How to be Happy with a Less-Than-Perfect Marriage


When I served as a minister to single adults, I’m afraid I made a serious mistake. No, I didn’t have an illicit relationship with someone or misappropriate funds. And I didn’t teach some sort of religious heresy.

What I did was teach single adults how to build good relationships by understanding their past hurts and dysfunctions, setting appropriate boundaries, and not compromising on principles that were important.

Some of you are thinking, “What’s wrong with that? Those sound like good things to teach people!” But the problem wasn’t in what I was teaching. It was in how I was teaching it. I’m afraid I taught these things more as absolute and non-negotiable necessities in a relationship/marriage, rather than good targets to aim for.

When everything a book or a teacher tells you is an absolute necessity for a good relationship, you disregard normal in pursuit of perfection, and your expectations leave no room for adjustment to the other person…which is an absolute necessity for a good relationship. (See what I did there?)


Every marriage is less than perfect and every married person has a spouse who disappoints or hurts them at times. Hopefully, it’s the exception rather than the rule, but it will happen. (Note: if you have a spouse who hurts you and disappoints you on a regular ongoing basis, this is something you need to seek help for.)

But, even though we know there’s no such thing as a perfect marriage, we live in a world where everyone thinks they should get what they want. And if that’s hindered in some way, it’s seen as personal and even abusive.

So we scour the self-help sections. We scrub through Youtube videos. We seek out friends and family members. We may even see a counselor. And all this is an attempt to figure out how we can get our spouse to stop violating our expectations.


But, after 26 years of ministry, 30 years of counseling people, and 41 years of being married, I would teach things a little differently now.

Don’t get me wrong. I still believe things like learning to set boundaries, understanding yourself, and repairing past hurts are important. But now, if I had to boil down what I think it means to have a good marriage into a few simple steps, here’s what I would teach…

Step One: Make Sure the Positives Out-Weigh the Negatives.

Every marriage has a combination of both positives and negatives. And with a few exceptions, the positives typically outweigh the negatives. (If they didn’t, you probably wouldn’t be in the relationship.)

So keep the positives and negatives in proper proportion.

Step Two: Focus More on the Positives Than on the Negatives.

When we’re dating or newlyweds, we tend to focus on the positives and minimize the negatives. Thus, we feel deeply and passionately in love. But after we’ve been married a while, we tend to do the opposite. We focus more on the negatives and minimize the positives. Consequently, we feel less passionate and more disappointed.

Focusing on the positives in your marriage, won’t make the negatives go away, but it will shrink them and make them more tolerable.

Step Three: Tweak a Few of the Negatives to Make Them a Little Better.

There will be some negatives in which you and your spouse can make some changes.

Sometimes, one spouse will be willing to sacrifice for the other. Other times, spouses can barter or trade one negative for another. And sometimes, growing older makes us more settled and less insecure…which tends to shrink the importance of some things we used to view as negative.

So if you can tweak some of the negatives in your marriage, by all means, go for it.

Step Four: Learn to Live With the Negatives That Won’t Change.

There will be some things about you and your spouse that won’t change, no matter how hard you try. My wife is a glass-half-empty kind of girl, while I am a guy that tends to make a place for something, rather than putting it in its place. No matter how much these things (and others) aggravate us, they are probably not going to go away.

There are some things about your spouse you’re going to have to learn to live with…just as there are some things about you your spouse is going to have to learn to live with.

But understand this:

  1. Just because there are things about you your spouse needs to learn to live with, that doesn’t mean you can use this as an excuse to not make changes you need to make.
  2. Just because there are things about your spouse you need to learn to live with, that doesn’t mean you should tolerate abuse, adultery, abandonment, or addictions. These things should never be tolerated and must be dealt with if the marriage is to survive…let alone thrive.

Then finally…

Step Five: Repeat Steps One and Two.

This process is not a one-and-done thing; just like marriage is not a one-and-done thing. You must continue to repeat this process throughout the marriage. But don’t let this discourage you. The more you do this, and the older you get, and the longer you’ve been together…the easier it gets.


Marriage never lives up to our expectations; especially in the early stages. It takes a while before we can let go of our expectations of a great marriage and learn to make the most of a good marriage. For some, this will sound like settling for less. But those of us who have some miles behind us, it’s not settling for less. It’s actually growing into more.

When it comes to marriage, don’t let the less-than-perfect be the enemy of the perfectly fine.