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What Happy Couples Know Part 4 | "It's a Choice"

Want to know the secret to a happy relationship? It’s a choice happy couples don’t always know they’re making, but it makes all the difference.

  1. What are some reasons it’s easier for people to assume the worst in their relationships than believe the best?
  2. Andy mentioned that happy couples find the most generous explanation for each other’s behavior and believe it. Does that sound reasonable to you? Why or why not?
  3. Andy referenced the apostle Paul’s characteristics of love. Which of these could you work on to build a stronger relationship?
  4. In what ways might your history, fears, or insecurities become obstacles to assuming the best of your partner? What would it take to overcome those obstacles?

NOTE: The following content is a raw transcript and has not been edited for grammar, punctuation, or word usage.

Today, I wanna talk about perhaps the single most important choice that you’ll make in a relationship as it relates to becoming a happy couple and making the relationship something that’s attractive and attractive to you and stays attractive to you. I wanna talk about a choice that every coupled person makes, everybody that’s in a couple, every couple makes every single day. This choice, and everybody makes this decision whether you were aware of it or not, everybody makes this decision, but it feels often times more like a reaction than a decision. So, the point of today’s message is, I wanna point out a decision that you’re already making and perhaps help you make a better decision. Most people don’t even feel like they have a choice, but they do. And so happy couples make what we’re gonna call “The happy choice.” And what is this choice that happy couples make that they don’t know they’re making that makes all the difference?

And the answer to that question is found in a letter that the Apostle Paul wrote to some Christians in the first century in the City of Corinth, and he wrote this letter to primarily Gentile, non-Jewish, new Christians who were trying to sort out the whole Christian thing, “There’s only one God and what do we do with the other Gods? We used to go to the temple and we had religion this way. Now, you’re explaining that religion’s a different way.”

So the Apostle Paul shows up in these primarily Gentile environments, he’s going, “Okay, this God that I’ve introduced you to is completely different. This God actually cares about his people. This God actually cares about creation. So consequently, in order to please this God, it’s not about sacrifices this way. In order to please this God, you actually treat people the way your God treats people. That is, you are to love the people around you.” And the Apostle Paul introduces this idea that Jesus actually originally introduced, of this idea of a horizontal versus a vertical religion. Horizontal religion says, “Hey, I’m gonna treat you the way God has treated me.” The old version was, “I’m gonna try to treat God the way God wants to be treated, so God will be happy with me.”

So The Apostle Paul has just spent several chapters in this letter. He wrote three letters to the church in Corinth. One of them disappeared, we don’t have it, but we have two. And in his first letter, he’s just finished explaining to them, “Okay, if you wanna do kinda that religious vertical thing, knock yourself out, that’s fine. But don’t forget the way you treat people is really the number one manifestation of how much you love God and how much you respect what God has called you to do.”

So in this particular chapter, 1 Corinthians, he explains it. Now, this is a very popular chapter. Some of you had all or maybe portions of this chapter read in your wedding. You might have even quoted some of this as part of your wedding vows, this 1 Corinthians 13. It’s often called the love chapter, but when you understand what the Apostle Paul’s doing, it’s not really great wedding literature, we’ve made it great wedding literature because of the way it shows up in our English Bibles. But this is very earthy, and it’s very gritty, and most of it makes sense, but there’s one line in this chapter that doesn’t make sense and in that line is the secret to the decision or the choice that happy couples make. So I’m gonna walk you through a little bit of what may be familiar verses or words that you’ve heard before. And then, we’re gonna get to this one line that doesn’t make any sense. We’re gonna camp out there for just a few minutes.

So, here we go. Here’s what he says, he says, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, or of angels, but I don’t have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” Now, he’s just finished telling them, look, because in their religion, they would have these ecstatic utterances, they would speak other languages or they would think they were. They literally would try to speak the language of the gods or the language of the angels. So he’s just finished telling them, “Okay, if you would like a version of that to be part of your religious experience, that’s fine, but don’t kid yourself, that’s not the main thing. And even if you are actually to tap into the language of angels but you don’t have love, you’re nothing but a lot of noise.” So, he goes on and he says this, “And if I have the gift of prophecy, that is I can tell the future and I can fathom all mysteries and I have all knowledge, like I’m the smartest person in the room. And I have faith that can move mountains, I have perfect faith, whatever perfect faith is, but I don’t… ” There it is, there it is again, “Have love, I am nothing.” Literally in the Greek text, Paul says, “Even if I’m the smartest person in the room, I can explain anything in the Bible and I can answer any question you have, if I don’t have love… ” Whatever that means, he says, “I am literally, I’m a nobody.” Which is another great lesson for another day, that Paul says, “Knowledge, knowledge does not equal deep.” If you wanna meet somebody who is a deep Christian and deeply spiritual, knowledge is not the measure, love is the measure. Then he says this, he says, “And if I give all I possess… ” Who would do that? He says not 10%, not 20%. “Even if I give everything I own to the poor, and if I give my body after I’m finished giving away my possessions, I give my body. I give my body to hardship that I might boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.”

Now, there’s so much in this verse. This verse is the nail in the coffin for prosperity theology. But I don’t have time to go into today but here’s what the Apostle Paul has said in this verse, “Anybody who gives to get gets nothing from God.” Anybody who gives to get, gets nothing from God. Anybody who gives to gain, gains nothing. But here’s the question, what is have love, have love, have love? I gotta have love, have love.

So Paul wants to make it clear to these first-century, ex-pagan Christians, that this isn’t an internal thing. This is not a vertical thing, this is a very practical, horizontal thing. So, he gets really practical. He says, “When I say have love, here’s what I’m talking about, I’m talking about stuff you do. Love, the kind of have love I’m talking about is patient.”

And there’s that, put somebody else first, get in the back of the line thing again. “Love is kind.” I love this word defer, “love defers, love defers. Love knows what I know what I know, you know what you know but I’m gonna defer to you. Love is kind. Love does not envy, love isn’t jealous.” When you’re more talented than me, when you get more attention than me, when you’re the life of the party, when you get the joke, when tell the joke, “love doesn’t envy, love does not boast, love doesn’t try to one up and shut up the person, “Hey, you thought that was a great story, let me tell you my story. No, I’m gonna let you shine, I’m gonna let you be the center stage, I’m gonna let all the attention stay on you and I’m not gonna rob you of that, I’m just… I don’t envy you and I’m not gonna boast. And love is not proud.”

Then he goes on, he goes, “Love does not dishonor. It does not dishonor others.” In other words, love decides if this is dishonoring to you, I’m not gonna do it. If there’s something that might dishonor you from me, that’s a sin, I would be sinning against you, to dishonor you. Whether I can find a verse about it or not, if that’s dishonoring, it’s off limits. It is not self seeking. Again, there’s that move to the back of the line thing again. It is not easily angered, it didn’t have a temper. And this is a big one, and love keeps no records of wrongs. Who could do that? But wouldn’t you love to be in a relationship with somebody who could do that? Who keeps no records of wrongs. Then he says something that’s a little bit tricky, we’ll come back to in just a minute.

And he says this, “And love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth”. It’s out there, ain’t it? And then it’s like he just kinda goes forward and he gives a sort of a rapid-fire list of what love is. He says “Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes and always perseveres.” Now, there’s one of these on this list that if you pay attention to it, in fact for years it kinda bothered me. Maybe because of the Bible translation I read when I was growing up. But one of these doesn’t make any sense because one of these is not completely dependent on the lover, it’s dependent on the lovee. And it’s this one, always trusts. And I used to read and think, always trust. Okay, that’s kinda stupid, that’s a little bit naïve to always trust. I can always protect a person even if they’re on the wrong. And I can always hope for that things get better and persevere sounds like there’s gonna be some struggles and some troubles so I can push through but always trust and literally in the Greek text, this means always believes or believes everything, that love defaults to trust. And this is a keystone habit for happy couples.

Let me illustrate it this way. In every relationship, not just romantic relationships, not just marriage, not just dating, not engaged, but in every relationship from time to time, there is a gap between what we expect someone to do ’cause, “Hey, yes, I’ll be there at six or I’ll pick you up or I’ll pick up the kids or I’ll have dinner ready for you or I’ll make sure that I tell him or I’ll tell her.” There’s expectations and then there’s what we experienced. And in every relationship from time to time there is a gap between what we expect and what we experience. And every single time, this is the choice that we make. And often times we don’t even realize, in fact, I think most of the time we don’t realize we’re making that choice because it feels like a response, it feels like a reaction… But every time there is a gap between what we were told someone was gonna do or what they led us to believe they were gonna do and what they actually did whenever there is a gap, whenever things don’t line up, we choose what we put in this gap.

And we either choose to believe the best, “I don’t know why, I don’t know why he’s late, I don’t know why she didn’t, I don’t know why they followed through but you know what? I’m sure they have a good explanation and when I get all the information I’m sure it will make sense.” Or we assume the worst. “That she did it again, he did again, you know I kind of expected it. That’s how it usually is.” Happy couples, happy couples, happy couples make it a habit, make it a habit to choose to believe the best. This is what it means to believe all things. It is a choice. In the moment it doesn’t feel like you have any choice. And I’m gonna say this 10 more times in our time together because I want this to sink in. Every single time there is a gap between what I was told, what I was led to believe, what I was promised. Every time there’s a gap between that and what I actually experienced, “He didn’t come through, she was late again, I don’t know where he is, I don’t know what happened, I don’t know why he didn’t, I don’t know why she didn’t.” Every time there’s a gap, we make a choice as to what we put here. And happy couples, happy couples choose to believe the best until they just can’t believe the best anymore. This is a keystone habit for happy couples.

Now that’s what Apostle Paul wrote a couple of thousand years ago. Interesting, in 2000, I think 2005, an author and speaker and thinker, Marcus Buckingham wrote a book called, I’ll put it up here for you. The One Thing You Need to Know. This is a book about business management and leadership and making progresses. It’s an extraordinary, extraordinary book. I had our staff read this years ago. And in this book about organizational skills and being a better leader and better manager, he uses an illustration to illustrate his point that actually makes our point. And in this book, he cites a 20-year study, a couple of decades, over 20 years a group studied happy couples. They studied happy couples in the US, in Canada, in Europe and they were looking for, as you might expect, they were looking for a common denominator. Now, when I say happy couples, these were couples that had gone the distance, they’d been together a certain amount of time and they still enjoy each others company. These were not couples who were just grunting it out, staying together for the kids. We’re miserable but we can’t afford to split up, not those couples.

Couples who have been together for a long time, who were still in an enjoyable relationship, and they were asking questions to lead them to what is the common denominator for happy couples. Now that’s pretty good question, wouldn’t you like to know, yeah. So, when they went into this study like anybody that does research, they had some assumptions and one of their assumptions, in fact their primary assumption was they expected that they would find couples who’d gone the distance, who’d had bumps along the way but still love to be together. They assumed that they would find that over time these couple had downgraded their expectations of the other person as it relates to their motives, their character and their virtue. In other words, that overtime they’d realize “Well you know what? He’s not as great as I thought he was, she’s not as great as I thought she was. So I’m just gonna lower my expectations. I’m gonna have a more realistic view of my husband or my wife or my partner and so consequently we’ll be able to stay together.” Their study showed the exact opposite.

In fact, they asked each person in these couples lots and lots of questions and they had an opportunity to rate themselves and then rate their spouse in this list of questions. And consistently, happy couples rated each other, happy couples rated each other more positively in every quality than their partners rated themselves. In other words, they viewed their partner, they gave their partner higher scores than their partner, husband or wife gave themselves. They had as it turned out an unrealistically, it was unrealistic, they had an unrealistically positive view of the person that they were with. In fact, one of the summations of the study was that love is actually blind, that is true because they seemed to be blind to the deficiencies in their spouse and this partner… And in the description went on to say this, that this positive view that they had toward the other person created what they called “An upward spiral of love.” I know. An upward spiral of love. Okay, I know it sounds kinda creepy but here’s what it looks like, here’s how it worked. The illusion “Oh, she’s just the greatest, he’s the greatest,” created the conviction. They believed it for so long, they actually really, really believe it. “No, no he’s the greatest. She really is the greatest.”

Their conviction led to a sense of security because you know what, “Because they’re the greatest I feel secure in this relationship. I trust them.” The security led to a high level of trust. Well, high levels of trust always lead to intimacy, because you know what intimacy is? Intimacy is a fearless reveal. Intimacy is, I trust all of me to you and I don’t have to hold anything back because I feel like I can trust all of me to you. That’s what… That’s the essence of intimacy. And the intimacy fostered love and you know what the love did? The love underscored the illusion which created more conviction which created more security, more intimacy and so they said it was like, it just kinda built on itself and went up and up and up. At the end of this study, here was their recommendation. Now this is so powerful.

Their recommendation was this, in a relationship, “Find the most…”, and I love this phrase, “Find the most generous explanation…”. When there’s a gap between what I expected and what I experienced. Find the most, come up within your mind, come up with the most generous explanation for the other’s behavior and then believe it. Come up with the most generous explanation for the other person’s behavior and then just decide to believe it. Believes all things. Always believes. Choose to believe the best. To which I say, can you say “Ruby, red slippers?”. [laughter] You have had this secret the whole time to a happy relationship. You just need to click your heels together three times and read your Bible. Okay? Because it’s been there the whole time. Now, obviously there are things that make this challenging and difficult and again, I’ve been doing what I’m doing a long time. I’ve talked to all kinds of couples. Walked couples through all kinds of stuff so I am not naïve. So there are obstacles to this, but even regardless of the obstacles… We will talk about two in just a second. I don’t want you to miss this point.

Every single time there’s a gap, even when it’s the same gap over and over. Every single time, what you place here is what you decide to place here. And you will either believe the best or you will assume the worst, but whichever way you go it is a decision, it is a choice that you have made. That’s what I don’t want you to miss as we wrap up the series.

Now, there are obstacles to this. There’s a couple of obstacles. One is this is. Is what we experience, right? I mean “Yeah, but he did it again. She did it again. It’s like clockwork.” The other thing that’s an obstacle that we bring to the relationship is who we are. Because let’s be honest, we didn’t show up in the relationship as a blank slate. We showed up in the relationship with all of our stuff and all of our baggage and all of our father wounds and our mother wounds and our grandfather wounds and my older brother wounds and just so you know, my former boss’s wounds and that boyfriend that I stayed with for way, way too long and I found out I was one of three. And all those wounds, we bring all of that stuff.

So some people have a more difficult time trusting than others. We bring our history. We bring our baggage, our fear, insecurity. And because of that, there are certain behaviors, there are certain behaviors that trigger certain responses in all of us. We can’t help that. But here’s what I want you to hear. Even with all your junk, even with all the stuff you bring and even with all the inconsistency of the person that you love and in a relationship with, it is still a choice every single time. And let me just kinda dig a little bit, okay? So, I’ve been doing this a long time. Suspicion, suspicion is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you assume the worse for lots and lots of time, eventually I promise, you will find something. You will find something to actually be suspicious about and here’s why, because when you’re in a relationship with a person that has low trust, you’re on pins and needles all the time. When you’re in a relationship with a person that you feel like he’s kind of looking for you to do something wrong, you are never at ease. You are always off balance and you will be so careful and you will be so cautious and you will be so controlled in your behavior and your words that you will appear to be up to something, even if you’re not and it won’t be your fault.

If you have low trust because of the past, if you have low trust because of a private previous relationships, when you bring that to a relationship, you may accidentally create an environment in the relationship that sets the other person up to do the very thing you fear they will do that they had no intention of doing, because suspicion and low trust in a relationship is almost always a self-fulfilling prophecy. It sets the stage for the very thing you fear the most. That’s why you need to pay attention to who you are, not just what the other person is doing. And both of these are important, but is so much easier, isn’t it? To focus on what they said and what they did as opposed to who we are in the relationship. But even with all of that, we still get to choose.

So, with all of that in mind and all of that as a set up, I wanna go back now and look at two or three of the verses that we went through Really quickly in 1 Corinthians 13, because they lean in to this powerful, powerful principle that we get to choose every single time. So, look at this now. “Love does not delight in evil.” This was kind of the tricky one. “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” You know that means? That love isn’t trying to catch the other person doing something wrong. That love isn’t trying to catch the other person doing something wrong. That love isn’t building a case against the other person, so they can finally step in and say, “You did this, you said this, you did this, you said this.” That love doesn’t keep score of the past. Instead he said that love always protects. Protects from what? Love always protects the relationship from suspicion. Love always protects the relationship from a lack of trust. That love is protective of the relationship. That love knows that whatever I choose to put here, whatever I choose to put here will impact the relationship. “Yes, this is what I thought they were gonna do. Yes, they didn’t do what I thought they were gonna do. They all have to deal with that. We’ll have to talk about that.”

But what I put in the gap, will impact the relationship, perhaps, as much as the gap that they created. “Love always trusts,” he said. “Love believes all thing.” I love this, love chooses a generous explanation. Love chooses, love comes up with, love thinks about it long enough to come up with a generous explanation. Then he says this, “Love always hopes.” I love that. Love trends positive. I’m just not going to allow myself to go negative. And love is realistic. Love always perseveres. The word “perseveres” as I said earlier, indicates or implies resistance. That there maybe some doubt, there maybe some negative. There maybe some things from the past that come roaring into the future, but love decides. You know what? I am going to persevere. I am not going to give into that trend. Love is determined to trust anyway.

So, here’s the question, based on your personality, based on your experience, based on what you know about yourself. Do you believe the best or do you assume the worst? Which way do you go? Do you believe the best when there’s a gap? Do you find yourself going, “You know what, I’m sure there’s a good reason. I’m sure… ” Or are you there person that’s like, “Okay, he better have a good explanation. She better have a good reason for this and I’m already mad. I don’t even have all the information, but I’m mad. So when they get home, when she gets home, when he finally calls, when she finally calls, when he finally texts me, at best, I’m gonna be up to zero because I’m right here. You’re gonna have to give me a whole lot… ” Which way do you go? And I just want you to know, regardless of who you’re in a relationship with, regardless of what he’s like, what she’s like, it is your choice every single time. But happy couples know, happy couples know, happy couples know, it’s a choice. It’s a choice every single time. “And I know. But Andy, he and she and… ” But it’s always, it’s always, always a choice.

Besides, let’s think about it this way. What are the options? Are the options gonna get you anywhere? Are the options gonna take you forward? Here are the options in case you wanna kinda work this script. Delight in uncovering mistakes, thrive on speculation, assume the worst, and embrace doubt. Now, imagine that you’re sitting down with your future kids or your current kids or your current kids that are older and about to get married, and you’re gonna give them advice about a successful relationship, moving into marriage, moving into a permanent relationship. If you’re gonna give them advice, how much of this advice would you give them? “Basically honey, lay a trap, wait, he’ll step into it eventually. [laughter] And then you can say, “Aha! I knew that was gonna happen! Just lay a trap, just always be looking for stuff, always be… Piece things together, kinda have the whole formula worked out in you mind, and then you just wait and eventually, she’ll step into it.” No. You would say, “You know what? When there’s a gap… And there’re gonna be gaps. There are always gonna be gaps. You get to decide what goes in the gap. And you’re always gonna come out better if the habit, if the pattern of the relationship is believing the best.”

Now, so here’s your homework assignment for those of you who are coupled. Just do this for a week, just decide. Even if it’s nine times out of ten, there’s no good excuse for what he did or what she did. Just for a week decide, “You know what? Before I get all the information, before he calls, before we get together tonight, I’m going to come up with a generous explanation and I’m going to believe it. I am going to choose to believe my own explanation for his or her behavior.” Just for a week, just choose to trust. Now, trust equals acceptance. When you trust me, that’s accepting me. When I trust you, that’s accepting you. If you wanna be accepted by somebody, if you wanna accept somebody, you just communicate, “I trust you, I trust you, I trust you.” Our hearts and ultimately our behavior is drawn to trust. The people that you want to let down the least, are the people that you respect and admire the most.

And when you create an atmosphere, when you create the pattern of high trust, when you create the pattern of high trust, you create the environment of high acceptance. And all of our hearts are drawn toward acceptance. Now, does this mean you don’t have difficult conversations? No. Of course you have difficult conversations. And when it’s the same thing over and over and over, of course you talk about it, but as soon as that conversation’s over, you just get right back to it. Because that’s the past. I’m not keeping score. Even if it’s not, if the last 10 times out of 10 times if there was no good excuse, this 11th time I’m gonna come out with a generous explanation. I am going to choose to believe the best because that’s what happy couples know and that’s what happy couples do, because happy couples know that believing the best is a choice. And it’s a choice they can make every single time they decide to choose it. It’s the happy choice, and that’s what happy couples know.