The Words of the Leal Family

How To Have A Healthy & Happy Marriage

Seven Essential Elements for True Marital Fulfillment
Bento Leal
Sacramento, CA
November 1998

Marriage, as the Bible, says is where "a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh." (Genesis 2:24) By definition, then, marriage is a joining together of a man and a woman, a husband and a wife, into a new creation wherein God can dwell and express His love more fully. Thus, a true marriage reflects the fullness of Godís nature, a man and woman united in the image of God, receiving His bountiful love and expressing it freely to each other, to their children and to others. Such a marriage is truly a blessing to the couple themselves, and to the world at large.

Most married couples wonder how they can create a strong, lasting and joyful marriage. Often the joint pursuit of spiritual ideals is recommended to the couple as the best and only path toward achieving true marital harmony and fulfillment.

However, while such spiritual ideals may be noble and deeply desired to attain and embody, to many they often appear too otherworldly and unreachable. Many couples, therefore, often lose hope that these ideals can actually be achieved. What is needed, then, is practical advice and guidance for a couple to quite literally put those ideals into practice, into reality in their daily lives.

Fortunately, there are numerous books and courses available on the topic of marriage improvement for couples to study and put into practice. While each of these books and courses has its own unique ideas and suggestions, there are several fundamental principles that emerge as perhaps universally relevant to marriage.

The following "7 Traits of a Healthy & Happy Marriage" represent some of these principles and, while not exhaustive or exclusive, are offered as vehicles for couples to put their hopes and ideals into daily practice and help them realize their dream of having a healthy and happy marriage.

The Seven Traits of a Healthy & Happy Marriage. The husband and wife will be Successful in Marriage if they:

1. Have Mutual Faith in God and Shared Spiritual Values
2. Regularly Communicate
3. Sincerely Love Each Other
4. Respect and Appreciate Each Other's Uniqueness
5. Love Their Children, and Others, Together
6. Actively Serve the Larger Community
7. Live and Work Daily for the Highest Ideals

The format for this text is as follows: First, the trait is identified. Then a fundamental principle or truth pertaining to that trait is listed as a guidepost to help accomplish that trait. Next, a core problem is mentioned which interferes with oneís ability to embody that principle and trait. A fundamental practice is then proposed as the way to solve the problem and regain a direction toward living that principle. Finally, some suggested actions are presented as ways for the couple to practically implement the solutions in their daily lives, growing their individual selves and marriage toward the marriage ideal.

1. Have Mutual Faith in God and Shared Spiritual Values

The Principle: God is the creator, our heavenly parent, and we are each His children. Godís love is imbued into each person and is therefore the basis for the couple's love.

The Problem: Due to the Fall of humankind (Genesis 3), we each have an inherent inclination toward selfishness which separates us from God, and hence from our true selves, from each other, and from the rest of creation.

The Practice: We must reconnect to God and His love & truth through prayer, study of His inspired Word, and righteous action.

By far, the most important ingredient in a healthy and happy marriage is the coupleís mutual faith in God and shared spiritual values. Godís Love is a living and real energy that has the power to unite and heal. Whether their individual character be similar or extremely opposite to each other, the thing that brings and holds the couple together into true oneness is their common faith, and the love centered on that shared faith.

Consider two balls at each end of a string. If one ball tries to pull the other one over to its side and the other one pulls back, there wonít be any harmony or unity. But if you grab that string in the middle and lift it up, the two balls will come together. Such is shared faith. The husband is imperfect and vacillates, the wife is imperfect and vacillates - the only thing that can bring them together is that stable, perfect, third, higher position - God. By praying together, and studying Godís Word, lifting their hearts and minds upward, and inviting God into their lives and marriage, then the couple has the basis for true unity and lasting love.

Whenever they have difficulty communicating, or demand that the other person totally change and come over to their side of the argument, they should stop and pray to God, seek His counsel, invite Him into their discussion and try to see the situation, and each other, from His parental viewpoint. Then, with renewed humility before God, and a repentful heart toward each other, they will find the ways to communicate constructively and reconcile, and thereby approach greater harmony and love. God will pour His healing love and wisdom into that marriage.

A true marriage has a husband and a wife, with God at the center, thus creating a trinity of true love.

Suggested Actions: Set a time each day for at least several minutes of prayer and study of God's Word together. Discuss the relevance of the study content to your own daily life. Share spiritual insights and experiences with each other when they occur. Attend a church together regularly, and fellowship with like-minded couples and families. Imagine and believe that God is in the midst of your couple always.

2. Regularly Communicate

The Principle: Sincere give and take (giving and receiving) with each other centered on a Godly parental viewpoint toward the other brings true unity and love.

The Problem: Again, due to the Fall, we are generally inclined toward self-centeredness. We therefore lack for concern and sensitivity to the importance and value of sincere communication with others, including (and sometimes especially) with our spouse.

The Practice: We need to make real time for honest and sincere communication with each other-heart to heart, mind to mind. By word and deed, we need to communicate with each other constantly with love, affection and straightforwardness.

The happily married couple speak honestly and listen fully to each other. In addition to being husband and wife, they are true friends. They set aside a time and place (perhaps alone at the dinner table late in the evening) to discuss their goals, plans, children, schedules, finances, meaningful experiences, etc. They communicate with each other the deep and meaningful things that are on their minds.

They track their progress toward reaching their goals, and adjust their plans and schedules accordingly to eventually reach those goals. Like two shipmates on the ocean of life, they work together as a team to constantly steer their marriage ship in the direction to reach their goals.

They recognize and believe that regular, sincere communication is the "give-and-take", the glue, that binds them together into an ideal whole, and prevents misunderstandings from occurring. They also practice the adage that "we each have two ears and one mouth, and we should use them in that proportion." If each party listens to the other well, then good communication is surely to occur. No matter how busy their lives and schedules, they make the time for meaningful discussion. As an automobileís engine needs constant oil to run well for years and years, so also regular communication is the oil that makes a marriage run smoothly.

Also, the couple doesnít harbor grievances against each other, but rather when difficulties or differences of opinion arise, they seek the proper moments to express and resolve their problems and differences constructively in open communication.

Suggested Actions: In the morning (or night before), share with each other the goals and plans for the day; then discuss with each other at the end of the day how things went.

Schedule a time each week (set an appointment with each other), perhaps a Sunday evening, to spend several minutes (even an hour or two if necessary) to discuss goals, plans, etc., for the coming week and month.

Keep in mind that marriage is a life partnership, a shared journey-we plan, act and live together; though at times we may be physically apart, our hearts and spirits are one.

3. Sincerely Love Each Other

The Principle: Our spouse is Godís beloved child and therefore deserving of our love as a true brother or sister, husband or wife, co-parent and friend.

The Problem: In our busy lives, we often forget to see things and each other from Godís viewpoint of unconditional serving and giving love. Itís very easy for us, then, to dwell on and resent the otherís imperfections, rather than appreciate the value of the whole person.

The Practice: Remind yourself that your spouse is a "gift from God". Focus on the lovable qualities of your spouse. See the best in each other. Practice viewing each other from Godís viewpoint of unconditional serving and giving love.

While the phrase "sincerely loving each other" may seem like an obviously important trait in a healthy and happy marriage, it is not something which happens automatically. Love is a willful act arising from a heart of care and concern; it is not simply a spontaneous feeling of the moment, or something we do when we "feel like it". Love is a seed that grows and blooms over time through careful and deliberate nurturing of the relationship.

The happily married couple love each other, regardless of their strengths and weaknesses, and constantly seek ways to nourish, enlarge and expand that love. They see themselves as two halves to a larger, and growing, whole. They try to see each other "from Godís point of view", i.e., that before they are a husband and a wife, they are a man and a woman, a beloved son and daughter of God, their heavenly parent.

Because of such love, they avoid extramarital affairs and flirtations because they know that such behavior would only but lead to a rupture of faith and love, and the ultimate disintegration of their marriage, as well as the terrible hurt and pain such affairs would cause all parties involved.

Suggested Actions: Pray to have Godís heart of unconditional love for your spouse.

Listen attentively to each other with a sincere and loving heart.

Serve your spouse with acts of kindness and concern. For example, when your spouse is tired from a long and busy day, give him/her a shoulder massage.

Help out with household chores.

Identify your spouseís needs and desires and try to help them be fulfilled. Such sincere service and care (a form of sacrifice) fosters a parental and loving heart in the giver toward the recipient.

Spend quality time together. Go out on a date, whether to dinner and or even a short walk around the block. Enjoy simply being together as husband and wife, as dearest friends!

Buy small gifts for each other. Surprise each other with acts of kindness (e.g., flowers, a kiss on the cheek, a hug, and an "I love you"). Know that even the little acts of kindness can have big and memorable impact.

4. Respect and Appreciate Each Other's Uniqueness

The Principle: Just as I am Godís unique creation, His special child, so also is my spouse.

The Problem: We're often so caught up in our own personal lives and concerns that we may fail to truly appreciate our own and our spouse's special personality and value as Godís unique son and daughter. We therefore may resent our spouse's differences in temperament and behavior wondering "why isn't he or she just like me?"

The Practice: As we each read and study Godís Words, we realize that He is speaking them directly and uniquely to me. We should perceive and enjoy His Creation as though He is giving it all to me. When we therefore recognize how much God is personally loving and caring for us, we will likewise know that He is feeling and doing the same for our spouse as well, and we should therefore respect, appreciate and even venerate our spouse as being so dearly beloved by God as we are.

The happily married husband and wife look for and appreciate the unique God-given qualities in each other. They allow for each other to be their own person, to have their own time and space to be themselves. They recognize the importance of personal integrity and individuality - that each person, particularly their spouse, is a "unique expression of the nature of God".

They see their character differences as complementary qualities rounding out the qualities the other may lack, thereby creating a "balanced" couple-again, two halves to a larger whole.

Suggested Actions: Encourage and respect your spouse's need to have their own private time and space. Each spouse should take some private time each week (each day!) for personal time with God and his or her inner self.

Go for a prayer walk; take time for reflection and meditation alone somewhere. Watch the waves on a beach! Recharge thyself! Encourage your spouse to do likewise.

5. Love Their Children, and Others, Together

The Principle: Children are the fruit of the True Love between husband and wife, and the offspring of God. All people are created by God; thus, we are all brothers and sisters of one larger human family.

The Problem: We are often angered and impatient at the immaturity of our children, and of other people. We fail to see and love them from Godís viewpoint of unconditional parental love.

The Practice: As individuals and as a couple, practice seeing and loving your children, and other people, with Godís Heart of unconditional love.

The happily married couple love each of their children uniquely and the family as a whole. They recognize and accept that parenting is a "team" effort. They understand and respect that their children are a "gift from God" entrusted to them by God to raise in the ways of goodness. They therefore often sacrifice their own personal desires and needs in order to serve the desires and needs of their children. And they do it with Love and Joy.

Also, each parent beholds how beautifully their spouse loves and cares for the children, thus endearing the spouses all the more to each other. By cooperating together in loving their children, the parents are brought into a greater oneness with each other.

Whether or not they have children of their own, they nonetheless love other people, both young and old, with a parental and caring heart.

Suggested Actions: Spend time with each child individually (one-on-one), and as parents together. Listen to what your children have to say.

Sit down together as husband and wife at least once a week and discuss how each child is doing, what his/her needs are, and the ways and plans to fulfill them.

Then, whether you have children or not, discuss and plan how to help others in need-your friends, relatives, workmates, church members, and others in your community.

6. Actively Serve the Larger Community

The Principle: True peace and harmony result when the individual serves the family, the family serves the society, the society serves the nation, the nation serves the world, and the world serves God. The part serves the whole and, in turn, the part is served by the whole.

The Problem: Another aspect of self-centeredness is to narrow and limit one's expression of love to one's own marriage and family, failing to see the relevance and even existence of the larger human family. Such an attitude creates an "us" and "them" perspective regarding the rest of humanity-for example, seeing the poor and disadvantaged as strangers or "them" instead of one of "us", fellow members of the larger human family.

The Practice: Practice serving others, particularly those in need beyond your immediate family. Be generous with your love, money, time and energy.

The happily married husband and wife are not selfish with their love, but rather seek to share and expand it. They sincerely recognize that their relatives, and also their immediate community, are their larger extended family. They care for their nation and world.

Such a couple finds practical ways to serve their community, recognizing that in serving the larger whole they are serving themselves as well (The more you give, the more you receive). They therefore volunteer their heart, time, energy and resources in such ways as: being active in the local PTA; joining a service organization like Rotary, Lions, etc.; being foremost members in their church; being politically active; donating money to charities, volunteering to mentor young people or serving food to the homeless. And being a friendly next-door neighbor.

They also behold the beautiful serving nature they see in their spouse and therefore love and respect each other all the more.

Suggested Actions: Take the time, perhaps at the weekly meeting mentioned earlier, to discuss and list the ways to be actively involved in some kind of local or church volunteer project, or a community service organization, on a regular basis.

Then make the plans and determinations to actually do the work in a clear and scheduled way, perhaps one or a few hours a week. Follow through on your commitment with real action.

7. Live and Work Daily for the Highest Ideals

The Principle: God is the origin and author of truth and love. He designed and created me and my spouse to grow "in His image", becoming persons of true character in the pursuit and attainment of the highest ideals. My spouse was likewise so created.

The Problem: We often live for narrow, short-sighted and temporal concerns, thus limiting and restricting our true potential to realize Godís ideals in our life.

The Practice: Again, God's Words (in the form of the Bible and other inspirations) can guide us and broaden our understanding of the purpose and meaning of life. We should therefore read and study Godís Words to discover the virtues and truths that serve as the basis for wholesome and productive living and strive to put those ideals into practice daily.

The happily married couple live each day individually and jointly to bring joy and glory to God and to be a blessing to the larger community and world. Their highest ideals are summarized in Jesusí immortal words: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets." (Matthew 34:37-39)

They vow and live to make the world a better place. They seize each day as an opportunity to improve themselves, their marriage and their family and to help improve the lives of those around them.

Suggested Actions: Ask yourselves at your weekly meeting, "How did we love and serve God and others in meaningful ways this past week? What specific ways can we can we love and serve God and others this coming week?"

Again, regularly studying Godís Words and praying together for specific things refreshens, informs and enlivens the soul, and serves to bring you and your spouse into a holy, loving, growing and lasting spiritual and physical oneness.

Connecting to the Source of True Love

In conclusion, itís important to remind ourselves of the most fundamental starting point for any healthy and happy marriage: the individual's personal relationship with the Living God. This relationship precedes every other. God is our heavenly parent, the wellspring and source of true love. He yearns for the most intimate relationship with each and every one of us. His love is the source of any meaningful love we may ever hope to have. Before we are a man or a woman, a husband or a wife, we are each first and foremost a child of God, His beloved, and we remain so forever. So, more than any other love, let us reflect upon and cultivate this most precious and essential of loves-an intimate and enduring relationship with God, our creator and heavenly parent.

Nourished by this root of true love, the couple's marriage tree will surely blossom and grow, and bear great and lasting fruit.

Bento Leal is the California Regional Coordinator of the American Leadership Conference, a project of the American Constitution Committee.

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