"But the Fruit of the Spirit is Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-control…" ~ Galatians 5:22-23

Recently, as a friend and her husband were about to celebrate the wedding of his daughter, she expressed to me how difficult it is to find the right words of advice on making the complex relationship of marriage work. On the surface, there seems to be no "one-size-fits-all" template for success.

Many books have been written about marriage. They discuss his needs and her needs, how to talk to one another, the importance of time spent together and the benefits of spending time apart. They address sex, respect, children, emotional health, and a vast array of other relevant topics.

Yes, much has been said on the subject of marriage, often with great wisdom and insight. After all, men and women have been struggling with infidelity, division of labor, money, family and other issues that directly impact their marriages since the beginning of time.

But if one were able to condense all of this marital advice down to just a simple formula, they would find that there actually is a sort of template. The blueprint for a happy marriage was given to us by the very Creator of marriage itself, and he passed it along to us in his timeless words.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 provides a perfect definition for Love:

"Love is very patient and kind, never jealous or envious, never boastful or proud, never haughty or selfish or rude. Love does not demand its own way.  It is not irritable or touchy. It does not hold grudges and will hardly even notice when others do it wrong. It is never glad about injustice, but rejoices whenever truth wins out. If you love someone you will be loyal to him no matter what the cost. You will always believe in him, always expect the best of him, and always stand your ground in defending him."

This verse is used in countless marriage ceremonies. On that significant day, these ideals seem like lovely sentiments. But after the champagne has fizzled, the guests have departed, the dress has been carefully packed away, and the last of the gifts unwrapped, every couple finds the wedding is over and the marriage has begun. And in the midst of the inevitable conflicts that occur when two people attempt to merge their lives into one, most couples find that while they may appreciate and believe in those beautiful words, trying to practice this kind of love can prove to be quite difficult.

How many times are you supposed to be "patient and kind" when your spouse keeps doing the same thing over and over again that annoys you to no end?

How do you keep from being "irritable" when you have had the worst day ever, and your head is pounding?

And while none of us likes to think of ourselves as "selfish," the fact is, all of us have a selfish streak.

We all have expectations of what we want out of life, out of marriage, and from one another. Look back on your own behavior and ask yourself how you have behaved in the past when things didn't go as you planned or expected. What happens when you don't get your way? And how does your spouse behave under the same circumstances?

Chances are, your past behavior is a good indicator of your future behavior unless you are willing to challenge yourselves to make some sweeping changes for the health of your marriage. Face it; in order to love one another as 1 Corinthians outlines, we mere mortals need a little help. 

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That is where the "Galatians 5:22-23" comes in. The characteristics of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control are gifts to each one of us. Gifts that are ours for the taking if we are willing to work for them. They offer a perfect roadmap of how to maintain harmony in the midst of chaos. They help us to navigate even the most difficult circumstances. They will lift us up in the best of times and sustain us in the worst. They make what is good in our lives even better, and they lessen the pain of our adversities.