What Marriage Counseling Taught Me About Making Marriage Last

By Dr. Mike Randall

The ability to build relationships is one of the most important skills of life!  After 50 plus years of marriage, and serving as a marriage counselor for many, here are four principles that I have learned that can help you cultivate this skill and apply it to your marriage.

1. You cannot make your partner think, feel or do anything

First, understand that you cannot make your partner think, feel or do anything.  In couples counseling, I've seen many people enter marriage with immature ideas about family.  They remember their childhood and how their parents compelled them to act in a certain way or created circumstances that made them feel a certain way.  They transfer this experience to their marriage and mistakenly believe they can somehow compel their partner to think, feel or act like they want.  This is a mistake!  When dealing with your partner, you can’t change him or her.  Only he or she can do that.  Trying to change them will only result in resentful feelings.

2. The only person you can control is yourself

Second, understand that the only person you can control is yourself.  Quit trying to control your mate!  Quit making demands of your mate!  My advice in most couples counseling sessions is this: Focus on yourself - your attitude, what you do, what you say and how you say it.  Focus on what you contribute to the marriage, the household and the family.  Focus on how loving you are, how pleasant you are to be around, how helpful you are to your mate and family.  Focus on yourself, because you are the only person you can control.  The maxim is true, “A key to marriage isn’t marrying the right person.  It’s being the right person.”

“A key to marriage isn’t marrying the right person.  It’s being the right person.”

3. Understand how you can influence each other in a positive way

Third, understand that the person who will most influence you in your adult life is your spouse, and visa versa.  This may seem like a self-evident concept, but we tend to forget it.  While you understand that you cannot change your mate, you most certainly can influence him or her.  He or she will be influenced by your positive example, your effort, your attitude, your honesty, your motives, your contributions to the marriage, the family and to them.  Because of these positive influences, the desires that you have and the suggestions you make will be considered by your mate.  You cannot change your mate, but you have the most influence on his or her life as an adult. 

Bonus Tip: It is also helpful to surround yourself with like-minded couples who have the same goals for their marriages - like you can find in an Orchard Church small group.

4. Practice empathy

Fourth, to build a relationship with your spouse or any another person, you must see through their eyes.  How does a parent care for their infant or young child?  Simply put, a parent does her or his best to anticipate the needs of the child and meet it.  The parent tries to see through the eyes of their child to determine if the baby is hungry, needs a diaper change, wants to socialize, is sleepy or in pain.  Then the parent acts accordingly.  In the process, over time the parent builds a meaningful relationship with her or his child.  If you have a close, positive relationship with one or both of your parents, their practice of this principle is a significant reason why.  At the same time, this principle applies to all relationships, including marriage partners.  Trying to see through another’s eyes is a type of empathy that connects two people.  Seeing through another’s eyes creates understanding, encourages listening and communicates concern and partnership.  That’s why it is a key to building a relationship.


These are also biblical principles!  

Romans 14:12-13 (NLT) says, “Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God.  So let’s stop condemning each other.  Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall.”

See also Ephesians 5:21-31, 1 Corinthians 13, 1 Peter 3:1 and Matthew 7:12.

Want more? Sign up below to receive a curated list of helpful marriage resource links!

Tags: Relationships, Marriage