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Changing values in today's society are placing greater stresses on marriages than ever before. Your marriage can survive, and even improve, if you apply five marriage-saving strategies based on biblical principles.
Are you experiencing problems in your marriage? Do you need help? One source of profound and practical help is the Bible, the Word of God! The Bible gives amazing solutions that can help improve and may even save your marriage!
The institution of marriage can be one of the greatest blessings God has ever given human beings! But the curses of selfishness and carnality have led to millions of divorces, broken families and damaged children! The pressures of our society all contribute to fragmented families, bringing about the rising numbers of homes with both parents working, escalating commercialism and materialistic values, the pervasive influence of entertainment industry, the lack of family time together, the inability of families to communicate and the lack of family purpose and cohesiveness.
What about your marriage? Chances are that it is experiencing stress—maybe even severe stress.
The workplace takes its toll on marriage, robbing couples of time. According to Cornell sociologist Phyllis Moen: "Workers increasingly are caught up in a time squeeze…. They have two jobs, one at work, one at home." Her colleague, Cornell sociologist Marin Clarksberg, observes: "People are working longer hours, and it's not because they want to" (San Diego Union-Tribune, January 23, 1999).
The Cornell study also revealed couples' changing values regarding the roles of husband and wife. "Only about 10 percent of couples said they prefer the traditional roles of the man as breadwinner and woman as full-time housewife. Yet 25 percent of the couples [actually] fit this mold."
How can couples cope with these pressures on family and on marriage? Some may even feel like giving up on marriage. But there is a source of real help! You need the truth! Jesus said in John 17:17, "Thy Word is Truth." The Bible—the written word of God—is the Creator's revelation to His creation, and is the source of truth! What better source can there be for guidance about your marital relationship?
The Ten Commandments teach us how to relate to God and how to relate to one another.
They are summed up in the two great commandments: "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 22:37–40).
The qualities of love toward God and love toward neighbor are fundamental to our very existence—and are fundamental to family relationships. Two of the Ten Commandments apply directly to our family lives. The Fifth Commandment tells us to "Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you" (Exodus 20:12). This is a spiritual cause-and-effect law. It is our God-given responsibility to honor our parents.
The Seventh Commandment states, "You shall not commit adultery" (Exodus 20:14). God demands faithfulness and fidelity in our marriages.
These commandments protect and enrich our family relationships. Our Creator wants us to build a strong family, and to love our neighbor. And our closest neighbor is our spouse!
Where did marriage come from? Scripture shows us that God, the Creator, instituted marriage.
Adam was alone until God presented him with a beautiful wife. "And Adam said: 'This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of man.' Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed" (Genesis 2:23–25).
God is the Creator of marriage and the family. He wants those relationships to be happy and vibrant. But you know what happened to Adam and Eve—they sinned! They disobeyed the principles and laws that would have brought them success and happiness. Yet God is allowing us to learn the way of right relationships. "…I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly" (John 10:10). Yes, through Jesus Christ, we can experience abundant living, even in our marriages, if we apply His instructions and God's revealed principles!
With that very important perspective in mind, let us consider five strategies to help improve your marriage—and even save your marriage if it happens to be falling apart.
Strategy 1: Renew your commitment. You probably already know that this is one of the most basic principles in marriage. Tomorrow's World Editor in Chief, Dr. Roderick Meredith has written about it in his booklet God's Plan for Happy Marriage! and he has discussed it on the Tomorrow's World telecast. The first strategy for improving your marriage is to renew your commitment.
We may mentally know this. But have we emotionally and spiritually practiced it? Remember the vows you took during the wedding ceremony? A typical ceremony includes the commitment by the bride and groom to serve one another "for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part."
Were those empty words? Or have you personally worked to fulfill your part of that wedding vow? This first strategy for improving your marriage is to renew your commitment to your spouse. We need to be dedicated to preserving the marriage the best we can! Are you devoted to your spouse?
I know it is not easy! My wife and I have been married for more than 35 years. We have had our rough spots. But we both know we are committed to one another! That is so important. In our world of easy divorces and experimental marriages, we need the commitment Jesus spoke of in the gospel of Mark. In Jesus' day, a man could divorce his wife for frivolous reasons. So the Pharisees, appealing to Moses' writings, asked Jesus whether divorce was lawful. He answered them, "Because of the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. But from the beginning of the creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate" (Mark 10:5–9).
Jesus emphasized that, from the beginning, a marriage commitment was for life. Again, we need to look to the Creator who joins us together in marriage! Strategy number one to improve and save your marriage is: Renew your commitment to your spouse, to be faithful in loving and serving one another through thick and thin.
God wants all of us to be a part of His divine family for all eternity! Our loving Father in heaven has given us the true knowledge for building a joyous marriage. At the time of your wedding, perhaps you were enthusiastic and expecting a life-long marriage of bliss and happiness. Then perhaps you faced the realities of human nature and the serious differences between you and your spouse! You may have become discouraged. But do not give up on your husband—or your wife! Strive to keep your marriage together.
Strategy 2: Deeply respect your spouse. So much of what we see and hear in today's media teaches us to disrespect others. Movies and television often glorify characters who boast vanity and pride. The media promotes heroes and heroines who can disparage, denigrate, and insult others. The attitudes of anger, hate, and disrespect cross the line of spiritual murder. As the Apostle John wrote in 1 John 3:15, "Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him."
We need to realize that every human being has the potential to be a glorified child of God in the Kingdom of God for all eternity. Each of us must recognize the potential that God has given our spouse. In spite of any current attitude, that potential still exists.
Listen to what God says to husbands in 1 Peter 3:7, "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." God tells each husband to give honor to his wife. That honor will be reflected in his words, his courtesy, his service, his body language and his attitude toward his wife!
Wives are also told to respect their husbands. "Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband" (Ephesians 5:33). There must be mutual respect in a marriage. Common courtesy goes a long way to encourage that honor and respect.
We must always remember our spouse's potential value in God's sight. Notice Paul's admonition in Philippians 2:3, "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself." To esteem means to value, or to hold in regard.
Strategy 3: Communicate in love. This third strategy is very basic but very necessary. How often do couples "tune out" one another in their conversations? Effective communication means effective listening as well as speaking. We should listen in order 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 wrote on this point. "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 a Christian, maturing in Christ, will care how his words and message affect a listener!
When you talk with your spouse, do you demonstrate concern and care? Do you communicate respect? Certainly we need to be patient with one another. Paul reminds us: "Love is patient, love is kind" (1 Corinthians 13:4, NIV). In your conversations, be careful to speak the truth in love!
Your language, attitude, or expression at the beginning of the day can affect your whole relationship. Learn to express a positive, loving attitude at the beginning of the day. 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.
Sometimes couples make arguing a habit—a repeated, predictable, pattern of provocation and response. Instead, make an effort to change your communication pattern. We read in Proverbs, "A soft answer turns away wrath. But a harsh word stirs up anger" (Proverbs 15:1). Try responding with a soft answer such as, "Well, I'm sorry that I give that impression." Even a simple response such as "thank you!" can often defuse a tired old argument. Use a soft answer the next time an argument begins in your home!
Strategy 4: Practice the way of "give." This is a key spiritual principle given to us by our Savior, as illustrated by the words and example of the Apostle Paul. "I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive'" (Acts 20:35).
If you make a commitment to give 100 percent to your marriage, you will be blessed! Think about how you can give to your mate. Little gifts or words of appreciation can make a big difference! Think about giving without expecting anything in return. Remember Christ's admonition, "And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two" (Matthew 5:41). True love means giving 100 percent and going the extra mile!
Love also means fulfilling another's needs. Marriage is a physical union in which both partners share important responsibilities, as described by the Apostle Paul: "Nevertheless, 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" (1 Corinthians 7:2–4). You must be willing to give to your mate even if you do not feel like doing so.
Strategy 5: Pray together. If you are married to an unbeliever and cannot pray with your spouse, you still need to pray for your spouse—and pray for your marriage. You can be a Christian example to your mate, as we read in the Apostle Peter's instruction to wives who have unconverted 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 spouse. Notice the emphasis is on the conduct, not on trying to argue your mate into your religion.
If both you and your spouse pray, try praying together once a day, as my wife and I often do. I normally begin our prayer, and after a short while nudge my wife. After her prayer, I will conclude our praying together. In sharing our intimate and personal thoughts with our God in prayer, we are also sharing with each other.
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. As we read in Proverbs 3:5–6, "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."
Marriage takes work, effort and nourishing to be successful. It requires giving all you can in following your God-given responsibilities to your spouse. There will be obstacles, and even conflicts. But with God's help, you can improve your marriage—and even save your marriage if it is in danger!
God instituted marriage for a great purpose in His plan for humanity. We are to learn to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength—and to love our neighbors as ourselves. In the intimate marriage relationship, we should continually learn to apply those principles of love.
In this article, we have briefly discussed five strategies for improving—even saving—your marriage. Ask God to help you apply these principles in your own life. Remember, you cannot force your mate to change—you can only change yourself. But your example of love and service can have an influence and positive effect on your mate. You need the help of your Savior in your own life. As the Apostle Paul said, "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!