3 Things to Help You Master Your Marriage

by Tim Olsen, MA, LPC

There is an adage that proclaims boldly, “happy wife, happy life”. Our culture has been drawn to this phrase, coined to supposedly help couples reduce conflict and increase peace through pleasing one spouse. Is a successful relationship one-sided? Is happiness even the goal of a great marriage? Although I do believe happiness of both people is a direct result of marital success, I contend that it is not the end game at all.  Mastery is the concept I suggest.

I’m drawn to those who are considered a master at something. People who have mastery over something show me the amazing possibility that comes when ability is coupled with discipline. I think of Jane Austen, Michael Jordan, Einstein, Simone Biles, and the list goes on. These men and women have mastered a craft which they were passionate about. That then brought them happiness, changing the landscape of their world. What about you? What are you passionate about? What are you good at? What have you accomplished with your talents and discipline? Maybe it’s your career. Maybe it’s your hobby. Or maybe you feel like you are not a master at anything. I believe you and I can be a master at our marriages. We can cultivate our passion for it and achieve greatness in it regardless of when we choose to begin the journey to do so.

No, I did not say to be THE master of our marriages, but to HAVE mastery of it. Einstein is not the ruler over the field of physics; his mastery of it makes him one of the field’s best ever. Simone Biles is not in charge of the sport of gymnastics; her mastery of it has made her the world’s most awarded gymnast. We may not be in a place to master a sport or scientific field of study, but we are each in a unique place to have mastery over the most important relationship we are in. It takes work, constant learning, and more than just reaction to create greatness in your relationship. There are so many skills and nuanced techniques to help in this endeavor; I am going to name just three.

Be Intentional

Do you think Michael Jordan never practiced basketball? That’s a silly notion. He spent countless hours intentionally honing his craft. Sure, he was born with raw ability, but that fade away jumper he perfected did not come without intentionality. Jordan once said, “I never fear failure of my skills because I put in the work”. This is an example of choosing to be great. Everyone has the capability of being great at marriage, but not everyone puts in the work to get there. There are so many books, blogs, podcasts, counselors, seminars, sermons, and real-life examples available to you that can help you be great at your relationship with your spouse. Putting the work into marriage greatness means you must be intentional about seeking out resources, intentional about finding the help that suits you, and intentional about following through. If ability is one of the gears of greatness, intentionality is the fuel that turns it.

Be a Student

Marriage mastery is not just the result of study, good counsel, and great teaching, but also knowledge of your spouse. Jane Austen only completed the equivalent of modern-day high school, but she was a voracious reader of literature (said to have spent most of her free-time in the library). Being a student of your marriage doesn’t mean you have a degree in relationships. It means you immerse yourself in knowing the other person in the most important relationship you have. What makes your spouse feel loved? What makes them feel valued? What communicates that they are heard, validated, and important to you and your family? Are there things that trigger anger, fear, or sadness in them? Do you know what makes them smile, makes them melt, makes them feel safe? Notice I didn’t mention their favorite song, or color. I believe knowing your spouse’s likes and dislikes is important, but those things do not equal full and deep knowledge. You must be willing to learn in order to master anything. Some say knowledge is power. It is a powerful thing to be a student of your spouse, and therefore your relationship.

Be Thoughtful

Think before you…What first comes to your mind to complete this phrase? Leap? Speak? Act? Yes. Being thoughtful is not just a tip for choosing a Valentine’s Day card. Thoughtfulness literally means being full of thought, but isn’t it so much easier for us to be full of emotional response (i.e. disagreement, anger, resentment, jealousy)? I have noticed that reacting is a more common relationship identifier than thinking. A good marriage is marked by the space between your opinion and your partners. It is marked by the distance between a difficult comment and a retaliation. The beauty of being thoughtful in your marriage is in the opportunity to truly hear and to be heard, to value and be valued, to love and be loved. Reacting takes away opportunity for peace and processing. Reacting is the crunch of two items colliding. Thoughtfulness is keeping enough distance to stop before you crash.

Your marriage is a large portion of your life. This experience can either be brutal or a blessing. If you are getting better at everything in your life except your most important relationship, you are missing out. What if you spent as much time and energy mastering your marriage as you do your career, hobby, or children’s activity schedule? Think about the greatness that awaits your intentional, studious, and thoughtful efforts with your spouse. It could change the landscape of your world.

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