One Essential Key to a Successful Marriage: Selflessness


Today, Kim and I celebrate 25 years of marriage.

On June 12, 1999, during our wedding ceremony at Christ Community Church in Omaha NE, we committed ourselves to each other for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health… as long as we both shall live.

And for the last 25 years, that has been the case.

I don’t tend to be a highly emotional person (just ask Kim), but this anniversary has been different. I can tell how much it means to me by how often I have worked it in to conversations over the last month:

“Hey Joshua, got any fun summer plans?” “Yes, in fact, Kim and I have our 25th wedding anniversary this summer.”

“Hey Joshua, how’s your summer going?” “It’s been great. Kim and I celebrate 25 years of marriage next week.”

“Hey Joshua, congratulations on your daughter gradating high school!” “Yeah, it’s wonderful I’m so proud of my kids. Speaking of, you know what else is wonderful? Kim and I celebrate 25 years of marriage this summer.”

“Hello Joshua, just the oil change today?” “Yup, that’ll be great. Any chance you offer discounts for 25 years of marriage because my anniversary is right around the corner…”

It’s remarkable how many conversations you can steer toward a 25-year anniversary.

Marriage is a commitment to each other that love will overcome all scenarios and circumstances.

At its core, love is a decision to be committed to another person. It is more than an emotion or feeling. It is a commitment—through the ups and downs, the good and the bad. When things are going well, commitment is easy. But true love is displayed by remaining committed through the difficult times.

And maybe that is one of the reasons I am so emotional today. Our decision and commitment to one another has not wavered—just like we promised.

Years ago, I spoke at a church on how to have a successful marriage. And the key to a successful marriage that I listed that day, now over fifteen years ago, continues to be the essential key (other than love) I speak of today when talking about marriage.

The Key to a Successful Marriage? Selflessness.

Selflessness is “a tendency to regard the well-being of others as more important than one’s own well-being.

When we approach marriage from the standpoint of “what am I getting out of this relationship” or “how is this relationship making me happy,” we always run into trouble.

But when both parties approach the marriage from the viewpoint of “what can I give to this relationship” or “how can I bring happiness to my partner,” both sides win.

That is why selflessness—focusing on what I can give, rather than what I can take—is such an important element to any successful marriage.

There are other elements to a successful and happy marriage, of course. But in my opinion, none is more important or overlooked than selflessness.

Consider just some of the ways a successful marriage requires selflessness:

1. Selflessness in Commitment

The very heart of love—a commitment to one another—is based on a selfless attitude. If we approach love from a selfish lens (what is this love giving to me?), it will never last or reach its full potential. Love is about selflessly committing my life to another—for better or worse. Giving up on that commitment is an option inconsistent with love.

2. Selflessness in Goals

There are times in a marriage when one partner makes sacrifices for the goals of another. Ideally these goals (whether they be financial, career-based, faith-based, relationship-based, hobby-based) are agreed upon by both partners as good for the family and world—and different seasons of life might lend themselves to different goals. But in every marriage, our goals must be selfless in nature for the relationship to thrive.

3. Selflessness in Finances

I know there are some couples that keep separate bank accounts. For us, that was never an option we considered—nor is it advice I would ever give in a healthy marriage. All finances are our finances, not mine or hers. That is what selflessness looks like—it also looks like making financial decisions that we both agree on beforehand.

4. Selflessness in How You Spend Your Time

Marriage means you don’t get to do everything you want every moment of the day. Selflessness means graciously giving up your time for the benefit of others.

5. Selflessness in Expressing Love

Among one of the most important principles to understand in any relationship is Gary Chapman’s life-changing premise of love languages that he communicates in his book, The 5 Love Languages.

The premise is simple: different people with different personalities give and receive love in different ways. Learning to communicate love in the language of your partner requires intentionality and selflessness. Literally, at least once/week I ask myself if I am communicating love to Kim effectively (Quality Time).

6. Selflessness in Intimacy

Selflessness in intimacy looks very different at different times and varies quite dramatically in every relationship. It includes faithfulness in any circumstance and through every temptation. And selflessness in intimacy encompasses far more than what happens in the bedroom (or kitchen). It is about understanding the needs of your partner—mentally, emotionally, and physically.

7. Selflessness in Admitting Wrong

One of the very best pieces of marriage advice I ever received (and have passed on countless times) came from a pastor and friend named Scott Slocum. While performing a wedding ceremony, his advice to the Bride and Groom was this, “Whenever you have a fight or disagreement, race to be the first to apologize.”

I have thought of that advice numerous times over the years. So often, when tensions arise or disagreements occur, it is easy to retreat to our corner, consider all the ways your partner was wrong, and decide that nothing is going to change until they change. But selflessness calls us to a different approach. Selflessness invites us to humbly look for our own faults and be the first to apologize for them. And my guess is that someone reading this needs to hear that today.

8. Selflessness in Supporting the Family Unit

Supporting a family unit requires countless acts of service: shopping, cooking, cleaning, maintaining the home, raising children. A successful marriage requires both partners to selflessly look for what needs to be done around the home and work to accomplish it.

9. Selflessness in How We View Ourselves

There are no perfect human beings. Each of us have faults and unhealthy tendencies (and motivations). Selflessness in marriage will always require us to lean into patience and humility. Will our partner have faults and make mistakes? Of course they will. So will we—and remembering that helps us accept theirs.

10. Selflessness in Happiness

The dictionary defines love in a number of different ways. When I define the word, I define it as “desiring the best for another.” There are other facets to it, I realize, but when I love somebody, it means I desire the very best for their life—even at the expense of mine if necessary.

Selflessness in marriage means I desire the happiness of my partner even more than I desire happiness for myself. And the beautiful thing is this: Once their happiness becomes my goal, I am able to find it easier myself.

Today is a special day in my life. I get to celebrate 25 years of marriage with Kim. She is kind, compassionate, a follower of Jesus, and selfless every single day to a degree I only wish I could match. I am the man I am today because of the woman she is every day.

Here’s to the next 25 years together!

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