There are several ideas about what makes a marriage strong. McLanahan, Donahue & Haskins (2005) share that some believe healthy marriages consist of either strong commitment, low conflict, or one that “provides economic and social security” (p. 3). Others, such as those found in the PREPARE/ENRICH (Olson, 2009) assessment, posit that communication, though complex, is critical in a marriage. Olson (2009) defines communication as an understanding of each other and sharing feelings. Having this type of communication leads to a Positive Couple Agreement (PCA) and, therefore, results in higher levels of relationship satisfaction (Olson, 2009).
The idea that communication is essential is also highlighted in The Couple Checkup by Olson, Olson-Sigg & Larson (2008). The authors measured happy versus unhappy couples and reported that 95% were very satisfied with how they talk to each other, 79% agree their partner understands how they feel, and 96% find it easy to express their true feelings (p. 34). Further, Petersen (2015) emphasizes communication and suggests that “real listening gets us inside each other” (pg. 7). Additionally, those who are “willing to work at listening better can improve their relationships across the board” (Petersen, 2015, pg. 7).
Another idea on what makes a marriage strong is found in the article The Most Important Relationship Strength You Must Have (Carter, 2017). The author equates strength within marriage to that of being selfless. Carter (2017) continues, one must be “cognizant of nurturing another’s needs,” and that “seeking the welfare of others, sacrificing everyday individualities, ignoring desire for self-glorification, and giving great dedication, devotion, and love for someone or something is the goal.” A marriage’s resilience is related to a desire for togetherness.
A couple should devote time to developing their friendship through shared experiences, and in doing so, they will experience intimacy (Hawkins, 1991). Companioning is of high importance to a relationship, according to Hawkins (1991). He believes that investing time and energy into the relationship is also directed in Scripture, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” Genesis 2: 24 (ESV). In addition, the idea of closeness is also found in The Couple Checkup (Olson, Olson-Sigg & Larson, 2008) and ranked as second to communication in distinguishing between happy and unhappy couples. The authors define couple closeness as “the level of emotional connection between partners and the degree to which they balance separateness and togetherness (pg. 23).
Should couples be similar or different given the various views of a couple’s strengths? While researching this subject it seems there is evidence for and against similarities impact on relationships. However, the similarities being measured varied, making it difficult to come to an overall conclusion. For instance, Luo (2009) suggests that previous research was conducted on well-established couples to predict relationship satisfaction, and therefore sought to examine similarities in couples who recently started dating. The study concluded that there was a strong correlation in age, ethnicity, extrinsic and intrinsic values, and political attitude (Luo, 2009, p. 5). Further, Keizer & Komter (2015) measured companionate factors, defined as “emotional affinity between partners,” and concluded this domain was not a prime determinant in relationship satisfaction (pg. 964). As you can see, different measures provide varying results.
In a perfect world, similarity in faith would be number one. Paul says that we ought to be holy and set apart to God, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 2 Cor. 6:14 (ESV). However, the Pew Research center reported that four in ten Americans have a spouse of different faith and one in five are married to unbelievers (Murphy, 2015).
Perhaps the focus in every marriage should not be on your partner but on “you and God” while considering that struggles and challenges of marriage can draw individuals closer to Him (Heffernan, 2002). Hawkins (1991) furthers this idea by sharing that God “frequently exercises our faith through trials and sorrows” (pg. 65), and continues, “intimacy is not possible without forgiveness and commitment to completing that which is lacking in the lives of our loved ones” (p. 66). Phil. 1:6 proclaims, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (ESV). We are not promised an easy life or an easy marriage. We know this by 2 Cor. 4:8,9 “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (ESV). I believe marriage requires a commitment to God’s purpose in the life of each individual and as a couple.
I also agree that selflessness and communication are foundational to the strength of a marriage. Selflessness, the idea of putting others’ needs before our own, is also found in Scripture. Some examples are “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others” Phil. 2:4 (ESV), and in Luke 6:38 (ESV), we are instructed, “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
If you are engaged and would like to participate in premarital counseling, OR you would like to further enrich your marriage by taking the assessment and receive feedback, please contact us at educatingcouples.gmail.com
Ayers, D. (2019). Christian marriage: A comprehensive introduction. ProQuest Ebook Central https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy.liberty.edu
Carter, Z. (2017). The most important relationship strength you must have. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/clear-communication/201707/the-most-important-relationship-strength-you-must-have
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Hawkins, R. (1991). Strengthening marital intimacy: Elements in the process. Baker Book House.
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McLanahan, S., Donahue, E., & Haskins, R. (2005). Introducing the Issue. The Future of Children, 15(2), 3-12. Retrieved June 9, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3556560
Murphy, C. (2015). Interfaith marriage is common in U.S. particularly among the recently wed. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/06/02/interfaith-marriage/
Olson, D. (2009). PREPARE/ENRICH. Life Innovations, Inc.
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The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (2016). Crossway, a ministry of Good News Publishers.