Whether you are in ministry or not, if you are married, you may find that your marriage has slipped into last place on your list of priorities. Unfortunately, the pressures and demands of ministry and life can be great. As Christians, it is especially important to be focused on loving each other in a biblical way that enhances your love. Let’s look at 11 characteristics of a successful marriage.
Characteristic means – indicating the character or peculiar quality of a person or thing; typical; distinctive: Each one of us has characteristics, parts of our character that distinguish us. We share many of the same characteristics as others but express in them in unique ways and to a different degree.
Common Characteristics of most successful marriages
Most successful marriages have certain characteristics in common. Those marriages founded on biblical principles and maintaining the common goal to be like Christ should be the most successful. However, it is easy to forget that as life takes over. Pastors end up divorced or living together out of obligation rather than love. The same happens to those on staff and volunteering and to those who are not in ministry. The rate for Christian divorce is the same as the world’s. Why? Because we are human and we take things for granted. As we look at 11 characteristics of a successful marriage, find the ones that may need reinforcing in your relationship.
What Does Successful Mean?
What does it mean to have a successful marriage? It isn’t just about numbers. A couple may stay married for 60 years but this does not necessarily signal success. I know people who have stayed together, but they were miserable. Having a successful marriage encompasses factors that lead to a deep, lasting love and friendship. If you are in any type of ministry, it is vital to remember that your family comes before your ministry. In or outside the church, staff or volunteer – family before anything else.What does it mean to have a successful marriage? It isn't just about numbers. A couple may stay married for 60 years but this does not necessarily signal success. I know people who have stayed together, but they were miserable. Having… Click To Tweet
1. An Equal Commitment to faith, Christ, and Marriage
“So devote yourselves to lavishly supplementing your faith with goodness,” 2 Peter 1:5 TPT
The first characteristic of a successful marriage is commitment. First comes faith in Christ. This provides a common goal – to represent Jesus and the Bride of Christ through the earthly relationship. That’s a pretty lofty goal. Unfortunately, the two people may have very different ideas as to how that is accomplished. Sometimes men are given the impression that they are the boss rather than a servant. Jesus is the example for husband and wife. He did not come to be served but to be the servant of all. Since we are His, we are also servants.
I have been the Pastor’s wife and the co-Pastor. Both are wonderful roles but there are unspoken expectations. She needs to be involved in everything or she needs to just smile, be sweet, and bake cookies. She needs to play the piano and teach Children’s ministry while she is being hospitable and having everyone over for dinner and leading Women’s Ministry! At the same time, she has a husband and family to take care of and be an example to the church.
The Pastor is expected to be all things to all people (not really, but that’s how it feels). Whether it is a small or large church, needs and expectations are demanding. Whether you have a ministry inside or outside the church, the demands and expectations are there. They are weighty and can gradually become a burden we don’t realize we are struggling under. In the process, our marriage suffers.
If we look at the Biblical explanations of the roles of husband and wife, we see a husband who is the head, but, like Christ, lays down his life for his family. The wife, who is equal to her husband, voluntarily submits to him as he exhibits Christlike qualities. In the Kingdom, both are equal and both are the Bride! You are equals who have agreed to demonstrate the relationship between Christ and His Bride through your marriage. This should eliminate the idea of one who is the ‘master.’ That job was filled by Jesus.
Commitment to faith
Both need to have the same level of commitment to their faith. Faith is a huge subject that encompasses every area of human behavior in conjunction with our relationship to God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Some marriages do succeed even without agreement about faith and that is a tribute to the love and respect each has for the other. Ideally, however, the commitment is equal.
Commitment to Christ
Our commitment to Christ is a personal decision. When two become one, that commitment should positively affect the relationship. Each one is responsible for their own relationship with Christ. A Christian husband will not have to answer for his wife before God, only himself, and vice-versa. So, both need to be committed to a growing and enriching relationship with the Savior. Don’t let ministry take away from the continued growth of your relationship with your Savior.
Commitment to Marriage
When my late husband and I married, we made a decision that the word ‘divorce’ would not be part of our vocabulary no matter how angry or hurt we might be. We honored that commitment. When we said our vows, it was until death finally parted us. We were committed to make the changes, sacrifices, and work involved in staying married. And, more than just staying married, also staying in love. We were best friends for life.
That level of commitment leads to a successful marriage because you have closed the quick-escape door. You are not thinking about how to get out of the marriage, you are focused on how to make it better and better.
2. Equal Commitment to Sacrifice
“Be free from pride-filled opinions, for they will only harm your cherished unity. Don’t allow self-promotion to hide in your hearts, but in authentic humility put others first and view others as more important than yourselves. Abandon every display of selfishness. Possess a greater concern for what matters to others instead of your own interests.” Philippians 2:3-4 TPT
Sacrifice sounds rather ominous but, whether you like it or not, all successful relationships involve voluntary sacrifice by both people. One-sided, or forced sacrifice will destroy love. All it means is that you are willing to make changes or compromise, to come to an agreement on differences.
Of course, when you are first married, you don’t think this problem would ever exist. However, you are two different people who are trying to merge. Merging requires give-and-take, compromise, and a love that wants the best for each other. If one is unwilling to make any self-sacrifice or to compromise in any way, the marriage will suffer and may not last. Successful marriages consist of loving compromise and willingness to work things out for the good of both.
In ministry, you may need to compromise on time spent in serving that ministry. It’s no different than a couple where one of them is called away for military service. There is an agreement to sacrifice. However, when you are in ministry, you sometimes feel forced to forget your agreement because of the needs of the people. Rather than allowing that to become commonplace, you need to check with each other regularly to ensure the health of your marriage and relationship. Then, be willing to figure out how to change what is happening without sacrificing your marriage.
3. Equal commitment to serving
“Beloved ones, God has called us to live a life of freedom in the Holy Spirit. But don’t view this wonderful freedom as an opportunity to set up a base of operations in the natural realm. Freedom means that we become so completely free of self-indulgence that we become servants of one another, expressing love in all we do.” Galatians 5:13 TPT
When two people love each other, they happily serve each other. Like every other characteristic, if it’s one-sided, hurt and alienation follows. You are serving because you want to, not because it is demanded. The husband is to serve his wife. The wife is to serve her husband. Neither is a slave or subservient to the other. They are equals who serve as Christ did. Both serve the children, teaching them to serve others as well. Serving also requires some discussion about each other’s likes and needs.You are serving because you want to, not because it is demanded. The husband is to serve his wife. The wife is to serve her husband. Neither is a slave or subservient to the other. They are equals who serve as Christ did. Click To Tweet
In ministry, you are serving others. Their needs should not take priority over the needs of your spouse and children. They come first. If you are overwhelmed in ministry needs, get some help but do not neglect your family.
“A dear friend will love you no matter what, and a family sticks together through all kinds of trouble.” Proverbs 17:17 TPT
This point can’t be overemphasized. My husband is my best friend. Are there some things I prefer to talk to a female friend about? Yes, and that’s good. However, overall, my husband is my best friend. I liked this definiton of friend from the Urban Dictionary:
A friend is someone you love and who loves you, someone you respect and who respects you, someone whom you trust and who trusts you. A friend is honest and makes you want to be honest, too. A friend is loyal. A friend is someone for whom you’re willing to change your opinions.
A friend is someone you look forward to seeing and who looks forward to seeing you: someone you like so much, it doesn’t matter if you share interests or traits. A friend is someone you like so much, you start to like the things they like.
A friend is a partner, not a leader or a follower.
That was only part of the definition. There is love, respect, trust, honesty, loyalty, compromise, change, differences, acceptance, forgiveness, and much more. You are not clones of each other and you don’t sacrifice who you are for the friendship. You maintain your own identity, likes, dislikes, and characteristics, and you honor the same thing in your friend. I have friends who are totally different than I am, but we are close friends who love and respect each other, including respecting and honoring our differences.
Friends who are married can do this same thing. You don’t get married to change the other person! You get married because you love the other person so much that you want to spend a lifetime together. Your differences compliment each other. If you are in ministry, people should be able to see the friendship between you and your spouse.
5. Room to Change and Grow
“But continue to grow and increase in God’s grace and intimacy with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. May he receive all the glory both now and until the day eternity begins. Amen!” 2 Peter 3:18 TPT
Throughout life, we change and grow. The person I was when I first got married is different than the person I was forty years later. I grew, matured, and changed. So did my husband. This is a normal part of life. Something you may have loved to do at age twenty, may be something you really don’t like to do at age forty! You changed. Maybe your spouse still loves to do that particular thing. That’s great. They should do it with their friends and not take your withdrawal from that activity as a personal insult.
We need to expect change and allow for it. When my husband was 61, he bought a motorcycle. I didn’t want anything to do with it but was fine with him finally doing something he had wanted to do for years. Ultimately, I ended riding as well and we loved riding together. Since his death, I remarried and my husband now has no interest in riding but is very happy that I continue to do what I love! We are together but like different things. We also have lots of other things in common.
You don’t have to be clones of each other. You don’t have to both do the same thing at the same time in order to have a successful marriage. If that naturally happens, awesome! If it doesn’t, that’s good too! It’s ok to be different from each other.
Marriage does not mean the loss of your individuality. That isn’t what ‘becoming one’ means. You become one in your heart and soul but you are still two, distinct individuals. You become one flesh in intimacy, but you don’t merge into one human being.
Allow for differences in ministry style and areas of ministry you are interested in. While Children’s Ministry may have been your passion for years, your life has shifted and you have a desire to do outreach ministry. Let the changes take place and don’t feel that you have to be twins.
6. Equal Commitment to Forgiveness and Humility
“Tolerate the weaknesses of those in the family of faith, forgiving one another in the same way you have been graciously forgiven by Jesus Christ. If you find fault with someone, release this same gift of forgiveness to them.” Colossians 3:13 TPT
Be quick to ask for and give forgiveness. Don’t let a careless word spoken in anger become a mountain between you. Asking for forgiveness is an act of humility if it is done truthfully, not just as a show. When you are genuine in wanting forgiveness, you have humbled yourself and acknowledged your wrongdoing. It’s doesn’t have to be the end of the world or your marriage. Be humble enough to admit when you’ve messed up, sinned, or hurt the other person.
“Because of the grace allotted to me, I can respectfully tell you not to think of yourselves as being more important than you are; devote your minds to sound judgment since God has assigned to each of us a measure of faith.” Romans 12:3 The Voice
Go to God asking for forgiveness and go to your spouse as quickly as you can. You might need to calm down or cool off first. If you are still very angry, that’s not the time to ask for forgiveness! You need to deal with your own problem and then go in sincerity.
Humility in life is what allows us to maintain a correct perspective on our importance. I have faults and flaws as does my husband. If I forget about my flaws and focus on his, becoming angry and self-righteous, I am going to become judgmental and say things that hurt. Whenever I start feeling that, I quickly remind myself of all the weird ways, flaws, faults and strangeness that my husband is patiently putting up with in me!
You are not perfect and neither is your spouse. So, when you get to feeling like you need to correct them all the time, you need a session in God’s mirror. God sees into your heart – all the good and ALL of the bad! You need to go to His mirror, take a look, and repent of pride. Then go to your spouse and ask for forgiveness.
Don’t falsely spiritualize your actions saying that they should be able to receive godly correction. Maybe they should, but not in an embarassing, hurtful, or humiliating way. Your observation may have been correct but you lacked discretion, mercy, kindness, and tact and you need to apologize and ask for forgiveness.
7. Equal commitment to kindness
“But instead be kind and affectionate toward one another. Has God graciously forgiven you? Then graciously forgive one another in the depths of Christ’s love.” Ephesians 4:32 TPT
Kindness is such a wonderful, soothing characteristic. A kind word can put out a fire. A kind person is a gift to the world. Jesus was kind. When He could have berated and belittled someone, He did not. He showed love in the highest way – by dying for you and me. His kindness is shown in mercy and grace.
Kindness is defined as the quality of being friendly, generous and considerate. There is an aspect of acceptance, patience, and gentleness in kindness along with caring and being helpful. Kindness toward your spouse will create an atmosphere you can both thrive in. Each one has to make an individual decision to cultivate kindness in their life. Kindness can be seen and felt.
Kindness is a fruit of the Holy Spirit and an aspect of Christian character we are told to possess. Sometimes, being kind can be really hard. There are mean people in the world and it isn’t always easy to give a kind word to someone who is full of hate. The Bible doesn’t say it’s easy, it says we need to be kind. That’s just how it is supposed to be. Let it start at home in the most important relationships you have – with your spouse and children.
8. Equal Commitment to Honesty which equals trust
“So discard every form of dishonesty and lying so that you will be known as one who always speaks the truth, for we all belong to one another.” Ephesians 4:25 TPT
Don’t lie. It really is that simple. Don’t lie. One lie leads to another. Most lies eventually come out and the destruction is immense. Lies destroy trust. Trust is earned. I don’t trust you just because you tell me I should. You have to earn my trust over a period of time as we interact with each other. One lie can wipe out the whole thing!
Telling the truth can hurt the other person but that hurt can be healed through repentance and forgiveness. Then, you have to earn their trust back. But it’s possible that the hurt caused by a lie, can never be healed and trust cannot be restored. If you want to be trusted, be honest, even when it hurts or embarrasses you.
Sometimes, we can use ‘truth’ as a weapon. We say something that deeply hurts another, as we knew it would, and our excuse is – I was just telling the truth. You didn’t care if they were hurt or not and you are the one who is wrong. Sometimes, the truth does not have to be spoken. You just need to pray for yourself and the other person. Put it in God’s hands.
The Bible says that love covers a multitude of sins. I think this means that harshly exposing someone, knowing they will be crushed is not Christlike. Jesus did not do that to us. We don’t have to air all our sins before we are saved by His grace. Cruelty is not in Jesus’ character and should not be in ours.
If your spouse lies to you, then you need to practice forgiveness. There are some issues that may require time apart or may permanently sever the relationship. For instance, infidelity. The husband learns his wife has cheated on him and lied to him. She admits it, says she’s sorry, they try to keep going, and then it happens again. Trust is totally destroyed and he cannot reconcile with her. Lies destroy love and trust. Don’t lie.
9. Equal Commitment to Communication
And never let ugly or hateful words come from your mouth, but instead let your words become beautiful gifts that encourage others; do this by speaking words of grace to help them.” Ephesians 4:29 TPT
Communication may be an area where one of you has to learn to be able to communicate. It’s also an area where we may have expectations of our spouse being just like us in regard to communication. That’s not generally the case!
As a kid, I shut down my emotions due to a bad childhood. I decided that if I didn’t let myself feel, I could not be hurt. That was a very incorrect decision which caused its own set of problems. I then married a man who communicated every feeling he had! He would ask me how I felt and I would reply, “I don’t know.”
That was incomprehensible to him and caused lots of fights. I was finally able to explain it to him and tell him that I needed time to figure out how I felt about whatever the situation was. While it was still difficult for him to understand, he agreed to give me that time and I agreed to work on finding my emotions.
Make the commitment to try. Work out methods to help each other communicate. Don’t expect your spouse to be just like you and don’t try to change them. Just ask for what you need and then agree to help each other get there.
One-sided communication isn’t communication. It’s just one person talking. A conversation involves at least two people who are both talking. One listens as the other talks, and then they reverse roles. They don’t scream at each other. They talk, discuss, disagree, find a compromise, and communicate feelings and attitudes. This is communication. It will take time to figure out your style as a couple and to come to a solution that works for both of you. Give it time but be committed to making it happen.
Sometimes in ministry, you have spent so much time talking with people that by the time you get home, you don’t want to talk to anyone for a week! When I founded an outreach to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, I spent all day listening and talking to people in deep stress. By the time I got home, I was drained. However, when you get home, you have people there who need to interact with you. Work out a way to give yourself a little time to unwind and be quiet and then come to your family giving them all the love and interaction they deserve and need. Don’t let ministry turn you into a dry desert.
10. Equal Commitment to abstain from manipulation
“For they are not true apostles but deceitful ministers who masquerade as “special apostles” of the Anointed One. That doesn’t surprise us, for even Satan transforms himself to appear as an angel of light! So it’s no wonder his servants also go about pretending to be ministers of righteousness. But in the end they will be exposed and get exactly what they deserve.” 2 Corinthians 11:13-15 TPT
Manipulation is a dead-end behavior. No one likes to be manipulated. It causes anger, resentment, loss of trust (because it’s dishonest), and alienation. Using tears or anger to get your way may work, but you are destroying the relationship in the process, and, it won’t work forever. Eventually, the other person will stand up to it or walk away. It ends friendships and relationships.
Here’s the definition of manipulation from Dictionary.com – exerting shrewd or devious influence especially for one’s own advantage. It is selfish, underhanded, and cruel. Children try to manipulate their parents but at some point, their tactics are confronted and they have to grow up and stop being selfish.
Most of the problems we have talked about here are all based in selfishness. We want our own way. We want everyone to do what we want, when we want, the way we want, and to always have it be like this. This is childish. Bullies are manipulative, mean, selfish and childish. Using force, anger, tears, self-pity, manipulation, and lies are all selfish and cruel. I’m being blunt about this because it’s true.
If you are a Christian, you are to live based on love. This love is totally un-selfish. It’s kind, honest, and will not manipulate because it isn’t self-seeking. At the end of this blog, I am including a copy of 1 Corinthians 13 from The Passion Translation. If we all used this as our guide for marriage, there would only be successful marriages. But, our old-man is steeped in self-seeking, self-pity, and self-satisfaction. So, we must fight him, continually take him off, and replace Him with Christ in whom there is no trace of selfishness.
Selfishness is satan’s favorite tool. It is his nature. He lies, manipulates, steals, kills, and destroys all to satisfy his own selfish desires. We are not to be like him in any way!
“A man of kindness attracts favor, while a cruel man attracts nothing but trouble.” Proverbs 11:17 TPT
Spiritual manipulation is the worst. When someone says, “God told me to….,” what are you going to say in return? Are you going to call them a liar? Or, what if your spouse begins to throw Scripture at you like – you are to submit to me as the head of this family?
Jesus never used His power or position to manipulate people. He never shamed them into obedience or manipulated in any way. He could have zapped the Pharisees with a lightning bolt while quoting “Vengeance is mine, thus saith the Lord.” He didn’t. Jesus served and used His power to benefit all of mankind for eternity rather than just Himself for a short time.
If the only way you can handle your family is by being belligerent and manipulative, you need to get some help for yourself and your entire family. That’s true for the wife and the husband. If that’s the only way you can handle your children, you need help.
11. Equal Commitment to laughter and joy
“Go back to your homes, and prepare a feast. Bring out the best food and drink you have, and welcome all to your table, especially those who have nothing. This day is special. It is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve over your past mistakes. Let the Eternal’s own joy be your protection!” Nehemiah 8:10 The Voice
Have fun together. Don’t turn marriage and family into this deadly serious task you have to complete. It is meant to be a source of joy. Have fun together. Laugh at yourselves and find joy in your life.
One day my husband and I were arguing, facing each other from each side of the kitchen counter. I have no idea what we were arguing about. We stopped for a moment, I looked at him and asked, “What are we arguing about?” He looked at me and said, “I don’t remember,” and the argument ended in laughter.
Rejoice in what you have instead of obsessing over what’s missing. You have an imperfect spouse and your spouse has an imperfect spouse. You’re equal so rejoice! Rejoice in the Lord and in each other. Find ways to relax, smile, share a joke, let peace flow between you, to have fun.
Yes, you will go through hard times, but even in those, you can still find a reason to smile and laugh even if it’s just at the dog. Focus on the good and not the bad. Find the good every day in your life and in each other.
**We use verses from different Bible translations. To see more information about the copyright for each one, please visit our Scripture Citations.
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