Working for a happy marriage

By James Willoughby

I have been in a relationship for 19 years and married for over 15 of those years. If there is one thing I have learned in nearly two decades of being my gal’s guy, it is that I need to be constantly learning how to be a better guy to my gal.

A strong marriage isn’t a destination. It’s a journey. No matter how many relationship books I read or marriage conferences I attend, I will never get a diploma that certifies me as a good husband. Because being a good husband means that I don’t rest on my laurels. I must pursue continuing education.

Early in my marriage, I thought physical chemistry and puppy love would sustain our relationship. After five years or so, those feelings were fleeting, and Jody and I found ourselves at a crossroads where a lot of couples find themselves. Do we follow our feelings and seek other temporary sources of happiness? Or do we work towards a healthy marriage?

We eventually chose the latter, but it took years of loneliness, pain and pursuing false promises of fulfillment to get us there. Our relationship hit rock bottom with a jarring thud that shatters many marriages. But that jarring shook us out of a slumber, out of unhealthy routines, and began a period of transformation in our marriage.

Change began with investing time and energy into introspection. For me to grow into a better husband, I had to first figure out what areas of my life were unhealthy and where dysfunction had me stuck. It’s not always easy to look at our own lives objectively and to honestly assess own our shortcomings. This is where professional counseling can help.

I was fortunate that Jody was able to communicate painful honesty during this period that helped move me towards growth. Receiving critique with a humble heart was not easy, but it was beneficial.

After assessing areas where I needed growth, I then began seeking a better understanding of Jody. What makes her tick? What are her greatest needs? When does she feel most loved? What causes her to worry? How do my actions (or lack thereof) impact her? How does her past impinge upon our present?

When I started getting answers to these questions, I really began working on changing my thinking and my actions. Looking back, I can’t believe it took me a decade to ask these questions. And I know now that I have to continue asking these questions, because I so easily forget the answers or fail to transform knowledge into actions.

Being a husband is the most important job I will ever have the honor of serving. And I’ve learned the hard way that I can’t be content with a high school diploma in Jody-ology. Contentment is a marriage killer. I need to be working towards my doctorate degree.

That means lots of studying, continuously asking questions, admitting I don’t know it all, honestly assessing my shortcomings and doing homework (which can actually be pretty fun).

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By James Willoughby

James is a regular contributor who writes about marriage, family, and faith. He lives in Tipp City, Ohio.

James is a regular contributor who writes about marriage, family, and faith. He lives in Tipp City, Ohio.