Improving the Marriage Relationship
It has been evident in recent years that marriage relationships are deteriorating in our society. Satan is trying to destroy the home, but we praise God for every effort toward its preservation.
God’s blessing is upon the husband-wife relationship. Proverbs 18:22 says, “Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favor of the Lord.” Not only does marriage and the husband-wife relationship have a blessing from the Lord, but also in God’s Word we are given guidelines by which we can maintain the husband-wife relationship as God intended it to be. Marriage was meant to be a blessed relationship. And so we ask the question—is your husband-wife relationship a blessed relationship, or is it a strained ordeal?
What the Marriage Relationship Should Be Like
In Ephesians 5 we observe that the husband-wife relationship is compared to that of Christ and the Church. In other words, our model indicates that the husband-wife relationship is one that lasts forever, a kinship that grows sweeter as the years go by, a relationship that provides an example of peace and joy, a relationship that will weather the storms and trials of life, and one against which the gates of Hell cannot prevail. Hopefully we can say that by the grace of God we have found our relationship in the home to be that way.
Even children can quickly sense whether mother and father really love each other and whether there is the warmth of love in their home, or whether there is a distance and a coldness between the parents. You may remember the story about the home that was preparing for a wedding. Big sister was getting married and little sister was all eyes and ears to know what was going on and what this was all about. One day she heard them talking about the marriage vows. She said, “What’s that all about?” Mother answered, “Well, that is when big sister and her boyfriend will promise to love and always be kind to each other as long as they live.” Little sister thought a moment, and said, “Well then, you mean that you and daddy aren’t always married.” It is quite clear that our children know what kind of relationship we really have.
I read about a husband whose job required that the family move frequently. While he was temporarily assigned work in one particular area, his family lived in a small hotel room. One day the little girl (for want of a bigger place to play) was playing “doll-house” down in the lobby. One kind lady passed through the hallway, and tried to be helpful and sympathetic. She said to the little girl, “It’s a pity that you don’t have a home of your own.” The little girl responded, “Oh, we do have a home; we just don’t have a house to put it in.” Can you say your relationship is such that you have a home even if your house is less than adequate? If father and mother are happy together, that contentment is conveyed to the children. Judge Gilliam says, “The lack of affection between father and mother is the greatest source of delinquency that I know.” Is your relationship what you would like it to be? Does it bother you when you see another couple that seems to really be happy?
Ways To Improve the Marriage Relationship
All sincere married partners want to improve their marriage. No couples should ever be satisfied where they are. In school, we learned a little motto which goes like this: “Good, better, best! Never let it rest until your good is better and your better is best!”
One couple whose marriage was just about on the rocks determined that they were going to improve their marriage by God’s help. The husband describes what they did: “We got together and took a pencil and paper and each wrote down the things we did not like about the other. We had a long list. When done, we exchanged the papers, and we found it was difficult to face each other’s list. We walked together to a point where we burned the papers and watched them go up in flames. Then we came back and sat down and started making a list of things we liked about each other. This was difficult too, but when the lists were completed, we exchanged the papers and looked at them. Later we framed them and hung them in our bedroom, so that each morning when we arise we can see what our partner likes, and concentrate on doing those positive things. By God’s grace, it has transformed our marriage.” If your marriage is not what you would like it to be, and you really seriously mean business—by God’s grace, it can be improved. However you must be willing to work at it.
(a) Avoid comparing your marriage with other marriages
It is a tragic mistake to look at the marriage relationship of another couple and to wish that your relationship would be like theirs. According to 2 Corinthians 10:12, we should not be among the number who compare ourselves among ourselves, because such people are not wise. Our human nature tends to see the good points (the “plus” points) in others who are more distant from us, and the bad points (the “minus” points) in those who are closer to us. If we keep looking at the minus points, we will have a different outlook in life. Remember that the grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence, but keep in mind too that the closer you are to the circumstances, the easier it is to see the faults.
A magazine article pointed out what it called “an ideal marriage” between a state governor and his wife. Yet it was only a matter of a few years until their marriage was on the rocks. From a distance the marriage looked successful, but it must not have been quite as great as the writer thought. We need to stop looking around and stop comparing our relationship with that of another husband and wife. We must realize that couples are different. God did not intend that all of us should conduct our homes in the same way, and that we should all like the same things—or He would have made us all over the same carbon copy. Some couples like to be on the go almost all the time, almost every night of the week. Then there are other couples whose nature it is to stay home much of the time. In some homes, the wife is reserved and the husband is outgoing; in others, the wife can not sew and the husband is not a businessman. We must accept the fact that God has made us all different, and then we must concentrate on just being ourselves in the light of Ephesians 5:21 which says, “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.” Most of the time we overlook that verse and think only upon the following verses which tell us that husbands should “love” and wives should “submit.” But actually, Ephesians 5:22-23 gives the further instructions once we have accepted the point of verse 21, “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.” In other words, we should not look at other people, but submit ourselves to each other and work out the marriage relationship which God has ordained for us.
(b) Build an attitude of trust toward your partner
Do you as married partners really trust each other? Can you (the husband) say to your wife: “Am I really worthy of your trust? Do you feel that you will be my `one and only’ forever?” Do you as a husband (or as a wife) enjoy being with your partner more than with anyone else? You will want to be together as much as possible. People today speak very lightly about trust and the high ideal of a solid marriage relationship. Even secular counselors tell us they are finding out that the kind of loose living which is common today simply is not working. It doesn’t work because until one is really committed to another person for life, he cannot actually give himself wholeheartedly to that person.
Many ask what is wrong with pre-marital sex and mention that “everybody is doing it,” and they argue that no one is going to find out about the relationship anyhow. But you cannot really give yourself physically or emotionally or spiritually until you can trust each other and know that the relationship will last for life. If you are one who thinks that there is not much wrong with pre-marital sex, it will be difficult for your partner to trust you. If, on the other hand, you count fornication as a wicked sin, your partner can much more readily trust you. If you were loose in your living before your marriage, how can your partner trust you after marriage? When passion wears out, how will your partner know that you will not go out and try some other thrill when you are bored with her?
God’s Word says we are to confess our faults one to another (James 5:16), and this is good advice for married couples as an aid in building trust. Some might say that “What my partner doesn’t know won’t hurt him.” But we are spiritual beings and not mere physical creatures. We can cover up the past, but there is always the possibility your partner will find it out, and so it is best to confess your misdeeds. This will help build trust and will lead to a happier marriage relationship.
When someone says “My partner does not trust me”—one of the first questions I ask is: “What have you done to cause your partner to feel that way?” The partner must not necessarily be blamed. You may be the one to blame if your companion does not trust you. I believe that if we husbands feel our partners do not trust us, then we ought to be a leader and go to the wife and ask what is wrong, and give her the right to tell us why she does not trust us. I also believe that where it says “Husbands love your wives,” we have a clear command not only never to commit adultery with someone else, but to love our wives with our body, mind, soul, and spirit. Only then can we have a beautiful marriage relationship. One of the big weaknesses of many husbands is the fact that after marriage, there is a tendency for him to sort of secretly admire someone else. A wife can detect that real quickly.
Let each husband abstain from all appearance of evil, and beware of placing ourselves into tempting circumstances—for we are all human, and we can easily fall. I read recently about a couple who were happily married, but another couple with whom they could share closely, became good friends. They were together so much, and in each other’s presence so often—it soon came to the place that they were too intimate, and before they realized it, both marriages were wrecked—because the one husband started to admire the other wife more than he did his own wife. Beware of circumstances where you sense you are no longer admiring only your partner, because you will lose your trust, and your marriage could falter.
(c) Diligently try to please your partner
To improve marriage relationships, it is important to try and please your partner. God’s Word says that the wife tries to please her husband (1 Corinthians 7:34), and the Christian husband tries to please his wife (1 Corinthians 7:33). Are you really trying to please your married partner, or do you frequently say, “I’ll do what I please”? Is your attitude one which says, “if we can’t agree, we will each go our own way”? This kind of relationship does not make for a happy marriage bond.
The important question in marriage is not, “How can I have all my needs fulfilled in this marriage—but how much love can I express in meeting the needs of the one I marry?” Love says, “I will give.” Immaturity says, “Please me, and I will try to please you.” Do you ever do things just to “bug” your partner? Do you ever tease your partner when you know he doesn’t like it? There are too many marriages lived out on the “I’ll get even” basis. “If you treat me this way, I’ll get back in this way.” The husband is one hour late for supper, so his wife makes him wait an hour for supper the next night. This kind of action will not work for harmony. One husband might say, “I’m going hunting; I don’t care what you say.” The wife says she is going shopping and will spend as much money as she wants. This is not the way to please each other as partners. This is the “get even philosophy” and such a marriage is going to be much less than ideal.
Instead of living on the “get even” level, try this formula: Try sharing, bearing, working, and changing together. It should be a continuation of courtship days. Husband and wife are different in order to challenge each other, to grow together toward maturity, and not to see who is right or to determine what is right. One of the goals for married partners is to determine how we can best change together for the honor and glory of God.
Factors To Guard in the Marriage Relationship
Let me go a little further. It is a sin for married partners to refuse physical relationships for an extended period of time without mutual consent. The Scripture says, “The wife has not power of her own body, but the husband; and likewise the husband has no power of his own body, but the wife. Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer, and come together again that Satan tempt you not in your incontinency” (1 Corinthians 7:4-5). In other words, the wife’s body does not belong to her alone, but also to her husband. And in the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone, but also to his wife.
We must exercise moderation in the area of physical relationships. It is possible that some couples use what they think is a “holier than thou” approach, and they try to get even with each other (and to get back at the partner) by withholding the sexual privilege. Some marriages are not what they ought to be because people physically are selfish. They want to try to please themselves. They reason this way: “If you don’t please me, I’ll get even.” When a husband by-passes his wife for his physical needs, and has his own private sexual releases, the wife then also turns her physical drive for affection to the love and kisses she receives from the children. It can even lead to affairs with other men. Withholding sexual privilege is not pleasing to God. It is not pleasing to your partner. Your marriage fulfillment will decrease.
Married partners also must guard against the danger of not learning to really know each other. Do you know your partner’s sorrows, joys, and concerns? Are you aware of what her life goals are? Or don’t you talk together about these kinds of things? Some time ago I was in a home where a wife and husband were members of different church denominations. I asked the husband where his wife attends church services. He mentioned where she normally attended. I asked whether she was a member of that church body. He said he is not sure if she considers herself a member or not. It is really difficult for me to imagine a husband and wife living under the same roof and talking so little about spiritual things.
It is a sad fact, but it is true: Very few husbands and wives spend more than a few minutes each week really talking about things that matter. Many fail to have frequent heart-to-heart talks. Husbands and wives should be free to give constructive criticisms to each other, without being considered negative or harsh or critical. The husband should be the leader, but the wife as a help-meet can be a very wise counselor. God did not make each of us a whole unit. After marriage, each is only a half. It is only when both husband and wife put together their thoughts and concerns that they have a balanced outlook on life.
In conclusion, there is no “perfect” marriage. It requires a continual effort. A good marriage relationship requires a day-by-day, week-by-week attempt to keep things in harmony, but it is worth it all. Marriage can be a bit of heaven here upon earth. It is like a garden. You can have a beautiful garden, but you must keep the weeds down. So also in marriage, the devil is looking for marriages in which to sow the tares so that he can wreck the marriage. He hopes to keep it from bearing fruit. By God’s grace and help we can keep every weed dug out. The sooner we dig it out, or the sooner we go to a counselor for help, the more quickly we can have that beautiful relationship in Jesus Christ.
Because marriage here on earth is never perfect, each marriage needs two little “bears.” They are “bear” and “forbear.” We are not perfect; we all have weaknesses; we all have idiosyncracies. A mature Christian does not expect perfection in his mate. To all others, take heed to this illustration: There once was a young wife who after several months of marriage said to her husband, “You know, John, we have been married for a while and I have learned to know you better. I would like to remind you of a few of your faults.” He said, “Oh—I know all about my faults. That’s the reason I couldn’t marry a better woman.” Remember that none of us is perfect, but we can be forgiving. To err is human, but to forgive is divine. A good marriage is not one where perfection reigns. A good marriage is a relationship where each partner has taken Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of their lives, and where a healthy understanding, plus the grace of God, can overlook a multitude of unresolvable difficulties.
BIBLE HELPS | Robert Lehigh, Editor | PO Box 391, Hanover, PA 17331 United States of America