What makes a successful relationship? How can two people find true love and happiness together? Is there a formula we can follow to ensure eternal wedded bliss? I don’t believe there is. Every relationship, composed of two unique individuals, is unique. There is no magic formula; you can’t “follow this one rule for a happy marriage” because every relationship is different. There are, however, principles that can guide you as you and your partner pursue fulfillment in life together. Here are five principles that I believe have helped Emmalee and me build a happy, healthy marriage together. I call them the Five Cs.
If you want your relationship to last over the long run, you and your partner need to be compatible with each other. This might seem obvious; of course two people who plan on spending their lives together need to get along. But this goes deeper than having common interests and hobbies, or liking the same movies and music, or having a similar sense of humor. All of those things contribute to compatibility, but at its core compatibility is about a shared worldview. Do you and your partner have compatible life goals? Do you share the same moral and ethical principles? Do you share the same religious and spiritual beliefs?
Now, you don’t have to find your opposite sex clone in order to create the ultimate marriage. Being compatible doesn’t mean being identical. It doesn’t mean agreeing on everything; it means agreeing on the most important things. It means having a shared worldview that guides your thinking and shapes both your individual and mutual decision-making processes. Being highly compatible gives you a much better chance of making your relationship last for a lifetime.
This is another principle that seems obvious, but it’s so crucial that emphasizing it often is worthwhile. Good relationships are built on solid communication. The most important part of communication is listening. We all know how to talk, but good listeners are rare. Communication is especially vital in marriage because your spouse is the person closest to you. You are sharing your entire life together—not only in duration, but in scope. Every aspect of you is shared with your spouse, and vice versa. Can you open up and be yourself around your partner? When you speak, do you feel they are actually listening to what you are saying? Do you listen intently when they are speaking?
Communication can be improved if both partners are willing to work on it. On the flip side, communication only gets worse without proper attention. If a couple doesn’t discuss problems together, those problems just fester and ultimately poison the relationship. However, discussing those problems openly and working together to solve them actually strengthens a relationship.
Though it is the most important, I put this principle in the center because that’s where God should be in every relationship. Before He’s in the center of a relationship, though, He must be in the center of each person’s life. Why is this so important? Because we’re all naturally selfish. We all seek after what is best for ourselves, sometimes even at the expense of others. This is devastating for a relationship. Relationships require us to look out for another’s interests before our own. That’s what love is, in fact. Love is a self-sacrificial act where I put someone else first.
But we don’t naturally put others first; we naturally put ourselves first. And this is why we need Jesus. Jesus promises to change our lives and turn our selfishness into selflessness. We can’t do it on our own. The “grit your teeth and try harder” method of self-improvement doesn’t work. The only thing that can truly change us is surrendering ourselves to God. As strange as it sounds, that’s the secret to success: giving up. With Jesus at the center of your life and at the center of your relationship, you will learn to love selflessly like He loves.
This might be a little controversial for some, but a couple needs to have genuine sexual attraction to each other if their relationship is going to last. Now, before the religious folks stone me, take a minute and think about what marriage really is. It’s a union of two people on every level: emotionally, socially, spiritually, and physically. And we should be attracted to our partners on all of those levels. Guys, you should think your woman is a beautiful, sexy babe. Ladies, your man should be a hot, handsome hunk to you.
Now, let me affirm that I believe sex is reserved only for the marriage relationship. So this is an area where we must tread carefully when we’re in a pre-marriage relationship. Nonetheless, I firmly believe that if you’re in a healthy relationship, even pre-marriage, you should feel sexually attracted to your partner. If you’re not, something is wrong. And by the way, if you don’t think God wants us to be sexually attracted to our partners, read Song of Solomon sometime.
This principle is closely related to the issue of selflessness that we talked about earlier. Relationships are based on give and take. Compromise means setting aside your agenda, your wants, and putting your partner first. It means yielding to their wishes out of love for them. And as always, both people in the relationship must be willing to compromise. You and your partner are never going to agree on absolutely everything. You are two different individuals; the fact that marriage makes you “one flesh” does not mean you share only one brain. Thus both of you must be willing to compromise for the sake of the other, and for the sake of the relationship.
This certainly isn’t an exhaustive list of principles that Emmalee and I have built our relationship on, but it’s some of the most important for us. And others may have different principles they’ve highlighted. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what has made your relationship successful.