Searching for the Secrets of a Successful Marriage
By Chris Carpenter
CBN.com Program Director
CBN.com - Have you ever had a moment, a day, perhaps a year where you felt like you and your spouse were operating from different area codes, or planets in some extreme cases? It happens sometimes but it doesn’t mean that you can’t have a successful relationship.
Husband and wife author team Bill & Pam Farrel believe it’s possible to have a secure and successful marriage but first you need to know the secret language that will unlock your hearts into a relationship filled with meaning and purpose.
In their latest book, The Secret Language of Successful Couples, the Farrels offer practical advice and Biblical insight that sheds new light on what it means to be a successful couple.
I recently sat down with Pam Farrel to discuss why some couples get out of sync with each other, why intimacy and affection is so important to a relationship, and effective strategies to resolve conflict in a marital relationship.
What inspired you and your husband Bill to write The Secret Language of Successful Couples? Now, that’s a tongue twister.
It is. “She sells seashells by the seashore.” Really it comes down to people that keep asking Bill and I, what is the one secret that has helped you guys stay in love for a lifetime. We have been married 35 years now. And when we boiled it all down we thought, we just need a book that capitalizes that and puts it in simple form. What is the secret to the love that God has given to us, and that we believe that’s in scripture, the same secret that God can help other couples stay in love for a lifetime as well. And so that was simply to stay in step with the Holy Spirit. There’s nobody that knows your spouse or loves your spouse more than the Holy Spirit, and so because of that if we are at an impasse in our relationship or if any couple finds themselves, like, “I don’t know what to do here to fix this thing.” We tell them just simply stop and pray. God, show me what to say, God, show me what to do. God, show me what to not say, God show me what to not do. And God wants us to stay in love more than we even want to stay in love, and the key is to listen to the Holy Spirit and do whatever He says or say whatever He says, even if you may not understand it at the time, and that’s a relief. The Bible tells us to keep in step with the Spirit and I believe that if you boiled everything down, everything we’ve ever been taught; men are like waffles, women are like spaghetti, any of our red-hot monogamy or any of that, it just comes down to listen to the whisper of the Holy Spirit and you’re going to be okay.
How would you define “successful” within the context of your book?
This is the key need in a man, and it is a key need in a woman and we find that in a familiar Ephesians passage, “Men, love your wives as Christ loved the Church. Wives, honor your husbands.” And so there is a need in a man’s life for that honor to happen, and he wants to succeed at everything. God just wired men to succeed. He wants to succeed at business of course, and in the community and in the church, workplace, the boardroom, the bedroom, with your children, but he definitely wants to succeed with you. The number one complaint we get from men is there’s just no pleasing the woman, and so if he can feel successful with you, all of his life is going to seem better to him. And so if we seek to meet the success need first, he’ll be easier to live with and easier to love.
Why is it so hard for married couples to get in sync with one another?
I honestly think that it takes us listening to the Holy Spirit, and most people don’t want to do it. We just don’t want to take the time to be in God’s Word, so He can speak to us. We don’t want to take the time to stop our busy agendas to listen to what God’s agenda might be. We don’t want to set our own self-interests aside. The Bible tells us to consider others as more important than ourselves, and so if I truly want to love my husband, that means I want to put his needs in front of mine and that goes counterintuitive. We are self-preservationists, so I think that’s really why it’s hard to get in sync, because we’re both trying to protect ourselves, and the way God wired marriage is we’re supposed to be trying to protect each other.
Changing gears, how important is intimacy and affection in a successful couples relationship? Important, not so important, or somewhere in between?
It is important. Friendship, that ability for a couple to be friends for a lifetime is one of the number-one indicators that they’ll have a happy marriage for a lifetime. Companionship is very important. Sexuality is very important. We’re wired sexually. It is a gift to marriage, and I believe that it’s like the super glue. If you invest time in that intimate relationship, I mean, sex was God’s secret a long time before it was Victoria’s secret. We need to take back that gift. So, if we apply that gift and listen to the power of the Holy Spirit. Lord, how can I love my man today to help him feel successful? And if the husbands approach is similar -- how can I love and romance my wife today so that she’ll feel secure that she’s a gift to me. If we have that attitude inside and outside the bedroom, it’s like super glue. So, when something really traumatic hits a marriage, if you’ve invested in romance, doing something romantic daily even if it’s just kind words or thoughtful gestures, when that really hard time comes it’s like you have money in the bank to draw because you’ve invested in that.
With successful couples, what are some strategies for successful couples to resolve conflict when they have it?
We really encourage couples to have something called a “conflict covenant”; things that they say and do and they write it down ahead of time. I’m talking about establishing ground rules. When you’re not in conflict is a good time to do your conflict covenant and not when you’re in conflict. But simple things like these are the words that I will or won’t use. I’m going to take divorce out of the vocabulary. I’m not going to swear at you. I’m not going to run over you with my truck. We have some rules of engagement; praying before we start having a conversation and if we haven’t figured out the solution and we talk it through, we pray at the end. Lord, give us the solution, tell us what to say, tell us what to do. So that’s all a part of our conflict covenant.
As a couple, what kind of goals can you set together to insure that you have a successful relationship? Is there tangible thing that you need to do or does it just sort of organically happen?
Nothing much in marriage organically happens. I think that marriage is very purposeful. Like the key in a perfect world, the key is both people decide that they're going to keep in step with the Holy Spirit and they're going to spend time in God's Word, so God can speak to them. They're going to spend time praying for each other, so they're going to have a good attitude towards their spouse. The more you pray for your spouse, the more you love them, and so it kind of takes the tension out at the very get-go if you just start praying for them, and it also gives you a more tender heart when you do have to confront something that's not healthy. So those are simple goals, but sometimes people say, “Well, he doesn't want to work on marriage and I do,” “She doesn't want to work on marriage and I do.” And the Holy Spirit can even cause movement in a relationship even with only one person working on the relationship.
As an author, what is your greatest hope for this book?
I really think that if they can boil it down to two questions, whenever they're in conflict, whenever they don't have happy feelings toward their spouse, if they'll simply do two things: 1) Pray, ‘Lord, tell me what to say, Lord, tell me what to do.’ If they'll simply stop and pray; and 2) If they'll give the Holy Spirit some room to work in their lives. If they'll just get in the Word and spend a little bit of time praying every day, just a few minutes. Anything you read in the Word, God can use to get your attention.
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