with Greg that I know I could have never achieved on my own.
Recognizing that your marriage is a part of God's bigger story is crucial to building unity. He has given you a purpose within your marriage, a mission to serve others and make disciples. Francis Chan's message in his recent book, You and Me Forever, was described in this way: "Picture marriage as a vehicle for mission, an opportunity for Christians to carry out our mission to make disciples of all the nations."
What is it that God is calling you and your spouse to do to serve Him through the gift of your marriage? Could it be that He is calling you to:
- serve in a leadership role within your church
- give money to a charity or cause
- mentor young married couples
- help troubled youth
- minister to unmarried teen mothers
- lead a Bible study
Start praying, individually and together as a couple, and let the Lord direct your next steps. What does God have for you and your spouse? Then consider how a shared unity through pursuing a dream together might ultimately impact your love story.Erin Smalley is the co-author of Crazy Little Thing Called Marriage and serves in the Marriage and Family Formation department at Focus on the Family.