Three Keys to Successful Marriage

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Last night, we spoke to the parish Confirmation class about the sacrament of marriage and, by extension, marital sexuality. At the end, we asked for questions, and we got this one:

“You talked about the three things that cause the most marriage breakups. What are the three things that a marriage has to have to survive?”

(I know. That’s a good question, isn’t it?)

I’ve written about this before, but to distill it required some thought. Eventually, we came up with:

  • Common values. This has more to do with world view and life philosophy than it does with overt religious belief, although for some people religion is certainly going to be a primary concern. What I’m talking about is more practical. A really lazy person and a driven self-motivator are likely to have a lot of problems. Someone who is thoughtful and empathizes with a person on the other side of the conflict isn’t likely to be happy with someone who makes snap judgments and doesn’t care to see any other point of view.
  • Good communication. Obviously. But I think this also implies being open to changing your mind and your behavior, not just being good at talking.
  • A willingness to subordinate yourself. This is the thing I find the most difficult. I don’t know, maybe everybody has to fight a tendency to think of what I want to do or have, what I need my spouse to do for me, instead of what I need to do for him. It’s not that a person is never allowed to assert his or her own needs and desires. But I think it’s much easier for us, as human beings, to go overboard in the direction of selfishness than in the direction of selflessness.

What do you think? If you had to list three deal-breakers for people discerning marriage, what would they be?

6 thoughts on “Three Keys to Successful Marriage

  1. I think one way or the other, those three capture most of it…the catch, I think, for many marriages, is that all three (especially the third, willingness to be self-subordinate) have to be MUTUAL. (Which I know you know, just wanted to put it out there.) I know a few marriages that have ended because one partner was (or felt) self-subordinate all the time, the other not so much, and because of lack of communication the non-subordinate partner didn’t even know there was a problem, and they felt completely blindsided when the partner who’d been self-subordinate for so long finally said “Okay, I’ve had it and I’m out of here.”

    Does that make sense?

  2. evanscove

    In a critical-thinking class I taught a while back, one of the sections in our textbook talked about communication differences between the sexes, and it pointed out that in most divorce cases, lack of communication is cited as the primary cause of the marriage failing. But of course, what caused the communication breakdown? Was it just differences in the way men and women think and communicate? Or was there more involved–such as an unwillingness to subordinate oneself?


    • Self-subordination isn’t a “sexy” enough term to make it onto the radar of people who aren’t tuned into it because of religious reasons. I’m curious why communication & divorce came up in a critical thinking class?

      • evanscove

        The textbook, as best as I can recall, used it to illustrate how our perceptions (the “lenses” through which we view the world) of things tend to determine how we make decisions and respond to things that come our way.

        No, humility doesn’t seem to be considered a ‘sexy’ trait. And self-subordination is probably only considered ‘sexy’ when it involves ‘bondage’ or other seedy sexual activities.

        I’ve never been married, but it’s good for me to learn about these things. Thanks again for your interesting and thoughtful posts!


      • evanscove

        Another thought…

        Recently I was watching a program in which a panel of experts were discussing differences between the sexes. It was mentioned that women tend to complain that they feel men don’t express themselves or don’t talk much. Yet it was pointed out that studies show that men do in fact tend to talk as much as women do (generally speaking); it’s just that the topics of their discussion tend to differ tremendously. Men will discuss various subjects of interest (cars, sports, work, etc.) whereas women tend to talk much more about relationships and emotional issues.

        Go figure!

      • 🙂 Interesting!

        I remember reading one of those quizzes in Reader’s Digest to my mom, on the topic of men and women. Her answers put her in the category “You understand the opposite sex very well.” She said something like, “Well, of course! I’ve been married for twenty-five years! I’d be in trouble if I didn’t!” I thought of it because your comment about what people prefer to talk about struck a chord: I’m becoming less of a touchy-feely/emotional talker and more a “topics” talker as time goes on. Which I suppose shows that I’m getting to understand my husband, too.

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