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6 Things That Make for a Healthy Marriage

  • Jim Daly President, Focus on the Family
  • Published Jun 09, 2016
6 Things That Make for a Healthy Marriage

Is your marriage healthy?

Every marriage contains its share of challenges. There will be difficult seasons in even the happiest of unions. It might be an overstatement to compare marriage to a rollercoaster, but even a healthy relationship is like a country road, with its twists and turns and occasional dips. The key is how you respond to the challenges. 

In my new book, Marriage Done Right: One Man, One Woman, I tackle this issue head-on with a candid and passionate challenge to Christian men and women to examine their own lives and behavior. Marriage is not an entitlement. It's a gift that too many of us have squandered.

Too many couples—especially Christian couples—expect perfection. If you’re going through a rough patch, is it possible you’re making a mountain out of a molehill? With the help of Dr. John Gottman, I’ve listed six criteria of healthy marriages that I’d like to share them with you.

1. High levels of friendship, respect, affection, and humor

This is defined as liking each other, being each other’s best friend, doing things together; showing interest in and respect for the other’s thoughts and feelings, avoiding put-downs, supporting each other’s goals and aspirations, feeling affection for each other, having fun and laughter together, being number one in each other’s eyes.

2. A ratio of 5:1 or better of positive to negative interactions

This means that your relationship averages at least five pleasant, friendly, or loving experiences or periods of time for every hostile word, angry argument, or time spent feeling hurt or resentful. And 5:1 is the minimum!

3. Successful “bids for attention”

When a wife says, “Hey, listen to this!” she is trying to get her husband’s attention for a conversation. If the husband keeps on scrolling through Facebook, ignoring her, he’s turning away her bid for attention. If he says “Huh?” and lifts his eyes off the sports page for a second or two, he’s turning toward her—a good sign. And if he actually listens to what she has to say, that’s a real connection! In successful marriages, partners turn toward each other an average of 86 percent of the time. In divorcing couples, the average is 33 percent.

4. Soft starts of disagreements

In successful marriages, disagreements are started softly, without critical, contemptuous remarks about the other person.

5. Husband accepts influence from wife

In successful marriages, husbands accept influence from their wives. If a wife says she’s afraid her husband is driving too fast and he responds in irritation, “I know what I’m doing!” this is a shaky marriage. There must be give and take in a relationship. Research shows that women are accustomed to accepting influence from men. So it’s crucial that men learn to do the same!

6. Respect for each other’s needs, likes, dislikes, and inner life

They ask questions to find out; they listen; they care!

How did you fare? I pray that you sense the urgency in my words when I remind you that next to your relationship with the Lord, the best investment you can make here on earth is the relationship with your spouse. So much hinges on the health of our marriage. Yes, marriage is difficult. But remember, it’s not designed to make us happy (though it ultimately will); it’s designed to make us holy. 

As Erich Fromm, the late German psychologist, wrote, “If love were only a feeling, there would be no basis for the promise to love each other forever.” In other words, the wedding vow anticipates the reality of radical difficulty. It’s there in the fine print.

Jim Daly, president of the evangelical organization Focus on the Family, celebrates God's original design for marriage in Marriage Done Right: One Man, One Woman. This faith-based book is an exploration of God’s purposes for marriage, including the unique benefits that a mom and a dad bring to the partnership of raising children. With a compassionate tone and an eye toward the future, Daly reaffirms the beauty of traditional marriage and reflects on how the Supreme Court's 2015 redefinition of marriage is affecting today's marriage culture.

Publication date: June 9, 2016