Mental Wellness: The Lasting Union: Marriages That Thrive… Instead of Survive

by Denise O’Donoghue, Biblical Counselor

We’ve probably all heard the joke about the wife who asked her husband, “How come you never say you love me anymore?” and the husband replies, “I told you once. If it changes, I’ll let you know.”

It’s a funny little joke, but probably not the greatest marriage advice. What I’ve found over my years of counseling is that one member of the couple wants me to fix the other one. Very rarely does the wife or husband acknowledge changes he or she can make, only what the other person needs to do. However, what has proven to be true time and again is that when even one accepts that there are things he or she can contribute to making the marriage better, it really does begin to get better. So, besides telling your spouse that you love him/her, what else can help a marriage thrive as the years increase? Let me offer a few suggestions.

Find ways to enjoy being together.Being together is more than sitting in the same room watching the evening news. Nothing wrong with that, but it does not build your relationship. What activities can you enjoy together? Perhaps your spouse enjoys golf but you don’t. What about going with and driving the golf cart.? You can both benefit from time outdoors and you can enjoy great conversation between holes. Another idea is to take turns reading a book out loud to one another and discuss it as you go along. Be intentional; find ways to enjoy activities together.

Don’t take each other for granted.There is an old saying, “familiarity breeds contempt.” This plays out in our marriages when we lose sight of or forget our spouse’s good traits, those that drew us together in the first place. Instead, we take those traits for granted and turn our attention to the negative ones, the ones that get on our nerves. The end result is discontent, nagging, and/or withdrawal. It can also become a habit to think this way, but like any other habit, it can be broken. Let me recommend that each time you find yourself dwelling on a trait of your spouse that you dislike, challenge yourself to think of five things that you admire about him/her (and bonus points if you actually share them).

Be the best you that you can be.We often enter into marriage with the assumption that we can “fix” our spouses. If you’ve been married even half as long as me, you have likely come to realize this is not so – you cannot change anyone but yourself. Let me suggest that you identify 2-3 things about yourself that you would like to improve and go to work on them. What you will most likely find is that as you work on yourself, it has a positive influence on your spouse and your relationship.

Laugh together. We’ve all heard laughter is the best medicine, but it also creates warm feelings toward each other when you laugh together. My husband is naturally funny and his antics can give us the giggles. If that doesn’t describe the two of you, then watch a funny movie together or read jokes to each other. Also, don’t take yourself too seriously. I’ve found that aging has given me plenty of things to laugh at myself about.

Discover or re-discover each other’s love language. Author of the best-selling book, The Five Love Languages, Gary Chapman, tells us that there is one primary way we interact with our spouse that speaks love greater than any of the others. Just to get you thinking about it, here are the five: Words of Affirmation, Gifts, Acts of Service, Quality Time, and Physical touch1. My husband and I read this book together and talked about it. You can learn more and even take quizzes at

Having a good marriage should be a top priority, not something we only give attention when it shows signs of suffering or being broken. It’s never too late and you can’t have been married too long that you cannot make a marriage even better and the benefits can be huge. Not only will you and your spouse grow closer together and be happier, but those who know you will notice the change and perhaps ask your secret. Who knows, you may find yourself in the place to give a little marriage advice yourself.

Chapman, G. (2014). The Five Love Languages. Plano, TX, US: Northfield Publishing.

Denise O’Donoghue is a biblical counselor in Raleigh and a former professor for Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. She is very blessed to have four living generations to share life with. You can reach Denise at