Yesterday I attended a really fun bridal shower for a very dear friend. One of the activities the hostesses had us do was to write a “recipe” for a successful marriage for the couple-to-be. I have read several clever “recipes” like this over the years. A lovely example can be found at the Southern Charm Catering website. It’s called “Recipe for a Successful Marriage.”

Since I don’t have any of these things memorized (never my strong suit), I had to bring my card home to think of what to write. After a bit of thought, here’s what thirty years of marriage has taught me about the most vital ingredients for a satisfying marriage that will last a lifetime:

  • A good attitude—Contrary to popular music, movies, contemporary fiction and opinion, it is NOT your spouse’s job to make you happy. I think more marriages end in divorce or separation because of this misconception than anything else. Happiness is a state of mind you choose in accordance with (or in spite of) your circumstances. Nobody can “make” you happy or unhappy. You alone determine whether you will have a positive attitude and response in any situation.
  • Generosity and concentrated effort—Marriage is NOT a 50/50 proposition! It takes two committed persons, each giving 100%, to make it work. As with anything worthwhile, you get out of your relationship what you put in. If both parties are grasping at the other for what they can get from their partner, all you wind up with is two empty vessels longing to be filled. The amazing thing in God’s economy is that, the more you give, the more you have.
  • Grace/patience—Your job is not to reform your spouse. If you go into a marriage thinking you will change the other person, you are setting yourself and your mate up for extreme frustration! The process of transformation is between each individual and God. Our Lord may accept your suggestions, but He never takes orders. God is in charge. He knows what He’s doing, and it will get done in His timing and His way. Often He will start by changing you first!
  • Forgiveness—1 Peter 4:8 tells us “love covers over a multitude of sins.”  In even the most loving household, you are bound to hurt each other. Keeping a record of your spouse’s wrongs does not improve your relationship. In fact, it can sour your love for him/her, as bitterness begins to take root and infect your every thought about your mate. Talk over your differences calmly, quietly and graciously. Consider how much our Lord Jesus has forgiven you for, and then extend that same kindness to your partner.
  • Communication—Your spouse does not have ESP. If you have a complaint or request, verbalize it, so he/she knows what you want and need. This eliminates the guesswork and makes you more likely to be on-target and on the same page when it comes to working together for a successful relationship.
  • Service—Don’t make demands of your spouse. Take a cue from Jesus. He said, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life…” When we make a habit of demanding things from others, we develop an entitlement mentality, and we make our loved ones feel like we are a master and they are a slave. This is not what God intended in marriage. In Ephesians 5:21-33, the Apostle Paul tells men and women to submit/be subject/subordinate themselves to one another. He said that wives should respect their husbands and follow their lead, like the Church yields to the leadership of Christ. Husbands should be like Christ, in that they give themselves up for the well-being of their wives, just as Jesus sacrificed Himself for the Church. When both parties are giving and serving, both feel loved, valued and satisfied in the relationship.
  • Contentment—Nothing sabotages a marriage like the “grass is greener” syndrome! Pornography, romance novels and movies, and comparing our relationship and our spouse to others breeds discontentment. Your marriage will never be “perfect” (That’s impossible where two human beings are involved!). There will always be sickness, financial challenges and other factors that will threaten your marital bliss. The Apostle Paul learned to be content in whatever circumstance he found himself (Philippians 4:11-13). Marriage is good practice to develop this ability! Learn to find satisfaction first in your relationship with God, and then thank Him for the gift of your spouse. This takes the pressure off your mate and increases your enjoyment of him/her.
  • Appreciation—Search for “buried treasure” in your spouse, and verbalize your findings daily. Nothing can increase your valuation of each other like voicing your appreciation! As you praise your mate for what he/she does right, you reinforce his/her tendency to repeat that behavior. And as the old saying goes, “You draw more flies with honey than with vinegar.” The more you tell your sweetheart how special he/she is, the more you’ll find him/her wanting to spend time with you. Without even trying, you may find yourselves both growing into the kind of lovers you want to be.

I must confess, I have not always followed this “recipe” myself. Sometimes I substituted criticism for contentment, fault-finding for appreciation, and so on. I have put in too little TLC and withdrawn more than my fair share. I have made demands instead of suggestions and have kept the emotional temperature in our home way too hot. All of these caused disastrous results!

Over the years, God has taught me to put in the right ingredients, in the proper proportions, making our relationship much sweeter. My dear husband has been so patient with me. And just as my culinary abilities improved over time, so have my relationship skills.

I know some of you have been happily married far longer than I. I am sure you have discovered some “secret ingredients” for a prize-winning marriage of which I am not aware. Please feel free to share what you’ve learned with the rest of us—but be sure to keep it “rated PG”! Let’s see what we can “cook up” together to be the foretaste of Christ’s love that God intended us to be.

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