As part of our legacy from over 40 years of marriage, we would like to share some foundational elements we discovered in the process of creating a successful marriage. We ask you to prayerfully consider each of these points and adopt any concepts or strategies that you find relevant to your relationship.
#1: Marriage is your primary ministry.
Your marriage is the cornerstone of your adult life, and the foundation of your family. How you build your marriage determines in large part the strength and stability of the rest of your life. Your marriage also lays the base for any future children you may have, and for future generations that follow after you. You will pass on a legacy; how you establish your marriage is the groundwork for that legacy. “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matthew 7:24-27).
The expression of your unique nature into the world is the purpose of your life. It stands to reason, then, that how you express that nature with the one person with whom you have joined for life, with whom you have the most intimacy, and with whom you have made an eternal commitment is the most important expression of this purpose. If you approach your marriage as a ministry of service to the person you love most in the world, we believe this attitude solves the preponderance of problems most people experience when trying to figure out how to be married. It is the most important ministry you will ever undertake.
How you relate to your spouse needs to reflect how you relate to God. Honor, respect, and reverence best describe the heart-felt attitude toward your spouse in a healthy marriage. Love as defined by God, consideration, and sacrifice reflect the most appropriate behaviors. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (I Corinthians 13:4-8).
#2: Marriage is “all-in.”
A marriage that allows for an escape hatch is eventually a failed marriage because at some point in the future you will find it “too” painful and difficult to stay in it and will opt to use an escape hatch if one is available to you. With the exception of instances of abuse, adultery, and addiction, there simply cannot be an option of a way out. Given no door for escape, you are left with solving the issues or problems in some workable manner, and your choices are toward that goal.
Additionally, marriage is “all-in” in the aspect of giving your whole self to the other person. “But at the beginning of creation, God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Mark 10:6-9). In order to become “one” with your spouse, you will need to remove all of your hiding places, false fronts, pretend selves, masks, illusions, and denials. You will need to choose to trust, even when you don’t feel very much like trusting. Honesty and openness are required elements of being “one” – and I mean honesty in ALL things and openness about ALL things, even when it is difficult or there may be consequences that are not desirable to you. Trust is the foundation on which a marriage is built. The responsibility for building that foundation lies with both parties: both individuals choose to trust while at the same time both choose to be trustworthy. If I keep things hidden, or I am not honest and open with my spouse, I am literally eroding the foundation of our marriage, because I am not being trustworthy. At the same time, if my trust has been violated in the past, I cannot impose that lack of trust on my spouse; instead, I need to choose to trust as an aspect of my love.
#3: Marriage is hard work.
That is not to say that marriage is not joyous, fulfilling, and wonderful in every way; however, it is pointing out that truly sharing yourself wholly and completely with another is a difficult and narrow path to walk. In fact, we would say it is an impossible path to walk without the presence of God as your support and help. You must be ever vigilant to make sure you are not holding back, or withdrawing into yourself, or hiding something of yourself, or shifting your focus onto yourself. Even with our best effort, we are going to fall short, but God (if we allow Him) redeems these shortfalls by turning them into learning and growing experiences that strengthen our relationship.
It is wonderful to share life with another, and to have someone know your heart fully and completely. It can also be scary because no one can hurt you like someone who is completely intimate with you – but the gain far outweighs the potential pain. We encourage you to ask Jesus to help you stay fully present with each other, to be bold in sharing with each other, and to help honor each other’s willingness to be intimate, in spite of the perceived risk. Your best effort, when God is included, will be made complete by Him.
Choosing to do the loving thing can indeed be difficult. It means letting go of “self” as your motivation for what you do. Then, it means accepting the consequences that come with the choice, no matter what they are, simply because it is the loving thing to do. Sometimes the loving thing means to sacrifice what you want or to learn to like something new simply for the sake of your spouse. Often, we find great benefit for ourselves when we sacrifice for our spouse, but isn’t that the way of it when we sacrifice self for another? That’s the great paradox: we think doing the selfless thing will “cost” us but we actually gain much more by choosing the loving thing rather than choosing to be self-centered.
Sometimes the loving thing means telling your loved one something they do not want to hear. If you are speaking the truth in love, it will produce good fruit, even if initially it is difficult for them to face that truth. Still, it is a hard choice to make. I don’t want my loved one to be angry with me. I don’t want to risk their rejection. But looking at Jesus’ example, He speaks difficult truths to his disciples and to the Pharisees, if it is something they need to hear, so if our motivation is looking out for the best interest of my loved one, speaking a difficult truth is loving them.
Loving also means considering the other in everything you are doing, putting the needs of the other ahead of your own. For many years, we had a kind of system we used to make sure we were considerate in our choices. If I (David) wanted something that did not interfere with my (Donna’s) wants or needs, I (Donna) made sure he (David) was able to do it. The same was true for my (Donna’s) wants and needs. And when one of us wanted something and the other wanted something else, and both could not happen, we would rate the importance of what we wanted on a scale of 1 to 10. Whoever had the higher number was the one who did or got what they wanted. For example, if I (Donna) wanted to buy a sofa, and I (David) wanted a dining room set, but we could not afford both, we would rate our wants and compare. So say the rating for the sofa was an 8 on a 1 to 10 scale, and the dining room table’s rating was a 5, we would buy the sofa. The process opened up communication, provided balance, and prevented any one person from dominating every decision. This is a somewhat superficial and silly example, but the principle is the same even for more emotional needs. Although now, we know each other so well we don’t need to go through the rating process anymore – we both know what it is that is important to the other, and we both attempt to accommodate for those desires in each other, using this process is helpful in laying all your cards out on the table – meaning communicating your desires openly and honestly with each other. One of the results of open, honest, clear, and in-depth communication is that kind of intimate knowledge of each other, which is a wonderful goal to have for your marriage.
Another effective technique to use in marriage is creating a win-win. In many negotiations, the parties seek to better their own position and to get their way, or at least get the best outcome for themselves. But in a marriage, negotiating a compromise needs to seek the better thing for both parties – to find the solution that benefits both in some way. We believe God provides us with win-win options if we look for them; however, we cannot find those win-wins if we are self-seeking or trying to win for ourselves only. Those approaches produce win-lose scenarios, or even lose-lose scenarios (such as the belief that if I can’t have what I want then neither of us can have what we want). Win-lose and lose-lose choices are deadly to a marriage. So, we encourage seeking a win-win option in every situation. The enemy tries very hard to make marital partners adversaries instead of allies, and in the midst of a heated discussion (or argument), it is quite easy to see the other as your adversary. Always remember: You do indeed have an adversary, but it is not your spouse! If you can always remember that you are allies in all things, and then seek the win-win solution to every problem, you can prevent the enemy from dividing you. “If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” (Mark 3:25). Seeking the win-win and remembering you are allies in all things takes effort, focus, and discipline. But the positive results are well worth it.
#4 – Marriage is a three-way partnership.
Scripture describes marriage as a reflection of our relationship with Christ. Including Christ as a partner with you in your marriage accomplishes many things:
- it helps keep the focus on being allies, as it is hard to be adversarial in His presence and with His involvement.
- it strengthens you in adversity and redeems adversity by strengthening your relationship.
- it takes the focus off of self, and SELF IS ALWAYS THE PROBLEM – all relational problems stem from hurt feelings based on unmet expectations, which arise from self-centered focus.
- it deepens your love and keeps love as your motivation for your choices – since He IS love, without Him there is no love.
When we have a major (or minor) decision to make, we check with Jesus before making our choice. We seek to walk in the direction of our peace because we believe that is the direction God is leading. When one of us is struggling, the other is right there suggesting directions for prayer, praying for the one who is having a hard time, and praying against whatever the enemy is doing. If one of us feels some kind of oppression around us, or we see the fruit of the enemy in something going on with us, we are willing to speak boldly and point out what we see, so that we can pray together against it. When we struggle with each other, we both try to take responsibility for identifying the source of the struggle (what lie am I believing? is the first question we ask Jesus) and we stand as allies with Jesus against the enemy’s schemes. We are much better people together than apart, each on bringing strength where the other is weak. We soften each other’s rough edges. We also have each other’s backs. We stand together. But we want to emphasize again, none of this would be possible without God.
You have your own special, unique relationship. Ask God to show you how He sees your marriage; that is the best way to create your joint vision of your relationship. Whatever your vision of your marriage is, we encourage you to include God as central to the picture and an intimate partner in everything you do and are together.