This message is for husbands and wives who want their marriage to succeed. It is also for those who are remarried and are finding it is necessary to work as hard, or harder, the second time. This message is also for the singles who hope to establish a good Christian home someday in the future.
This message is for honest marriage partners only. It is not for those who are looking for a way out of their marriage or who are wanting a way to simply exist in a bad arrangement.
I know of no strong marriages that have not been tested, severely. Husbands and wives who experience suffering, pain, misunderstanding and temptation - can, together, rise above it all and enjoy a marriage that is both beautiful and enduring. How each partner reacts to crises is the key.
It's very true that fewer marriages are making it in these troubled times. The divorce rate is getting scary - and it strikes closer to us every day. It's almost like a raging flood out of control, sweeping away foundations that have stood for years. Even marriages that have lasted for thirty or forty years are breaking up.
Most of the books on how to improve your marriage are nothing but pulp. At times, I think some of the writers simply dream up their untested, juvenile instructions on how to achieve marital bliss.
It's not that I don't want help from the "experts" to improve my marriage; it's just that few marriage counselors are practical or scriptural. For me, their methods are unworkable. Instead, I have asked numbers of husbands and wives to share with me their secrets to their long and happy marriages. One man told me, "I've been married for 43 years now, and it's beautiful and better than ever." That man has something to say that I want to hear. Those two lovely people are the real experts.
Most of the ten steps to making your marriage work have been given to me by husbands and wives who enjoy long and successful marriages. Some of the steps have been learned in my own marriage, as my wife and I struggled to achieve a lasting love.
Here, for your prayerful consideration, are TEN WAYS TO HELP MAKE YOUR MARRIAGE WORK.
A lovely young wife, whose divorce was to be finalized within the week, confessed to us, "I wish now that I had never used the word divorce. We have been married only five years, but we argued so often. Things got pretty bad, and one day I blurted it out - 'I think we ought to get a divorce.' We were both shocked, at first. We had never even thought of divorce before that moment. But after the shock wore off, I realized the seed for divorce had been planted. It was easier to say the next time. Within weeks, that's all we talked about. The seed grew monstrous roots that finally strangled our marriage."
Others who have been divorced tell me the same thing. "Tell everybody you can," they say, "to never even speak the word 'divorce.' There is something fatal in the very use of the word. don't let them plant that seed - it grows too wild and too fast."
I agree! The Bible says, "Death and life are in the power of the tongue; and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof" Proverbs 18:21).
Be honest when you disagree. Express your hurt. Let your feelings show. And God help you if you don't. People who keep things bottled up inside are candidates for all kinds of illnesses. But most married people who have intense disagreements think they are somehow becoming allergic to one another. They think to themselves, "Oh boy, here we go again. It's a hopeless situation. We must have lost our love and respect for each other."
Quit the theatrics. You are only human, and you might as well mark it down that you will have disagreements at times from now until you are called home to heaven. Learn to get it all out, quickly. Don't ever think of quitting on your marriage because you are still weak in the area of communication. People who keep looking for a perfect relationship with "no more fighting" are heading for real disappointment.
Most important of all - never drop "the bomb" when you argue or disagree. Every husband, every wife, knows exactly what to say to get his or her "goat." For me, the "bomb" is "phony." I hate to be called a phony, and my wife knows it. And she used to use it on me "for the kill." When I wanted to get even, I'd drop the bomb on her. "Gwen," I'd say, "you are getting fat." When she ran from the room weeping, I knew it had found it's mark. Thank God, we've outgrown such childishness. But we still have disagreements.
The important thing is to never go to sleep back to back. Take the humor stick and knock the stuffings out of your pompous attitude. Laugh at how ridiculous you both are. Learn to admit, "our marriage is still good - we simply have here a failure to communicate."
The Bible offers the best advice of all - "It is an honor for a man to cease from strife; but every fool will be meddling" (Proverbs 20:3).
Comedic partners who poke fun at their mates think of it as "good-natured joking." It is not! It is degrading and dangerous. Making jokes about the stupid things your husband or wife did at home is another way of putting him or her down. Behind most of these jokes is a spirit of anger and malice. It's a way of "not letting them forget their mistakes." It's a way of bringing up the mistakes again so that everybody can know about the failure.
Behind all the laughter can be terrible hurt. Being the butt of a joke can be like getting slapped in the face. How often have you heard a husband blurt out to everybody standing nearby, "Hey, did you hear what my wife did? It was the craziest thing you've every heard." Then he proceeds to tell every embarrassing detail. Or she will joke, "My husband is a dirty old man - all he thinks about is sex." But it's no joke. Husbands and wives who respect one another do not resort to such foolishness. It represents "no class." Joke about anything you choose - but not about your husband or wife. Humor - yes! Butt jokes - never!
How tragic that some husbands and wives believe they have been called to keep their mate humble. They are constantly pricking the balloon so that he or she will not get a big head.
One middle-aged wife told me, "Somebody has to keep my husband humble. He gets so much attention from others - he needs to be brought down a peg or two. He gets too big for his britches. I know just how to straighten him out."
How sad! One day that husband will walk out on her, and seek another woman who will build him up. Men especially have such a need to be encouraged and their egos unruffled. It is not a sin to build each other up - with sincere compliments. There is no need to tell lies or be shallow about it.
Anyone who can stand before a sacred altar and make vows for life, surely ought to see enough good in that partner to talk about it.
A divorced woman told me recently, "My husband's been gone now for over three years. How I wish he would come back. The loneliness is unbearable. There are a million things I forgot to tell him. If I had only let him know how good he really was, in so many ways. What a fool I was - I could never learn to compliment him; I was always on his back, pointing out all his mistakes. I see how some husbands and wives treat each other so coldly, and I want to scream at them - 'Wake up, before it's too late ' Quit your sarcasm and encourage each other.'"
Wives tend to become as beautiful as the compliments their husbands pay them. They become radiant when told how attractive they are. And husbands will do almost anything to live up to the compliments and encouragement of a proud wife.
The Bible says, "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver..." (Proverbs 25:11).
It has been said, "If it's really love, set it free - and it will always return. If not, it wasn't love from the start." There is a great measure of truth in that.
loving husband of 45 years confessed to me the secret of his enduring marriage to one wife. "I believe it is my privilege and duty to create an atmosphere in my home in which my wife can reach her full potential. She, in turn, helps me reach mine."
With his encouragement, she was active in the church; she did volunteer work in the hospital; and she had her own hideaway where she indulged in painting. He said she was a merry wife to him because she was happy with herself. She was not being smothered by a husband who was interested in nothing but his own goals.
Jealousy is a form of bondage - it is the most smothering human passion known to mankind. Husbands and wives who fear the loss of a partner's love try to overcompensate by holding on too tightly. It becomes an iron grip. A wife who thinks to herself, "I won't let him out of my sight!' is actually expressing her fear of losing him. The husband who will not allow his wife plenty of room for growth and expression will one day resent the boredom and narrowness forced on her.
The most fulfilling of all marriages are those in which both husbands and wives commit their love to God's keeping, and who truly set each other free to grow and mature. If God cannot keep you together, charm and sex will never do it. Without freedom, there can be no growth. Not freedom to flirt or fool around - but freedom to take on new challenges and set new goals.
True freedom is based on trust, and trust comes from feeling secure in each other's love.
The Bible says, "Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?" (Isaiah 58:6).
"Love Story" was a movie whose theme was "Love is never having to say I'm sorry." that is a lie from the pits of hell. Love, according to God's Word, is learning how to say I'm sorry.
An irate husband boasted, "I walked out on my wife last night. She is always right, and I'm always wrong, but not this time. I'm not going to let her walk all over me again. I know I'm right on this matter. I'm always the one who has to give in first. Well - this time I'm staying away until she crawls on her hands and knees and admits she's dead wrong."
Along with learning to say I'm sorry," husbands and wives must learn how to say, "I forgive." Jesus warned that the forgiveness of our Heavenly Father depends on our forgiving those who trespass against us.
"And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. but if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses" (Mark 11:25,26).
Has your husband or wife cheated on you? Have you been wounded by adultery? Did you accidentally discover their secret affair? Was there a true repentance? Are you trying hard to forgive and forget?
You may never forget - but you must learn to forgive. As long as you live, you may be haunted by the images of your husband or wife in the arms of someone else. You may always hurt and grieve over it. But is he or she has shown evidence of godly sorrow - and every effort is being made to make it up to you - you must forgive. More than that, you must stop, once and for all, bringing up the past. Multiplied thousands of marriages have survived infidelity, but only because godly sorrow for sin was followed by Christlike forgiveness. If you keep dragging up all the old, ugly past - the marriage will be in jeopardy.
The Bible says, "The discretion of a man deferreth his anger; and it is his glory to pass over a transgression..." (Proverbs 19:11).
Never "Clam up" or walk out when things get shaky. One of the most aggravating actions irritating marriages today is the silent treatment. A young wife asked me to "talk some sense into her husband." He was about six feet and four inches tall and weighed over two hundred pounds. "All he does," she said, "is close up on me when we disagree. He won't fight back. He just walks out the door, leaving me to steam in my own juices. When he cools down, he comes home. but he is like ice until I make up with him. He can go for days without saying a word. I hate it. I'd rather he yell or scream or even hit me. But no more silent treatment - I can't take anymore."
It is deadly wrong to say to your husband or wife, "Just leave me alone. I don't want to talk. I'm going through a rough place - let me work it out by myself. I just don't want to be around anybody right now." that is not only stupid - it is a genuine put-down. What is marriage all about - if it is not about sharing and helping one another through every crisis?
I've heard all the excuses: "It's that time of the month." "I'm going through the change of life." "I'm not feeling well." "I've had a bad day." "My nerves are bad." But none of these excuses give you the moral right to shut out someone who loves you. Keep the door to your heart always open to accept help in your time of need.
The Bible says, "He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls..." (Proverbs 25:28).
If the joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10), then strong marriages should abound with joy. When marriage loses its joy, it becomes weak and vulnerable. Show me a happy home, and I'll show you a joyful couple at the helm.
Husbands and wives, who no longer laugh and play together, no longer love each other. There is a joyful childishness about true love. I've come to the conclusion our marriages are suffering from too many sober husbands and sad wives.
Sure, there are problems. There is sickness, unexpected trouble, financial problems, misunderstanding, pain, and even death. But life goes on - and it's a shame that so many couples never enjoy life. They keep hoping they will someday be happy and contented - when all the bills are paid, when the kids are grown, when they retire. But life passes by so quickly, and all they have to show for it are the wrinkles and lines on their worried faces.
No thanks! Not for me! The future is now. God is on the throne and He has everything under control. Thank God for a partner who loves me. I plan to enjoy every minute of it. I'm going to keep the joy flowing! There's a time for weeping, but also a time for rejoicing. The good outweighs the bad - so look up and live.
The Bible says, "A merry heart doeth good like a medicine; but a broken spirit drieth the bones" (Proverbs 17:22).
There is always someone eager to console a hurting husband or wife. And when there is no one to talk to at home, many go seeking a friend elsewhere - "just someone to talk to." that is where almost all adultery begins.
Church choirs can be hot beds of adultery - if the director is not a discerning man of God. Husbands and wives sit at home, while their troubled mates gravitate to a sympathetic friend in that choir. It also happens on the job. In the office. Wherever people are working closely together. It is especially bad nowadays with so many hurting people looking for help and consolation. Secret affairs begin innocently enough - just talking about mutual hurts, then follows the leaning" process. All too often, it ends in transference of affection and adultery.
Never, never, never tell your marriage troubles to a third party. Not even to the closest friends of your own sex. They are usually the first to squeal your troubles to the world, and, they are in a position to hurt you when you need them the most.
Lean only on Jesus! He never tells - except the Father! It's true, there are so few to talk to about your problems. But husbands and wives should be best friends. They should lean only on one another. Leaning in any other direction leads to a fall.
The Bible says, "Bread of deceit is sweet to a man; but afterward his mouth shall be filled with gravel" (Proverbs 20:17).
Adam and Eve brought deceit into their marriage and then compounded their rebellion by hiding from God's presence. God never hides - only man does. But God was vitally involved with that first marriage between the first man and woman. And He is just as concerned about every Christian marriage today.
No marriage can make it today if one or both partners are hiding out from God. Show me a marriage without a partner that is close to Jesus, and I'll show you a marriage with little chance of survival. At least one of the partners must be in daily consultation with the Lord. There must be a hotline to the throne room. It works best when both husband and wife are talking to Him - but if there is one partner running from God, it is all the more imperative that the other be able to run to a secret closet for help and direction. A praying wife can often save her marriage - as can a praying husband.
Love is not enough to keep a marriage strong - only God's power can do that. That power is at work, right now, healing and keeping marriages! Divorce is the result of one or both parties losing their faith. But where Jesus is King - the marriage can make it!
"Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy" (Jude 24).