5 Secrets to Make a Marriage Last

On the fourth day of our honeymoon, he’s ready to get back to work and we come home three days early and he goes back to the barn and I unpack the wedding gifts in an empty kitchen.

I cry ugly, shoulders shuddering and tears dripping off the end of my nose, because I just know.

I married the wrong man.

For the first year after the vows, I am certain of this.

He goes to bed every night before eight and I sit up in the dark twisting my gold band and he likes his oatmeal boiled in milk, drapes his Levis over a chair chair in the bedroom and his idea of fun is beading up threads of sweat and mine is typeset on yellowed pages, and I don’t know who to talk to about all the ideas multiplying in my head and he is so quiet and we argue awkward, sit in this thick silence and I hurt and I don’t know if he loves me or loves me not.

All that is enduring and great happens slow, the inconspicuous revolution, and marriage is a long maturing.

Sometimes I am scared nothing is happening in the hiddenness.




My parents divorce. The couple from youth group that got married the Saturday before us when the sun was shining, she leaves him the next summer and drives off to the city and I think about her a lot and what made her so sad. I look at wrinkled hands laced together in church. When I lie in bed at night staring up at the ceiling, I’m stark wild to know the secret.

To know how to keep the eyes focused on what the wise always see: the grounds for marriage.

We must survive and we must find a way into each other’s skin. We must.

I meet with a professor and we outline an independent study on how not to be independent but make the impenetrable union, how to makes a marriage incorruptible and thriving tall. I pray with a mentor from church. I watch her marriage. I sign out books from the university library. I turn over the corner of pages. The Farmer and I practice new ways of meeting.

He talks and I give feedback. I talk and he gives feedback. We practice with the innocuous, pictures from National Geographic on our laps and we talk about what the photos do inside of us. “So I’m hearing you say that this picture makes you feel…”

It feels mechanical and we feel awkward. But it is better than arguing and we smile. We learn to stop responding without deep listening. We stop solving and we start hearing and the skin begins to fit.

I wonder if they should change the order of the vows because this is the real order of all things: the worse always comes before the better.

I wash dishes and reach up to touch the silver hanging around my neck, the locket he gave me on my 17th etched with “Ruth 1:17” and I wear the lines down with the prayer that nothing “but death separates you from me.”


I read books I have piled by the bed while I nurse the baby and I write papers in the dark farmhouse after he and I’ve worked on barn renovations, fed the sows, and he and the baby and all the farm sleeps. Our marriage renovates.

I read how they can predict divorce with 90% accuracy and I type out


1. Good Conversation

Be a Ruth to Boaz, a Jonathan to David, a Bartholomew to Paul and look each other in the eye and ask questions and laugh long and speak with respect and tender affection and do empathy, when you feel yourself inside the other person’s skin.

And the research says:

“Spouses in happy, stable marriages made five positive remarks for every one negative remark when they were discussing conflict.

In contrast, couples headed for divorce offered less than one (0.8) positive remark for every single negative remark.”

May the words of our mouth and the meditation of our heart be pleasing in His sight and may we say only strong words. Speak the 5-2-1 rule: five positives to every one negative.

2. Good Conflicts

The together life sometimes scrapes and it is how we work it through that matters most and the talk must stay gentle because harsh talk makes a marriage hard.

Begin a conversation well if you want to end the conversation well.

The research says:

96% of the time the way a discussion begins can predict the way it will end. When one partner begins the discussion using a harsh startup, such as being negative, accusatory or using contempt, the discussion is basically doomed to fail.

On the other hand, when one partner begins the discussion using a softened startup, the discussion will most likely end on the same positive tone.

3. Greatly Circumvent the Fatal Four:

Criticism — which begins with the accusatory: “you always” or “you never.”
Defensiveness — which is a cross-attack or complaint.
Contempt — which is a roll of the eyes, a sigh of disgust, a muttering of name-calling.
Stonewalling — which is to become a stone wall and express nothing

And the research says:

The negative impact of contempt cannot be overestimated. (Lehman, 2005, p. 296).
Nothing predicts divorce more accurately than contempt. (Gottman, 1999).

4. Good Chronicling

Like David remembers throughout the Psalms the goodness of the Lord, and the Israelites verbally recall all the ways God has been faithful, marriages that last see their history together in a positive light and marriages headed for trouble see everything negative and the good chronicling of our past leads to gracious confidence in our future.

And the research says:

Couples who are deeply entrenched in a negative view of their spouse often rewrite their past (Gottman et al 42). Excess negativity leads to a distorted perception that can affect the past, present and future of a relationship.

5.  Goodness Contacts

Everyday put in your Phil. 4:8 contacts and only see what is pure and good and lovely and excellent and praiseworthy because  “If you dislike someone, the way they hold their fork will make you furious. But if you like them, they can turn their plate over in your lap and you won’t even mind.”

Write out a thankfulness log to get the log out of your own eye. Can you log 100 ways you are grateful for your spouse today? 10? 20? And do it again tomorrow. See the good and give thanks. Write it down to remember.

And the research says:

“Decreasing negativity during and after fights, as negativity is the best predictor of divorce over six years (85% accuracy).

I proofread my paper under stars and I send it to the professor and I feed the baby and I lay next to the man and I get a perfect grade and the moon shafts fall across the sheets and wherever we are, this is the honeymoon here.

I have married the right man because God can make me the right woman.

Every June, he picks me wild daisies.

We pluck petals and we laugh and it’s good because love comes in all the quiet, circling moments and I’ve changed and we’ve grown and he loves me and I love him and petals fall quietly to the floor.


Highly Recommended Resources we have read which grew up our love:

A Lasting Promise: A Christian Guide to Fighting for Your Marriage A Lasting Promise: A Christian Guide to Fighting for Your Marriage

The Power of Two: Secrets of a Strong & Loving Marriage The Power of Two: Secrets of a Strong & Loving Marriage

Catching The Rhythm Of Love: Experience Your Way To A Spectacular Marriage Catching The Rhythm Of Love: Experience Your Way To A Spectacular Marriage

My lover is mine and I am his…

~Song of Solomon 2:16

Next Wednesday: How to Write Love Letters

Related Marriage Posts from the Archives:

How to Really Fall in Love all Over Again

The Making of A Marriage: Leaving and Cleaving

JUST: The Best Thing You Can Do For Your Spouse

How Can I be a better Wife

What a Man Can do For a Woman

Brave Affairs

What All the Universe is Trying to Tell You Today

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Photos: the locket and daisies he gave
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