Growing up, I had a fictional idea of what marriage—or at least a good marriage—was supposed to look like. I was raised watching movies that depicted happily-ever-after fairytales, complete with singing birds and swooning brides. As a young woman, each romantic relationship that I experienced left me deeply disappointed when my poor unsuspecting boyfriend failed to leave me with butterflies in my stomach or perform grand gestures of affection.
After a series of failed relationships, I slowly stopped expecting grand gestures, butterflies, and weak knees. I had a nagging suspicion that all those fairytale love stories were missing the foundational elements of what makes a real-life relationship work. After a decade-plus of marriage and observing some of the happiest couples in my community, I’ve noticed a couple of common threads that seem to bind these couples together.
Faith and Friendship: the Bedrock of a Healthy Marriage
My mom once told me that when things got bad in my parent’s marriage, it was their Christian faith that held them together. In our early marriage, my husband Kile and I experienced the same. We couldn’t figure out how to be married or how to transition from our single behaviors to a mindset of mutuality. When things were at their darkest in the first few years of our marriage, it was our faith in God and commitment to Christ-like living that kept us fighting for our marriage. When our relationship is at peace, it is the undertones of friendship—not passion—that sustains us.
We like each other, or as our 6-year-old puts it, “we like-like each other.” What started out as romance, dating, and flirtation has morphed into a deep and meaningful friendship. Don’t get me wrong; there is still romance, and in fact, more romance now, twelve years after saying “I do” than in our early marriage.
I truly believe that our foundation of faith and friendship draws us closer; it helps us understand each other better and aligns our hearts towards each other even in the tensest of moments. Just the other night, we had to have a pretty serious conversation. I wasn’t feeling my best, and, as a result, I allowed frustration and exhaustion to speak louder than my own words. Kile picked up on the underlying issues and wisely decided to shelf the conversation and instead help me feel better first. It is a gentle mercy to be seen and heard by our spouses; it is friendship—not romance—that gives us eyes to see and ears to hear each other.
Mutual Respect Can Give Way to Mutual Submission
I haven’t yet had a friend who has agreed with me 100% on all of life’s different issues. Though some of my best friends do come close, there are often nuances of disagreement. The lens through which they view life often expands how I see and interact with the world and my community. Their different perspectives and life experiences can both challenge me and help me develop more robust opinions on a myriad of different topics. We are able to hear each other’s opinions and thoughts because our relationship is rooted in mutual respect.
Mutual respect is a foundation for any healthy friendship; I would argue that this applies to marriage just as much. As a teenager, I would claim that I never planned to get married; I never wanted to submit to anyone but myself for fear of losing my autonomy or moral compass. I couldn’t dream of allowing anyone to be the final say or forcing me to do something I didn’t feel comfortable with. I clearly had a grievous misunderstanding of what a healthy marriage was supposed to look like. Sadly, I had read Ephesians 5:22, “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord,” without taking the full context of the verses to follow into consideration.
“A marriage that is built on a foundation of faith and friendship includes a foundation of mutual respect. Mutual respect is a cornerstone of mutual submission. In our relationship, there are areas in which Kile holds a stronger leadership role, and likewise, there are areas in which I lead. We show each other respect by consulting with each other over a myriad of issues, but at the end of the day, sometimes I need Kile to make the final call, and other days he asks me to do the same”.
We can do this for and with each other because our relationship is rooted in faith and friendship, mutual respect, and mutual submission. The fruit of these relational building blocks is trust. Because we trust each other, we can present a united front when the world and statistics seem stacked against us.
Do we still experience conflict in a marriage? Absolutely, but trust helps us resolve our issues quickly. Do we still have moments and seasons of disconnect in our relationship? Of course, but our foundation of faith and friendship helps us fight for each other and for unity in our marriage. Are there issues upon which we vehemently disagree with each other? Sure, and yet we can overcome these obstacles because of our respect for one another.
Showing Admiration and Appreciation Allows Us to Thrive in Marriage
I love asking older couples about their relationships, what has worked, what didn’t, what created conflict, and what bound them together over a lifetime. I haven’t encountered a single story of a perfect marriage; instead, I hear stories about struggles, addiction, infidelity, loss of children, bankruptcy, depression, mental illness, physical illness—you name it, some of these couples have walked through it.
“No one has told me that marriage is easy. In fact, several older couples have told me that walking out of a marriage is sometimes the easier option. And yet, they smile at me with a bit of a twinkle in their eye and remind me that sometimes the best stuff in life is closely tied to the hard stuff in life”.
Ultimately, I observe these couples to have a strong admiration and appreciation for each other. These elements, just like the relational building blocks of faith, trust, and respect, can help set the tone for a healthy marriage that endures.
Consider how we react when a friend does something kind for us; we often show appreciation for their actions. We admire our friends for who God has created them to be. Sometimes it’s actually our admiration that draws us together in friendship. The same applies to a healthy marriage; when our relationship is built up by faith, friendship, and respect, we tend to admire our spouses and appreciate who they are and what they bring to the relationship.
A friend who is appreciated and admired thrives in friendship. Similarly, a husband or wife who is appreciated and admired can thrive in their marriage. Today, if you’re noticing that things feel off in your marriage, perhaps take some time with your spouse and do a little “friendship check-in.” Ask yourselves, “In what ways can we treat each other with mutual respect, show each other admiration and appreciation, and are we building our relationship on a foundation of faith?” These seemingly small questions might just be the bedrock for a strong marriage that lasts a lifetime.