A series of readings from The Word for Today on marriage:
It’s easy to remember where and when you got married, but sometimes what escapes you is why. God created Eve because, unlike the rest of His creation, Adam had no mate; he was incomplete. So if one of the purposes of marriage is closeness, the enemy of marriage is distance. But problems arise when you expect your spouse to meet every need you’ve got. Only God can do that! A man asked his friend, ‘How come you never got married?’ He replied, ‘Because I was looking for the ideal woman.’ ‘And you never found her?’ his friend asked. ‘Yes, of course, but just my luck — she was looking for the ideal man.’ Hello!
The Bible says, ‘Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her.’ (Ephesians 5:25 NKJV) Can a marriage ever be perfect? No, but when two people make up their minds to give themselves fully to one another, they can come pretty close. In a survey of thousands of married couples, here are ten reasons why people said they were unhappy:
(1) They didn’t think alike in many areas.
(2) They had little insight into each other’s feelings.
(3) They said hurtful things to one other.
(4) They felt unloved.
(5) They felt taken for granted.
(6) They lacked someone to confide in.
(7) Each spouse felt he or she was giving more than the other.
(8) They rarely complimented each other.
(9) They desired more affection.
(10) They couldn’t talk to each other.
Since God performed the first marriage, talking to Him about yours would be a good place to start.
‘The wise have wealth and luxury…’ Proverbs 21:20 NLT
One of the most common issues that cause marriages to fail is finances.There’s a nice story about an usher who passed the collection plate at a church wedding. When one of the guests objected, he said, ‘I understand how you feel, but the father of the bride needs the money.’ Seriously, the number-one reason for divorce these days is money. That’s interesting, because we have more money today than at any time in the past. So what’s the problem?
In a nutshell, it’s our lifestyle. The more we have, the more we want, and the more we’re willing to go into debt to get it. When times are good that philosophy works, but in the last fifty years we’ve lived through ten recessions. For example, people who bought a home for $400,000, planning to sell it for $700,000 within a year or two, ended up losing everything because the housing market crashed. Imagine the stress that puts on a marriage! The strong endure; the weak don’t. We recently became reacquainted with a mostly forgotten word — frugality. It means buying only what you can afford. The Bible says, ‘In the house of the wise are stores… but a foolish man devours all he has.’ (Proverbs 21:20 NIV) Financial experts now recommend keeping a minimum of six months’ living expenses in a ‘rainy day’ account. In the last decade we’ve gone through a major and painful correction. It taught us that the secret of happiness in marriage isn’t spending all you’ve got, but saving, and taking time to enjoy what you have.
‘Marriage should be honoured… for God will judge the adulterer and… the… immoral.’ Hebrews 13:4 NIV
Clara Null says: ‘My Sunday school class was learning the Ten Commandments. When we got to “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” I wondered if I’d have to explain it. Sure enough, a seven-year-old girl raised her hand and asked, “What does ‘commit’ mean?”’ Seriously, if you live by impulse instead of commitment, your marriage will suffer. The word ‘commitment’ is best described in your wedding vows. Remember those? ‘Will you have this woman (or man) to be your lawful wedded wife (or husband)…to live together in God’s holy ordinance of marriage…to be faithful…in good times and bad, in sickness and health, and forsaking all others, remain faithful to her (or him)?’ That’s what you said before God!
A big hotel displayed this sign on its bulletin board for passing motorists to read: ‘Have your next affair with us!’ That’s not funny when you consider the ramifications! A prominent psychiatrist said, ‘I’ve counselled thousands of couples, and I’ve yet to meet my first happy adulterer.’ The results are always the same: shame, fear, loss, loneliness and depression. When you violate your own integrity, it’s hard to live in your own skin. Don’t be deceived by celebrities who hop from bed to bed. The secret to happiness in marriage isn’t finding the right person, it’s becoming the right person. The Bible says you’re supposed to care about the spiritual, emotional, material and sexual needs of your spouse. So start discussing these things. And if you find it difficult to talk about them, get help—your marriage is worth fighting for!
‘They will be won over by observing your…lives.’ 1 Peter 3:1-2 NLT
Shared faith is glue that will hold your marriage together in times of trouble. But when one spouse is an unbeliever, it can be difficult for the other. Concerning marriage, Jesus said, ‘What God has joined together, let not man separate.’ (Matthew 19:6 NKJV) Notice the words, ‘What God has joined together.’ Any relationship God puts together can go the distance. Speaking about a wife whose husband has died, Paul writes, ‘She is free to marry anyone she wishes, but only if he loves the Lord.’ (1 Corinthians 7:39 NLT) When your spouse doesn’t share your faith, you can find yourselves tugging on opposite ends of the rope. Paul asks, ‘How can a believer be a partner with an unbeliever?’ (2 Corinthians 6:15 NLT) The old country preacher put it bluntly: ‘Any time a child of God marries a child of the devil, they’re going to have trouble with their father–in–law!’ That doesn’t mean you should love your unbelieving partner less. Actually, it means you should love them more!
Speaking of unbelieving spouses, Peter writes, ‘Even if some refuse to obey the Good News, your godly lives will speak to them without any words. They will be won over by observing your…lives.’ There’s preventative medicine and corrective medicine. When Paul says not to marry an unbeliever, he’s using preventative medicine. When Peter speaks of living with an unbeliever and winning them to Christ through your love and lifestyle, he’s using corrective medicine. At the end of the day, only one thing is guaranteed to work: ‘Love never fails.’ (1 Corinthians 13:8 NKJV) So fight for your marriage!
‘Many waters cannot quench love.’ Song of Solomon 8:7 NIV
You quickly discover that the greatest threat to marriage is — selfishness! A mother was trying to explain to her little son the benefits of unselfishness. She concluded her talk by saying, ‘We’re in this world to help others.’ After due consideration the boy asked, ‘Well then, what are others here for?’ When two people put their own individual needs and wants first, they’re on a collision course. Let’s look at some examples of selfishness in marriage:
(a) In-laws. It’s a sign of selfishness and immaturity when you constantly harp about what your parents said, and how they did things. It’s unfair to your spouse and it’ll hurt your relationship.
(b) Pornography. The Psalmist wrote, ‘I will not look… at anything that is vile.’ (Psalm 101:3 NIV) Pornography is as addictive as heroin and untold numbers of marriages are shipwrecked by it. Not only does it leave you feeling ashamed, it can devastate your partner’s self–worth.
(c) Disagreements. Don’t be like the woman who told her friend, ‘We’ve been married for twenty years and never quarrelled once. If a difference of opinion arises and I’m right, my husband gives in.’ Her friend asked, ‘And what if he’s right?’ Without hesitating she replied, ‘That has never happened!’
(d) Prayerlessness. Ninety per cent of Christian couples don’t read the Bible and pray together. Do you? If Christ is the most important thing in your lives, He should be the thing you most enjoy sharing. When passion and physical beauty fade, your shared love for Christ will sustain you through the storms of life. So fight for your marriage.
‘Husbands… be considerate.’ 1 Peter 3:7 NIV
‘Wives… be…worthy of respect.’ 1 Timothy 3:11 NIV
A couple celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary was asked the secret to their success. The husband replied, ‘The day we got married we agreed that if an argument arose I’d go out and stand on the porch until I cooled off. And it worked like a charm; fifty years of being outdoors in all that fresh air was exactly what this relationship needed!’ If you’ve been spending too much time out on the porch, here are three ways to strengthen your marriage: (1) Commitment — ‘You’re first.’ Speaking those words on special occasions is easy, but you need to speak them seven days a week. A film star who’d been through several failed marriages told an interviewer, ‘I’ve given up trying to find the right person. Now I’m working at becoming the right person.’ That formula always works! (2) Concern — ‘What do you need?’ Husbands and wives are as different as chalk and cheese. And to complicate things further, their needs change according to the season of life they’re in. So when you ask, ‘How are you today?’ slow down and listen. Your wife may not want you to solve the problem, but to share it. Closeness in marriage isn’t an accident: it’s a decision you make, and keep making every day. (3) Coping — ‘We can work it out.’ Marriage may alleviate the problem of loneliness, but it presents the challenge of getting along with another person. It teaches you that you can’t always avoid conflict, but you can make it work for you. The truth is, unless there are two winners in a marriage, there are none at all.
If you want a great marriage, you’ve got to work at it every day. The Bible gives us God’s blueprint for one: ‘You wives must learn to adapt yourselves to your husbands, as you submit yourselves to the Lord, for the husband is the “head” of the wife in the same way that Christ is head of the Church and saviour of the Body. The willing subjection of the Church to Christ should be reproduced in the submission of wives to their husbands. But, remember, this means that the husband must give his wife the same sort of love that Christ gave to the Church, when He sacrificed Himself for her… Men ought to give their wives the love they naturally have for their own bodies. The love a man gives his wife is the extending of his love for himself to enfold her. Nobody ever hates or neglects his own body; he feeds and looks after it. And that is what Christ does for His body, the Church. And we are all members of that body, we are His flesh and blood! “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” The marriage relationship is doubtless a great mystery, but I am speaking of something deeper still—the marriage of Christ and His Church. In practice what I have said amounts to this: let every one of you who is a husband love his wife as he loves himself; let the wife reverence her husband.’ (Ephesians 5:21–33 PHPS) That’s how to build a great marriage!
‘Make everything according to the pattern I have shown you.’ Exodus 25:40 NLT
We focus on individual incidents, but the God of the big picture focuses on patterns. He determined twenty-four hours in each day, seven days in each week, four seasons in each year, two people in each marriage, etc. Birth is followed by infancy, childhood, youth, adulthood, old age. Imagine how different your life would be without these patterns! God created us to need patterned lives. Patterns provide predictability, and predictability provides comfort, control and security. Simply knowing that Saturday follows Wednesday helps you get through an exhausting work week. Many of our relational issues would be resolved if we paid less attention to our negative patterns and concentrated on establishing positive ones. Does this conversation sound familiar? The husband asks, ‘Why do you always bring things up just when I’m falling asleep? Can’t you find a better time?’ The wife returns fire: ‘There’s never a better time to get your attention!’ The use of words like ‘always’ and ‘never’ only intensifies the problem. Until you understand and change your patterns, you’ll forever be attempting to put out relational fires. Establishing a simple pattern of spending an hour or two together each week (date night?) assures your wife of a set time to be heard, and your husband an opportunity to listen when he’s alert and responsive. Patterns are God’s idea. The predictability and promise they bring help defuse reactive emotions and establish an environment where you both feel loved and valued!
‘…What…God has joined together…’ Matthew 19:6 NKJV
The biggest problem in marriage is selfishness. When you’ve spent your life doing things your own way, it’s hard to give up that right and defer to another person. Some days you will do it well, other days poorly, and other days not at all. Paul Tripp writes, ‘When we live for the kingdom of self, our decisions, thoughts, plans, actions and words are directed by personal desire, [and] we seek to surround ourselves with people who will serve our kingdom purposes.’
The trouble is, as Lynn Roush points out: ‘A marriage of two people serving their own kingdoms will eventually end in bloody battle. But when both people submit to God’s Kingdom where Christ reigns and where joy and life are found, marriage becomes an opportunity to exit the small space of the kingdom of self and begin to enjoy the beauty and benefits of the Kingdom of God… Our greatest marital problem is ourselves. We will always rise to our own defence, and be tempted to blame others while believing the best about ourselves. Not surprisingly, God uses marriage to reveal the sin of self-righteousness. A marriage can be transformed when just one person sees this sin and humbly confesses ways they have damaged the relationship.’ It’s only when two people give up their own kingdom and join together as one in living out the principles of God’s Kingdom that peace, harmony, love and joy can be found.
You say, ‘I didn’t know marriage would be so hard.’ God designed it that way for the purpose of aligning both your hearts with His Kingdom — and rescuing you from your own.
‘…be kind to one another, tender-hearted…’ Ephesians 4:32 NKJV
The secret to closeness in marriage is not sparkling conversation or shared interests or incredible sex. As good as those are, the secret is practising plain, old-fashioned thoughtfulness and kindness. It’s the stuff we learn when we’re young and forget when we’re too busy: things like respect, sensitivity, attentiveness and caring. If your marriage needs a tune-up, start doing these four things. First, practise ‘hug therapy’. When you’re at odds with each other, remember this: ‘Hearts may agree though heads differ.’ A hug works wonders. When we touch one another in caring ways our bodies actually produce chemicals that calm us emotionally and help us to bond physically. God designed us that way. Secondly, don’t forget the small stuff. When you routinely build little kindnesses into your marriage they become a source of strength later; it’s like money in the bank you can draw on. So think ‘personal’ and ‘sweet’, like helping to clean up after dinner, making the bed, walking the dog or putting out the bins. Thirdly, mind your manners. Just because you’re married doesn’t mean common courtesy should go by the wayside. The Bible says, ‘Be kind to one another, tender-hearted.’ That means listening without interrupting, and practising the basics like saying, ‘Please,’ ‘Thank you’ and ‘I’m sorry’. This stuff’s not rocket science, but it works! Finally, compliment each other. Your marriage partner is not a mind reader. Whenever you think something nice about them, tell them! We live in a cold, competitive world; hearing that we’re loved, smart, attractive and fun from someone whose opinion we really value means everything.