Married for 26 years and counting, my parents taught me a lot about how to have a strong marriage.

For one thing, they speak well of each other, both in front of others and just to themselves. If I say to my mom, “You guys are the best,” her response never changes: “It’s because I’m married to Brian Miller!”

Dad, in fun, raises his eyebrows and nods as if to say, “Yep, she’s right!” Or he sincerely shakes his head to say, “Nah, it’s all her.”

Yep, they’re the cutest.

6 things I learned about how to have a strong marriage

While I’m not married yet, I know every marriage will have ups and downs (even my parents’!). But from watching them interact with each other, I’ve learned a few things about how to have a strong marriage.

Like …

Laughter makes marriage fun.

If you throw a few puns, goofy inflections, one-of-a-kind dance moves, and physical comedy into a blender, you’ve got my parents. They make marriage attractive because of the joy their laughter brings to their relationship. My mom’s joviality was part of what attracted my dad to her.

“I think we’re close as a family because we laugh together,” my dad once reflected. But even without their kids around, my parents have fun together. Much of that is due to their willingness to laugh with each other. Sometimes at each other, but all in good fun.

Marriage needs physical affection.

The front door opens. His hands full with the day’s mail and his empty lunch bag, he sets them down in the kitchen before finding Mom. She’s often reading a book on the couch where he plops down beside her for an “I’m home” kiss.

I watched this scene play out most days of my childhood. As a little girl, I knew giving Mom a kiss was Dad’s priority when walking into the house. My sister and I always had our turn for hugs, but Mom came first. And still does.

From the love I saw on their faces and the security I felt in seeing it, I learned early on the importance of displaying physical affection in a strong marriage.

Things work when spouses live into their roles.

I probably heard the terms “submission” and “headship” tossed around when I was young, but I don’t remember learning about them until high school. Yet I’d witnessed them my whole life. My parents taught me by example.

Mom says things like, “Dad and I talked about it and now it’s up to him. I trust your dad.” She respects him, and even when she might not fully agree with his call, trusts he’s yielding to Christ.

Dad treats Mom with love and kindness. He’s never harsh. He takes the lead on big decisions but always includes her. He prays over meals and over our cars before road trips.

Before I ever read Ephesians 5, I saw the beauty and success of it lived out before me.

It’s OK to give each other space.

Now that my parents are empty nesters, the time they spend exclusively together has expanded. And they love it, whether they’re eating in a Chick-fil-a booth, playing cards, or watching a movie on the couch. But despite how much they love each other, they still need time to recharge on their own.

Throughout my childhood, each of us would disperse to our own corners of the house after dinner. We needed to unplug separately. So when I see Dad listening to a podcast at the kitchen table while Mom’s watching a show upstairs, it doesn’t worry me. I know it has nothing to do with their level of love for each other but with needing some time to recharge on their own.

A strong marriage isn’t a clingy marriage.

Commitment is key to a strong marriage.

Fear paralyzes many homes. How many spouses walk on eggshells in dread of their spouse throwing in the towel? How many kids lose sleep anticipating the moment their parents say “divorce”?

My sister and I were spared this fear, because my parents didn’t fear it for themselves. From the way they communicated, interacted, laughed, and worshiped together, we knew their commitment was real.

More than once they reminded us, “You never have to worry whether we’ll get divorced.” But more than words, their actions proved their commitment to each other and fortified their marriage.

“Forgive” must be in your vocabulary.

My parents extend forgiveness to each other often. How do I know? Because after an argument, they would ask us for forgiveness too.

“I shouldn’t have spoken to your mom like that. I already apologized to her and she’s forgiven me. Will you forgive me too?”

The fact that they valued forgiveness to the point of humbling themselves before their children told me they were humble enough to ask it of each other. The obvious closeness and godly marriage they share proves the value of asking for forgiveness.  

I’m thankful to my parents for the example of what marriage should look like. But even if you don’t have kids, other people are watching your marriage and learning what to expect of their own. What kind of marriage are you presenting to them?

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Lauren Miller serves on staff with FamilyLife as a writer in Little Rock, Arkansas, though she’ll always be a California girl. She graduated from Biola University and the Torrey Honors Institute where the Lord first planted in her a love for family and marriage ministry. As a single, she loves serving the youth at her church, watching British dramas, and reading a good book in her free time.