The world often counsels selfishness and quick divorce, but you can apply practical Christian keys to strengthen and enrich your marriage, and make it what God wants it to be!
The family is the foundation of society. A successful marriage brings joy to the extended family and the community—but marriage can also bring challenging problems. How can you improve your marriage?
When a man and a woman make the commitment to become husband and wife, there is often a joyous gathering to celebrate the establishment of the new family. A wedding is a joyous occasion, often accompanied with music, flowers, family and friends. Marriage is one of the most important events in a person's life. A formal, public commitment begins a lifetime together, and the bride and groom may even say traditional words such as, "for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part."
If you are planning for marriage, are you thoroughly prepared? And if you are already married, how are you doing with your commitment?
You may wonder: how are marriages doing nationally? Are they stable? Are they successful? The divorce rate can give us an indication. In 2001, in the United States, there were 9.8 marriages and 4.5 divorces for every 1,000 people. Australia had 6.9 marriages and 2.52 divorces per thousand people. The United Kingdom had 6.8 marriages and 3.08 divorces per thousand people. That means there was about one divorce for every 2.2 marriages in the U.S. and the U.K., and about one divorce for every 2.7 marriages in Australia (United Nations Monthly Bulletin of Statistics, April 2001).
These statistics do not bode well for the stability of our society. But you can apply strategies for a successful marriage in your own life.
We in the Western world need to strengthen our families and our marriages. The stability and health of the nation is greatly dependent on the stability and health of the family. In many societies, biblical values are being thrown out the window. But you and I can make a difference in our own community, and in our own family. The Bible reveals the causes of as well as the solutions to our problems. It reveals our purpose and our destiny. The Creator God is the One who instituted marriage. When you understand His divine purpose and plan through our Savior, Jesus Christ, you will see the spiritual importance and significance of marriage. God's plan is to expand His spiritual, immortal family. He created the human family to prepare each and every one of us for a glorified future. The Apostle Paul wrote, "For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named" (Ephesians 3:14–15).
God's purpose is to create a spiritual family. That inspiring truth should motivate us to improve our family and marital relationships. When you acknowledge God in your marriage, when you apply the principles and strategies of successful family living, you can enrich, improve or even save your marriage!
There truly are proven, biblical keys for a successful marriage. You need to know them and apply them in your own marriage. Or you may want to share them with friends or relatives planning to marry in the near future. It may not be easy, but the effort can lead to great rewards and a loving relationship.
Key 1: Give 100 Percent
The old saying, "Marriage is a 50–50 proposition," is totally wrong! So-called modern, enlightened professionals may say, "Independence is our priority. We'll intellectually agree to work together, but I'll still reserve my personal escape route in case things don't work out right." One needs to ask, what is the framework for our marital relationship? Is it mutual convenience? Or is it a biblically based relationship that will grow in depth and character for the rest of our lives? What does the Bible say? Notice this verse, which is foundational to happy relationships and the character that we need for all eternity: "And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive'" (Acts 20:35). Or, as the Moffatt translation puts it, "It is happier to give than to get."
One of the greatest gifts you can give is your time! Some years ago, when I was very active in sports, I tended to shortchange my wife in spending time together. I still remember the time when I determined to give my time to her in some special activity that would please her. She wanted to go canoeing—that was not my favorite activity, but we went canoeing on an East Texas lake on a Sunday afternoon surrounded by pine trees, blue skies, water fowl, and peace! What I considered a sacrifice of my time, led to an improved relationship—my wife enjoyed the activity and appreciated my effort. As Jesus said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive."
True love is giving without expecting anything in return. When two people both give 100 percent, you have a strong bond, a strong overlap that is going to guarantee flexibility and the ability to cope with crises and problems. But accepting the 50–50 proposition guarantees a built-in weak link in your relationship!
God's way of life is a giving way—the mature approach to life and marriage. The Bible also instructs husbands and wives to give to one another sexually. In the first century, the Apostle Paul gave this instruction to Gentile converts to Christianity, who were living in the sexually immoral city of Corinth: "Because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control" (1 Corinthians 7:2–5).
Are you willing to follow this instruction? Do you express affection to your husband or wife? Simple hugs and kisses when you leave for work, and when you return, are important. A German insurance company issued a report a few years ago, concluding that men who kiss their wives every day are less prone to accidents, and are generally more successful financially than men who do not kiss their wives every day. So I made sure to kiss my wife every morning before leaving for work. One day I forgot, and backed my car into a tree. Needless to say, I make sure I kiss her every morning!
Commenting on the problem of selfishness, Dr. John A. Schindler wrote, "The only person capable of true affection is the person who can forget himself and his own immediate interest while he places the welfare and interest of someone else foremost. When both husband and wife can do that, they will have no domestic nor sexual trouble" (How to Live 365 Days a Year, p. 142).
How many husbands and wives actually practice that principle? And how many Christian husbands and wives actually practice that principle?
Key 2: Honor and Respect Your Spouse
Do you really value your spouse? Do you respect him or her as a human being made in the image of God? Notice God's instruction regarding our relationship with others: "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself" (Philippians 2:3).
Yes, you need to esteem—to value—your spouse better than yourself. To vain, self-indulgent individuals, that sounds awfully archaic, but it is a living law. So repent of selfish ambition and conceit. Turn your attitude around. Treasure your mate as a potential child of God. And, as the saying goes, "Don't sweat the small stuff." Look for and appreciate the positive values you find in each other! And if you have been abusing your spouse, physically or verbally, you need to repent! You need to humble yourself before God and ask His forgiveness, and you need to apologize to your mate! I know it is sometimes difficult to say, "I'm sorry." But an apology can go a long way in healing and restoring a relationship!
How do you demonstrate honor and respect to your husband or wife? There are many ways, such as giving special gifts, listening carefully, expressing thanks and using common courtesy in your words and the tone of your voice.
How patient are you with your family? Patience is a way of expressing love, as we learn from 1 Corinthians 13, often called the "love chapter." We read: "Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends" (1 Corinthians 13:4–8, NRSV). Read that chapter. Pray that God will give you the ability to live by those qualities and grow in those qualities.
You can improve your marriage by listening, by understanding, and by giving space to one another. You can improve your marriage by honoring and respecting your spouse! Notice this vital instruction God gives to husbands: "Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered" (1 Peter 3:7).
God instructs the husband to honor his wife. Keep in mind that you are "heirs together of the grace of life." Perhaps the most important key is to understand how God values every human being, and particularly your mate, regardless of your opinion of him or her. Every human being on earth has the potential of being born into the divine family of God as a glorified, immortal child of God. The Apostle Paul reminded us of God's plan for us: "I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty" (2 Corinthians 6:18).
Key 3: Set a Positive Example
The Apostle Peter gave instructions for Christians to set a good example even to their non-Christian mates: "Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear" (1 Peter 3:1–2).
Remember, you cannot change another person against his or her will, but you can change yourself! We all have God-given responsibilities in our marriage and family. God tells husbands: "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her" (Ephesians 5:25). Are you, as a husband, fulfilling your responsibility? Some husbands and wives place great emphasis on judging their mate's conduct, to excuse their own lack of faithful service. Remember, we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ, as it tells us Romans 14:10. Be sure you are fulfilling your own God-given responsibility as a husband or wife!
Years ago, Tomorrow's World magazine Editor in Chief Roderick C. Meredith wrote two very helpful articles outlining the Christian responsibilities of husbands and wives. His article "What All Husbands Need To Know!" has helped me greatly in the more than 40 years of my marriage. Summarized briefly, a husband's five areas of responsibility to his wife are: love and respect, support and encouragement, leadership and guidance, help and protection, and inspiration to grow (Plain Truth, June 1966).
A few months earlier, he had written a similar article, "True Womanhood—Is It a Lost Cause?," outlining qualities that will help a woman help her husband and the whole family. Those areas are: responsiveness and service, tenderness and beauty, intelligence and understanding, Christian virtue, and faith, hope and courage (Plain Truth, November 1965).
When we apply these biblical characteristics in our lives, we enrich the lives of others, and we strengthen our marriage and family.
The book of Titus outlines biblical responsibilities for Christian women, explaining that the older women should teach and "admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children" (Titus 2:4). Are you wives and mothers who are reading this article fulfilling your God-given responsibilities? If you are, you will be a positive example to your husband. God will bless your efforts, if you acknowledge Him in your marriage, and if you ask Jesus Christ to live His life in you. With God's help, strive to be the best husband or the best wife you can be.
Key 4: Communicate in Love
How often do couples "tune one another out" in their conversations? Effective communication means effective listening as well as speaking. We should listen for understanding—try to understand the other person's point of view. Try to understand the other person's feelings and needs! Demonstrate respect by giving your full attention.
The Apostle Paul gives us a fundamental principle in communicating effectively. "But speaking the truth in love, [we] may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ" (Ephesians 4:15). Some people speak the truth in hate. But Christians who are maturing in Christ will care about how their words affect those who listen to them.
When you talk with your husband or your wife, do you demonstrate concern and care? Do you communicate respect? Certainly we need to be patient with one another. "Charity suffereth long, and is kind." (1 Corinthians 13:4, KJV) The NIV states it this way: "Love is patient, love is kind." Be conscious always to speak the truth in love!
In our fast-paced lives, husbands and wives may be going in different directions and hardly have time to speak to one another. Some studies have shown that many couples average less than 20 minutes a week in conversation! Authors Leonard and Natalie Zunin have suggested the "four-minute rule" as a way to capitalize on the brief time you may have together. They point out that the success or failure of a marriage "can depend on what happens between a husband and wife during just eight minutes of the day: four in the morning upon awakening, and four when you are reunited after the working day" (Contact: The First Four Minutes, p. 133).
The Zunins correctly point out that your language, attitude, or expression at the beginning of the day can affect your whole relationship. Learn to express a positive, loving attitude for the first four minutes you are together at the beginning of the day. If you make this effort, you can avoid an accidental argument or an unnecessary grudge that will last all day. And pay particular attention when you get together at the end of the day. Even if you are tired, a positive word of encouragement or appreciation—a hug or a kiss can make a big difference in your relationship for the whole evening.
Key 5: Pray Together
Many of you reading this article may be married to an unbeliever. If so, you may not be able to pray with your spouse—but you can pray for your spouse, and for your successful marriage! As mentioned earlier, you can be a Christian example to your mate. Scripture gives this instruction to wives who have non-Christian husbands. "Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives" (1 Peter 3:1). Your loving, giving, Christian example can go a long way toward positively influencing your mate. Notice the emphasis is on your conduct, not on trying to argue your mate into your religion!
Of course, if both you and your spouse pray, you can pray together. When my wife and I pray together, I normally begin the prayer, then after a short while nudge my wife. She will then pray, and when she is done I will conclude our prayer together. It is just amazing how intimate and personal thoughts come out in our shared prayers. In that way, we are sharing with one another, and with our God.
One of my wife's favorite expressions is, "Let's pray about that." I appreciate her willingness to involve God in our marriage and in our life together. We all need to acknowledge God and our Savior in every aspect of our lives. Scripture exhorts us: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths" (Proverbs 3:5–6).
A marriage requires work, effort and continual nourishment to be successful. It means giving all you can in following your God-given responsibilities as a husband or as a wife. There will be obstacles, differences, and even conflicts. But with God's help, you can improve your marriage—and even save your marriage if it is in danger!
Ask God to help you apply these principles in your own life. Remember, you cannot force your spouse to change—you can only change yourself. But your example of love and service can be a tremendous influence on your mate. And remember, you cannot do it on your own. You need the help of your Savior in your own life. As the Apostle Paul wrote, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13). May God bless you, your marriage and your family as you strive to live by His word!