How to Build a Marriage that Lasts
Setting the Stage
Someone has observed that “fifty years ago parents were apt to have a lot of kids. Nowadays kids are apt to have a lot of parents.” (sermoncentral accessed 11/22/10)
As I read 1 Cor 7:10-11 I can't help but conclude that God is clear regarding his design for marriage – it is a lifelong arrangement. Everyone contemplating marriage must understand this. Dissolution of marriage for any reason is a departure from God’s intention. It is a failure… any discussion about marriage must start” with the premise that marriage is designed to be a lifelong arrangement.
But just how this kind of a marriage is possible? I realize that I am being a bit audacious with my title, "How to Build a Marriage that Lasts" But I hope I have your attention. I do offer this disclaimer: I openly acknowledge that I do not have the final answer to making marriages last. There are no magic formulas; no simple 4 keys. In fact, it is possible to do everything “right” and helplessly watch your marriage disintegrate. Why? Because we are dealing with sinful human beings. And sometimes sin has dire, unintended, and insoluble consequences.
However, all is not lost. I believe there are some things we can do and life traits we can embrace that will dramatically increase the percentages in favor of lifelong marriages.
Do you recall your wedding vows? Did you answer in the affirmative to questions something like…
"Do you solemnly promise, before God and these witnesses, that you will love, honor, and cherish her/him; and that, forsaking all others for her/him alone, you will faithfully perform to her/him all the duties which a husband/wife owes to wife/husband, so long as you both shall live"?
Or, "Will you have this woman/man to be your wedded wife/husband, to live together after God’s ordinance in the holy estate of matrimony? Will you love her/him, comfort her/him, honor and keep her/him in sickness and in health; and forsaking all others, keep yourself only for her/him, so long as you both shall live"?
My proposition is that your commitment to these vows and other items is as essential to a successful marriage, as much as your love for your mate. Unfortunately too many marriages are ruled by convenience rather than commitment. It should not surprise us if such marriages crumble.
I guess you might say, that I am answering my own question, “How do you build a marriage that lasts” with a simple one word answer – “COMMITMENT.” Indeed, I do believe that we tend to make this far too difficult. So what must we be committed to? What commitments must be present? I suggest five.
First, A foundational commitment to maturing in Christ
This is a basic assumption for success in any endeavor. Your most important relationship is not to your spouse, rather your most important relationship in marriage is your relationship to God. You must first have a love relationship with Christ; are you in love with Christ is the first question.
In fact, this spiritual connection between husband and wife is clearly in fabric of Peter's urging in 1 Peter 3:7, "You husbands in the same way live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered."
Second, A practical commitment to obeying the Bible
Because we love God we are committed to obeying His Word - John 14:31 "but so that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded Me."
The oft referenced word pictures of Ephesians 5 instructs us to obey, love and respect our spouse.
The Word instructs us to remain married until death - Romans 7:2 "For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. 3 So then if, while her husband is living, she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress, though she is joined to another man."
If committed to God’s Word, we do all we can to make our marriage a success even if our spouse is absolutely a terrible husband or wife; or even if circumstances seem as if they couldn't be worse!
Third, A resolute commitment to keeping your word
Remember those wedding promises? Were they just traditional meaningless role playing? Or did they actually mean something? Did you make some personal promises? Are you a person of your word unlike the good for nothing bird, Mayzie?
You may remember Dr. Suess's children's tale, "Horton Hatches the Egg" published in 1940. The story tells of a young elephant named Horton, who is asked by the lazy bird Mayzie to sit her egg while she goes on vacation. Horton continues to keep his promise, despite the scornful laughter of his friends, the perils of hunters and a journey on a ship, and finally a traveling circus. His persistence is finally rewarded when the egg hatches during a performance, revealing a tiny winged elephant. Horton’s justification for continuing to sit on the egg was “I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. An elephant's faithful one-hundred percent.”
Biblical counterparts are familiar:
Psalm 15:4 In whose eyes a reprobate is despised, But who honors those who fear the LORD; He swears to his own hurt, and does not change.
Numbers 30:2 "If a man makes a vow to the LORD, or takes an oath to bind himself with a binding obligation, he shall not violate his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.
Ecclesiastes 5:4 When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it, for He takes no delight in fools. Pay what you vow!
Matthew 5:37 "But let your statement be, 'Yes, yes ' or 'No, no'; anything beyond these is of evil.
Fourth, A reverential commitment to marriage itself
Marriage was designed by God himself - Genesis 2:18-25. Therefore, marriage is not stylish; it does not loose it’s appropriateness depending on the culture; it is designed by God to be permanent.
Marriage cannot be replaced by co-habitation. Marriage is the one and only way to have a lasting relationship with the opposite sex. Therefore the marriage relationship must have priority over your kids; contrary to a “kids first” mentality".
In short marriage is great; we should stand in awe of this divine institution. So much so that we must be committed to the institution itself; we don’t just take up house together!
Fifth, A tangible commitment to your mate as a person
Generally only self-centered people fail at this point. “It’s just too hard” doesn’t cut it. “I can’t” is really “I won’t.”
I’m talking about a willingness to work at loving your mate. It might be difficult. So, here are twenty practical suggestions for upgrading your commitment to your mate (in no particular order):
- Prayer. Pray with and for your mate
- Extend grace. Always give the benefit of the doubt. You may have to be longsuffering; that’s okay.
- Work your log list. Worry about your defects rather than those of your spouse. Matthew 7:3 "Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 "Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' and behold, the log is in your own eye? 5 "You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye. Have you ever considered drawing up a list of your own blind spots and then begin working on them rather than becoming obsessed with the faults of your mate?
- Common courtesy is a must. Default to kindness and civility. Have you ever treated a stranger better than you treat your spouse?
- Act like a husband or wife. Fulfill the biblical roles and responsibilities of husband and wife. This is a great starting place. Do you even know what they are?
- Enjoy sex. Give yourself fully and enthusiastically to your spouse sexually.
- Manage money matters. Agree on how you will manage, spend, save, and give your money. And then abide by your agreement. Don’t covet the economic status of others and don’t succumb to materialism.
- You first, please. Put you’re the welfare of your spouse first. I know, this is obvious.
- I love you. Say “I love you” often, but don’t forget that actions speak louder than words!
- Together we stand. Develop common interests and adventures. The idea is to become friends not business partners.
- Encourage one another. Do whatever you can to build the other person up; including speaking highly of one another publicly. Sharp criticism should come from others. Your role is to edify.
- Pick carefully. It is much easier if you choose a spouse wisely. So, think it through – you might even get some advice.
- Solve conflicts. Learn how to solve problems and conflicts; don’t run from them. Remember, success in marriage is not the absence of problems, it is solving them biblically,
- Highlight the good qualities. Focus on positives features in your mate rather than negative ones. We all have an ugly side – even you.
- Do the hard things. Become command oriented rather than feeling oriented. You do what you do because it is right not because you feel like it.
- Swallow your pride. Let’s be honest. Sometimes you spouse will embarrass you. Or perhaps you are embarrassed because your marital problems become known. I’d like to gently urge you to get over it. You are not the first nor will you be the last. And besides, the church is your family.
- Just the two of you. Spend time alone together. Just the two of you -not the kids, not the dog. You don’t have to spend money or do something exotic; just do it together.
- Communicate. There are three things you must learn: Communication, communication, and communication. This is a big one. Failure to communicate causes or contributes to the majority of conflicts.
- Value individuality. You didn’t cease being an individual person when you said “I do.” Don’t smoother one another. Neither of you is a probation officer for the other. So, find a balance between individual identity and oneness.
- Seize the moment. Smell the roses. Enjoy your moments you are given together. You may not have tomorrow. Don’t put off those things you really want to experience together.
Joseph Choate was a thorough gentleman as well as a distinguished lawyer in this country some years back. He had a quick wit which made him good copy for journalists. Someone once asked him, "Mr. Choate, if you were not yourself, who would you most like to be?"
Without a second's hesitation Choate replied, "Mrs. Choate's second husband." Bits & Pieces, May 27, 1993, p. 23. Sermonillustrations.com accessed 10/28/10
© Copyright. Joseph Flatt. 2014. All rights reserved. May be used for educational purposes without written permission but with a citation to this source