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(from 10 Great Date Before You Say "I Do", by David & Claudia Arp and Curt & Natelle Brown )

In our national survey of long-term marriages, we found three common strands in marriages that are alive and healthy. First, they put their relationship with each other first; second, both spouses are committed to growing and changing together; and third, they work at staying close.

Put Your Relationship First
At this point in your relationship, putting your relationship first is obvious, but after you say “I do,” life happens—careers, children, sports, hobbies, friends, church activities, or whatever will vie for your time and attention. Throughout a marriage, partners must continue to refocus their lives on each other and make their relationship with each other a higher priority than other relationships or activities. Most would probably agree that the marriage relationship should be a top priority, but sometimes in days, hours, and minutes, it just doesn’t work out that way—even when we try. Love is a delicate balancing act. Some things we can control; other things we must juggle. You might want to think about your life right now. If you peel off the layers of activities and time commitments, what is underneath? Do you often have wistful thoughts about each other? Do you wisely use the time you do have?

Commit to Grow Together
Building a successful marriage includes a lifelong commitment to grow and change together. Unless you are really committed to your marriage, it is easy to give up when problems come along. Anyone who has been married for more than a few days knows that problems will surface. All marriages have problems, but the difference between those marriages that make it and those that don’t is that the successful ones are committed to growing together and working to solve each problem that arises. A commitment to growth goes beyond just sticking together. It is also a commitment to adapt to each other’s changing needs. Ellen confided, “Jon and I have been married for only three years, yet we both have changed so much. If we change as much in the next three years, how can we stay close?’ Ellen’s question is shared by many. We have observed that couples who refuse to grow and change will only have a mediocre marriage. Adapting to each other requires self-sacrifice. It calls for thinking of the other person and looking for ways to grow with and adapt to each other’s changing needs. It means being each other’s best friend—being that one person the other can always count on.

Work at Staying Close
Key to building a successful marriage is entering marriage with the expectation that it takes work to stay close. Unfortunately, many things tend to push us apart—like over commitment or lack of sleep. We try to avoid negative situations as much as possible. For instance, when we find ourselves overcommitted once again, we try to pace ourselves and say no when we need to. When you have a choice to make, a good question to ask yourself is “Will this action or attitude bring us closer together, or will it put distance in our relationship?” A key to enriching marriage is simply learning to say no! Working at staying close will help you build your love relationship. You can stay close by focusing on helping your partner. Any help you offer each other will help your marriage partnership. Any pain, hurt, insult, any lack of support or faithfulness, and any failure to help your partner will reflect back on your marriage. You can be the most positive reinforcing person in each other’s lives if you are willing to enter marriage with the expectation and desire to put your relationship first, to grow together, and to work at staying close.

Read Friendship: The Bedrock of a Wholesome Marriage

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