What Makes a Marriage
|Anne and William were not looking for marriage. They thought they were happy living their lives as singles. Then one day they met—and although the month was a cool February, for them it might as well have been the Fourth of July! Suddenly they saw glittering stars and fireworks bursting in air accompanied by soaring strains of heavenly music. One year later they married.
Their honeymoon condition lasted six months. One day, William inadvertently asked Anne about something that would normally be of no consequence. But she burst into tears and said, "I am so sorry. I had no idea that bothered you." William felt so small he could have walked upright under the carpet. "I'm sorry too, and I never intended to ever make you cry."
Eventually every honeymoon ends and every couple must get down to the reality of making marriage work.
In our supposedly advanced countries, about half of all marriages end in divorce. Think what this means: The husband and wife suffer immediate disappointment and perhaps long-term depression, and children, if there are any involved, are emotionally scarred for years.
When spouses divorce, each often blames the other for their breakup: "It's not my fault; it's her fault. She didn't want to do the things I liked to do." Or, "He's the one who wouldn't communicate. He's the one who was wrong." Often there is a "marital iceberg" of hidden differences residing below the surface of their relationship.
But marriage, like life, doesn't have to end this way. You can make your marriage happy (or happier) by choosing to do so. You can start down the road to marital happiness this very day. Happier marriages result from making right choices.
Life's a choice
Life is an ongoing series of choices. Some of the choices we make naturally create anxiety and disagreement while other choices make our lives noticeably happier. Our life experiences are directly related to the decisions we make daily.
Since one major factor in marital happiness is belief in God, let's see how God views the importance of making choices.
Happier marriages appear to be directly related to how much a husband and wife allow God into their relationship. Since God is the one who instituted the marriage relationship, it makes sense that He is the one who holds the keys to a happy marriage.
Here then is the record of how marriage began: "Then the rib which the LORD God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man. 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" (Genesis 2:22-23).
God, not man, instituted marriage. Marital problems often develop when people assume that human beings invented marriage as a convenience.
Human nature, being shortsighted and always wanting to please itself, naturally opts for the quick fix. Many men and women short-circuit their marriages because of overly indulgent selfishness. Floundering marriages don't have to roil in selfish stalemates. By choosing not to be selfish, you can literally choose to make your marriage happier.
Choices in marriage bring good or bad results
God intended that the marriage relationship and making right choices be synonymous. He gives us freedom of choice and reveals that He created us to make choices daily. He tells us, for example, "I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live" (Deuteronomy 30:19, emphasis added throughout).
God gives us the opportunity and obligation to make choices throughout our lives. But the divorce record shows that we're not very good at making right choices.
God doesn't stop us from making wrong decisions. He knows that our flesh is weak and that our selfish nature makes us weaker. But He also knows that when we rise above our selfishness, we build good character. If we fail to understand that, we fail to understand a great deal about God and His plan and purpose for us.
Here's a key to understanding choices and their consequences: God has set in motion spiritual laws for human beings that lead to good or bad results, depending on the choices we make. Obey God's laws and good results automatically happen. Break God's immutable laws and bad results happen.
That's why it's important for marriage partners to make unselfish choices relative to each other. Selfishness brings bad results. Unselfishness brings good results. The choice is up to you.
So what choices can we make to improve our marriages? Let's examine several.
Choose mutual submission. The Bible is clear that the husband is the leader of the family, as we will soon see. However, Scripture also emphasizes mutual submission among all people, deferring to one another when possible, whether in marriage or in life.
The apostle Paul, in Ephesians 5:21, speaks of "submitting to one another in the fear of God." Peter advises husbands to "dwell with [their wives] with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life . . ." (1 Peter 3:7).
Modern religion and culture have generally refused this divine instruction. Is there something good to be said about mutual submission, especially in marriage? There certainly is. The opposite of submitting to one another is to oppose each other. When do two wrongs make one right? The way to peace in life and in marriage is to make peace.
Making peace requires humility. Human beings aren't accustomed to humility; this is a dog-eat-dog world. However, there are diminishing returns to always being right. If we happen to be right in a marital disagreement, it's counterproductive to gloat. If we are wrong and we come to realize we're wrong, we should quickly, and genuinely, admit it, apologize if warranted, and move on.
Those who enjoy a happy marriage also realize that humility rules. Good character is built and peace enters the relationship when one person humbles himself or herself to restore balance.
Based on the divorce rate, many couples give little thought to mutual submission. The very idea of humility in life and in marriage cuts across the grain of selfish human nature.
Humility is a gift from God; He is the author of mutual submission. The husband and wife who mutually submit do so with God as their guide. An improved relationship follows automatically.
In a happy marriage, both husband and wife mutually submit themselves to one another. None will do so perfectly, but the right intent and purpose needs to be there. Quite simply, when mutual submission is the prevailing attitude of both spouses, peace pervades and prevails in that marriage.
Choose not to change your spouse. When a man and woman decide to get married, they don't give much thought to changing their partners because they are so enraptured with each other. But time can and does change this amorous and intoxicating condition.
As the husband and wife come to see each other up close day and night, the honeymoon feelings gradually wear off and reality sets in. Suddenly they see traits and habits they weren't aware of or overlooked before, and those formerly inconsequential habits take on greater significance than they did in a forgiving honeymoon dreamland.
Husbands, have you ever hinted that your wife change a habit that has begun to annoy you only to find your wife in tears after the mere mention of it?
The proverbial toothpaste controversy is a case in point. One spouse squeezes the tube from the bottom up; the other squeezes it anywhere he or she grabs hold of it. Disagreements on seemingly insignificant acts suddenly turn into arguments. Arguments can precipitate cruel accusations, suddenly including unrelated nonissues. Before you know it, the honeymoon is over and both husband and wife begin to wonder if they married the right person.
If this situation is familiar, you've just come face-to-face with life and human nature. It is better to absorb the smaller differences and not try to change your spouse on minor issues if you want peace and continued love and respect to govern your marriage.
True, differences of opinion are often subjective, but by any other name, arguments can and do surface at times. Again, such otherwise unexpected marital disruptions come from making choices, usually poor or selfish ones.
Rest assured that you cannot avoid making choices in your marriage, whether you're newly married or you've been married for many years. Couples who understand that all human beings must make choices on a daily basis also realize that their marriage will enjoy greater security and happiness when built on right choices. If you want a happier marriage, there simply is no other choice.
A husband and wife who have remained happily married for many years have accepted each other's faults or differences and learned to work around the minor issues in their marriage. They have deliberately chosen to avoid making mountains out of molehills.
Choose to serve your marriage partner. We've discussed how to rise above the desire to change our spouse, so let's progress from not doing something detrimental to our mates to doing something productive for them. Any good action in marriage, as in life, likely has to do with a deliberate, outgoing service toward another person. You, the husband, can serve your wife, and you, the wife, can serve your husband.
God, through the apostle Paul, provides married couples the perfect formula to mutual submission and a happier relationship: "Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord . . . Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her" (Ephesians 5:22, 25).
The Bible's instruction is clear: Wives should submit to their own husbands as they do to Jesus Christ.
Wives can submit to Jesus Christ since they know that Jesus is merciful, patient and loving. But what about wives submitting to husbands the same way? The thought would probably generate a response something like: "But my husband is not like Jesus Christ. The more I submit to him, the more he takes advantage of me." No argument so far. This is why Jesus Christ inspired the instruction quoted above for husbands. Notice it again carefully.
Husbands are told to love and serve the wife as Christ loves and serves the Church. How much and in what ways does Jesus love and serve the Church?
He loved and served the Church to His very death and continues that love to this day and forever. His love and service involved giving Himself unconditionally to the very same human beings who took His life. Therefore, husbands, we have the privilege and obligation to love and protect our wives with that same kind of mercy, patience and sensitivity. When a husband and a wife mutually submit to and serve each other, peace happens.
Again, we deliberately choose how we relate to our marriage partner, either to selfishly demand our way or to unselfishly give up our way to make our mate happy and secure.
Naturally, a spouse who takes advantage of the unselfish service of the other on an ongoing basis will create an unbalanced and unhappy marriage. And husbands, in the leading role, are more prone to do this than wives, which is why Paul explicitly instructs husbands to love their wives as Jesus loves the Church—with a wholehearted, outgoing, self-sacrificial love.
However, a selfish spouse, whether husband or wife, is doing harm to himself or herself and to the marriage relationship when he or she selfishly demands his or her own way in a disagreement. Hopefully both husband and wife aren't simultaneously acting selfishly. When both spouses persist in such selfishness, divorce often looms ahead.
Happiness results when both husband and wife make up their minds to serve the other. That means choosing to do the right and considerate thing toward your marriage partner. When both spouses continually make the right choices toward each other, happiness and security bond their relationship, and their union will be blessed with many years of happiness.