Last winter my wife, Barb, and I were in Maui for a minivacation. While we were out on a whale watch, Caleb, the young first mate, asked us, “How long have you two been married?”
“Thirty-eight years,” we responded, “and it’s awesome!”
Likely not accustomed to such an enthusiastic response, Caleb shared that he was a newlywed and then asked, “What’s your secret?”
I replied, “You either asked the best person on board or the worst, depending upon whether you really want an answer.”
“Game on. Give it to me!” was his reply.
“Caleb, I am going to give you not one secret, but six.” And while watching whales surfacing, I had an opportunity to share about what it takes to have a great marriage.
Relationships and marriage can be hard — really hard. Many people fear the commitment because of all the marriages that fall apart in our society. Many people even wonder if a lasting marriage is really possible. But just as I shared my six secrets to a great marriage with Caleb, I want to coach you, as well.
1. Forgive freely. You can’t have tenderness and compassion with a stubborn attitude. We all have attitude problems at times. Yet, when God softens our approach to each other, we resolve conflicts with our spouse and we practice forgiving him or her freely. This is the foundation of a great marriage.
When we take on the nature of a servant, we yearn to sincerely out-serve one another. I love when Barb serves me, but I love it better when my out-serving her sets the tone for meeting each other’s needs. Trying to fix a hurting marriage by doing nice things for each other — but with the wrong attitude — does nothing to actually improve the marriage. But when we serve each other in vulnerability and humility, God blesses our endeavor.
3. Persevere courageously. In your marriage, trials are going to come, including illness, financial setbacks and family stresses. Rather than denying them and covering them over, you need to forge your way through the storm. God uses our trials to fulfill His purpose in our lives and marriages. Our trials shouldn’t come between us and our spouse — they should push us closer together. Our struggles should prompt us to rely on Christ.
4. Guard vigilantly. You will also need to persevere through temptations. They can be related to sexual unfaithfulness, uncontrolled anger, passivity, relationship pressures or countless other things.
When temptation comes, you’ll need to walk in purity. Keep to the path God has for you in your life and marriage.
Temptation doesn’t go away. But when we vigilantly guard our minds and stay alert to where we’re at risk, when we build open and safe communication with our spouse and establish honest accountability with friends, we’re on the right track.
5. Celebrate joyfully. So, where’s the fun side of marriage? It can be found when we celebrate — emotionally, sexually and spiritually. Over the 25 years I’ve been coaching couples, I’ve learned that when a husband and wife master the art of heart-to-heart connection, learn how to have great sex and establish a spiritual connection, they can have great rhythm in their marriages. Barb and I connect each day for at least 20 minutes, practicing what we call “conversational prayer” — going back and forth sharing sentence-long prayers.
6. Renew love daily. You can do this in a variety of ways, including taking a walk or going on a date together. Other times it can be a phone call or prayer; it occurs when making love or reading the Word of God together. Monthly dates and annual marriage conferences are healthy practices, too. But couples in healthy marriages find small ways to connect daily.
Barb and I are convinced that couples worldwide want to know how to have a great marriage. Don’t settle for a good marriage or a so-so marriage. Implement our six secrets and then go for a great marriage.
Dr. Gary Rosberg is the co-founder of America’s Family Coaches, an international ministry committed to championing marriage for the cause of Christ worldwide. He is the co-author of 6 Secrets to a Lasting Love.