For most couples, the nervous excitement that floods the pathway to their wedding day is some of the happiest times they’ve ever seen. Almost everyone gets married expecting to “live happily ever after.” Every married or engaged couple I’ve ever coached or counseled desired, above all else, happiness — that state of feeling joyful and deeply satisfied with the one you cherish.
And then life happens — ministry, finances, children, conflicts and, yes, coronavirus. With the unending stresses that assault our minds and our matrimony, happiness can begin to feel elusive. More Christian couples than we’d like to admit have settled for the roommate arrangement and the co-worker commitment. “Let’s grind it out in our unhappy marriage ‘till death do us part,’ as long as the work gets done and the bills get paid. God has so much more in store for our marriages.
So what is a happy marriage? It’s one in which husband and wife share laughter, joy, closeness, vulnerability, friendship and abiding trust. It is not one in which there are no serious conflicts. Instead, both spouses share a commitment to understanding one another, so that conflict is not a danger to the union. If that’s what a happy marriage looks like, how do couples get there? Here are my top four ingredients for a marriage overflowing with happiness.
You might not think emotional closeness is essential to a happy marriage, but it is. I place it as a first ingredient because both spouses can feel lonely and unknown without it. Some Christ-followers undervalue emotions and overvalue intellect. But emotions are God-designed as essential for healthy personal and relational engagement. Emotional closeness flows from spiritual depth, not the other way. Spouses without emotional capacity for their spouse will flounder when it comes to spiritual maturity.
A husband who is emotionally disconnected from his wife forfeits his spiritual connection with God.
Peter challenged husbands: “… in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect … so that nothing will hinder your prayers” (1 Peter 3:7). A husband who is emotionally disconnected from his wife forfeits his spiritual connection with God.
Emotional closeness requires a growing ability to move closer to our spouse — especially in times of conflict — rather than farther away. Forgiveness plays an important role, helping us to close the emotional gap. Emotional closeness comes with grasping our spouse’s story. What shaped their upbringing? What traumas did they survive? What experiences made them who they are?
Rather than hold their stories and emotional needs against them, we choose to meet them where they are. Doing so makes us feel seen and closer.
Does spiritual alignment play a part in a happy marriage? Absolutely. “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?” (Amos 3:3 NKJV). Many of us have been in ministry together for many years. But we may not be spiritually aligned. Spiritual alignment happens when we are sensitive to where the other is spiritually. It requires asking, listening, quietly discerning and praying. To be spiritually aligned demands a posture of love and respect toward one another.
Can you tell when your spouse is tuned in to God? Can you tell when they’re running on empty and need a fresh filling of the Holy Spirit? Praying together is vital! But how regularly we pray together is more important than how long. Sharing new insights from Scripture can inspire, comfort and encourage. Expressing where you are with God gives your spouse insight into how to support you. Spiritual alignment is doing whatever you can to promote the other’s relationship with God rather than letting them “ride solo” (Gen. 3:9-16).
In my second book, Cover Him, there’s an entire chapter entitled Make Love to Him (1 Corinthians 7:2-5). The principles apply to both sexes. I’m not a sex therapist, but I know that healthy married people need and desire sex. That’s not an overstatement. It’s one of the gifts God has given us for connection, enjoyment and emotional covering. Yet many couples struggle to consistently enjoy sex because of a lack of emotional closeness.
The apostlePaul calls marital sex a mutual ministry of one spouse to the other. Even Christians diminish sex as merely a physical release or emotional expression. But God has made it so much more. It’s deeply spiritual — an expression of worship that profoundly impacts our total being, including our relationships with God. How we experience sex as married couples will either bring us closer to God or move us farther away from him. It will make us more or less whole emotionally — happier or less happy.
If either partner is sexually inattentive, offers no romance, neglects finances, is addicted to porn, is unfaithful, avoids sex or gives no attention to their appearance, it can be damaging. Prayerfully, search for words to express how inattentiveness makes you feel. Be lovingly clear that it makes you feel rejected, angry, alone, small, neglected or disrespected. You can weather a sexual drought, but I strongly recommend doing so with the support of an experienced Christian counselor or trained marriage coach.
If the money gets funny, no one in the marriage will be happy. To Timothy, Paul issued these strong words: “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8 NKJV). Financial wholeness means we’re not swimming in debt; we have emergency savings; we have health and life insurance; the bills are paid on time, and we’re saving for retirement. When basic financial needs are unmet, stress, not happiness, is the result.
I still believe that God charges men to responsibly provide for our families. God will not hold our wives responsible for ensuring adequate financial resources. If a man is struggling to provide, he should contemplate God’s question to Moses: “What is that in your hand?” (Exodus 4:2). It is a challenge to evaluate all our skills, expertise and opportunities. How can we faithfully employ them to grow income? Failure to do so is a failure of stewardship, according to Matthew 25:26-30. Husbands and wives must steward the resources together. Tithe to your local church, give offerings, save and invest, then spend wisely. That strategy will add dividends to happiness at home.
Life is challenging. No one is perfect. And problems are no respecter of marriage relationships. But a marriage overflowing with happiness is possible by the grace of God who comforts us, fills us with joy in the Holy Spirit and binds our hearts close together in oneness. For you, my prayer is that you and your spouse will daily find yourselves beaming with happiness that comes from experiencing God’s presence and your abiding love for each other.
Rod Hairston, Senior pastor, Messiah Community Church
Rod Hairston is senior pastor of Messiah Community Church in Reisterstown, Maryland.