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Winning the Marriage Game




Excerpted from
Super Bowl Marriage: From Training Camp to the Championship Game
By Terry Owens

The winning team in football is the one that scores the most points in the game. How does a couple determine if they are on a winning marriage team? What standard can they point to and say, "We are winning the marriage game because ..."?

How about simply staying married? With so many couples divorcing, shouldn't preserving the union count for something? It does count for something. It means you keep showing up for the game. Staying together is the marriage equivalent of catching the team bus to the stadium. It is necessary.

Merely staying married doesn't mean a husband and wife have a successful relationship, though. Many couples stay married but simply go through the motions. They never specifically talk about what they want their marriage to look like. Maybe they don't agree on where they want the relationship to go. Or perhaps they talk about it and agree on it, but they don't take the necessary steps as a team to make it happen. They simply bump along through life, settling for what is comfortable. They give what they feel like giving or know how to give, and they hope it will be enough to keep things together. They don't grow, and neither does their marriage.

No, staying married is not the standard against which successful marriages should be measured.

Most married couples decide to have children, and they are a wonderful addition to the family. Parents invest themselves in the demanding task of developing another human being. They want their children to have good friends and to do well in school. They want them to be involved in the extracurricular activities that will help them have fun and explore different aspects of their personalities, skills, and interests. Parents go to great lengths and make innumerable sacrifices to provide a loving, supportive environment for their children, hoping they will one day have satisfying adult lives of their own.

Children have a tremendous impact on their parents' marriage, and the parents' marriage will have a tremendous effect on their children. But whether children disappoint their parents or exceed their wildest dreams, they are not the standard by which the success of a marriage should be determined.

Some couples who desperately want children are unable to conceive, or they miscarry prior to birth. Some children are born with mental or physical conditions that dramatically change a couple's paradigm of parenthood and make a "normal" life impossible. Though the parent-child relationship typically continues throughout the lives of the parents and their children, the consuming project of child rearing comes to an end. And the dynamics change as our children become adults.

Some couples will go through marriage acting as though the lifestyle they achieve is the standard by which their relationship will be judged. They may invest a great deal of energy in being socially active. One or both spouses may work diligently in challenging marketplace positions and achieve commensurate financial rewards. They may have an address that causes people to nod their heads in approval, take enviable vacations, drive cars that enclose them in hushed elegance, and send their children to the finest schools in the country.

None of these things are bad, unless they are used to measure the success of the relationship.

What about happiness? When you strip away all other considerations, isn't the happiness of a husband and wife what really matters? "As long as we're happy ..." Happiness is not a bad thing, but it shouldn't be a goal. If it is, we may become more concerned about the approval of our wives instead of their true well-being. And if we're happy where we are as a couple, we may not have the energy and courage to do what's necessary to keep moving ahead in the relationship. The "happiness" standard is often a disguise for complacency and fear.

The number of years together, "how the kids turn out" (whatever that means), success in business and the lifestyle it affords, and some vague sense of happiness are all ways that people commonly, if not consciously, measure the quality of their marriages.

Our lives can get pretty complicated. And our marriages can become just one more ball we're trying to juggle. Perhaps just another thing that ... well, if we're not doing it poorly, it must be okay.

But doing okay isn't what God had in mind for us, in life or marriage.

"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men," Paul exhorts in Colossians 3:23. He encourages us to "live a life worthy of the Lord and ... please him in every way" (Colossians 1:10) and to "serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men" (Ephesians 6:7). It seems Paul was more concerned about excellence than doing okay.



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