Wives submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord … Husbands love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her … . In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. Ep. 5:22, 25, 28
Let marriage be held in honor among all … Heb. 13:4
Love bears all things, … endures all things. 1 Cor. 13:7
A post I wrote last year about Christians and divorce receives the most traffic on this blog, thousands of hits. See here. It occurred to me recently that some of this traffic might be Christians struggling with thoughts of divorce and perhaps I should write some encouraging words about marriage, particularly about sustaining marriage through difficult times. Thinking about this, I realized that most of the useful stuff I know about marriage I learned from others who shared with me and my wife marital truths from and premised in scripture. Our learning started with lots of advise and insight on dispute resolution mechanisms from an Army chaplain prior to our military marriage (pre-marital counseling from the chaplain was mandatory), and our learning continues.
My wife and I recently celebrated our 18th anniversary so our marriage has “matured” to a young adulthood of sorts. We’ve been married long enough that we can look back and figure out some stuff we did wrong and some stuff we did (and will hopefully continue to do) well and what works. So we put down a “top 10” to do list for a healthy marriage. Several of these overlap. And no, my wife did not ghost write this; she’s just further along the path on most these virtues and techniques than me! We are both fellow journyers with many of you on the marital road. Arrival is on the other side of the divide. Please feel free to share any encouraging words or advice about marriage in the comments … Here goes:
1. Purpose. Remind yourself daily of the Biblical purpose for marriage. Although I’m blessed to find happiness in my spouse, the purpose of Christian marriage isn’t happiness; the purpose is to become more like Christ. This does not mean Christian marriage isn’t intended to romantic or pleasurable, quite the contrary, God is love and in Christ is eternal satisfaction for those who pursue him. Pursue Christ first, and everything else starts falling into place. The presence of Christ in us should become increasingly noticeable the better someone knows us. No one is closer than our spouse, whom scripture describes as our same flesh. Our marriages should be the starting point for lives of grace, love and service. Both submit to Christ. The Bible calls on the wife to submit to the husband and the husband to love his wife as Christ loved the church. Christ was nailed to the cross for the church. For more on this point, read the excellent book by Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage.
2. Priority. A simple tool to practice living like Christ: put yourself last. Put J.O.Y. priorities in your marriage – look to serve Jesus, Others, then Yourself, in that order.
3. Love. Love is a feeling and a verb. So even if you don’t feel lovey, we’re called to do love. Christ likely didn’t feel in love when being beaten and nailed to the cross. In fact, he was quite open about not wanting to drink from that cup of misery. Yet out of the action of love for us, he did it. I am certain he was not feeling giddy and “feeling in love” when they drove the spikes through his hands and feet, yet it was love and obedience to the Father’s will that held him there. The sacrament of marriage continually requires the Christian application of selfless love and obedience to God. In marriage, two become one. There is no better place to regularly practice and witness the presence or absence of Christ-like love. With unconditional love, the marital union blossoms with commitment, trust, happiness, and peace. Without it, the relationship and spouse withers. Sadly, many couples endure dead relationships. Just do love.
4. Knowledge. Know how to love your spouse. One of the biggest revelations to me, after we’d been married for over ten years, was that love has its own languages. Plural. I had no idea. I thought there was one love language – the one I spoke and understood. I had often felt kinda rejected when my sweet wife didn’t seem to hear or speak my language. Come to find out, I had no clue how to speak her love language. I’ve since come to learn and appreciate that we each feel and convey love quite differently. Dr. Gary Chapman, whom we discovered through our church, explained the 5 dominant love languages people speak and understand. There are explanations and free tests at his website here and his bestselling book The 5 Love Languages is a must read if you’re not familiar with these concepts – a must read for marital bliss (see also Dr. Chapman’s book on the same topic for parenting here). Most of us respond to and naturally understand just one of these languages. My wife and I had entirely different languages – what an eye opener and blessing to discover. This is one thing I wish we had learned at the outset of marriage.
5. Dare to be intimate. The Bible advises spouses to not deny themselves to the other. There’s an obvious and sometimes neglected sexual side to this affirmative duty. There is also a spiritual and emotional side. There is much said and written about sex in marriage. It’s obviously an important component that we’re directed to not neglect. Enough is not, however, said about the necessity for intimacy beyond sex, and this is far more challenging for most of us. It’s often easier to share our bodies than our feelings. Spiritually, it’s easier to pray alone or superficially than to close hands together and bare your soul before God, together, in prayer. Candor and prayer. Help each other to dare to bare more than just your bodies.
6. Prime Time. The Army chaplain told us to “hold our fire” until “prime time.” This was excellent advise. The time to raise a disputed issue is not when our spouse first walks in the door. Give each other time to unwind from the day and recuperate. “Prime time” for TV is also a prime time to engage our own biggest issues, after we’ve had a time to settle down from the days activities.
7. First Person. That same Army chaplain also advised us that when we “open fire” against the other, to do it in the first person tense. Speak from the perspective of how the accused issue affected you. Instead of saying, “You were wrong in how you talked to me,” try “The way you talked to me made me feel like [fill in the blank]. I was really hurt, embarrassed, etc.” Explaining how someone’s actions made you feel or otherwise affected you makes the same point as attacking the accused action/flaw, but it’s far less antagonistic. This technique works. (My wife has shared a lot of such “feelings” with me …)
8. Peers. Hang out with people who support and encourage your faith and believe passionately in marriage. Hanging out with single friends at the singles club is a recipe for disaster, for even the best marriages. Equally dangerous, be discerning in your “friendships.” Most affairs don’t originate in clubs. They start with emotional bonds formed around the water cooler or community events. Spiritual bonds can be a significant trap for those in ministry. Be careful with whom you grow close ties.
9. Patience. Marriage isn’t about “helping” your spouse improve, changing their minds, or winning arguments or anything else about the other. Wrong paradigm. See number 1 above. If you want to change something about your spouse, spend a lot of time praying about it and for them before even raising the issue, unless, of course it’s a clear spelled out in scripture sin issue. Even then, particularly then, pray even more.
10. Forgive. Love keeps no record of wrongs. Live grace.
Related articles: Sacrificial Love by Matthew White; Marriage Gems by Lori Lowe; Is Religion an Answer? Marriage, Fatherhood, and the Male Problematic by W. Bradford Wilcox; Why Monogamy Matters by Ross Douthat; Marriage as Witness to the Culture by JC Sanders.