Skip to main content

What It Takes to Build a Successful Marriage

Among his varied other writing interests, Richard Parr aspires to creating interesting and inspiring stories about life.

My wife of over 30 years suggested that I write this article.

My wife of over 30 years suggested that I write this article.

Like others, my wife and I have had marital trials and tribulations aplenty. At times the path onwards seemed impossibly steep, such that running away seemed like a tempting option. Now, over 30 years on, we have something invaluably special together.

Maybe you're reading this because your marriage falls well short of expectation, is undesirable, or even unendurable.

Maybe marriage is on your horizon, but you wonder how to make it work in a seeming growing culture of marital failure. Or maybe failure has been your past experience, but you want to try again.

My hope is that this article helps you, just as so many helped my wife and I on our marital journey together.

It was actually my wife who suggested I attempt to extract from our decades together the most significant 'success factors' and present them as an article. This is that attempt.

The Magic Marriage Formula

Don't you wish.

But no, there is no blueprint ensuring marital bliss; no perfect soul mate; no sum of money; no act of self discipline or sacrifice that can dispel completely the spectre of matrimonial disappointment.

But that doesn't mean it's all potluck either. Assuming that most in our society get to choose the partners they marry, and that it is for the love of and desire to commit to them that they first make their vows, then there are very powerful attitudes and actions that couples can implement to dramatically raise the odds of success.

No Marriage Guarantees

However, it needs highlighting that marriage guarantees nothing in and of itself; it's no magical institution.

Most everything required to make or break a marriage is found within the individuals composing it. Hence marriage can fail for many reasons.

Yet all those reasons have one thing in common: Challenges outstripped the ongoing resolve that one or both parties were willing or able to provide in order to succeed.

And as to the measures required for success, there are no clear boundaries.

"Most everything required to make or break a marriage is found within the individuals composing it. Hence marriage can fail for many reasons."

No Clear Boundaries

And that is a good place to begin, because success in marriage is relative to the boundaries people set; I will tolerate this, but not that; I will give of myself this much, but no more...

Read More From Pairedlife

Healthy boundaries are essential in marriage, for boundaries create a balance between what is necessary for the relationship to grow, and what is required to remain true to oneself and one's convictions.

Yet boundaries are a choice. And we can often make poor choices, especially in those unreasonable heated moments. Therefore, as important as they are, my wife and I don't see boundaries as fundamental to our marital success. There are other things which can be more safely set in concrete and which better encourage success, than boundaries.


Defining Matrimonial Success

A definition is in order before we continue. What is meant by a successful marriage?

Due to poorly considered or ill advised expectations of success, seeds of marital undoing can be sown long before vows are exchanged. Conversely a marriage can endure but resemble anything but success, by anyone's definition.

Therefore, filtering out the peripheral, malleable and immature, what are the clear indicators of a successful marriage?

The following are characteristics, often hard won, that I deem core to the success of my own marriage.

Marks of a Successful Marriage

  • Commitment to one another plays second fiddle to no other relationship (including one's children).
  • Love, though a powerful emotion, doesn't rely on emotion before it acts.
  • Awareness of one another's weaknesses defers to highlighting one another's strengths.
  • Choices are consistently made that accommodate the others greatest good.
  • Openness and honesty that endears trust and hopefulness, even in the midst of failure and disappoint
  • Convictions of significance are deeply respected, if not shared.

Allow me to briefly elaborate on these.

Commit to Them Before All Others

"We tell people what our priorities are by how we spend our time."

— Laura Vanderkam

Commit to Them Before All Others

To what level do you demonstrate your commitment to marriage, in comparison to your other pursuits in life?

Many things grapple for our attention, from mundane to exciting, necessary to leisurely, beneficial to harmful. Nobody has time or energy to pursue everything they might want to achieve to the level they hope to achieve it. Therefore, we must prioritise.

A helpful axiom in establishing priorities says, love people and use things, don't love things and use people.

And at the top of those people we are to most demonstrably love, should be our spouses.

Can your spouse tangibly see that you are more committed to them than anything or anyone else?


"There are a hundred paths through the world that are easier than loving. But who wants easier?"

— Mary Oliver

Love Acts Before It Feels

Generally, it's an easy thing to act upon our feelings, to be bubbly and enthusiastic when we're happy, to be generous and kind when we feel affection.

However, as all come to know, emotions can be fickle and circumstances often unconducive to pleasant feelings. Yet it is how we choose to act at these times that determines, to a large extent, the success of our relationships.

Love is not a noun (something to have). Love is a verb (something to do). Therefore, regardless of how I feel, I can still choose to speak or behave in a loving way; even if that requires I say and do nothing, lest my feelings get the better of me.

And, not surprisingly, when we choose to act in love regardless of how we feel, our own hearts will respond in kind. It's the old, act yourself into a better way of feeling, don't feel yourself into a better way of acting truism.

"We come to love not by finding a perfect person, but by learning to see an imperfect person perfectly."

— Sam Keen

Highlight Strengths, not Weaknesses

Finding fault is easy, habit forming and destructive. Obviously, there is a place for constructive criticism, but it is a door to be opened slowly and rarely.

Rather, when the faults of your spouse are ringing loud in your head, seeking correction, choose instead to dwell on at least one of their strengths; something you find attractive, helpful or endearing... And then thank them or praise them for it.

You will be amazed how this can dispel stinking thinking, demolish dividing walls and clear the air of anger or frustration.


"Marriage is a commitment—a decision to do, all through life, that which will express your love for one’s spouse."

— Herman H. Kieval

Choose Their Greatest Good

There is a passage in the Bible that says: "Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others." Arguably, in no place is this more required than marriage.

Choices we make as individuals should always take into account what is best for our spouse. Of course, the best way to establish that is to ask them. Decisions made together, where each is blessed by the other's earnest consideration, will bond a relationship ever more tightly together.

Decisions made independently and, worse, selfishly, are wedges that can only force apart.


"Radical honesty isn't about a continuous stream of consciousness running through your household. It is about a willingness to include your partner in all aspects of your life."

— Leslie Doares

Talk Openly and Honestly

Share your thoughts, feelings, fears, desires, hopes and disappointments. Possibly there is nothing more unifying than when couples make time to talk... and yet, there are few things more destructive than dishonesty!

Open and honest conversation is essential to a mature marriage. Assume that your partner wants to know as much about your thoughts, feelings, failures and successes as you wish they understood, then set aside time to share it.

A couple that have developed a healthy rapport, in which they share about each other honestly and openly, are a couple not only in love, but in trust.

And if love is the foundation of all successful marriages, trust is the central pillar it seeks to support; and open, honest conversation the mortar that holds it upright.


"When people tell me they’ve learned from experience, I tell them the trick is to learn from other people’s experience."

— Warren Buffett

Honour Their Convictions

Personal convictions are not something to be trampled over, least of all when they belong to your spouse. Whether religious, ideological, political, dietary, moral, cultural or traditional etc, if your spouse has a credo they hold to or feel strongly about, respect it.

Convictions can develop at any time in a persons life, largely due to the experiences a person has and the conclusions drawn from those experiences. They impact a persons life in many ways, from what they perceive as right and wrong through to what they eat, from holy days through to how best to raise children.

If we share our spouses convictions, all well and good. If not, then there is a wonderful opportunity to learn something. To understand what led them to where they are.

Even if you don't end up comprehending, you can still honour their convictions in the way you speak and in the way you make accommodation for them in your relationship.

End Note

This article assumes in regards mental, emotional and psychological health, that both marriage partners have no serious unresolved issues requiring professional counselling. If that isn't the case, then I'd encourage you to make it a priority to find healing in those areas as precursor to improving your marriage. Our own brokenness will inevitably undermine our most genuine efforts to build better relationships, causing only further pain. To move forward requires focusing on restoring the damage within first. Only then will we see clearly enough to contribute toward the healing of life's other relationships.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Richard Parr


Richard Parr (author) from Australia on May 04, 2014:

@Kathleen ~ 98% perfect. Wow, that blows my chances out of the water ;)

Seriously, though, I think any advice that encourages us to tolerate imperfections in others is probably worthy of heeding; I'd be in big trouble otherwise. Appreciate your comments.

Kathleen Cochran from Atlanta, Georgia on May 02, 2014:

Thirty-eight years ago when I was a young bride-to-be an old man (he was probably 60!) told me the secret to a good marriage was only expect your spouse to be 98% perfect. Whatever flaws showed up, write them off to that 2%. It's proved to be good advice. Some people have flaws that are dangerous or distructive and can not be written off - I know. I'm fortunate that my spouse and I have chosen to simply set some differences aside and go on.

Richard Parr (author) from Australia on May 01, 2014:

@Frank ~ thanks for reading. I do aim to present as concise and honest a message as possible in my info hubs. Sugar coatings make me gag :)

Frank Atanacio from Shelton on May 01, 2014:

I find this hub straight direct and not sugar coated.. hits the target dead on hmmmm...

Richard Parr (author) from Australia on April 26, 2014:

@FlourishAnyway ~ I still tease my wife comparing her to my fictitious second wife. Her acceptance of my warped humour is one of her many graces. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Hope you have a many more great decades together with each other.

FlourishAnyway from USA on April 26, 2014:

You are a good writer, and I like your hard-earned perspective here, as marriage does take work. My husband and I have been married for nearly 19 years, and we dated for several years before marrying, including long distance when I moved away for career reasons. He married me even though I teased him that I planned to be married three times (just like my grandmother). It hasn't always been easy, but we picked the right person. I knew I'd marry him from the day I met him.

Richard Parr (author) from Australia on April 14, 2014:

@Purpose Embraced ~ thanks so much for reading and commenting. So ture what you say. When I observe the many marriages around me amongst friends and family, those where communication is weakest, struggle hardest to maintain a positive relationship.

Yvette Stupart PhD from Jamaica on April 14, 2014:

Thanks for your insightful article on building a successful marriage. I agree that communication is key to building strong marriage relationships. This is more than superficial conversation, but sharing deep thoughts and feelings.

Richard Parr (author) from Australia on March 30, 2014:

@Aysleth ~ Thanks for stopping by to read and comment. All the best with your Hubbing endeavours.

Aysleth Zeledon from Russellville, Arkansas on March 30, 2014:

Thank you for this! Very informative and thanks for following me!

Glenn Stok from Long Island, NY on March 30, 2014:

@parrster - Yes I noticed that too, Richard, after I added my vote on that poll. That does seem to be the most powerful issue that can make or break a relationship.

Richard Parr (author) from Australia on March 30, 2014:

@Glenn ~ Fantastic comment. Couldn't agree with you more. I've noted that everyone who has voted in the poll so far has indicated a need to be less critical. So much of success in relationship begins and ends with how we address disapproval of other attitudes and actions.

Glenn Stok from Long Island, NY on March 30, 2014:

These are all very good sentiments. The most important in my opinion is the ability to recognize someone strengths and not to pay too much attention to their weaknesses. Otherwise we tend to focus on the wrong thing.

Working on achieving mutual interests by communicating with one another is very effective in making both parties feel like they are on the same team. You put this in very clear terms when said a couple who are open and honest "are a couple not only in love, but in trust."

Excellent article, and clearly the outcome of a successful marriage. Voted up.

Richard Parr (author) from Australia on March 13, 2014:

@Sky9106 ~ thanks for the words of encouragement and wisdom. So true, honesty both in what we tell ourselves and others is so critical to lasting relationship. God bless you too.

Sky9106 from A beautiful place on earth. on March 13, 2014:

Congratulations to you on a wonderful achievement, continued togetherness.It is what is meant for humankind , whether we accept it or not, whether we go against or stray from. You both are honest people and you have agreed to continue seeking honesty between yourselves. The Lies cannot last it may play a trick on time but will always be, the eventual loser. It gets even more interesting from here, however, you both holds the key.Not even "death" can separate those who understands love's secrets. God Bless.

Richard Parr (author) from Australia on March 12, 2014:

@CrisSp ~ Congratulations on reaching the marital milestone! Now to another 25 years of loving our spouses. Let the fun begin. God bless.

CrisSp from Sky Is The Limit Adventure on March 12, 2014:

Very well said and a much delightful read. Happy to share that this summer my hubby and I will be celebrating our 26th wedding anniv and we both couldn't be more grateful for the blessings that we have by embracing our imperfections.

Great article. Voting up, pinning and sharing.

Richard Parr (author) from Australia on January 18, 2014:

@MartieCoetser ~ I am delighted you found this useful and happy for you to link this to your own wonderfully written hub. God bless

Martie Coetser from South Africa on January 18, 2014:

parrstar, this is an excellent and very useful hub. I, too, believe that love is a verb. The feeling we describe as love is but only the result of the action called love.

I am linking this hub to my hub about nuclear families.

Richard Parr (author) from Australia on December 30, 2013:

@moonfroth~I think one of the great beauties of marriage is the very opportunity to become shared notes in one anothers song. But I do take your point, it's a good one. A marriage in which one party thrives at the expense of the other is a mark of a failing relationship. Likewise many marriages are entered into with the false expectation that the spouse will complete what is lacking in oneself. This soon leads to exasperation on both sides, and often to unfair demands for change. I know, because my wife and I had these false expectations early in our relationship. It is but one of many hurdles to be overcome on the road to a healthy marriage relationship.

Thanks for stopping by.

Clark Cook from Vancouver ara, British Columbia, Canada on December 30, 2013:

Every person on the planet has a right to live their own story, chart their own course, truly be their own person. To live your life any other way is to make yourself a toadie in other people's views of what they have decided you should be. So many people are merely notes in the songs of other people; in so many marriages, "fixing" a spouse becomes almost an obsession for his/her opposite. This denial of the Self of your partner is, in my view, a huge hidden killer in many marriages. Sadly, the "fixer" often thinks she (usually) is doing her spouse a great favour. All she's doing is driving him away from her....often for good.

Richard Parr (author) from Australia on December 30, 2013:

@MsDora~Thanks for commenting. Yes Mary's quote is powerful, the hardest path is often the most rewarding. God bless

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on December 30, 2013:

Great article on marriage. I just posted one on a problem area in marriage. Yours is quite comprehensive and full of good counsel. You chose some powerful quotes; I really like the challenging one by Mary Oliver. Thank you.

Related Articles