What makes happy couples happy? Allen Parducci, a prominent UCLA researcher, asked that question and found that money, success, health, beauty, intelligence or power have little to do with a couple's "subjective well-being." Instead, research reveals that the level of a couple's joy is determined by each partner's ability to adjust to things beyond his or her control. Happy couples learn to find the right attitude in spite of the conditions they're in.
Can you imagine how the Christmas story might have been written if Mary and Joseph had not had the capacity to adjust to things beyond their control? Joseph's fiancee was pregnant. He could have had her stoned or banished to some distant city. Before he could break with her, however, God sent an angel to tell him that Mary was with child by the Holy Spirit. So instead of sending her away, Joseph married her.
It's difficult to imagine any couple entering marriage with more challenges than Mary and Joseph faced. On top of waiting for the birth of a child, they were trying to establish their home, run a business and learn how to live with each other. Further, they were forced to close down their business and travel to Bethlehem as the first step of a Roman plan to raise taxes. Just what they needed!
Mary made the trip on the back of a burro. (Some women can hardly ride in a Buick when they are several months pregnant, let alone on the back of a donkey!) With Bethlehem visible in the distance, we can imagine Mary looking up at her husband and saying something like, "I'm going to sit down under this olive tree while you go into town to get us a room. I'd like one in the front so I can watch the crowds go up and down the street until the baby comes."
Her anxiety level must have risen as she waited and watched, eagerly scanning the crowded road for Joseph's familiar figure. Finally, her husband returned, his shoulders drooping.
"I went to the main hotel, but all the rooms were already taken. Then I checked every inn and bed and breakfast. There just weren't any rooms available. Finally, I persuaded an old man to let us stay in his barn. He promised to clean out the manure and cover the floor with fresh straw."
Their hearts heavy, the couple made their way to the stable, thankful at least for a shelter from the cold wind. They had adjusted to a growing number of unpleasant developments. And that night a miracle occured: the Son of God was born.
Mary and Joseph were obedient to God, even when it led to inconvenience and hardship. They did what they could to meet one another's needs. But they also realized they had to rely on God to get them through their beyond-belief ordeal, just as we have to. If we are to enjoy happy marriages, we all must develop the capacity to adjust to undesirable circumstances.
When trials come our way, we have a choice. We can throw up our hands in frustration, give in to self-pity and become mired in resentment and defeat. Or we can raise our hands to God in prayer, search out alternatives, move ahead and ultimately trust the Lord to carry us through.
If your hearts are heavy this Christmas, take a lesson from Mary and Joseph and learn to adjust to adverse circumstances. It's the secret to having a truly merry Christmas—not to mention a happy marriage.
Leslie Parrott, Ed.D., and Les Parrott III, Ph.D., are co-directors of the Center for Relationship Development at Seattle Pacific University and the authors of more than ten books, including Saving Your Marriage Before it Starts and Like a Kiss on the Lips (both published by Zondervan).
1998 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. For reprint information call 630-260-6200 or email@example.com.