1. Lay a Good Foundation
If you want to build something to last, you need to start with a strong foundation, and a marriage is no different (Prov.24:3-4). Some good questions to ask are: Why did you get married? What is the purpose of your marriage? What holds you together? Ingredients of a strong foundation include: faith in God, friendship, commitment and an understanding of partnership.
See your marriage as a friendship, not merely a functional relationship. The reason that God created Eve was as a friend and partner for Adam (Gen.2:18). Up until that time, Adam was alone and needed relationship with someone compatible to him. Like any friendship, marriage requires ongoing time and effort in order to keep growing closer together rather than drifting apart.
Include commitment in the foundation of your marriage. True love is a commitment not just a feeling. Feelings come and go; commitment stays the same. Character is the ability to carry out a decision long after the emotion in which that decision was made is gone. Strong and long-lasting marriages are not necessarily problem free, but they're committed to make it last. Make commitment, not feelings, the foundation of your family.
See your relationship as a partnership. Adam and Eve were both made in the image of God and before sin they ruled together (Gen.1:27-28). After sin, gender wars entered as did division and dominance (Gen.3:16-19). Jesus and Paul, despite living in a highly patriarchal society, made strong efforts to move us back to the beginning where men and women are seen as equals before God (Gal.3:26-28). All followers of Christ are to submit to one another in loving service (Eph.5:21). Even when referring to the man as the “head“ of the home (one of the most abused Scriptures in the Bible), Paul used the sacrificial servant leadership of Jesus as our example (Eph.5:22-33). Healthy marriages are not hierarchical and there is no room for suppression, abuse or domination. Like the love modelled by the Trinity, the husband and wife are to model genuine love for the other, always acting in the best interests of one another and the family (including in decision-making).
Our relationship with God is vital as it is the source of the love that we need to deal with the sinful selfishness we are all prone to and to put the other person first in sacrificial love. Lack of a vital spiritual life is at the root of most relational problems. Praying and serving God’s purposes together can add great strength to a marriage. After all, a 3-fold cord is not easily broken (Ecc.4:12).
2. Offer Love Meaningfully
Genuine love is essential to any healthy relationship. It is the glue that holds people together over time. Learning to express and communicate our love is a skill to be developed. It’s easy to say “I love you” but do our lives say the same thing and are we sharing that love in a way that is meaningful to our spouse?
There are different ways of expressing love and each of them can be seen as a language. Five common “love languages” are: (1) encouraging words (Prov.18:21. Eph.4:29), (2) serving (Mark 10:45. Gal.5:13. Phil.2:3-7), (3) giving gifts (John 3:16. Acts 20:35), (4) spending time together (Eph.5:15-17), and (5) appropriate physical touch (Mark 10:16). Discover the primary love language of your spouse and make an intentional effort to communicate love to them in a way that is meaningful to them on a regular basis.
3. Value the Art of Conversation
Someone once said, “Marriage is one long conversation, with an occasional disagreement along the way.” All relationships are built, maintained and developed through communication. When communication breaks down, so do relationships. Communication involves listening and speaking. James gives us some good advice about this: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry (James 1:19. NIV).” Learn the art of asking good questions and then of listening attentively. Seek first to understand then to be understood. Communication is the key to understanding and understanding is the key to intimacy. Value and appreciate the differences. Talk about everything (God, friendship, family, sex, career, church, etc). Be open and honest with each other. Share your deepest feelings – hopes and fears. Make regular time for uninterrupted conversation.
4. Endure the Rough Patches
No marriage is problem-free. It is inevitable that challenges, problems, conflicts and disagreements will occur along the journey of life for any husband and wife. How we navigate these times determines the health and strength of the marriage. Marriages with the biggest problems don't necessarily break up. It's the way we respond that is most important. Challenges can make us stronger and even bring us closer together, if they are handled well.
Learn to deal with conflict in a constructive manner. Anger gets us in trouble but it is pride that keeps us there. Be humble, apologise for wrongs you have done and choose to forgive (Eph.4:26-32). Attack the problem, not the person. Learn to reconnect emotionally after a conflict. The prime destroyer of marriage is hard heartedness. If you get stuck, then don't be embarrassed to ask for help. Attend a marriage enrichment seminar or see a pastor, a counsellor or a mature Christian.
[For more BLOG posts on this important topic, see Marriage Matters]
Sample Reflection Questions
1. If you are married, reflect on your marriage. How did you meet? What first attracted you to your spouse? What are some of the joys of marriage? What are some of the challenges? What keeps you together?
2. What part does a relationship with God play in a Christian marriage?
3. Reflect on the the concept of “partnership” as it relates to marriage.
4. The Bible says nothing specific about the “role” of a husband or wife, especially when it relates to certain tasks. Consider some of the inherited traditions and cultural stereotypes that exist today.
5. Think about the five “love languages” – encouraging words, serving, giving gifts, spending time together, and physical tough. What is your primary love language as well as that of your partner? How can this awareness help enrich your marriage relationship?
6. What are some ways to add freshness and excitement into a marriage, when things may have become a bit stale or routine due to familiarity?
7. What are some keys to resolving a conflict effectively?
8. How can we deal with anger in a more constructive manner within marriage?
9. What are some steps we can take to “affair-proof” a marriage relationship?
10. Take some time to pray for your spouse and your marriage relationship.
Part 2 - Parenting
More Marriage Matters