I grew up around a variety of marital situations. I had relatives that were single, that were married and then divorced, that were cohabiting (and I never knew they weren’t married until I was older) and that were married for a very long time. My parents have been married for over 40 years, and my grandparents were married until death did they part. And although I saw marriages growing up, I never saw any couples that seemed to be happy together. I never saw couples holding hands or hugging. I never heard spouses speaking positively about each other (I was more apt to overhear some of the negative things when the adults were talking.) And I never saw togetherness of any sort … they would arrive at family functions together and go their separate ways until the it was time to leave.
Of course this does not mean that they were actually “unhappily” married. It’s merely the impression that I have about the marriages I grew up seeing. And although, from my perspective, I did not see any happy marriages growing up, I still wanted to be married … happily married.
As Lamar and I tour the country with our films on marriage, we meet so many people that say they never want to get married because of the bad examples that they saw growing up. They are afraid of having the same experiences in their own relationships. And that’s exactly why we promote positive images of marriage with our website and films because we want everyone to know that healthy happy marriages do exist … for everyone. Regardless of what you saw growing up or what you see around you now, you too can have the marriage and relationship that you desire to have.
Here are 7 ways you can have a happy marriage, even if you did not see any growing up:
1. Don’t Be a Victim
If you grew up seeing bad marriages all around you or no marriages at all, it does not mean that you will have the same fate. In the book, Desperate Marriages: Moving Toward Hope and Healing in Your Relationship, Dr. Gary Chapman states:
“Your environment certainly affects who you are, but it does not control you. Rather than being a helpless victim, you can overcome an environment cluttered with obstacles … Your environment may influence you, but it need not dictate your marriage and your life.”
2. Get Educated
If you don’t know how to have a happy marriage, then learn how to have one. Yes, take a class. Lamar and I both believe in marriage education as it provides you with the tools to deal with any challenges that may arise in your marriage. Additionally, you will learn how to communicate better and love each other better. We attend marriage conferences yearly, and we attend marriage ministry events at our church. And I truly believe the reason we are happy is because we are intentionally putting in the work. And by the way, I have never been to a marriage class that I didn’t truly enjoy. How do you find one? Ask your friends, check with local churches, and go online and search for them in your local area.
3. Unpack Your Baggage
We all come to a relationship with baggage. But what you do with that baggage is up to you. You have a choice to allow your baggage to weigh you down and become a burden to you and your spouse. Or, you can allow it to strengthen you. Identify all of the things from your past that could be considered baggage (whether it was a dysfunctional childhood, self-esteem issues, or bad relationships) and begin to take actions to address those things (i.e — forgiving, counseling, talking to someone.) In the BMWK Guide to Unpacking Your Baggage, author Deborah Mills states:
“Remember a weight can make you strong or weigh you down. You can stand in your story and remain there, or you can stand on your story and let it move you to another level. The choice is yours. If you haven’t decided already, make the choice and declare, “My past will positively influence my future.””
4. Learn to Check Yourself
Dealing with your baggage is going to be a process. It is not something you do overnight. So in the meantime, you have to learn to check yourself. I brought some bad habits into our marriage like trying to stay mad for days after a disagreement, never apologizing and the list goes on. These are bad habits that I have either seen growing up or that I have brought from past relationships. When I catch myself doing these things, I check myself. I am learning to change my behaviors and my husband recognizes and appreciates my efforts.
5. Set Some Standards
My husband and I look to God’s word as the standard for how our marriage will operate and how we will treat each other. We feel that a marriage centered on God’s principles will have a strong foundation. But whether you are religious or not, you should set some standards for your marriage and for how you will treat each other. Without standards, you are leaving your marriage at risk to chaos, miscommunication, and unmet expectations.
6. Find Mentors
Surround yourself with peers, like yourselves, that seek to have a healthy marriage, as you will be able to help and motivate each other on this marriage journey. And find a couple that can be your marriage mentors. This is a couple that will be able to listen to you and provide you with great advice on your marriage.
7. Make a Choice
Life is about choices. If you want to have a happy marriage, then choose to have one (regardless of what you saw growing up.) The marriages from my childhood had a lot of things that I choose not to carry into my marriage (infidelity, lack of communication and intimacy, disrespect.) But, they also had some traits that I choose to take on, such as perseverance, taking care of your family at any cost, and having each other’s back. Yes, you can choose to embrace the good and chuck the bad.
I want a happy marriage, therefore I choose to put in the work to have one. I choose not to allow my past circumstances and bad decisions dictate the future that I will have with my spouse. What about you? Have the relationships from your childhood had any impact on your current relationships?