My wife and I recently celebrated 30 years of marriage. We share so many good memories but we also experienced challenges and trials.
Two years after being married, we moved from Philadelphia to Millersville, Pennsylvania to start a Church. We were proud new parents of a baby boy and ready for our adventure. In a short time, the Church grew from 10 to more than 250 people. Our family also grew from three to five. A few years later, we would have our fourth child and the Church continued to grow.
Leading a growing ministry and parenting a busy family tested us significantly. Sometimes we wonder how we survived those years. “How did our marriage withstand the tests of life and ministry?” we’ve asked.
Certainly, we give thanks to God for sustaining us yet we also recognize that we are not passive recipients of God’s work. Maintaining a strong marriage has required some basic relationship commitments. Five specific commitments help us to stay on course in a marriage that is thriving — not just surviving.
1. We are teammates, not opponents
Married people must look beyond the “me” to the “we.” Marriage is based on togetherness and companionship. Teammates watch out for each another. They take each others backs. Whether they come from without or within, we must guard against forces that threaten our unity. Even our children should respect the priority of our relationship and learn to value it. Children build so much of their identity and security on the strength of their parents’ marriage.
Ask yourself the hard questions: Am I too proud or too selfish to be a good teammate? Am I too critical? Am I open to correction? Does my tendency to be argumentative hurt team unity? The potential changes in marriage and family require flexibility and a willingness to make adjustments. Work together! You’re on the same team!
2. We will value and respect each other
In a pre-marital meeting, the pastor who officiated our wedding looked at me and said, “The graces you used to win her love, you must use to keep her love.” Wow! I have not always done very well fulfilling that assignment. In courtship, I tried extra hard to treat my future wife with value and respect. As the years passed, it became easier to grow complacent and to take her for granted. I’ve rarely counseled a troubled marriage that did not have some degree of complacency in it.
As a “typical man,” for example, I don’t always listen to my wife as well as I should. My lack of listening easily communicates disrespect. To value and respect each other, we must stay “tuned in” to each other. Encouraging words, well-timed compliments, thoughtful notes, a simple hug—these are little but meaningful ways to express value and respect. They teach us to keep first things first. Their absence can lead to a loss of good will toward each other.
Here are a few lines worth repeating: “I appreciate how hard you work around the home.” “I realize that your job has been stressful, how can I help?” “Thank you for______________.” Communicate value and respect as much and as often as possible.
3. We will acknowledge selfishness
Selfishness is enemy number one to a good marriage. A wise counselor said, “There are two kinds of people in the world, the givers and the takers. A marriage between two givers can be a beautiful thing. Friction is the order of the day, however, for a giver and a taker. But two takers can claw each other to pieces within a period of six weeks. In short, selfishness will devastate a marriage every time.”
I encourage couples to preface their acknowledgements of wrong with words that assault this enemy of marriage. Say, “It was very selfish of me to…” or “I was only thinking about myself when…”. Many couples have simply (and painfully) allowed selfishness to destroy their marriages. Do you tend to demand your way? Do you always have to be right? Are you easily threatened by constructive criticism? If you want a strong marriage, you must defeat selfishness.
4. We will not neglect our physical relationship
Sex is part of marriage. Most men would like it to be a bigger part of their marriages! Men and women approach sex differently. Men are like the microwave; women are like the crock-pot. Both men and women would benefit from reading material that explains their differences.
This area of marriage (like all others) requires open communication. Couples with communication problems have many other problems. The absence of a healthy sexual relationship in a marriage is an indicator of deeper problems. Couples who struggle with this commitment need to revisit the first three commitments. Improvement on these –will improve a couple’s sexual relationship. Do not allow neglect or other issues to ruin sexual intimacy.
5. We will stay close to God
“A rope made up of three cords is hard to break” (Ecclesiastes 4:12). The “third cord” of a meaningful and lasting marriage is God. As husbands and wives cultivate their relationship with God, they make a strong contribution to their marriages. We were created to live in a personal relationship with God and he has opened the way for this to be possible (see: John 3:16,17).
We can strengthen our relationship with God by listening to him as he speaks through the Scriptures. We also cultivate this relationship through prayer and fellowship with others who are trying to live for God. When husbands and wives continually examine their lives according to God’s standards they become better mates and enjoy a stronger marriage.
Questions for deeper reflection:
- What have you allowed to become a dividing force in your marriage?
- Are you too busy or too pre-occupied with hobbies or entertainment?
- Have you allowed bad attitudes or uncontrolled anger to drive a wedge between yourself and your mate?
- Are you too proud, or too selfish to be a good teammate?
- Are you too much of a critic and fault finder?
- Does your tendency to be argumentative hurt team unity in your marriage?
- What changes could you make to bring team unity to your marriage?
Scriptures to guide you
- “Two are better off than one, because they can work more effectively. If one of them falls down, the other can help him up…Two people can resist an attack that defeats one person alone. A rope made up of three cords is hard to break” (Ecclesiastes 4:9,12).
- “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud,… Do not be conceited (Romans 12:16).
- “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18).
- “Do everything without complaining or arguing” (Philippians 2:14).
- “It is to a man’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel (Proverbs 20:3).