Don Follis: Ten assumptions that make for a lasting marriage

Don Follis: Ten assumptions that make for a lasting marriage

After counseling engaged and married couples for 30 years, I bring many assumptions to the table — most of them rock solid, if I do say myself. Actually, I work hard to make couples do their own thinking; but I believe that if they will embrace these assumptions, they will in fact experience a happier marriage and a better life.

The first of my top 10 says, "You must leave, cleave and weave." If one of the partners never leaves the nest, well, it is going be tough sledding. You have to really leave your parents; you have to really cleave to your spouse; and you have to really commit to weaving the marriage dance.

That's always hard work but it is well worth it. I know couples who never have left their parents. "What is keeping you from being frank and honest with your parents?" I ask them. "This is your marriage, not theirs. You don't have to be mean but you have to be clear. And if your parents get offended, well, I guess they'll just have to be offended."

Humility is next. James 4:16 probably should be adopted by every couple: "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."

Frankly, if it hasn't occurred to you that you frequently are wrong, you had better take a long walk and ponder the essay you need to write entitled "It has occurred to me that I may be wrong."

Then comes mutual submission, which I believe is the gateway to the great peace and contentment. At countless marriages I have heard the officiant read from Ephesians 5:22, saying, "Wives, submit to your husbands." Then, "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her."

I guess that's fine and dandy, but if the couple for whom I am officiating wants me to read from Ephesians 5, I always start by reading verse 21 first: "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." Mutual submission says that God is the head of the marriage. Each spouse mutually submits to him and then to one another. Translation: Neither spouse ever pulls rank. Because you love and respect each other, you work it out together!

Assumption four: Serve one another in love. The happiest, most content couples always look for ways to serve each other. They constantly ask, "What can I do to make your life better?"

Understanding one another flows out of service. You may say, "Well, obviously, I need to understand my spouse."

I wish this fifth assumption were so obvious. How many times have I heard a wife say, "My husband has no idea how I really feel. He never asks; he never really tries to look under the surface. There is a beautiful person down there just dying to be known."

One of my favorite Proverbs reads: "The purposes of a person's heart are deep waters, but a person of insight draws them out." (Proverbs 20:5). After three-and-a-half decades of marriage I still am learning new information about my wife's childhood. There are both wonderful and painful stories. I find myself occasionally responding, "Wow. I didn't know that about you." The more we work at this kind of understanding, the more satisfying is our marriage.

Perfect love casts out fear. This sixth assumption works like this: If God is love and if God lives in us, then love gets to have run of the house. When love rules our marriage and by extension our home, fear gets banished. I've counseled couples whose marriage was crippled by fear and mistrust. Nothing is sadder or more debilitating.

Love opens the door for confession and forgiveness, vital components to every good marriage. A friend tells me James 5:16 is the most important verse in the whole Bible. "Make this your common practice. Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed."

Marriages with this kind of transparency are a force to be reckoned with.

Confession and forgiveness are the pathway to speaking the truth in love. Truth sets you free. Most honest people want to be free to speak the truth and hear the truth. Knowing and accepting truth leads to lasting change.

Yes, truth can make you angry. But that's OK because assumption nine says it is OK to be angry but never use your anger toward your mate as fuel for revenge. Don't stay angry. Don't hold grudges. Don't seethe. Try not to go to bed angry. If you are still fighting at midnight and have to work in the morning, friends, call a truce. Get some sleep. The next day you might just be surprised at how quickly you see how to move forward in a loving, forgiving manner.

And assumption number 10: Clarify and prioritize. This belief is centered on the biblical maxim: "Do nothing out of selfishness or conceit but in humility count others better than you treat yourself." (Philippians 2:3) If you put your spouse's needs above your own you will see more clearly what it is you want out of the marriage. Both spouses can then clarify some priorities that honor God because each spouse highly regards the other.

Don Follis has pastored in Champaign-Urbana for 35 years. He directs retreats and coaches leaders via Contact him at, and you can follow him on Twitter at @donfollis.

Sections (1):Living
Topics (1):Religion

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