October 1, 2015

How to Have an Increasingly Happy Marriage

Gary Thomas — 

How to Have an Increasingly Happy Marriage Final

How to Have an Increasingly Happy Marriage

One of my favorite teachers of Scripture is in the midst of a series on what makes us happy. Near the beginning of one sermon he (correctly, in my view) challenged those Christians who say, “What if God wants you to be holy instead of happy?” Since the subtitle of Sacred Marriage is “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?” it’s difficult not to take notice–and don’t think my wife didn’t, when she heard it.

The subtitle of Sacred Marriage has launched numerous blog debates, which I haven’t participated in, and one national conference debate, in which I did participate.

There’s a big difference between “What if God wants you to be holy instead of happy?” and “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?” I clear this up in the revised edition of Sacred Marriage, but let me make it clear here.

I’ve never believed that happiness and holiness are contradictory. On the contrary, I believe we’ll live the happiest, most joy-filled lives when we walk in obedience to God. John Wesley boldly proclaimed that it is not possible for a man to be happy who is not also holy, and who can argue otherwise. Have you ever met an addict of any kind who was truly “happy?” Who can be “happy” while filled with anger, rage, and malice? Why do even rock stars have to abuse so many liquids and substances to escape reality if their reality is so fulfilling? Who can be happy while nursing resentment or envy? Who can be honestly happy who is caught in the sticky compulsion of an insatiable lust or incessant materialism?

So I’m not anti-happiness; that would be silly. The problem I’m trying to address is that a “happy marriage” (defined romantically and In terms of pleasant feelings) is too often the end game of most marriage books (even Christian marriage books). This is a false promise. You won’t find happiness at the end of a road named selfishness or self-indulgence.

And, in fact, most of the misery in marriage is born in sin. Almost all the people who write to me do so because their spouse is misbehaving. If two people will earnestly pursue holiness, I believe their happiness will increase immeasurably.

I first wrote Sacred Marriage when Lisa and I had been married for 14 years. We’ve now been married for 31. I’m glad I wrote the book when I did, because if I wrote on marriage for the first time now, it would be a different book. Lisa and I are in a different place. And here’s why: I believe both of us have grown to be a little more like Christ. I had much further to grow than Lisa ever will, but just a slight increase in spiritual growth can pay huge dividends in marital happiness.Small Sacred Marriage Image - Cropped

Younger couples obsess over whether they are falling “out of love.” In terms of infatuation, you can’t fight that any more than you can fight aging. It’s going to happen. Be more concerned about falling out of repentance. If you will keep a tender heart toward God and your spouse, receive conviction, and repent when sin is exposed, your marriage will become happier and happier. You will be more content in your marriage at year thirty than year three.

I realize it takes two: if your spouse isn’t repenting, you will face much misery accordingly. But the fruit of the Spirit is so strong that if you can unilaterally pursue more gentleness, kindness, courage, faithfulness, and self-control to the marriage, and add less temper, selfishness, lust, bitterness, and pride, your marriage will still be better and more enjoyable than it would have been otherwise.

The spiritual secret is this: pursuing holiness is the surest path to happiness. That’s why my subtitle puts the emphasis on the one over the other. By pursuing first things first, you get both.

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8 responses to How to Have an Increasingly Happy Marriage

  1. Gary,
    Is there any reason the older version of the book can’t be used? My husband and I are just getting ready to start the book and DVD and participant guide. Our marriage is in need of help. Should we order the new edition instead?

  2. Excellent post, Gary! The years bring so much wisdom – praise the LORD! 🙂 Oh how I remember the foolishness of young love and all the heartache and heartbreak that went with it. Seek ye first His Kingdom…..
    We can absolutely unilaterally pursue and apply the spiritual fruit and become all that God created us to be, regardless of what our spouse does or does not do. If we are unhappy and cannot change our circumstances causing the unhappiness, we must change our attitudes and latitudes. If we are not moving toward God and His holiness, then we are moving away from Him.

  3. That is so true Gary, I think of Saul and his moods. David would play music for him, he would feel soothed. Music plays most days in my home all day long. So you think about the effects it would have on me. I am so in tuned to music it goes into the core of my soul, which is where God dwells. Although it has been a bit of a struggle to stop listening to seclar music. I have been blessed by it and feel a sense of peace.

  4. Good morning Gary, just received your last blog. As I was reading it my thoughts were. “What if you are married to a unbelieving spouse?” You answered my question right at the end when you said “I realize it takes two”. I have found that to be so true, I have been working on myself and trying not to be all those things you mentioned in your last paragraph, although it’s hard I am pursuing it, and finding out if I put selfish romantic ideas of marriage aside and seek God first, I am a happier and more content person. I have done something the 3 months that has surprised me I was able to do. I love music all kinds, rock, country, pop etc… But one of my favorite types of music is romantic love songs. You know the kind that give you that warm fuzzy feeling, also the ones where love has gone south for the winter maybe for ever. My focus instead has been on Christian music. Though all of this I have found Christian music to be the best love songs I could listen to. Whether I sing along or just listen my love for God swells up inside of me and this feeling of joy over takes me because, I know God loves me so much more then I could ever love Him. In the secular music I was left with this empty, sad, lonely feeling of “Why can’t my husband love me the way I love him” it would leave me angry and bitter at him. So all that you have said in your blog is true. Focus on God, not on self and what the world thinks marriage should be about. And you will be a much happier person in every area of your life but especially in your marriage. Thank you

    • Very interesting. I’ve been a huge fan of 70s music, but I’ve found, like you, that if I don’t get a good dose of Christian/worship music in there, I’m not as healthy spiritually, not in my heart and not in my thinking.

  5. Great post, Gary. I think the “God’s plan for marriage has more to do with your holiness than your happiness” line is a bitter pill to swallow for many folks — because in my experience, the people reading Sacred Marriage are the ones who are fully invested in a marriage to a less-than-repentant spouse. I wish more couples were reading the book TOGETHER with the purpose of improving an already vibrant marriage, though. Still, Sacred Marriage and the pursuit for holiness over happiness at least gives redemption to a struggling spouse and reminds them that their own choices are something they still have control over, even if they have little control over their spouse’s choices. Thanks once again for sharing your godly insight.

    • I’m sure you’re right, Sarah. That’s why–single people reading this, take note!–I implore singles to consider this pursuit before marriage. That’s the whole premise behind The Sacred Search. Marriage really is different when two people pursue this together. But it’s still better than it would have been if even one will follow.