What’s Going on in the Heads of Happily Married Couples?

As someone who has been working with married couples since 2001 and married since 1995, I try to go back often to this baseline question: 

Why do some couples have a great marriage and others don’t? 

The answer to that question may surprise you, but I’m certain it can help you…if you make up your mind to let it. That’s the whole point. It turns out a happy marriage is more about what is going on in your mind than anything else. Dr. Helen Fisher and her team did a brain-scan study of people who had been married an average of 21 years, who reported they are still madly in love with their spouse. 

They showed activity in three brain regions: a brain region linked with empathy, a brain region linked with controlling your own emotions, and a brain region linked with positive illusions. Positive illusions are defined as the simple but sometimes hard ability to overlook what you don’t like about somebody and focus on what you do. This study affirms what different types of marriage research have been saying for the last decade, mindset matters. If you want to change your marriage, sometimes it starts with changing your mind. That’s right, even those of us who call ourselves realists can channel our thoughts to love better. 

When you combine these findings with scripture, the potential for change is limitless. For example, I want to encourage you to run your most recent challenge through the Philippians 4:8 Grid. 

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8 

I want you to write down your answers to the following questions, then read it aloud to yourself for a week.  For all you naysayers, take comfort that the Philippians 4:8 Grid starts with what’s true. 

  • What is true about your current conflict? 
  • What is noble about your spouse in light of and despite this tension? 
  • What is the right thing for you to do? 
  • What is pure about your spouse? 
  • What is lovely about your spouse? 
  • What is admirable about your spouse? 
  • And I love this last word, anything. If there is anything excellent or praiseworthy about your spouse, what is it? 


Once you do this, your mind will start to orient itself in a more loving direction. If you are in any abusive type of situation, this is not enough for you. You need to reach out to someone safe right away. But for most of us, even those who may be struggling, this is a powerful tool that happy couples know and any couple can learn. 

This post originally appeared on MarriedPeople.org and is reprinted with permission. 

Ted Lowe is an author, speaker, and the director of MarriedPeople—the marriage division at Orange. Ted is the author of two books—one for marriage ministry leaders (Married People: How Your Church Can Build Marriages That Last) and one for married couples (Your Best US: Marriage Is Easier Than You Think). He served for almost 10 years as the director of MarriedLife at North Point Community Church. He lives near Atlanta, Georgia, with his four favorite people: his wife, Nancie, and their three children. 

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