What makes a happy marriage? That’s a question with a lot of answers. I can’t cover everything here, but there are certain qualities that come to mind. Trust, honesty, love, respect, kindness, patience and forgiveness are several aspects of a good relationship. Are these qualities earned or are they freely given?
A marriage needs unconditional love. This is not the love of emotion but the love of choice. It is “agape” or godly love. It is a love no one can earn. No one “deserves” unconditional love. It is freely given by choice. It is the kind of love that says, “I love you even though you are driving me crazy and I don’t really like being around you right now.” It is the kind of love that chooses to be married every day, not just on the wedding day. If someone must perform to a certain level in order to be loved, that love is conditional. Humans crave unconditional love, not performance based love, especially in marriages and families. Beware of “I love you, but…” statements, which often indicate that love has conditions attached to it.
Trust, on the other hand, must be earned. Trust, like fine crystal, can be broken in an instant and can be very hard to repair, if at all. Loving a person does not mean automatically trusting that person. Trust is built over time by trustworthy behavior. Words do not build trust unless those words match the behavior. It is quite possible to love a person without trusting that person. When trust has been deeply wounded, only trustworthy behavior over a long period of time can rebuild it. Sometimes, trust is so badly damaged, it can never be restored.
Kindness, respect, honesty, patience and forgiveness must be freely given. These are all linked to unconditional love. Your spouse should not need to earn your kindness or your patience. If you are kind and patient it is because you are a kind, patient person. If you value the dignity of your spouse’s humanity you will be respectful, even when your spouse behaves poorly. No one needs to earn your honesty. Simply be an honest person. Be forgiving. Don’t wait for the offender to “earn” your forgiveness. Carrying a grudge is like bearing a large rock on your shoulders. You end up suffering the most by harboring your un-forgiveness and waiting for the offender to change.
Forgiveness is not the same as trust. Forgiving a person does not mean you automatically trust that person. Trust
must be earned. Trust is conditional. You can forgive someone while still holding that person accountable for the offense. Forgiving a person does not mean allowing that person to continuously repeat the offense. For example, if a man steals $100.00, you can forgive him for the theft and at the same time expect that he return the stolen money and face jail time. Forgiveness doesn’t mean letting people off the hook for bad behavior. In a marriage, spouses must be forgiving yet hold each other accountable for behaviors that are toxic to the relationship.
Ask yourself what qualities you expect your spouse to earn, and what qualities you freely offer. It may open up new perspectives on your relationship.