How to Have a Great Marriage {two turtledoves}

Are you focused on your marriage? Sometimes we can look to the side, compare, or become discontent. But to be bonded for life, we need a focused vision that stays glued on our spouse. Let's develop that kind of eyesight together.

Turtledoves are perhaps most famous for their place in what has become a slightly obnoxious Christmas song: “On the first day of Christmas, my true love sent to me…”

Outside of this song, turtledoves are known for two things:

  • they mate for life (thus you almost always find them in pairs) and
  • they have no peripheral vision

Those two realities are connected. Successful mating for life requires a certain tunnel vision.

My own eye condition helps me understand this. A couple decades ago I was diagnosed with keratoconus, a degenerative eye disease that makes your cornea resemble a cone, making everything appear blurry. It has gotten so advanced in my left eye that an ophthalmologist told me I don’t really use my left eye. My brain basically relies on my right eye.

It’s not a big deal, except when I’m biking or running. Then I have to completely turn my head to see over my left shoulder, but most people live with worse medical maladies than this. There have been a few embarrassing moments, like when I applied for a new driver’s license and was asked to read the letters in the “middle” column.

I could only see two columns, and there’s no “middle” in two.

“Is there something wrong with you?” my tester asked.

How long did she have?

For a short season, I agreed to try out a contact for my left eye. After years of having no peripheral vision, it felt like a different world. Walking down a grocery aisle and seeing aisles on both sides felt distracting, like something was coming at me. I was so used to my tunnel vision (plus, I just hated putting something in my eyes every morning), I took the contact out and have lived with my condition ever since. Yes, Lisa hates it that I do this, but I’m more comfortable with my malady than I am with the “cure.”

A similar kind of spiritual tunnel-vision will serve us in marriage. Successful mating for life requires a certain focus and a ruthless determination to ignore “side views.” If you want a fulfilling, turtledove-mating-for-life experience, you can’t be distracted by other affections, flirtations, or “what ifs.” You can’t waste time thinking, “Well, if something happened to my spouse, the next spouse I choose would be more like this or that.”

We must look with a singular eye on the marriage and spouse that we have. We must think and act and hope and dream as if the marriage we are in is our only chance at marital happiness.

Because for the vast majority of us, it is.

Being lured away from a turtledove mindset is one of the most subtle spiritual attacks that there is. Most of us would be appalled by actually considering an affair, but “what if” fantasies seem a step removed from actually cheating on our spouse. We don’t want to cheat on our spouse, but what would it be like if we were married to a different spouse? That doesn’t sound so sinful because it’s not about sex, but it can be hugely destructive to a marriage and it obliterates a sacred marriage mindset.

Turtledove-tunnel-vision preserves and serves marriage by focusing on making the existing relationship better rather than fantasizing about an imaginary one.

By definition, marriage-for-life isn’t just a choice to give up all other choices; it’s a commitment to give up even imagining any other choice.

It’s so easy to fall away from each other, to get distracted, or to let outside things become more important than your marriage. In fact, if we don’t fight this drift, it’s guaranteed to happen. Once this process starts, all it takes is time for the slight drift to become a wide chasm.

That’s why we need to be ruthless in our focus. “This is my love, for life. My best chance for happiness is going to come from learning to love her/him the best that I can, fighting through this current distance to remain close to my spouse, in tune with my spouse, investing all my thoughts and energies on this marriage, this relationship, this life.”

Every second spent fantasizing about a different spouse robs you from time spent planning a meaningful time with your real spouse. Instead of ruminating on how someone else’s spouse is superior to yours, pray about how you can become a more committed, more loving spouse yourself. Even if your spouse won’t work on your marriage, you can.

Invest in something that is true, real and holy, and reject any investment in something that is fake or sinful. Embrace turtledove tunnel vision.

This is especially true if your marriage is currently frustrating. The worst time to let peripheral vision steal your focus is when you’re dissatisfied in marriage. During those seasons, you need more focus, not less; more commitment and less fantasy. When you’re “rebuilding,” you can’t afford to be haphazard. Don’t even consider flirtations, “what ifs” or “if onlys,” or even non-relational pursuits that threaten your turtledove-mating-for-life.

Throw away the contact, get tunnel vision, stay focused, and put all your energy into making your one marriage-for-life the best that it can be.

Let’s make this practical. Turtledove vision leads us to ask, “How can I make this Christmas the best Christmas my spouse and I have ever enjoyed?”

What gift can you give your spouse that will move them more than any gift you’ve ever given them before? How can you marshal your energy and organize your schedule to make this Christmas a “turtledove” Christmas in which you are more engaged in your marriage, more hopeful in your marriage, more determined to preserve, protect, and rebuild your marriage?

This holiday season, skip the partridge in the pear tree. Definitely forget the nine ladies dancing or the ten lords a leaping.

Focus on the turtledoves. And every time you hear the “Twelve Days of Christmas”—at a mall, on the radio or a coffee shop—let it be a reminder, for your marriage’s sake, that there’s only one day that matters: the turtledove day.


Gary Thomas

Similar Posts


  1. This is going to be the best Christmas for me and my husband. After years of an ugly “friendship” marriage, we are on the path to something great. Funny how it started when I read the book “The Care and Feeding of my Husband” and changed my attitude….with God’s help. My husband hasn’t changed since we got married, I had….and didn’t realize it. The last few months have been like we are on our honeymoon again. I’m going to keep praying with my husband and be only tunnel visioned for him. Merry Christmas and God bless everyone one.

  2. This is a good spring cleaning mindset for every year we are given to love our spouses.
    We all need this exercises because none of us are p-e-r-f-e-c-t.
    The grass on the other side looks greener than you think. Make your grass greener
    in your own backyard. Thanks for the reminder.

Comments are closed.