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What Really Makes a Marriage Work


What is the single critical success factor for making a marriage work? You might be quick to guess but it’s definitely not love; not romance, not sexuality and particularly, not money, though all of these make up that one thing that helps a marriage succeed.

Much too often, marriages end with one or both ‘partners’ citing that overused cliché, irreconcilable differences as reason for dissolution. Divorce has grown—and is still growing like a sickness without a cure —with the attendant problems it brings to the nuclear family.

Divorce is the number one cause of fatherly absence, which in turn, is the highest predisposing factor for children to become dysfunctional in our society. Many statistics show the catastrophic impact that divorce has on society, leaving one tempted to ask again and again, ‘What Makes A Marriage Work’

While I do not write to promote any religious ideal in this piece, certain elements about why marriages fail and how to proof them from divorce show up in this concept of irreconcilable differences.

Irreconcilable differences are simply disagreements—whether they are about values, commitments, sexuality, monies, parenting styles or our general views of marriage—that have lingered for a long time in our marriages. The funny thing is: the couple may still love each other, meet their conjugal needs regularly, and keep joint accounts yet still have…irreconcilable differences.

Creating a ‘vaccine’ for divorce which is something I picked up interest in awhile back, has led me into a lot of ‘upside-down-solution-is-in-the-problem’ type of thinking which I plan to share with you.

Marriage is not a partnership

Marriage has been traditionally thought of—irrespective of creed—as a fusion; a coming together of a man and a woman to become one spirit, soul and body. Today, many of us have come to view it as a partnership of sorts; a kind of merger. It rings true in the 1986 hit track by Onyeka Onwenu, You and I. The truth is: there is no ‘You and I’ in marriage. And while it may be okay for intending couples to think and talk in terms of ‘You and I’, they must make a complete transition once they get married. You see, in a marriage, it is ‘We’ not ‘You and I’.  ‘We’ are married. ‘We’ determine where our children go to school. ‘We’ determine how we make money and on what we spend our money on. Until ‘we’ agree about something or anything, ‘we’ don’t have a decision. The two of you become one, meaning, you cease to be partners to become parts of each other. The moment we think of marriage as a ‘You and I phenomenon’, it immediately predisposes us to divorce.

Marriage must have a cohesive goal

If you like political drama like me, you may have seen the Netflix TV production, House of Cards. You may also have noticed the shows protagonists, Frank Underwood and his wife, Claire have a cohesive goal about their marriage which viewers discover as both of them rise to become President and First Lady of the United States without a single vote cast in their favour. Like a team, both of them scheme through political circles, forgive each other’s mistakes and even decide against having children for the sake of their goal to achieve power. Now, you may not be as power crazed as the Underwoods but for your marriage to survive when others are failing, it must have a compelling reason for being; something that keeps you both thinking and talking together. Your cohesive goal may be putting your children through the best schools in the world. It may be making a specific amount of money to achieve financial freedom to tour the planet, and it may even be aspiring to political office to transform Nigeria.

No matter the cause, it pays for you to have something specific, cohesive and time-framed that keeps you thinking and talking together.

Becoming one takes time

I love the Bible phrase, “And the two shall become one.” Becoming one happens instantly on your marriage certificate when you get married, but it doesn’t excuse the fact that you also have to open up to your spouse on a spiritual, mental, emotional and physical level.  And frankly, you achieve spiritual oneness with your spouse the moment you share sexual intimacy but the mental, emotional and physical intercourse happens only when you talk, listen to and agree with (or accept) your spouse.

Now that you are one with this person, it is your responsibility to find out how he/she thinks because that’s now a part of how ‘we’ think. Find out about their dreams and aspirations in the context of marriage. Get to know this person you are a part of thoroughly.

Pre-marriage counsellors may have told you to learn some of these things even before you got married but being married is an entirely different ball game. Talk to your spouse, there are many parts of ‘we’ that you still don’t know. Converse. The quickest way to start a conversation is to ask questions. The surest way to preserve conversation is to never be critical. It may take time but through good communication you both will learn to be of one mind.

Agreement is Everything

So what’s the single critical success factor for making a marriage work? It is agreement. The whole you (husband and wife) must be in agreement at all times and about every matter.  Think of it like a tyre and a wheel; where the wheel goes the tyre follows and vice versa.

In marriage, everything is about agreement. Look, you both cannot even afford to ‘agree to disagree’ otherwise you should have remained unmarried. So, whatever the issue is in your marriage, sit with your spouse today and negotiate an agreement. Disagreeing with him/her is like disagreeing with yourself, and nobody has yet been able to succeed at that. Banter, state your superior argument (if you have one), quarrel still, but reach an agreement about everything and anything.

Remember marriage is a ‘We’ thing, not a ‘You and I’.



IMG_20140609_164445About the Author: Nehi Igbinijesu is a Nigerian trained economist. He has worked at several banks in several positions. In addition to banking, Nehi has been a contributor to Connect Nigeria, anchoring the Discover Nigeria Series, a history project to depict positive elements about being Nigerian. He recently authored a soon-to-be-published book for mothers titled, The Code: A Story About Raising Great Women.  He lives with his family in Lagos, Nigeria. You can follow him on Twitter at; @PNOigbinijesu

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Nehikhare Omotayo Igbinijesu is an Economist, Poet, and Social Entrepreneur. 'He is the author of The Code: A Simple Story About Raising Great Women' and 'Marriage: 12 Questions You Need To Ask Before You Say, “I Do”'. He lives in Lagos with his wife, Akudo and two sons. He is Co-founder of, a motivational resources company based in Lagos. You can email him via nehijesu [at]

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