I have a confession: I am terrible at small talk. It’s like I walk into a party or a casual get together with acquaintances and I literally forget how to speak!

If we could simply dive into a personal and meaningful conversation, I would do so much better. Small talk has the (not-so-magical) power of bringing out my most awkward self.

I am naturally curious and I like to ask people a lot of questions. Yes, I’m an introvert, but I simply feel more confident when it comes to connecting on a deeper level. I am a whole different person once the second or third meetings come around and we can move past small talk. 

Can you relate? 

One of my favorite questions to ask people, couples specifically, is what the glue is in their relationship. By that I mean, what helps them stick together, what truths do they hold onto when things get tough, and what is their lifeline as a couple?

I recently asked a few people I admire and respect greatly what their glue is.  I received beautiful, brave, honest, and vulnerable responses. 

The themes I found woven in their responses were friendship, laughter, respect, shared faith, and selflessness. 

Those words may sound simple, but they hold rich emotion and story. Words used to encompass stories that are still being written are both powerful and sacred.

I’ll admit, I like to ask this question because I want to safeguard my marriage. I want to glean as much wisdom and knowledge I possibly can from those around me who I trust and respect. I want to know what creates the magic, deepens the passion and creates energy and goodness in a relationship. 

Simply put — I want to know what keeps them together on the good days and the hard days.

So, let’s move past the small talk and jump right in. Are you ready? 

First, a little about me: My husband and I met nearly a decade ago and have been married for almost 7 years. We have a whole lot of years ahead of us, so when I have the opportunity to listen to someone’s story, I am all ears. 

I wish I could reveal the mystery and share with you the secret to a happy and healthy marriage, but there is no such thing. Every person and every marriage is unique, so there is not one-size-fits-all advice. 

Instead, I’m pleased to share the jewels, the diamonds, the precious pieces of advice and wisdom from these couples. I say that because I know without a doubt their words and stories were forged through fire and are worthy of awe and respect. 

Jewel #1: Growth

First, every single one of them spoke of the value of growth. Relationships — marriage specifically — reveals our limitations and exposes our weaknesses. Our flaws and vulnerabilities are bared to our partner and make us painfully aware of how human we are. To risk, to be uncomfortable, to choose growth is to be brave and daring. These people spoke of a growth-centered marriage where they cultivate positive movement and dedicate themselves to evolving into better versions of themselves. 

5 Weekly Questions

My sister found these 5 questions on a blog years ago and every weekend since the beginning of their relationship, she and her husband ask each other these questions: 

  • How did you feel loved this week?
  • How would you feel loved and encouraged this week?
  • What does your upcoming week look like?
  • How can I pray for you this week?
  • How would you feel pursued in sex and intimacy this week?

These questions are a great opportunity to be brave and vulnerable with your spouse, which helps foster connection and understanding. It allows you to hold space for one another which cultivates deeper respect and appreciation for one another. It allows you to be seen — to be truly seen — by another. 

As Jan L. Richardson wrote, “To fully see and be seen is dazzling. And fearsome.” (It sounds like a risk, but one worth taking.)

Jewel #2: Connection

Next, many spoke of the value of connection. This is something personal and unique to each couple. As I read their responses, I realized they were sharing their rituals of connection, which are sacred and immensely special. 

Connection can look like shared interests, learning something new together, playing and laughing together. It can also look like nurturing curiosity and being intentional about finding ways to connect in everyday moments. 

However, connection is also about appreciating and respecting the differences in each other. Differences can shake the house, but walls fortified by appreciation will not fall. Our differences keep us on our toes and give us an opportunity to respond with empathy.

Empathy is a willingness to feel with your partner, to understand their inner world, to be a part of it and to continually deepen your connection. It’s choosing to turn in to each other and not away, especially when our differences parade on our peace. A couple’s rituals of connection, utilizing the skill of empathy and placing great value in play and adventure, will sustain and nourish their relationship.

Jewel #3: Vulnerability 

Marriage also needs to be able to hold heartache. Tragedy comes in all shapes and sizes and is, unfortunately, inevitable. My stepmom who has been a counselor for over 19 years told me the best advice she could ever give someone, especially when it involves marriage is: “Know your triggers and own your impact.” 

An emotional trigger is anything that ignites an intense emotional and physical reaction, no matter your current mood. It happens quickly and often on an unconscious level. Our unique backgrounds shape our triggers. The ability to identify our triggers can empower us to move forward and respond in love rather than in shame or fear. So much of our past trauma, our heartaches, and pain plays out in our relationships — especially in our marriage. That is why marriage needs to be able to hold heartache well. 

We need to be fully aware of our impact on others. No matter how good our intentions were, when our impact lands as hurtful, we must tend to that. You have to pursue, investigate and repair the damage no matter how big or how small. You cannot have any level of intimacy if you do not care about your impact on one another.

When we know our triggers and can own our impact, we move into deeper connection which feels an awful lot like freedom. It’s an unveiling of our deepest wounds which allows healing. When we can safely be vulnerable with another, it releases the grasp shame has on our hearts and makes way for redemption. It sounds to me like vulnerability is at the hearty of a healthy marriage.

Jewel #4: Love

I read many wonderful things about what makes a healthy marriage. From shared humor, to respect, to growth and connection. I realized that it all falls under the umbrella of love. Their words painted a vivid tapestry of love — the story of love. For love is living, breathing, and ever growing. 

Love looks like respect, it sounds like laughter, and it feels like connection. 

And it all asks the question: Will you love well?

Dan Allender wrote, “So take seriously the story that God has given you to live. It’s time to read your own life, because your story is the one that could set us all ablaze.” 

So, what is the glue in your marriage? What is your story of love?

Cheers to you and cheers to love! 

PS – Thank you to everyone who shared their story with me! I am so thankful for you and for your friendship. Your words, your lives and your stories are powerful and inspiring.