Making Marriage Work When You Haven’t Seen a Healthy Model

Alexandra Kuykendall}>
Alexandra Kuykendall

I wasn’t sure how it was supposed to go. Any of it. The morning kisses. The talks about money. The decisions around kids. Maybe no one does. But my understanding of marriage was gleaned from those I watched from afar. And movies. One wasn’t an intimate insight and the other was a fictitious one.

I grew up in a single-mother home. So as I entered marriage I didn’t bring negative patterns I needed to rewire like many do. I simply had no patterns from which to draw. I stood at the altar knowing I wanted to have a companion for life and God had given me the best one, but I had no blueprint of how it would or could play out. This is true for all of us to some degree – more so, I suspect for those like me.

So how does one push forward, especially on the hard days, when you can’t picture parents or grandparents who made it work? Or at least who made it work in a way you’d like to emulate? Where do you turn when your recollection of how mom and dad did it draws a blank?

I’ve been working on this for 18 years. Whether you entered marriage with no model, or you want your marriage to look different than the one you were raised under, here are a few key strategies to finding your way:

Unearth Role Models

If your parents couldn’t model a healthy, vibrant marriage for you, who can? Look for couples within your extended family, friend circles or community – those real life people who are making marriage work. Observe how they live and talk to them about it. About what communication and agreement look like. About how to survive the hard phases. About partnership and trust. Glean as much as you can from those around you who are willing to be honest about their own journeys.

Look for Truth

Though the best fiction stories are based on truth, television, movies and novels are still make-believe. So what is true about you, your spouse and your circumstances? Start there. What is true about the marriage relationship in general? Be really honest with yourself. Then surround yourself with people who will speak truth and be brutally open about their stories – failures, missteps, successes.


Marriage is intended to be a holy union, two souls making a promise to honor God through their relationship until death separates. But our human, fallible nature often (ok usually) gets in the way. When we pray for our marriage, we are asking for God’s help to make this holy union a reality. I pray for my own heart above all other things. Because I know how much divine intervention it can use. I pray for all aspects of my husband’s life, not just our relationship, because I am meant to be his best helper in all things. I ask God to fill in the gaps. When words fail me I can always pray a meager, “Help!” Help me. Help him. Help us!


So your own parents’ story had its twists. The good news is you and your husband can live a different plotline. We can offer our children a foundation for what it looks like when two imperfect people come together and make a life. This is what marriage is after all. We have been given the freedom to decide how that coming together looks. That is something we can celebrate.  And commemorate milestones. When you make it through something, another year of marriage or a disagreement, celebrate your relationship. Not to mention it’s super fun to applaud someone you love. So celebrate each other too. I’ve yet to find a couple who over celebrates.

Alexandra Kuykendall
As a mom to four girls, Alexandra Kuykendall’s days are spent washing dishes, driving to and from different schools and trying to find a better solution to the laundry dilemma. She is the author of Loving My Actual Life, An Experiment In Relishing What’s Right In Front of Me and  The Artist’s Daughter, A MemoirA city girl at heart, she makes her home in the shadow of downtown Denver. You can read more of Alex’s everyday thoughts and connect with her at