We all want a happy marriage, but is it possible? Yes it is! Put these principles into practice and discover the marriage you have always wanted.
Even while the Western nations are forgetting what marriage truly is, you
can have the happy marriage God intended you to have. The truth about marriage
isn’t found in any nation’s legislation; it is found in the sound principles for
Christian marriage contained in your Bible! Use these principles to make your
unhappy marriage happy, or your happy marriage even happier!
For many in today’s society, marriage just isn’t what it used to be! Couples in the United States and many other countries are marrying later in life than ever before… and these couples pursuing marriage now include male-male and female-female pairs. A few at the extremes are even exploring sologamy and polygamy—one-person and three-or-more-person “marriages.” Most of us today roll our eyes and scoff at the idea that our nations might ever embrace such arrangements, but let’s not forget that the idea of same-sex “marriage” seemed ridiculous—even unthinkable—to most people just a decade or two ago!
The Pew Foundation recently reported that the average age at which Americans first marry has reached an all-time high: age 30 for men, and age 28 for women (“8 Facts about love and marriage in America,” Pew FacTank, February 13, 2019). Remarriage is also on the rise: In 2013, 23 percent of married people had been married at least once before, compared with just 13 percent in 1960 (ibid.). In the midst of all this, divorce has increased among older Americans. Since 1990, the divorce rate for people over 50 has roughly doubled—and has nearly tripled for people over 65 (“Led by Baby Boomers, divorce rates climb for America’s 50+ population,” Pew FacTank, March 9, 2017). Clearly, the trends and statistics are not encouraging for marriage.
The good news is that you are an individual, not a statistic. No matter what other people are doing, a happy marriage can be yours—if you follow the solid guidance of the Bible and resist the dangerous trends of modern society.
Marriage can be joyous, but it can also be challenging. I know this from decades of personal experience. In the more than 50 years that my wife and I have been married, we have sometimes faced difficulties because of our human nature. But the Bible gives us valuable strategies and secrets for a successful, godly marriage. These principles will be useful if both you and your spouse are Christian, but can even help if one of you is an unbeliever. If you apply these principles in your marriage, as my wife and I have done, you will not be disappointed by the results! You can turn an unhappy marriage into a happy one—or make a happy marriage even happier!
Do you and your spouse find that your differences keep you apart, or can you bridge those differences to find greater understanding and appreciation? In my own life, I have learned that when we communicate in love, my wife and I are much happier as a couple. My wife was a music teacher and an accomplished violinist before I married her. I, on the other hand, was trained as an engineer. Some might assume that my analytical thinking would naturally complement her subjective way of looking at situations, but we found that we had to work hard at understanding each other.
Remember that communication also means effective, patient listening—not just effective speaking! How often do couples “tune each other out” in their conversations? We should listen for understanding—try to appreciate the other person’s point of view. Try to understand your spouse’s feelings and needs! Demonstrate respect by giving your full attention. I may never fully understand how my wife thinks, but I have learned to value the wisdom she gains from her perspective.
But how can we listen if we barely even talk to each other? Some studies have found that many couples spend less than 20 minutes a week in conversation! It would be ideal if we could change that, but in busy times and difficult economic circumstances, this may be easier said than done. Happily, researchers have found a tool you can use to capitalize on the brief time you have together—the four-minute contact rule. In their book Contact: The First Four Minutes, Dr. Leonard Zunin and his wife Natalie Zunin explain: “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” (p. 133). Your language, attitude, or expression at the beginning of the day can affect the whole day’s relationship. Learn to express a positive, loving attitude during the first four minutes you are together at the beginning of the day. Show that you care. Be respectful, affectionate, and patient. Remember: “Love suffers long and is kind” (1 Corinthians 13:4). Another translation puts it this way: “Love is patient, love is kind” (ibid., NIV).
The Apostle Paul gives us another 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 be concerned about the effect of their words and message upon the listener.
Take care in your conversations to speak the truth in love! And be sure to listen in love. You may have more in common with your spouse than you know. I never trained as a musician, but I grew up in a household where my father played the violin. My wife’s appreciation of beautiful music has enriched my life by continuing the influence to which I was exposed as a child. It has even encouraged me to “play at” playing the piano. I’m not trained, and I’m not very good, but a few minutes playing the piano as an amateur can bring me great calm—and my wife often communicates her appreciation of it, which brings us even closer together!
You have probably heard the expression, “It’s the little things that count.” Every kind word of appreciation makes a difference. Research has also shown that something as simple as a hug can reduce stress between husband and wife. Along with spontaneous hugs, my wife and I will often make a point of hugging when we part from each other to work on separate projects at home. Years ago, I read an insurance report stating that husbands who kiss their wives before leaving for work have fewer car accidents and earn 30 percent more money than those who do not kiss their wives. Naturally, I then made it a regular habit to kiss my wife before leaving the house for work. One day, however, I did not kiss her—and I backed my car into a tree! Although there was very little damage, I learned my lesson. I now make sure to kiss my wife every morning!
Other loving and thoughtful deeds can help keep romance alive. A thoughtful and caring husband will often give his wife a bouquet of flowers on an anniversary, and will even do so at other unpredictable times as a total surprise. A creative and caring wife may surprise her husband with a special gift or meal. These small expressions can make a big difference. God also intended for husband and wife, becoming one flesh, to enjoy the physical pleasures of sex in marriage! Shortly after their creation, God told Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28). The Bible is very clear: God created sex for marriage and building a family. But remember, the Bible also reveals that marriage is only between a man and a woman. In the Bible—and in the real world of spiritual, divine law—there is no such thing as “same-sex marriage”! The Bible plainly reveals that any sexual relationship outside of marriage is sin! “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (Hebrews 13:4).
Is love an “option”? No! God commands me, as a husband, to love my wife! I must give account to God for my attitude, service, and commitment to her. Notice that God does not give all kinds of escape clauses. He does not say, “if your wife is perfect, then you love her.” No! God commands you to love your wife. That is your responsibility! Loving your wife is a requirement—not an option! Scripture exhorts us, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church” (Ephesians 5:25–29).
Wives also have a command from God: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything” (Ephesians 5:22–24).
Notice that God does not say that you should submit only to a perfect husband. I do not know of any perfect husbands. Only Christ is perfect! But as each of us fulfills his or her own God-given responsibilities—sincerely and diligently, however imperfectly—God will bless the marriage even more! Notice, too, that in the previous verses, Paul writes that all Christians must maintain a thankful attitude. How? By “submitting to one another in the fear of God” (Ephesians 5:20–21). As husband and wife, you each have this responsibility toward your spouse.
If we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that we have human weaknesses and sometimes act on our carnal human nature. Husbands and wives will upset each other, and sometimes argue. Even after 50 years of marriage, my wife and I have occasional disagreements. How can we do our best to resolve them? The answer is found in a vital principle from Scripture: “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself” (Philippians 2:3).
How much do you value your spouse? Do you really respect your spouse as a human being made in the image of God? The Bible instructs each of us to esteem others better than ourselves. You must want the very best for your spouse, and you must be willing to do all you can to support his or her growth. Look for your spouse’s growth and do what you can to encourage it with your own acts of patience and support, and with your loving example. And—this is very important—there is no justification for abusing your spouse, physically or verbally. If you are doing this, you need to repent! You must value your spouse more than yourself, not use him or her as a doormat or punching bag. Sometimes an argument may get out of hand, and we may say words we later regret. If this happens, humble yourself before God and ask for His forgiveness, and be sure also to apologize to your spouse. I know, personally, that it is sometimes difficult to say, “I’m sorry.” But it is worth doing and can go a long way in healing and restoring a relationship!
Keep in mind that you and your spouse are “heirs together of the grace of life” (1 Peter 3:7). It is vital to understand how God values every human being—and that includes your spouse, regardless of your opinion of him or her. Every human being on earth has the potential to be born into the divine family of God as one of His glorified, immortal children. Paul wrote, “I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty” (2 Corinthians 6:18). Always be conscious of your spouse’s awesome potential.
How often do you have arguments with your spouse? We all need to exercise self-control, courtesy, honor, and respect. Sometimes, the best strategy in an argument is to remember: “A soft answer turns away wrath” (Proverbs 15:1). Sometimes, we need to admit our own responsibility. Perhaps we have personally contributed to the problem. I know it can be very difficult when our pride gets in the way. I have experienced that myself. But simply saying “I’m sorry” can go a long way in solving a conflict. And we certainly need to forgive one another. Remember the awesome instruction in your Bible: “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).
Another passage also emphasizes that point: “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection” (Colossians 3:12–14).
Many of you reading this article are married to unbelievers. Longtime readers of Tomorrow’s World understand that you cannot talk someone into faith in Christ. But you can pray to God for His intervention, and for the success of your marriage. Furthermore, you have a powerful tool available—a tool more powerful than your words. We read, “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.
And if you and your spouse are both believers, try praying aloud together. I have been amazed to discover how many intimate and personal thoughts come out in our prayers as we share with one another and with God.
You may have heard the old saying, “Marriage is a 50–50 proposition.” That saying is totally wrong! Do you see what is wrong with it? Marriage is a total commitment, but the 50–50 approach amounts to reserving a personal escape route in the event that your spouse’s 50 percent isn’t enough. Remember what Paul wrote: “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 states, “It is happier to give than to get.” True love is giving without expecting anything in return. When husband and wife both give 100 percent, you have a strong bond—a strong overlap with each other that is going to provide flexibility and the ability to cope with crisis and difficulty. When one spouse is going through a tough spot, the other will be there fully to help. By contrast, the 50–50 approach ensures that you will lose your spouse’s support when you need it the most!
With this in mind, do not neglect to give the gift of your time! Some years ago, when I was very active in sports, I tended to shortchange my wife when it came to spending time together. I still remember one instance when I determined to give my time to her in some special activity that would please her. She wanted to go canoeing—which was certainly not my favorite activity. But we went canoeing on a Sunday afternoon across the surface of an East Texas lake surrounded by pine trees, blue skies, waterfowl, and peace! What I considered a sacrifice of my time led to a strengthened relationship—my wife enjoyed the activity and appreciated my effort. Make a commitment to give more than you have in the past. Be determined to find ways to give to your spouse. As you do so, your frustrations will lessen, and God will bless you in your relationship. Again, as Jesus stated, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
As you work to improve the quality of your marriage, you may experience another benefit: a longer life! An article in the November 2018 issue of Health Psychology reports that, after controlling for other factors such as age and pre-existing disease, individuals who reported that their marriage was “very happy or pretty happy” had longer lifespans on average than individuals who described their marriage as “not too happy” (“Marital satisfaction and mortality in the United States,” Health Psychology, November 2018, pp. 1041–1044). No, a happy marriage won’t let you live forever, but even science suggests that it may lead to a longer life!
Dear readers, you can have a happy marriage, and you can make it even happier! You do not need to wait for your spouse to change—indeed, you cannot force your spouse to change, but you can change yourself, and your example of love and service can have a very positive influence on your spouse. But you cannot do it on your own. You need the help of your Savior! As Paul wrote, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).
We live in a world of confusion, where fewer and fewer people understand what marriage is supposed to be. But you don’t need to be a victim of that confusion. Follow these principles, and you can live happily as husband and wife, taking advantage of the very best marriage counsel available—the counsel of God and His word!