4 Expectations that Can Injure a Marriage

couple

Is your marriage struggling? Sometimes, in my experience, there may be a problem with expectations.

Expectations are critical for the success of any good relationship — especially in a marriage.

Here are 4 expectations that can injure a good marriage:

Unspoken expectations. When the couple never lays out their expectations in the marriage one spouse or the other will be disappointed at some point. A lot of couples assume they are on the same page until a problem arises where they find out otherwise.

Unclear expectations. When the couple thinks they’ve communicated expectations, but they didn’t use language the other one could understand. Everyone communicates differently. Expectations must be clear. And, many times they have to be tested before we understand them.

Unmet expectations. When the couple had clear expectations — everyone understood them — they’ve even been tested — but, one spouse isn’t holding up their end of the deal. Happens all the time.

Unrealistic expectations. When the couple has expectations that are impossible for the other spouse to meet. Our spouse is not our savior. Not perfect. Can’t read minds. Will make mistakes. Etc.

How are you doing with setting and keeping expectations in your marriage?

By the way, these 4 are true in other relationships also.

7 Suggestions for Parenting Adult Children

cheerful family

I was talking to another dad recently. We were comparing notes. Both of us are empty nesters. We recognized — equally — that being the parent of adult children is sometimes more difficult than when the children are still at home.

That’s hard for some parents with teenage children to believe — isn’t it?

Or the parent with multiple children still in diapers — right?

But, it is — sometimes.

When adult children  leave the home you don’t have much control over their lives — you are no longer “raising” them — you influence them.

The “raising” part was mostly done when they graduated from high school. Maybe even when they got their driver’s license. Parenting moves primarily to influencing when they are away from you more than with you and when they can pretty much do what they want to do when they are away from you.

That’s why it’s important to grab their heart early so your influence sticks. And, still, sometimes it sticks and sometimes it doesn’t and there’s little you can do about that when they are on their own. But, it doesn’t lower your concern for them, your desire to help them, or your thoughts about them — hence the hardness at times.

So, what should the parents of adult children do?

Well, I’m still fairly new at this one. And, I’m learning, but I have learned a few things. And, I’ve learned a few more from countless hours spent with other people’s adult children. And, the parents of adult children who are struggling with their adult children.

I can’t tell you how many strained relationships, bitterness, hurt and even anger I’ve witnessed over the years with adult children. I know some young adults who, though they still speak, avoid their parents influence because of the way it has been offered to them. I know some parents of adult children who are miserable watching their adult children make bad decisions, but not knowing how to reach them.

Thankfully, I have a wonderful relationship with my two adult children. They are two of my best friends. But, I’m careful. I want to protect my influence in their life. And, I know the lines are delicate at times.

So, I offer these thoughts with reservation — knowing that I don’t know it all — but I do have some “experienced” thoughts.

Here are 7 suggestions for parenting adult children:

Speak reservedly – Don’t share every opinion you have about how they should be handling their life. That’s a key word. It’s “their” life. And, they may not tell you in so many words, but most adult children want to live their life. Just like you probably want to live yours. You can share on occasion — especially when asked or you know they are about to make a major mistake — but if you share everything it will eventually be noise not influence in their life.

Model – Be the maturer one in the relationship. That makes sense, right? You’ve got more experience, shouldn’t you have more maturity? I’ve known parents who give the silent treatment to their adult children because they didn’t call when they should or perform as they expected. Is that the mature response? And, does it work? It may guilt a response but it doesn’t promote growth and health in the relationship. Model the behavior you think your adult children should have. They will likely follow actions more than words.

Pray – Pray like crazy for your adult kids. Intercede for them. You don’t even have to tell them you are — although occasionally I suspect they’d like to hear it — even if they act like they don’t. In fact, when you’re tempted to worry about them — pray for them. It’s far more powerful and one of the best ways you can influence them.

Remember you were once this age. That’s a key. Remember what it was like to be their age. You wanted to explore. You had dreams. You were scared at times. Confused. Not sure what steps to take. Some days you were just trying to hold it all together. You didn’t know everything. You were still learning. (Hopefully you still are.) You got aggravated at parents at times. And, those parents got aggravated at you. Remember? Try to identify with them by remembering you at their age again. You can influence them better if you can identify more with their season of life.

Keep the door open. Always. As soon as you close the door — when you draw hard lines on the ground or place strict rules upon the relationship — it will be much harder to open the doors again. That doesn’t mean you have to let them take advantage of you. There may be some non-negotiable issues, but let those be rare. Be generous with grace and forgiveness. Remember, you’re trying to develop a long-term opportunity to influence them.

Love them more than their life. You may not love all the decisions they are making. You may even think they are making a mistake. Again, if there’s an open door to share your insight — share it. I find writing a letter is sometimes the best way, especially if communication is strained. But, the fact is again, you are not raising — you’re influencing. And, they may or may not accept your influence. So, love them — generously and unconditionally — more than you love the decisions they are making with their life. And, make sure they know how unconditional your love is also. It will guard your influence — if not now — in the future.

Guard the heart. Yours and theirs. You want to protect the opportunity to speak into their life for years to come. Be careful making statements or doing things you may later regret.

Hopefully, if influence is protected — if they can understand your intentions towards them are good — you can speak into their life — from your success, your failure, and your experience.

I’m still learning, so what insight do you have for me — those of you who have had adult children even longer than I have?

25 Things Momma Used to Say

Angry mother scolding a disobedient child

Mothers are great. They make the world a better place. My mom is my hero. Where would we be without Momma?

But, I wonder — is there a handbook of sayings all mothers must use?

Did your mother say any of these?

“Whatever floats your boat”

“If I had a dollar for every time”

“I’m always a day late and a dollar short”

“You’re cruising for a bruising”

Followed closely behind by…

“And if you don’t quit it you’re gonna get it”

“Use your head for more than a hat rack”

“These socks won’t pick up themselves.”

“If you keep looking like that your face is gonna freeze.”

“Cut it out before someone gets hurt.”

“When I was growing up…”

“Starving children in Africa…”

“Get outside and play”

“A little “birdy” told me!”

“Am I talking to a brick wall?”

“You’d lose your head if it wasn’t attached to your shoulders.”

“I don’t care who started it, I said stop!”

“If you don’t stop crying, I am going to give you something to cry about!”

“If it were a snake, it would have bitten you.”

“You will eat it, and you WILL like it!”

“You can’t find it? Well, where did you leave it last?”

“I’m not made of money”

“Don’t give me that attitude.”

“Put that back where you found it.”

“…talk until I’m blue in the face….”

“You’re running around like a chicken with your head cut off.”

Bonus: “Do you know how much I love you?”

What else did Momma say?

7 Ways I Protect My Ministry and Marriage From an Affair

Happy Family Portrait at Park

This is an updated version of a previous post.

It’s needed.

It seems every day we hear of another big name celebrity, politician or pastor that has fallen into the temptation of lust and had an affair. I think it is dangerous for any leader to assume this could never happen to him or her.

Speaking as a man, (I have never been very good at speaking as a woman), I understand that temptation is very real these days. When the mind begins to wander in a lustful direction, it is very hard to control. The failure, I believe, comes more in not protecting the heart and mind before the time of failure.

I know that I must personally work to protect myself, my wife, my boys and my church from the scandal and embarrassment of an affair. I also know — first hand — and I teach pastors frequently — that positions of authority and leadership gain special attention in the area of temptation.

For those reasons, I have placed some rules in my life to protect my heart. Does everyone agree with or understand them? No. Am I more concerned about finishing well than making sure everyone loves my approach? Yes!

Here are 7 ways I’m attempting to protect my heart from an affair:

I never meet alone with a woman besides my wife — or maybe my mother or sister. The key word in that sentence is alone. I do meet with women, but I always take someone along to lunch meetings with a female. I make sure others are in the office when I meet with women. And — very important — I never exercise with other women. (If you need explanation, then you’ve never been a guy going to a gym where girls are in workout clothes. Trust me!) I realize this is not popular with some people. Honestly, some women never understand this. I have had women tell me that I “think too highly of myself”, but my family is too important to me not to take this precaution.

I try not to conduct very personal or intimate conversations with women. This doesn’t mean I don’t discuss serious issues with women — I do, but I am careful in this area not to get into the more personal areas of a woman’s life. There are women on our staff and in our church equal or more capable than me to deal with these type conversations. And, I do not to compliment women on their appearance. The exception would be if I feel she needs the encouragement and her husband or my wife is in the conversation. If a woman is in tears I am careful about prolonging the conversation until others are brought into the conversation. The principle here is that when emotions are flowing, people get vulnerable.

I limit online communication with women. This is grown in importance in recent years. The rise of Facebook and other social media — and texting — has made it easier to interact with people. I try not to cross lines with women in this area. People share private information with pastors and online seems to make that even easier. I give my wife access to my computer and phone and I share with her any conversations that if she read them on her own my seem too intimate.

I try not to stare at women. When an attractive woman catches my eye, I try to quickly bounce my attention elsewhere. Yes, I notice a pretty woman in the room. That’s a reflex. Easy to do. God made some beautiful women. I just know my heart and mind well enough to not allow myself to stare. Trust me. I shouldn’t. I can’t. Have you ever read 2 Samuel 11?)

I hear and understand the debate that a woman should not have to worry what she wears as much as a man should worry about where he looks. Okay, I understand — so this is my response.

I spend lots of time with my wife. The best defense is a good offense. The most certain way to protect my heart is to strengthen my marriage. Cheryl and I spend most of our leisure time together.

I try to always remember my boys. My boys are two of my very best friends, and thankfully, as for right now, they still have tremendous respect for me as a dad and man. I would never want to disappoint them by being unfaithful to my wife. I believe that fact alone should keep me from wrongdoing.

I love my church. I would never want to injure the work God is doing at Immanuel. If I were ever tempted to sin against God in this way, I would hope my love for the church would draw me back.

Do my rules offend you? What are you doing to protect your heart?

You might also want to read 7 Ways I Protect My Family Life in Ministry

7 Suggestions When Your Life is in Drama

drama curtain

Cheryl and I were watching a drama show on television once — I don’t even remember which show it was — but the character’s lives were filled with marriage problems, health issues and work problems. Drama.

Funny how we tend to enjoy shows watching other people’s drama. Maybe that’s because we know our life is sometimes filled with drama too.

But, towards the end of the show, Cheryl looked at me and simply said, “I’m glad our life is not a drama right now.”

Wow! I hadn’t thought about it — but when I considered the definition — ME TOO!

Drama: any situation or series of events having vivid, emotional, conflicting, or striking interest or results: the drama of a murder trial.

We’ve certainly had more than our share of drama before and we may be there again. Thankfully most of it involved problems out of our control — we can’t control all the drama that the world brings in life — rather than mistakes we were making. Plus, much of the drama we have had in our life has involved people outside our immediate family. Our immediate family has remained mostly drama-free. That’s a blessing. And, we know it.

The conversation reminded me, however, of some principles I have learned walking through periods of drama in my life, but also with others.

Here are 7 suggestions when life is a drama:

Draw near to God – People tend to go one direction or another during the difficult seasons of life. After years of struggling through trials, I have learned one thing well. Your life is best when your closest relationship is your God relationship. Allow the trials of life to strengthen that bond as you rely on His strength to see you through this season of drama.

Don’t make quick decisions – In the early days of drama you should be careful not to make life-altering decisions until you are certain you aren’t making them with an emotional response. There may be immediate decisions that have to be made. When that is the case, rely on an inner circle of people you trust to help you make them, but delay major decisions until you are able to think rationally about the situation. (Dramatic decisions made in the heat of the moment may keep a television drama viewership high, but it can be disastrous in real life.)

Keep the circle small – As much as you need others around you, not everyone needs to know the intimate details of your life either. Your life is not a television show — even if the script appears so well written for one. I have seen so many people who never feel they can walk with pride in a church or community again because they shared too many details about their struggles with too many people. When the struggles are over they are embarrassed to return to the same circles of people. People love to repeat your drama and they don’t always tell it accurately or with the right intentions. Find a few people you can trust, who will bear your burdens in confidence and point you in the right direction in life. You need these people, but keep that circle small. (Also, in this day of social media, be careful of the details of your life you place on Facebook. Don’t be the Sunday night drama everyone is talking about Monday morning.)

Seek wise counsel – Now is the time to find wise advice. You need a more outside perspective on your drama. It’s great to build these type mentors and/or investors before the need arises. But, even if you have to be awkward in the request — reaching out for help is a sign of maturity. Don’t be afraid of professional counseling. That can be a healthy response to drama.

Work towards forgiveness – Drama most always involves some need for forgiveness. It may be a need to forgive others, yourself, or even God, but you will have injured emotions that need to heal. Part of that healing will likely require some letting go — some forgiveness to occur. Living as forgiving and forgiven people allows God to help ease your pain and strengthen your availability to receive joy by opens the door to complete restoration in your heart. Holding a grudge, remaining angry or bitter, only keeps you from moving forward from the drama.

Protect your heart for the future - Seasons of drama come and go, but we are more prepared for them when our heart is kept close to God’s heart through the calmer seasons of life. I’m learning that all seasons of life contain drama, sometimes the drama is more intense than others, but throughout the whole of life our goal should be to guard our heart for God and people.

Learn from this time – Don’t allow your drama to have a meaningless plot in your life. Learn from this season. There will be other times where life is in drama. If you’re intentional to grow during the drama times of life, you’ll be better prepared the next time.

Where are you now? Is this a season of intense drama — or would your life be more of a sitcom right now? How are you dealing with the drama of life?

7 Commandments of a Great Marriage

Married Couple

I have an advanced degree in counseling and hundreds of hours experience working with couples. I’ve taught marriage retreats for years. I wouldn’t say I’m an “expert” in marriage — because I’m married — and my wife reads my blog. That would be a stretch. Actually, I know more to do than I have the practice of doing. (Isn’t that true for most of us?)

But, I’ve learned a few things. I’ve observed things that work and things that don’t.

I think there are some necessary ingredients for a healthy marriage. That’s the point of this post.

Want a healthier marriage?

Consider these 7 Commandments of Marriage:

Thou shalt serve one another. A good marriage practices mutual submission. Ephesians 5:21 commands us to submit to one another out of reverence to Christ. Marriage is not a 50/50 deal. It’s a 100/100 deal — each willing to surrender all to the other person.

How are you at serving your spouse? Would they say you strive to serve them more everyday? Are you more the giver or the taker in the relationship? Be honest.

Thou shalt love unconditionally. Unconditionally means without conditions. (See how deep this blog can be.) I’ll love you if … is not the command. It’s I’ll love you even if not. God commands us to love our enemies. How much more should this commitment be strong within a` marriage?

Are you loving your spouse even with the flaws that you can see better than anyone else? Here’s a quick test: Does the way you communicate with your spouse indicate you have the highest regard for them — always?

Thou shalt respect one another. The Golden Rule covers this one. Everyone wants to be respected — so in any good marriage respect is granted to and by both parties. And, by the way, I believe respect too is to be unconditional.

In my experience, this one is sometimes easier for one spouse to give than the other, especially the one who works hardest in the marriage. Respect is mostly given because of actions. But respect is important for both spouses. Most people grant respect only when all conditions are met to be respected. That makes sense, but it doesn’t provide motivation to improve when the other party needs it most. All of us need someone who believes in us even when we don’t believe in ourselves. That’s the grace of respect. When most of us feel respected we will work harder to keep that respect.

Thou shalt put no other earthly relationships before this one.Let not man put asunder” is not just a good King James Version wedding line. It’s God’s desire for a marriage. Great couples strive to allow no one — even children — even in-laws — to get in the way of building a healthy marriage.

Wow! Isn’t this a hard one? Yet, I can’t tell you how many marriages I have seen ruined because the children came first or the in-laws interfered. I’ve seen marriages ruined by friends — sometimes co-workers — who had little regard for the integrity of the marriage, and so they built a wedge between the couple. As hard as it is sometimes, great couples work to protect the marriage from every outside interruption.

Thou shalt commit beyond feelings. The Bible talks a great deal about the renewal of our mind. (Romans 12:2 for example.) The mind is more reliable than emotions. You may not always feel as in love as you did the day you married. There will be tough seasons in any marriage. Strong marriages last because they have a commitment beyond their emotional response to each other. And, when that’s true for both parties feelings almost always reciprocate and grow over time.

As true and necessary as this is, great marriages continue to pursue each other — they date one another — fostering the romantic feelings that everyone craves in a relationship. Sobering question: When’s the last time you pursued your spouse?

Thou shalt consider the other person’s interest ahead of thine own. Again, we are commanded to to do this in all relationships. How much more should we in marriage?

Over the years, as couples get comfortable with one another, I’ve observed couples who become very selfish with their individual time. Sometimes, for example, one spouse pursues a hobby that excludes the other one, and more and more time is committed to that hobby. The other spouse begins to feel neglected. It may be allocation of time, in actions or the words used to communicate, but sometimes a spouse can make the other spouse feel they are no longer valuable to them.  Are you considering how you are being perceived by your spouse?

Thou shalt complete one another. The Biblical command is one flesh. (Ephesians 5) I’m not sure that’s anymore possible than the command that our individual flesh be molded into the image of Christ. It’s a command we obey in process. We are saints still under construction. We still sin. And, that process isn’t completed here on earth in my opinion. So it is in a marriage. We never completely “get there”, but we set such a high standard for our marriage that we continue to press towards the goal.

There is no better place where “iron sharpens iron” than in a marriage. Cheryl makes me a better person. And, if I can be so bold — I think I do the same for her. There are qualities in her I need and qualities in me she needs to become one flesh. But, that’s a process. That takes time, humility and intentionality. I must allow her to make me better — and likewise for her. But, when we do, we are both the benefactors. One question I always ask couples: Are you becoming closer as a couple — or are you drifting further apart? That’s a great question to ask frequently throughout the marriage.

These are obviously not the “10 Commandments”. They aren’t even necessarily God’s commandments — although I do believe they are based on the commands of God. The point is to take Biblical principles and apply them to our marriage.

And, what marriage wouldn’t benefit from that?

Would you pause and consider — Are you breaking any of these commands?

Here are 7 Ways to Show Appreciation to Your Favorite Bloggers

Blog word.

Every blogger has a reason for the time they spend blogging. It could be to express their personal thoughts and opinions, invest in others, or even to build an income. For me personally, it’s about building influence — so I can invest in others. I’m not bashful about saying that. I feel God has called me to invest in the next generation of church leaders and my blog is the front door to that opportunity. The more influence I build through my blog, the more people who read, the more I can fulfill one of God’s calls on my life.

Regardless of the motivation, the reaction every blogger appreciates from his or her reader is the same. All bloggers want to be appreciated for their work, whether an audience is 20 or 200,000 per month.

Here are 7 ways you can show appreciation to your favorite bloggers:

Read it – That’s rather obvious, but one reason bloggers keep track of analytic measures is to track the growth and consistency of readers. When you read a blog, you are paying a blogger the highest compliment. Even bloggers who blog for fun and say that the total number of readers doesn’t matter to them appreciate knowing someone has read what he or she wrote.

Promote it – If you enjoy a blog post, you show appreciation by helping the blogger promote that post. Whether you re-tweet, Stumble, post it on Facebook or forward it in an email, when you pass on the post you are applauding the blogger.

Comment on it – Comments are one of the truest measures of a blog’s impact on readers. It amazes me how engaged some bloggers are with their audience by the number of comments the simplest posts receive. All bloggers who allow comments enjoy reading them. The comments don’t even have to be positive (although they shouldn’t be cruel), but taking the initiative to leave one shows you read the post.

Link to it – The strongest investment you can make in a blogger you enjoy reading is to link to their post or blog on your blog, website or other social media outlet. When one links to a blog it helps build online strength and influence, and helps grow the audience of the blog. If you read the blog daily, linking to it shares that with the rest of the world, which is always appreciated by a blogger.

Implement the thoughts in it – Most bloggers are purposeful in the writing of their posts. When he or she pushes the “publish” button they hope the post will impact someone in some way. Whether the post simply brings a smile to your face or makes you think; or if it inspires you to make changes in how you live your life, if a post or the blog affects you personally, share this with the blogger.

Correct it (gently) – If you see bad links, poor grammar or spelling errors it’s okay to tell the blogger. In fact, it’s appreciated. The best bloggers are blogging frequently and are bound to make some mistakes. Just be gentle. Remember…you like this blogger!

Be loyal to it – Not every post will be a home run. If you like the author, keep reading on a consistent basis, thoroughly digesting the ones that you find the most interesting and skimming the ones that aren’t as appealing. If you enjoy a blog, you further the enjoyment and compliment the author by making sure you never miss a post. The easiest way do this is to add your favorite blogs to an automated reader or email feeder.

That’s some ways you show appreciation to a blogger. These things — that take so little time — keep most bloggers blogging. For those of you reading this blog on a regular basis, or even those who started with this post, thanks for reading. I really do appreciate each of you.

Are you a blogger? Why do you blog? What would you add to my list?

7 of the Best Gifts a Dad Can Give a Child

Father singing

I love being a dad. I have a lot of titles, but this is one of my favorites.

Long story short, I grew up much of my childhood without a father in the home. It left some scars, but one thing it did was make me very intentional to attempt to be a good dad. I remember as a 12 year old boy praying specifically that if God ever gave me the opportunity — I’d be the best husband and father I could possibly be.

I fall short so many times — but it’s not because I don’t try. It may be because I get distracted — but it’s not a lack of desire.

I was reflecting recently on the role of a dad. It’s different. Its unique. Its challenging.

A dad has such a powerful impact on a child — good or bad — intentional or not — by what a dad does and doesn’t do.

(Of course, mother’s do also — I can’t speak about that role as well, however. But, I know the role of dad well.)

But, oh how rewarding is being a dad! There’s possibly no higher reward when a job is done well.

Want to be a great, intentional dad?

Gift your child. Give them great gifts.

Not a better car — or another electronic device. Give them gifts that money can’t buy.

Here are 7 of the best gifts a dad can give a child:

The confidence to say, “No thank you. That’s not for me.” Dads can give a child the ability to stand for what’s right, rather than following the crowd. It’s an empowerment to be different. When everyone else is “doing it” — whatever it is — a “gifted” child has that gut emotion of not only knowing the right thing but actually have the courage to do it — regardless of peer pressure and the search for popularity. Dad’s gift this as they live a model for their child of dependence on God and an independence from having to please others. They gift this by living moral lives even among an immoral culture.

The gumption to follow through on commitments. Don’t you hate when someone commits to something they don’t complete? We all do. Dads have the ability to gift their child a follow through mentality. They model for them that a promise made is binding, unless providentially hindered. They do this by following through on their own commitments — to their child, their mother, and everyone else in their life. They live a life that exemplifies “my yes is yes and my no is no”. They also do this by holding their children to high standards and making sure they are held accountable for their actions.

The tenacity to continue after a failure. Years ago we had a business failure. We had put all our hopes in this business for wealth and fame. It didn’t work. In fact, God had other plans for our lives as we later learned. It took us a while to recover, however — especially me — financially and emotionally — but we did. I’ve learned failure is training ground for success. I’m convinced — in fact I know — because they’ve told me — I gifted an example to my boys that when life throws a curve, you can learn again to hit home runs.

The courage to face fears. The world is scary. Especially to a child. Dads give their children courage as they model facing risk and experiencing adventure — even when afraid. Good dads don’t hide the emotion of fear, but they model courage as they move forward in spite of fear.

The strength to overcome obstacles. It’s easier to always rescue our children. It’s easier to always make things right, open all the doors for our kids and never make them stand on their own or struggle for what they want. Good dads gift their children a freedom to explore, freedom to imagine and freedom to fall — and then the never-ending support to begin again.

The affirmation to pursue great dreams. Everyone needs someone in their corner who can affirm “You’ve got this! You can make it! Go for it!” Dads are uniquely positioned to be this gift in a child’s life.

The freedom to discover who God designed them to be. There is a freedom in knowing you are loved by God, secure in your position in the family, and released to live boldly to the glory of God. Good dads invest spiritually in the life of their child. They teach them the truths of faith and grace. Good dads seek to discover and live out who God designed them to be — and allow children to watch the process unfold. And, make no doubt about it — they are watching!

I’m not pretending any of these can’t be developed outside a dad relationship. Or that they are easy. I’m certainly not saying a mom can’t provide these things. Absolutely not. My mom did for me.

But, I’m a dad. And, I love, love, love being a dad.

And, I am saying a dad has a unique opportunity for some of these — and — it’s a special blessing for a dad — and his children — when he’s the one doing some of the gifting.

Dad, what’s the best gift you’re giving your children these days?

7 Ways Great Couples Make Marriage Soar

Happy Couple

Marriage is hard work. Great marriages are even harder.

I don’t know if I’d claim to have a great marriage. My wife reads my blog — some days. (She’s the one that finds most of my typos.) And, my wife is the relational queen — the best I’ve ever seen — so her expectations for relationships are high.

For years working with couples I would ask them how strong their marriage was on a scale of 1 to 10. I just wanted to see where they felt they were and how far apart they were from each other. Almost without exception, the wife had a lower number than the husband. I think that’s because the women are usually the more relationally aware than us men. And, frankly, because of that, often having higher expectations for all a marriage could be.

So, while I actually think we have a great marriage — I’m going with good for the purpose of this post.

But, I’m pretty sure she’d say we have a good marriage. (Please say that sweetheart.) And, I’m certain she’d agree we work at being great together — most of the time. (There have been weeks, especially earlier in our marriage, when we seemed to work against each other — but those days are rare now. Thankfully)

Certainly both of us have seen things that don’t work — for our marriage and with the hundreds of other marriages we’ve encountered in ministry. And, we’ve also witnessed some great marriages. We’ve made a goal to surround ourselves with people who have marriages that can strengthen our own. One of our best pieces of premarital advice we give is to encourage people to find mentoring couples. It’s worked for us too.

So, what are some things that make great marriages soar? What keeps them going? What have we observed? What have we experienced?

Here are a few thoughts.

How great couples make their marriage soar:

Let differences work for them. All couples are made with two different people. No two people in the world are just alike. And, after working with hundreds of couples, I’m convinced opposites often do attract. But, great couples learn to build upon those differences. They build upon each other’s strengths and let each other minimize their weaknesses. “Two are better than one” — the author of Ecclesiastes says — and great couples live this truth.

Extend grace for the minor annoyances. Can we just be honest? People do stuff that gets on our nerves at times. That’s true of all of us — even with the people — maybe even especially with the people we love the most. Great couples have learned not to let those little things distract from the major things — like love and commitment.

Serve each other. There are no 50-50 splits of responsibility in a great marriage. Great couples learn to sacrificially serve one another. In the best relationships, it would be difficult to judge who serves one another more. There may be be times one gives 100%, because the other can’t give anything. And there are other times the other spouse gives 100%. And neither complains when it’s their turn to give all.

Prioritize their time. Great couples spend time together. Life is busy for all of us. These couples schedule time together. They find things to do that each of them enjoy. And, they say no to other things that would keep them from having adequate time together.

Keep no secrets. There are no hidden issues among great couples. They are vulnerable with each other. Both partners open themselves up to the other person completely.

Publicly support each other. Great couples are supportive of each other in public. They don’t tear each other down in public. They handle private issues in private.

Keep no record of wrongs. Great couples learn to forgive. There aren’t any lingering issues that haven’t been resolved.

I feel the need to emphasize that I’m writing these with the understanding that it takes two people — both committed to making the marriage great — for any of these to work. There are some people who would give anything to make a great marriage, but they are the only part of the couple trying. I get that. A one-sided commitment won’t work when attempting to bond two people into one great couple.

But, when two people are willing to work hard — a great marriage is within reach. For all of us.

We are working towards the great marriage. Who is with us?