Marriage is a sacred institution created by God. The blessings of a healthy marriage are beyond measure. However, this does not mean it is easy to have a healthy marriage. Quite the opposite actually. As with most of life, great things require a great amount of work, effort, and sacrifice. This post is a reminder of what I should be doing as much as it is advice for others.
Reasons Marriages Don't Last
I feel that marriages are often broken for many reasons, but that most of the reasons fall under these general concepts:
- Not believing that marriage is a life-long sacred institution created by God.
- Neglecting your relationship with God.
- Not practicing the art of being selfless enough.
- Not sacrificing your selfish desires for your spouse and your marriage.
- Not putting enough thought, prayer, reading, or effort into marriage before you actually get married.
- Not putting enough thought, prayer, reading, or effort into marriage after you get married.
- Doing things the way your parents did them, even when you know they are bad for marriage.
- Not Improving yourself to be more like the spouse God created you to be.
- Not dealing with hurts, habits, or hangups as soon as possible.
- Failing to appreciate and be thankful for what you have.
- Marrying someone who has very different values than you do. Don't be "unequally yoked."
My Advice on having a lasting marriage:
Keep God at the center of your marriage
In the circle of christian marriage resources, the phrase "keep God at the center of your marriage" is used very frequently. There is a reason for this. I thought, and rightly so, that the reason for this was that God will make my marriage better and healthy. However, there is another equally important or perhaps more important reason: valuing what God says about marriage and seeing marriage the way God sees it, may be the only thing that holds your marriage together during the fiercest storms. Depending on who you talk to during times of marital crisis, God may be the only one telling you to repair their wreckage instead of abandoning ship.
Start applying more effort now.
Whether you are getting married soon, just married, or you have been married for many years; the best time to start working on your marriage is now. I have found that marriage books/resources are useful, but they provide value regardless of their content. The act of spending time and thought on marriage resources forces you to put thoughts about your marriage at a higher priority in your mind then they would normally be placed. This new level of marriage in your mind will increase the chances that you will choose thoughtful actions. You are more likely to do something kind/thoughtful for your spouse or to hold your tongue when you should be slow to speak. This means you should start reading marriage resources today and never stop! Go to marriage weekends and marriage conferences and be involved in marriage resources provided by your church. Being married well means developing that skill like you would any other skill, with intention and time.
Make an effort to Learn about your spouse, and to genuinely care.
Never stop learning about your spouse. Don't assume you know them perfectly. My wife has a built in method of helping me with this: she never stops changing. Many men will find the ever changing nature of their wife to be frustrating. Do not let it be. See it as a challenge to keep learning about your spouse. Maybe she wants mayo one day and mustard the next, embrace it instead of letting it make you upset. When your spouse talks about something they care about that you do not care about, try to give them your full attention. Learn to like or at least tolerate that subject more. You can learn to like any topic if you really care about your spouse. They can tell when you are fake caring. It may take time, but train yourself to genuinely care about things that matter to your spouse. You need to care at least some.
Do Not Keep Secrets / Be Transparent / Be One
This means sharing your passwords with your spouse. Sharing bank accounts. Sharing your struggles. Sharing the things you are not proud of. Sharing the areas where you struggle with sin. Keeping anything in the dark is a breeding ground for sin and for treacherous seas for your marriage.
Get Help Early and Get Help Often
This doesn't mean you should go see a marriage counselor for marriage problems starting on day one, but it does mean that you should not wait until year 17 to see a counselor for the first time. Counselors are not evil monsters and seeing a marriage counselor does not mean you are a failure! Seeing a counselor even when the idea is unpleasant means you care enough about your marriage to do uncomfortable things! Having a good marriage means being uncomfortable at times. You can do it! If you get help early enough, before it has eaten away at your marriage like a cancer, then you may not need to see a professional marriage counselor. You might be able to get help from: your church, a wise mentor, a support group, or a friend. Every person brings baggage and scars with them when they get married. Don't ignore them. Resolve them, heal them, improve them, just do something.
Practice Kindness Daily
Say and do nice things for your spouse often. At home, in front of others, as often as possible. Encourage your spouse and reassure them when things are not going their way. Kindness is one of the first things to be discarded in a marriage. Somehow our culture believes that kindness if for strangers, guests, extended family, but not our spouse. We know our spouse too well and we know all their faults. We don't need to be kind to them. That is a horrible lie, but many marriages act like this. We treat our friends and our dates with kindness, but after they move into the spouse arena we slowly forget the kindness. Do NOT let that happen to you. Say "thank you" and "you're welcome". Give hugs. Say nice words. Pickup the slack around the house even when it isn't your fault. When you run into disagreements and conflicts try to think how you would talk and deal with these issues with your best friend. Most people treat their best friends with a lot more courtesy and kindness during conflict than they do with a spouse. It should not be that way.
Give Your Spouse the Benefit of the Doubt
Don't assume you know the motivations for each thing your spouse does. Ask questions instead of making statements. Assumptions should be avoided most of the time in most areas of your life, but especially with your spouse. Don't assume they leave messes on purpose to annoy you or that they destroy your stuff on purpose. Calmly ask them if they know they care doing [fill in the blank] and that it bothers you. Don't assume your spouse is up to something nefarious when they are one hour late from work. Calmly ask them where they were. If you have build an environment of honesty and transparency, they will tell you where they were. Maybe they were planning a surprise for your birthday.
What Does My Marriage Advice Look Like When Acted Out?
Too often marriage resources tell you what you should be doing, but don't show you want it looks like. I am not perfect at these things. In fact I am far from perfect most days, but here are some examples of what my advice would look like:
- Not going out with your friends when you know that your spouse needs your help. Maybe they are sick or the kids are being extra crazy. It doesn't matter that you planned bowling night with your friends weeks ago. [sacrifice] [selfless]
- Your spouse says "Hey can I see your phone for a minute?". You should say "sure, here is it." Not "Why?" "What are you going to do with it?" [no secrets]
- Read your Bible daily. Go to Church. Be involved at church. Share your faith. Learn to defend your faith. Know why you believe what you believe. [keep God at the center of your marriage]
- When your spouse damages something you care about. Don't assume they did it on purpose. Approach them as calmly as possible and ask question instead of making accusations. [Give Your Spouse the Benefit of the Doubt]
- Letting your spouse win a debate, even when you think you are right and they are wrong. [selfless] [sacrifice]
(!) A Warning From The Battlefield
Just as God loves marriage, Satan hates marriage. Their is a spiritual war raging around us each day. This war has two sides: God, Truth, reality versus The Devil, Lies, and illusions. Do not take this war lightly or thing that there is no war. That is what our enemy wants. Everything the world and the enemy has will be thrown at you to keep you from having a healthy marriage. You have to be ready and you have to be constantly preparing for war. There will be many lies whispered into your ear to destroy your marriage. That is why you must constantly work to keep God at the center and to keep our selfishness at bay. The biggest lie is probably this: "That having a great marriage is easy and takes very little effort" or perhaps it is this: "marriage is only useful if it serves my desires. When it fails at this, get rid of it."