The 7 Disciplines of a Healthy Marriage

You know those guys who walk around fit and healthy? They’re so lucky. I wish I could be healthy like them. My guess is, as you’re reading this, you’re raising your eyebrow and wondering, “What the heck is he talking about? No one is fit and healthy because they’re lucky. They work hard to get and stay there.” And you would be correct.

The same is absolutely true for a healthy marriage. Nobody falls into a healthy marriage. Sure, some marriages are easier than others. But all healthy marriages take work. And I’m not talking about once in a while kind of work but regular, consistent disciplines that will shape your marriage into something beautiful, even if it’s never exactly easy. Here are 7 disciplines of a healthy marriage.

1. Creating a Rhythm of Relationship

Life gets full. Kids, work, friends all take time and energy in ways that, if we’re not careful, can distract us from cultivating a rhythm of relationship with our wives. And by “rhythm,” I mean a pattern of intentional choices to spend meaningful time with your wife. This could be a weekly date night, a pattern of catching up on the day each evening before bed, having your morning cup of coffee together. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it does need to be intentional. A healthy marriage is built on rhythms of relationship.

2. Arguing Well

Some people think that arguing is antithetical to a healthy marriage, but that just isn’t true. You and your wife are two broken people trying to make a life together. Arguments are part of the gig. The key to a healthy marriage is to commit to arguing well. Arguing well means things like refusing to blame or shame the other, choosing to listen well, giving and receiving forgiveness, being willing to apologize… Learning to argue well can actually dramatically improve your marriage as it allows you to learn from each other and grow together.

3. Requesting and Offering Forgiveness

I mentioned this in arguing well, but it deserves its own bullet point. You’ve probably heard the expression that says to “keep short accounts.” It means don’t allow yourself to keep track of offenses your spouse has committed. Don’t keep lists. Bitterness leads to loneliness. Be quick to forgive. Likewise, be quick to ask for forgiveness. You will make mistakes, say things you shouldn’t, lose your cool. It happens. Be quick to ask for forgiveness. And as you do, you’ll create an environment in which making mistakes and the act of asking for or offering forgiveness is normal. Doesn’t that sound amazing?

Bitterness leads to loneliness.

4. Physical Affection

Look, there’s no formula here. In general men tend to desire physical affection more than women, though of course that’s not always the case. Regardless, though, you should do your best to express your love to one another physically on a regular basis. While sex is certainly an aspect of this, there are many ways to express physical affection that are not sex. Whether kissing, hugging, an arm around the waist, holding hands, whatever it might be, these are important ways to cultivate intimacy. It’s important though that there be agreement on these things. A healthy marriage doesn’t include one partner demanding a level of physical affection the other cannot or will not provide.

5. Setting Boundaries

If you’re going to have a healthy marriage, you need healthy boundaries. There will always be people who think they have a right to as much of your time, emotional energy, and resources as they want. So you need to create boundaries in order to ensure you can have healthy rhythms of connection with your wife—to ensure that you aren’t giving yourself to others at times that your wife and family need you more. That might mean saying no to responding to work emails in the evening or setting the phone aside when your buddies are blowing up the fantasy football thread during dinner. It might mean communicating clearly to your parents that they can’t speak to your wife in a certain way. It’s different for everyone, but one thing is the same for all us: Healthy boundaries are essential to healthy marriages.

6. Playfulness

A healthy marriage involves a healthy dose of playfulness. Some of us are just by nature more playful than others. We joke and tease and are lighthearted. Others are more serious by nature. There isn’t a right or a wrong way to be, but a healthy marriage needs a level of playfulness. Play communicates safety, creates an environment that is more enjoyable, and just generally brings joy. Life is hard. We need partners who are willing to be playful with us.

7. Talking About Money

Do you handle the money in your relationship? Does she? Do you do it together? There’s no one right way to handle money, but there is a wrong way: not talking about it, or only talking about it when you argue. Whether you are on different pages or see eye to eye, it’s critical to check in about your spending patterns. Are you both happy with how much you’re saving? Are there causes one or both of you would enjoy supporting? Is one of you feeling stressed about your financial situation? Having regular conversations about money will help keep you aligned so that money can be a tool you enjoy using together rather than a point of contention.

Sound off: What other disciplines are important for a healthy marriage?

Huddle up with your wife and ask, “Is there anything about our marriage that you would change?”