Happiness. That elusive goal we seek. But what if marriage was never designed to make you happy?
Before you stop reading, let me explain.
According to Merriam-Webster.com, happiness is a state of well-being and contentment; a pleasurable or satisfying experience.
Happiness depends on how you interpret your life.
If I look at my life through an emotional lens, I may be happy one moment and unhappy the next. All because of my emotional state.
Marriage, however, is a commitment.
It is a choice we make to live with another person in an understanding way. In Colossians 3, we discover a list of characteristics God desires in us. These apply to every relationship, especially with our spouse.
- Tenderhearted mercy
- Make allowance for another’s faults
- Forgive offenses
- The peace that comes from Christ
Several of these characteristics didn’t exist during our recovery from porn addiction and suicidal depression. I wanted to be happy but wasn’t. Dave desired to be done with his addiction and move on, but he had some work to do. Our marriage suffered from pain and destruction. The only thing we had was our firm belief that God was greater than our circumstances. He could do the impossible if we’d submit to Him. Our hope had to be anchored in Jesus Christ.
The hope we have in Christ brings happiness.
C.S. Lewis said in The Four Loves
“In words which can still bring tears to the eyes, St. Augustine describes the desolation into which the death of his friend Nebridius plunged him (Confessions IV, 10). Then he draws a moral. This is what comes, he says, of giving one’s heart to anything but God. All human beings pass away. Do not let your happiness depend on something you may lose. If love is to be a blessing, not a misery, it must be for the only Beloved who will never pass away.”
Only when we love God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and being do we find the happiness we seek in others.
God alone never changes, and he is the only faithful one, and we can be confident of His presence and provision each day. Anchoring ourselves in Christ and submitting to the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives eventually results in living the characteristics listed above.
A marriage focused on mutual submission results in happiness.
Our current society encourages independence and self-promotion. But God says to submit to each other out of reverence for Christ.
How does this mutual submission increase your happiness in marriage?
1. Less selfishness.
Because you and I are human, we won’t ever be completely selfless. But we can learn to be less selfish. The beauty of the marriage relationship shines through selfless acts to benefit the other. Don’t confuse this with one person lording it over the other. That’s not mutual submission. I remember sitting in a restaurant with Dave, where we observed an older couple. The husband read the menu to his wife, who obviously suffered from dementia, and helped her decide. When their afternoon treat arrived, and she struggled to take a bite, he held her hand to steady the utensils, wiped her mouth, and encouraged her with a smile. All this happened without words. And I felt tears as I watched this beautiful drama unfold. Stephen Covey said that love is an act of the will. This husband chose to honor, respect, and love his wife with her limitations. What a beautiful picture of submission.
2. Believe the best.
Part of our recovery meant choosing to believe the other person had our back. Instead of taking offense at something, we learned to bring the pain to God and risk trusting the other. Doing so lessened the friction. No, life didn’t do an about-face overnight. It took a series of small choices and actions that proved we could trust the other. Taking offense maintains a defensive posture. Only when you decide to risk believing the best about the other do you reach toward them.
3. Lower the competition.
Do you compete with your spouse? At times we do. We want to be heard before the other. When wounded, we seek to alleviate our pain without considering how our actions may cause more hurt. We might be more concerned with being right than resolving the conflict. All these create competition within our marriage and reduce the feeling of happiness. We end up pushing away from our spouse instead of drawing toward them.
4. Greater love.
We practice self-less (agape) love when we submit to one another. We put the needs of the other person ahead of ours. This isn’t a “doormat” type attitude. Instead, it is a thoughtful choice to seek the other’s best whether we benefit or not. This can look like learning what your spouse fears and helping them work through that fear. It could be discovering your spouse needs some space from everyday obligations to regain their zest for life. You decide to surprise them with a spa day, a night away with friends, or even a weekend retreat. You make all the arrangements, including any necessary childcare, and present them with this gift. This self-less love action requires you to see the need and find a creative solution. The beauty of this submissive act is that you receive gratitude and joy.
5. New activities.
One way we can submit to our spouse is to join them in something they love to do. It’s developing the WE in marriage over the ME. If you have divergent interests, it’s time to find something you both enjoy. Take a risk and try something new. Together. Instead of focusing only on what you or your spouse prefer, suggest some new activities. You might surprise yourselves with new interests. My husband loves to go camping. When he first mentioned this, our kids were young. I’d been camping once or twice before this but wasn’t enthusiastic. We discussed his desires and mine and compromised on what camping looked like for our family. That first adventure was fun. We’d figured out how to do this together.
How can you switch your mindset about your marriage from happiness to seeking the best for your spouse? What does this look like?
Look at these ideas and choose one area to focus on over the next month. How can you express your love for your spouse in a new way? Where does God want you to change your attitude about your spouse and marriage?
Anchor your happiness in Jesus Christ, and I believe you’ll also find it in your marriage. If conflicts need resolution, reach out to a professional for help. Maybe attend a marriage conference or seminar. We all need some help now and then. It may be the most loving act of submission you can do for your spouse.