Saturday marks the 40th anniversary of the day my wife and I pledged our love and lives to one another. And honestly, it hasn’t been hard to enjoy the journey we began so long ago. Companionship has been easy for us, largely based on an intentional investment in compatibility neither of us has ever sought with another person. Yes, we have great friends, and wonderful children and grandchildren. But if you ask us where our truest delight lies, we’ll tell you it’s anywhere we’re together. There are no secrets to making marriage a continual source of happiness. It is first being a person of integrity with a well-defined set of ethical convictions and standards. Second, marry a person with whom you share the same convictions, standards, and a commitment to invest in your marriage through good times and bad. Third, live out your married life considering your spouse’s well-being to be more important than your own. Simply put, be ready, be resolute, and be selfless. Here are four areas we’ve found to be essential in our marriage. Acceptance: Foundational to any relationship is a commitment to accept one another despite the changes that may come over time. If you were to ask my wife the most important mark of acceptance, she would tell you it is kindness. Being kind to another person is how you show you accept that person with all his or her foibles, with all the changes that come to the mind and body over time, and with all the challenges life throws at us. Acceptance also means fundamental respect. It is displayed in listening to what someone has to say, to giving that individual space where needed, to encouraging the person’s dreams and ideas, and consistently making your heart a safe place for all your loved one is. Affection: The flower of marital companionship is fertilized by affection. And while sexual intimacy may be one of the blooms, affection is much more than sex. It comes in morning hugs, unexpected compliments, words of consolation and encouragement, acts of random kindness, and in myriad other forms. Affection is the desire to express your acceptance of your spouse in large and small ways. Affection is what keeps marriage fresh, and fun. Provision: Marriage is all about providing what my spouse needs, be it physical, emotional, intellectual or spiritual. It is providing both companionship and space, beauty and practicality, direction and freedom, and a whole host of other elements that make life an ever-expanding adventure. Marriage works when both husband and wife have a passion to make one another satisfied, happy, comfortable and content. Protection: Sadly, our society is waging a subtle and silent war on marriage. It has been so poorly done by so many for so long that marriage itself has taken on a bad reputation. It is seen by too many as either a dangerous, life-sucking trap, or an antiquated institution that is no longer useful. Ironically, while some are fighting for their right to marry, most are abandoning it. Either way, marriage as an immensely beneficial enterprise for strengthening society is in trouble. Marriage needs to be protected, but the battle must be waged inside every individual marriage. If you want your marriage to thrive, you must protect it. Protect it from your own selfishness. Nothing will cause the flower of your relationship to shrivel like the worm of selfishness. Too many consider that “the two become one, and I’m the one!” We must also protect our marriages from the toxins of busyness and all forms of outside competition. We can become so invested in careers, hobbies, and even children that we fail to invest in our spousal relationship. But careers can bust, hobbies will wane, and children grow up and leave the home. Then what? Only what you’ve carefully strengthened and grown as a marriage will await you. Protect it now, and you’ll have something that can make the final half of life both thrilling and satisfying. Years ago, when my wife was asked about our marriage and what she thought made it work, she replied, “Well, you have to realize I got him as a puppy, and over time he’s turned out pretty good.” Of course, there were howls of laughter as I sat there with admiration for her wit. But the point is this. We start marriage almost completely uninformed and unprepared for what’s ahead. But with commitment, affection, and consistent investment in our spouse, we can make marriage what God intended it to be. David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church and a Santa Clarita resident. “Ethically Speaking” runs Saturdays in The Signal.