« back

What is the secret to a good marriage?"

Norris Burkes

Award of Outstanding Merit - $1,000

Norris Burkes is a syndicated columnist, national speaker and author.  He also serves as an Air National Guard chaplain and is board certified in the Association of Professional Chaplains.   You can E-mail him at Norris@thechaplain.net or visit his website at www.thechaplain.net.

Standing under a family of fir trees -- white, red, and Douglas – our family paused before beginning the wedding. 

This was not just one of the dozens of weddings I’ve officiated; this was the wedding of my firstborn daughter and soon-to-be son-in-law amongst the sacred aroma of sugar pine and the incense cedar of the El Dorado National Forest.


I began the ceremony by sharing my long-held secret to a good marriage. “If you were to ask me what is the most important lesson I’ve learned in my almost thirty years of marriage, I’d have to tell you that love is a choice, not a feeling.”

So today, I wasn’t going to ask this couple about their love.  I knew they loved each other.  Attesting to love is only a testimony of the present. 

No, today I would ask them to make some radical promises of their future will. That’s a much scarier proposition.

On this day I asked them to make willing promises about loving, comforting, protecting, and forsaking all others.  "Would they be faithful?” – not “until love parts”, but rather, “as long as you both shall live?”

“I will,” they declared.

I was once approached by a couple with handwritten vows which declared their promise to stay married until “love do us part.”  I politely asked them to find another officiator because this chaplain will always say, “’til death do us part.”  Eighteen months later, the “love” she had for another man parted the newlyweds. 

Why didn’t this marriage last? Why do so many fail?  I wish I knew the complete answer to that question, however, I believe it is often because people don’t realize that wedding vows are everyday, not just on the wedding day.

If taken seriously, the future promise of the will means that they look for ways to perform acts of kindness and compassion – whether practical things like doing their fair share of housework, or relational things like good listening.

In my house this is the kind of willing love that keeps on going whether I burn the toast or burn my temper. It is the kind of love that tells me I am forgiven before I can ask. It is the kind of love that “halves a sorrow and doubles a joy.”

Like many couples, my wife and I sometimes go to bed dead-tired. We can easily find ourselves too tired for the fun I seek and too tired for the cuddling she requests. But we are rarely too tired to talk out our day and absolutely never too tired for our three good night kisses and “I love you.”

It’s the intentional building of a relationship where independence is equal, dependence is mutual, and our obligation is reciprocal.  This kind of daily choice -- day in and day out -- brings something deeper and far more lasting. It brings Jesus’ words to pass, “The two shall become one flesh” (Matthew 19:5).

Without a daily commitment of the will, relationships easily degrade. It’s too easy to become like the husband who stopped telling his wife that he loved her.

When she confronted him with this deficiency, the husband replied, “I told you ‘I love you’ on our wedding day.  If I change my mind, I’ll let you know.”

At the end of the day, not only must we declare our love regularly, but we have to assert our will to make things work – ‘til death do us part.


Published in the October 9, 2009 issue of the Elk Grove Citizen;  Elk Grove, CA.

« back to top

© The Amy Foundation 2006 Privacy Statement