Marriage Advice From A Christian Perspective

Make and Keep Key Promises for Lasting Love

  • Whitney Hopler Contributing Writer
  • 2007 5 May
Make and Keep Key Promises for Lasting Love

Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Willard F. Harley, Jr.'s book, I Promise You: Preparing for a Marriage that Will Last a Lifetime, (Revell Books, 2006).

As you prepare to get married, you’re looking forward to saying your wedding vows as part of a meaningful ceremony. But those vows are more than just one-time declarations to remember fondly. They’re promises that you and your partner need to fulfill every day of your lives, in order to achieve a healthy and lasting marriage.

Focusing on four key promises can help you develop a thriving marriage. When both you and your partner are fulfilled in such a relationship, your marriage is likely to last a lifetime. Here are promises to live up to every day:

The promise of care. This promise says, “I promise to be your primary source of happiness – to meet your most important emotional needs.” Recognize that you help create love when you do your best to meet your partner’s most important emotional needs, but you destroy love when you neglect those needs. Understand the 10 most common emotional needs: affection, sexual fulfillment, intimate conversation, recreational companionship, honesty and openness, physical attractiveness, financial support, domestic support, family commitment, and admiration. Discover which needs are most important to both you and your partner by each listing and ranking them in order of importance, then sharing your lists with each other. A

gree to make it a priority to meet each other’s needs, and discuss specific ways you would like each other to do so. Strive to become an expert on your partner’s emotional needs and how to meet them. Regularly evaluate your effectiveness and make whatever changes are needed to improve your skills. Make sure you’re meeting your partner’s needs in ways that are mutually enjoyable; don’t ever sacrifice your own feelings to meet your partner’s needs, but come up with creative solutions that benefit both of you.

The promise of protection. This promise says, “I promise to avoid being the source of your unhappiness – to avoid ‘Love Busters.’” Do your best to stay away from “Love Busters” – habits that destroy romantic love. Don’t make selfish demands, attempting to force your partner to do things that would benefit you at your partner’s expense. Instead, make requests while always keeping your partner’s feelings in mind, and thoughtfully negotiate. Don’t make disrespectful judgments, attempting to control your partner’s attitudes, beliefs, and behavior by trying to impose your way of thinking on him or her through lecturing, ridicule, threats, or other forceful means. Instead, strive to persuade your partner respectfully by working to create genuine consensus. Don’t burst out in anger, deliberately trying to hurt your partner either verbally or physically, because you’re angry. Instead, learn how to control your anger so it doesn’t control your marriage. Don’t be dishonest. Instead, fully reveal your thoughts, feelings, habits, like and dislikes, personal history, daily activities, and plans for the future to your partner. Never leave your partner with what you know is a false impression; make sure he or she has correct information about you. Let go of annoying habits – repeated behaviors that unintentionally cause your partner to be unhappy. Instead, intentionally replace them with behavior that is pleasant for both you and your partner. Don’t behave independently, planning and executing activities as if your partner doesn’t exist. Instead, make sure your decisions are mutually acceptable, and create an interdependent lifestyle. Never do anything without an enthusiastic agreement between you and your partner.

When you negotiate: Set ground rules to make negotiations pleasant and safe. Identify the problem from the perspectives of both you and your partner. Brainstorm solutions. Then choose the solution that appeals to both of you. Keep negotiating until you find a solution that you both can enthusiastically embrace.

Know that this hard work is well worth it, because it prevents resentment that can destroy your marriage over time. If you feel resentful because your partner isn’t respecting your thoughts and feelings to your satisfaction, complain as often as necessary to call attention to the problem instead of letting resentment fester and poison your marriage. Understand that making decisions jointly will lead to lasting fulfillment and a compatible, enjoyable lifestyle for both of you. Work together with your partner to identify the Love Busters with which you each currently struggle, and recognize which ones cause the greatest pain in your relationship. Then make a plan to eliminate each Love Buster and find someone to hold you each accountable to that plan. Seek professional help if you get stuck in the process.

The promise of honesty. This promise says, “I promise to be honest with you.” Understand that complete honesty is necessary for trust in your relationship, and that, without trust, your marriage will fail. Reveal both your positive and negative emotional reactions to your partner’s behavior and events in your life. Don’t hide any information about your personal history, especially events that demonstrate personal weakness or failure. Share information about the events of your day. Give your partner a calendar of your activities, with special emphasis on those that may affect him or her. Be open about your thoughts and plans regarding future activities and goals. Never deliberately keep any personal information from your partner. Work with your partner to encourage each other to be completely honest every day.

The promise of time. This promise says, “I promise to take time to give you my undivided attention.” Commit to giving your partner your undivided attention at least 15 hours each week (more if your marital satisfaction level is currently low), using the time to meet the emotional needs of affection, sexual fulfillment, intimate conversation, and recreational companionship. Schedule the time in various appointments with each other throughout the week, and guard that time from distractions and interruptions that aren’t genuine emergencies. Establish privacy by getting away from everyone else, including your children, other family members, and friends.

When you’re together on an appointment, don’t just do something passive such as watching television. Instead, do something that will allow you to actively relate to each other. Be creative and flexible about finding mutually enjoyable ways to spend the time together. Expect you and your partner’s interests to change as you grow older; be open to giving up some activities and exploring new ones together.

Adapted from I Promise You: Preparing for a Marriage that Will Last a Lifetime, copyright 2006 by Willard F. Harley, Jr. Published by Revell Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Mich.,  

Willard F. Harley, Jr., Ph.D., is a nationally acclaimed clinical psychologist, marriage counselor, and best-selling author of books such as His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage. His website,, offers practical solutions to almost any marital problem. Dr. Harley leads Marriage Builders Weekends across the country and lives in Minnesota with Joyce, his wife of more than 40 years.