At the young age of 18, I met my then future husband. I fell madly in love, and he felt the same way about me. Within weeks we were engaged and in less than a year, we were married. We were full time students and quite broke. Even though we stepped into adult roles very suddenly, our youth and immaturity was evident as we tried to manage both college and marriage. We were not very good at it and hurt each other deeply. In fact, we were quite unhappy, and to be honest, the only reason why we didn’t get a divorce was because we both believed in the Bible. We didn’t know many things, but there was one assurance we did have: God hates divorce. So, despite our immaturity, unhappiness, endless fights, and financial instability, the word divorce, never crossed our lips. We would stick together no matter what, because our love for God was stronger than our love for each other.
And so we set off to build a family despite our difficulties. We had babies, we worked in ministry, we explored careers, we grew up, and slowly but surely we learned a thing or two about being married and making each other happy. Our marriage is far from perfect, but Juan and I can honestly say we are the best of friends. We have not only survived an unhappy marriage, but we have learned and experienced true intimacy, deep joy, unconditional acceptance, and fulfilling companionship.
I am not a relationship expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I have learned a few things during my (almost) 29 years of marriage. I certainly understand specific characteristics that have the potential to unequivocally destroy this sacred union. Similarly, I understand the antithetical ones that can build and repair it. So here they are:
Eight Traits That Kill Marriage
- Pride. Pride says, your faults are bigger than mine; your sin is nastier than mine. Pride wants to be right. It exalts the action over the person. Pride fails to ask forgiveness and refuses to forgive. Choose humility instead. Acknowledge that we all have strengths and weaknesses, and we are all in equal need of forgiveness. Decide to listen and understand over self-justification. Apologize often, and forgive every single time.
- Cynicism. Merriam-Webster describes the word as “believing that people are generally selfish and dishonest”. Cynicism doesn’t give the benefit of the doubt. It is the perfect companion to pride. It encourages defensiveness and discourages honesty. Choose to trust instead. “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Co 13:17). Take the other at his word, thus encouraging open communication. Ask God for optimism and hope, trusting your marriage can improve, even thrive.
- Silence. Lack of verbal communication sabotages growth. Silence speaks volumes, as it is easily interpreted as indifference and lack of desire to connect intimately. In silence there is no conflict resolution, but only fertile ground for misconceptions and discouragement. Choose to talk, and to do so as much as it’s needed. It is the most effective way to know each other, as well as encourage, confront, correct, and enlighten each other.
- Manipulation. Its main goal is to control and get its own way. Whether it is through the use of tears, screaming, lying, scheming, nagging, or overpowering, manipulation will kill intimacy, trust, and friendship, without a doubt. A manipulative spouse is not a friend, but a rival. However, patience allows room for waiting. Wait for your spouse to have a change of heart or action. As you train yourself in humility, trust, and open communication, manipulation should completely disappear from your tactics.
- Harshness. It is the opposite of kindness and gentleness. Harshness, plain and simply, destroys. Like beach erosion, each wave breaks down one’s dignity. While kindness protects and builds up, harshness lays one bare and humiliates. “A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Prov 15:1) Nothing repairs and assures the other of one’s love better than kind words, soft touch, and gentle smiles. Give them generously and expect miraculous results.
- Laziness. It is apathy and negligence. Laziness does not make an effort to improve, change, or love. Laziness is satisfied with status quo and is unwilling to do the hard work of marriage. But marriage requires persevering and hard work. It is not for the faint of heart. Don’t give up! If you fail today, you can succeed tomorrow!
- Unfaithfulness. It does not adhere to vows and it breaks promises. It comes in various forms and degrees, but it is always wrong and lethal to the relationship. Unfaithfulness is rejection and it builds walls of mistrust. Your eyes, heart, body, and soul are only for your spouse. Do not allow even a hint of unfaithfulness to go unchecked. Even when nobody knows, God sees. So be quick to repent, for God is faithful to forgive. Confess and make any necessary changes if you want for your marriage to stand a chance. Faithfulness is the blood of the relationship. Don’t take it lightly.
- Isolation. The refusal of intimacy hardens hearts. Physical, emotional, and spiritual separation prevents healing and becomes most unsatisfying. So choose to never live apart, if at all possible, or even sleep apart. Physical closeness and intimacy should be constant; emotional connection and friendship should be sought after with creativity and passion; spiritual oneness should be pursued at all cost. In order for marriage to work, two people must be one, in every sense of the word.
I understand these negative traits because at one point or another, I have displayed every single one of them and have experienced their destructive power. Dear reader, my hope is that you understand the love and fulfillment that can be possible in a good marriage.
The Secret to a Good Marriage:
It’s easy to write about what we, as spouses, should or shouldn’t be doing. It’s much harder to live it. They key ingredient is grace, defined as “unmerited favor”. Grace is the character trait that is willing to hit the reset button, to start again, to give second, third, and one hundredth chances. Grace is willing to forgive and not hold on to resentment. Grace understands that we all wrong others and that we are all in equal need of pardon. At its very core, grace is self-sacrifice. Without it, it is impossible to mend a broken relationship. But with it, all things are possible.
In my own marriage, I have learned to give grace and to receive it. No matter how much I have hurt my husband or how much he has wronged me, we have chosen grace, time and time again. But this grace is impossible to manufacture. You don’t order it in the mail or press the ON button to activate it. You cannot even will it into existence. Rather, grace is formed and matured in adversity and need, when we give it a chance. The truth is that grace is a part of God’s character, and only He imparts it. And He gives it generously and in a timely manner. So if you need it (and you do), ask Him for it. He is not only able to give you the grace needed to love a spouse, but willing and joyfully desirous to do so. It is in the power of grace that your marriage will flourish and be a fountain of life rather than mutual discouragement.
Please let me know if I can pray for you as well. It would be my privilege.