Equation For a Successful Marriage

It’s all about that minus and plus sign.

By Marc Harris

My understanding of marriage at an early age unfortunately was set by divorce and sadness. I realize now that when you’re young, they don’t let you know what an “ideal” marriage looks like. There was not a “have a perfect marriage class” for many of us, but instead, we are dropped into situations that vary from a happy home, or in my case, a first-class horror movie. The crazy thing is that each of us do not get to pick our “movie setting,” or even more importantly, the actors who are in it. 

My journey into marriage did not start well when it came to having great marriage examples. My parents ended up having seven divorces between them, and each of them absolutely impacted me in some way. Not necessarily all bad, but certainly all deep. As I have grown older, I often reflect back on my childhood days and the marriage examples that were force-fed to me and use them as inspiration as I guide my own marriage and try and set examples for my children. One lesson continues to pop up for me: I must subtract myself if I am to be successful in marriage.

Many of us approach marriage — and other relationships for that matter — looking to add someone to us who will somehow make us happy. I am sure that is why the number seven is the number shared by my parents in their attempts to find the “right” person. The majority of people go into most relationships with a “what’s in it for me” approach. I know I did in most of my past relationships and certainly when I first entered into my marriage to Jennifer. It was not a hard equation, I thought. Simply add someone who is smarter, better looking, etc., and all things would somehow be better for me. 

However, I found out just as my parents did: a person cannot make me happy. Happiness is temporary, and it is very temporary where other people are concerned. Everyone has faults and will make mistakes, and if we have focused on a person as our source, we will be very disappointed. We should be looking for joy rather than happiness, and I believe that is distributed by God, who is a source of joy and love that does not run dry or depend on circumstances. God’s addition to our life gives us a true source that does not run dry or depend on circumstances. When He is added to our lives we have the ability to supply our marriage and as well as our other relationships with a sustaining power that is able to last. 

As I approach the big 50, I am realizing in deeper ways my belief that marriage as an institution was designed by God to be the ultimate relationship challenge. Through my observations of the marriages in my past and the hard lessons I was determined to learn on my own, I now realize success in marriage is a simple numbers problem: it involves the addition of God into my marriage, and it must include the subtraction of myself. In other terms, this means I have to remove my need to be made happy by my wife and instead approach each day with an attitude of how I can provide God’s love and joy to every situation, regardless of the cost to me. As my marriage number approaches 25 years, I want to truly love better, and I think this can only happen by continuing to remove my selfish desires from the relationship. I may not get this equation right every day, but I am certainly committed to keep working at it.