Over our past three years of marriage, Kara and I have made it a point to spend quality time with older, wiser couples. The criteria is that they’re Christ followers, married at least 15+ years (give or take), raised/raising great kids, and have what appears to be a healthy marriage.

Here’s why: I want to learn from people whose success I want to imitate, not whose mistakes I want to simply avoid. That’s also why I don’t take financial advice from broke people. Imitate success, not scars.

When it comes to marriage, I’ve learned there are three choices every married couple needs to make daily. Good days, bad days, every day, these choices will make or break any marriage.

Choose each other

The first choice is choosing to be with each other. That’s how you got married in the first place: you chose each other. It’s easy to choose to be with your spouse on the good days. It’s much harder to choose to stay with them when the crap hits the fan.

Choosing to be with your spouse and stay with your spouse is a daily decision. It needs to be a conscious decision to choose your spouse over your own selfish agenda, over being “right”, porn, co-workers, family members, addictions, hurt feelings, bad moods, and even disappointment.

I choose Kara because I know she’s been custom-made to be my wife. I need to choose her, no matter what.

Choose grace

This is probably a good time to admit I’m not perfect. In fact, this morning I made us late going out the door because of my failure to plan. Kara chose grace. Choosing to be with your spouse means you also choose grace.

This isn’t a mercy mission with a scoreboard; it’s a conscious commitment to grace and forgiveness. Learn together. Have honest conversations. Choose grace and be prepared to choose it again and again. Choose to forgive as Christ forgave us.

To be clear, choosing grace doesn’t mean ignoring issues. That’s not grace; that’s empowering an eventual train wreck. Grace means you owe it to your spouse to be honest about why grace is a choice and not a demand.

Choose joy

This is a powerful truth I was reminded of by Rick and Kay Warren after their son committed suicide. Kay shared that as they stood weeping outside their son’s apartment, they knew they had a choice to make: choose joy. This isn’t a sunshine-all-the-time choice, but it means when life is beyond frustrating, you have a choice. You always have a choice to your responses. Choose joy over anger. Choose joy over defeat. Choose joy over quitting.

These three choices can radically transform any marriage. Choose each other. Choose grace. Choose joy.