What Makes for a Healthy Marriage?

Sometimes, in the midst of an argument with my wife, I would like to press a button.  Upon pressing this button, a completely reasonable, unbiased robot that knows the ins-and-outs of our family would emerge to help us navigate a solution to our disagreement.

That’s weird. Why not just ask a friend over to help you sift through things, you might say. Well, because it feels vulnerable, a bit dramatic, and perhaps altogether unnecessary if we just cool off and give it a little while.  

As Americans, the privacy of marriage is pretty culturally ingrained into all of us.  But if we’ve learned anything from smoking cigarettes to using arsenic to make our skin look better, culturally popular ideas aren’t always good for us.

There are certainly some understandably private aspects of marriage. But, a man struggling with the pressure of providing for his family and being present for his children is still in a tough spot if he has no one to talk to about it. A woman feeling inadequate because she can’t keep up with the house and her little ones needs to know that she is not alone. But if she is culturally expected to have it all together, that conversation won’t happen.

This isolation is dangerous. Maintaining the we-have-it-all-together façade amidst real marital tension only stokes the fire of strife that will inevitably rear its ugly head in a much uglier way than if the tension was dealt with openly early on.

Our community is composed primarily of people in their 20s and 30s, many of which have been married less than 10 years. Newlyweds continue to add to the list and we have the blessing of a select few couples who have been married for 30+ years.  Based on these dynamics, we’ve had to proactively consider how to promote healthy marriages in a biblically-based community, instead of just assuming they will automatically exist.

Too often, marital accountability comes on the other side of a tumultuous relationship. It’s reactive rather than proactive. The potential for conflict is in us all, especially when the challenging circumstances of life occur. The temptation to uphold a façade is all the more present in religiously-based communities where a healthy marriage is part of the sometimes unspoken rubric for acceptance.

So, as soon as members of our organization enter into marriage, they immediately have a small group of other married couples to meet with on a regular basis. The reasonable, unbiased robot does not exist. We’ve recognized that honest friendships that allow a person to be vulnerable with those around them really matter.  We have chosen to trust and risk enough to allow others into our world to offer us the honest perspective we all need.

And we have to do it frequently.  We can’t depend on a quarterly meeting or annual marriage retreat to gain perspective from our friends regarding how to thrive together as spouses. Every group has their own personality and dynamic, but meeting regularly is an expectation for all.   

We all need examples to inspire us to be better spouses; we all need challenged in our weaknesses and people to help us recognize opportunities for growth. We all face the tension of striving to have healthy families. We also know that the emergence of healthy family has its messy moments along the way that we must choose not to hide.  

The robot does not exist, but friends do.  If you don’t have a friend like the ones described here, try to be one to another.  I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the kind of life and health you’ll find on the other side.