Jennifer would watch ball games with him. She would hand him tools when he had to work on his car. She seemed really interested when he talked to her about his hunting or fishing trips. They would go out to dinner and could laugh and joke with each other with ease. She was never bored by his jokes. “Yes,” he thought as he gazed at her, “I have one special lady!”
Jennifer was thinking the same thing about Fred. She just knew that she had found the only man on Earth for her.
In the midst of all the frenzied activities that accompany a wedding day, she found herself pondering very fond memories. She recalled how Fred would hold her hand and take long walks with her down country roads. She remembered how pleasantly surprised she was when he cheerfully agreed to take her to the theater to see a play. Her fondest memories were of their long talks while sitting in their favorite coffee shop on weekend mornings.
How many marriages begin the way Fred and Jennifer’s did? Millions!
Sadly, however, many of those same marriages end in divorce. For every two marriages that occurred in the U.S. during the 1990s, there was one divorce. These are sad and devastating odds! This problem is by no means isolated to the United States. Indeed, the past 4 to 5 decades have seen divorce rates increase in every industrialized country in the world.
How can so many blissful and joyous courtships and wedding days end in such misery? Even many marriages that haven’t ended in divorce are currently mired in the depression of misery and separation. Why does it happen? The answer lies in understanding cause and effect. What we put into our marriages directly relates to how successful they are.
Just like Fred and Jennifer, most people are overjoyed on their wedding day. They believe they have found the man or woman that they will live with and love for the rest of their lives. When those same marriages that started out so joyfully limp along near the doldrums of agony—and oftentimes even end in divorce—there is a reason!
Let’s look at some of the major, hidden keys that must start being put into a marriage in order to find true success. There are vital elements that husbands and wives must give and vital roles that each must fulfill in order for any marriage to be a real success. If you apply these keys, not only will you be well on your way to keeping the vows you made on your wedding day, but you and your mate will be filled with joy along the way!
First, there must be genuine love! At first glance, this may not seem like a hidden key. It seems that everyone today talks about love. But most people do not know what real love is. All too often, what people describe as love is nothing more than lust or some other selfish idea.
The love that must be present in any successful marriage is not lust or any other self-centered motivation. It is a genuine, outgoing concern for your mate! Too many people today talk about relationships and marriage from a “get” mentality. What is he doing for me? What am I getting out of this relationship? If you think this way about your marriage relationship, it is destined for failure.
God’s way is the way of give. Marriage is ordained of God and must operate accordingly. It is a huge blow to the success of a marriage if both spouses—or even just one—are trying to “get” or “take” for their own benefit.
Many say that marriage is a “give-take relationship”—but that’s NOT true! Marriage is a give-give relationship. Both the husband and the wife must be thinking of the other mate continually. What can I do to brighten his or her day—to lighten his or her burden? What am I giving to my spouse?
In marriage, there needs to be an effort at 100 percent giving! If both the husband and wife think about giving to their spouse 100 percent of the time, both will be receiving 100 percent of the time. Receiving is a lot different from taking! One way leads to a vicious cycle that will end miserably, while the other way will create a beautiful circle of love, warmth, friendship and closeness. And, both the husband and the wife will be having their needs met in the relationship without either one of them taking anything.
Jesus Christ is in a marriage relationship with the Church (Ephesians 5:32). Follow His example of love, service and sacrifice for His mate. He gave everything in order to serve His mate! He was certainly not looking at what He could take from the relationship. That would not be love. Instead, He gave His own life for His mate (verse 25). He nourishes and cherishes His mate (verse 29). If you are nourishing and cherishing your mate, you will be treating him or her with respect, dignity, appreciation and honor. You will see your mate as very special and treat him or her accordingly. Too many treat their mates with disrespect—as being unimportant and unloved. Many of us need to think long and hard about what motivates our daily actions and thoughts when it comes to our own marriage relationship.
God’s Word gives us a very clear definition of godly love in 1 Corinthians 13. Let’s focus on a portion of this description of true love. As we do, think of your marriage and how you treat your mate.
Verse 4 in the Moffatt translation states, “Love is very patient, very kind. Love knows no jealousy; love makes no parade, gives itself no airs.” How are you doing so far?
Verse 5 continues, “Is never rude, never selfish, never irritated, never resentful.” How are you doing now? Is this kind of love in your marriage?
“Love is never glad when others go wrong, love is gladdened by goodness, always slow to expose, always eager to believe the best, always hopeful, always patient. Love never disappears” (verses 6-8).
Is this type of thinking prevalent in your marriage? Are you patient with one another? Do you vaunt and esteem each other rather than yourselves? Do you give each other the benefit of the doubt rather than thinking evil of each other and assuming the worst? How about being kind to one another? That means that you speak to each other nicely and with consideration. Pleasant words, pleasant tones of voice and pleasant facial expressions should be used when talking to one another. With this kind of love, your marriage will indeed bear all things and endure all things—and it will never fail!
This passage in 1 Corinthians gives us an excellent description of the kind of love we need. Understand, however, that this love is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22) and cannot simply be conjured up. “[T]he love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy [Spirit] which is given unto us” (Romans 5:5). Even a true Christian must cry out to God every day in prayer for more of this godly quality in order to truly love his or her mate as God intends! If you would like more information on how to receive the incomparable gift of God’s Holy Spirit, you are welcome to request our free booklet Repentance Toward God.
Next, realize that you and your mate are a team—one unit. God is the one who instituted marriage, and He knows best the foundation and laws concerning it. He told us that we are to become “one flesh” when we enter into the marriage union (Genesis 2:24). The Apostle Paul, in the New Testament, reiterates this fact (Ephesians 5:31).
A husband and wife are two individuals who must become “one flesh”—a cohesive unit, or team, working together in harmony. Physically, of course, a man and a woman can become one flesh through sex (1 Corinthians 6:16), but you must also strive to become one flesh emotionally and spiritually. You must be one. You must be united. You must be sharing the same hopes, dreams, aspirations and goals. Many marriages operate on the basis of “two individuals” rather than this principle of “one flesh.”
Numerous individuals ridicule their mate in front of others. Why can’t you cook like her? You don’t make enough money! Look at how fat my husband has gotten! It’s amazing what mates say to and about each other. But how many stop to think what that says about themselves? If your mate is so bad, what does that say about you? After all, you did agree to the marriage, right?
In marriage, a husband and wife rise together and they fall together. They are a team and must work together as a team. How many think of marriage in these terms? Yet God ordained that it be this way from the very beginning of mankind’s existence on Earth.
God’s instruction in the Garden of Eden included a command that the man and woman “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it …” (Genesis 1:28). This command involves marriage and family. It involves the establishment of a home. It involves caring for and rearing children. It demands that both sexes grow together and work together within God’s proven and clearly defined laws in order to be successful in fulfilling this instruction.
As with any team, there must be organization, cooperation and real effort put into it or there will be no success. Imagine a football team that did not discuss a game plan or strategy during the week preceding the game. What if it decided not to practice during the week? What if the players rarely spoke to each other and tried to avoid each other as much as possible? What if they thought, “Well, the running back might lose, but I’ll still win!”? How absurd! Everyone on the team knows that they will either succeed together or fail together, and they work diligently every day to ensure success! More husbands and wives need to think this way about their marriage.
Also, what football team can succeed without someone calling the plays? This leads us to another hidden key that is absolutely required for marital success.
In American football, there are 11 men on a team working together. What if they did not discuss which play would be run? What if they all—individually—decided for themselves which play they would run without any cooperation with the other players—without anyone to make a final decision and actually call a play for everyone? Why, that would be quite a disaster! It is not too difficult to predict—with all certainty—that a team like that will end up as the loser every time.
Most people can easily see that without someone in charge to make final decisions, there is chaos and confusion. This applies to far more than football. Can you imagine a business being operated without a ceo? How about an army without a general? Why is it people can understand this principle being necessary in business or warfare, yet when it comes to running a family they are quite hostile to the idea of one person being in charge and making the final decisions? Unless you apply this vital key within your marriage, you are doomed to certain failure.
Of course, the first two hidden keys mentioned in this article factor in greatly to this key as well. The fact that someone is the head of the family and makes those final decisions should not mean that person is a tyrant or a bully. This structure and organization is all implemented to be within the boundaries of real love and within the spirit of teamwork and cooperation.
The husband is to lead his wife and family. He is to lead because God has ordained it to be that way (Ephesians 5:22-33). And it works! We have abundant proof in today’s society that human ways simply don’t work. Again, God knows His own creation. He knew millennia ago that there must be love, cooperation, teamwork and government for any marriage to succeed.
This does not mean that the wife is a second-class citizen. The wife was created to be a fitting help, or aid, to her husband (Genesis 2:18). How can she be a help to him if she is treated like a mute or never given any responsibility? Every husband should recognize what a great value a virtuous wife is to him and the family. She is worth far more than any material wealth he could ever acquire (Proverbs 31:10). Every husband should study the 31st chapter of Proverbs and realize what a blessing a virtuous wife is. Every wife should study the 31st chapter of Proverbs and realize what kind of character she needs to acquire in order to really be a fitting help for a husband. She should really desire to be this kind of helpmeet.
A husband, while he is to make the final decisions for the household, should consult his wife for her opinions. She really is his most valuable intellectual asset and can give him tremendously helpful advice. She is his “help meet” (Genesis 2:20). Seek your wife’s input. Discuss all aspects of the decision that must be made. If both the husband and the wife are seeking to obey God and striving to do what is best for each other and the family, most of the time they will agree as to what decision must be made. When an agreement can’t be reached for one reason or another, the husband must prayerfully (taking into account the input his wife has given) make a decision that he feels will best benefit his family. In such cases, it is then the wife’s responsibility to back her husband’s decision and try her best to make that decision a success.
Again, think of the football analogy. In this case, let’s think of the husband as the quarterback and the wife as the running back. The quarterback may be leaning toward calling a certain play. The running back may have some input and think another play would be best for reasons that he has seen from his unique perspective. The quarterback would be incredibly stupid to not consider the input of the running back. They can discuss it and maybe the quarterback will say, Yes, you’re right—that’s a good point. We’ll run the play you’ve suggested. Or he might say, Well, that’s a good point. However, because of these other reasons I think the best play to run would be the one I originally mentioned. Do you husbands discuss matters with your wife like this? And do you really listen and consider her input?
Now, what if the running back would get angry and say, Well, I’m not running that play. He can run that play if he wants, but I’m still going to run the one I want!? Is there any doubt what a disaster that kind of reaction would produce? Yet, how many wives react just that way when their husband makes a decision?
Regardless of the play that is run, we all should see the necessity of having someone to make the final decision as to which play is called. We should also see the absolute necessity of everyone on the team getting behind that decision and trying their best to make it a success. This is an example of a sports team, but it illustrates a godly principle.
Apply this godly form of government in your home! It is a hidden key that will cause great peace, happiness and success!
Take Action to Grow Together
It’s quite easy to sit down and read an article or a book about what to do for your marriage. It’s a completely different matter to actually TAKE ACTION. That takes work, determination, discipline! It takes communicating with your spouse. Do you love your mate enough to take action in order to change the direction you are headed? It will require real action for you and your mate to grow together rather than allowing yourselves to just passively drift apart as so many couples do.
Like Fred and Jennifer, mentioned at the beginning of this article, most marriages begin so happily. Fred and Jennifer were so happy because they had grown very close to each other. They were spending time doing things together and they were happy to do whatever the other one wanted or needed to do at the time. They were communicating and sharing themselves with each other. Even though many relationships start out this way, all too often spouses begin to grow apart over time.
Work, children, other people, pressures and stress from everyday life can begin to take up all of your time and attention. If you don’t take conscious action to grow together, you and your spouse will definitely grow apart!
A happy, productive marriage requires communication in large quantities. Communicate in a quality manner about quality subjects—giving each other your undivided attention. Talk about everything—including the more difficult subjects that you may not quickly agree on. Resolve these areas in your relationship or you are headed for real trouble. Two cannot walk together unless they are in agreement (Amos 3:3).
When there is anger or division, do not rest until you have rooted that completely out of your marriage (Ephesians 4:26). There is a popular song that says, “I just want to be mad for a while.” Don’t ever fall into that kind of reasoning! Quickly discuss the problem or you will have taken a big step toward growing apart.
If you want to continually grow together throughout your marriage, learn to enjoy the same hobbies or recreational activities. Go hiking together. Go walking together. Play tennis together. Go to the theater together. This is not to say that you must do everything together. But, let the point be made that if you and your mate are continually headed in different directions throughout the day, you are headed for disaster! If you and your mate stop doing things together, don’t be surprised if one morning you wake up to discover that you are not friends anymore. After all, don’t we all like to spend time with our friends?
What are your spouse’s needs or desires? You can grow closer together by learning and meeting each other’s needs. Relationships are built on mutual needs being fulfilled. In marriage, we must learn what our mate’s needs are and work hard to fulfill them.
Continually ask yourself what you can do to improve your marriage. What can I do to help, build and uplift my relationship with my spouse? What can I do to make this marriage grow and move forward? This has to be a conscious pattern of thinking in any marriage if a couple is to grow closer together.
These hidden keys are based upon God’s infallible Word and are vital to the success of any marriage. It takes sustained, committed effort from both husband and wife; however, even one mate making a concerted, sustained, persevering effort to apply these principles can have a decidedly positive impact on a marriage (read, for example, 1 Peter 3:1-2). Take the initiative to improve the relationship. If you apply these keys, you will be well on your way to avoiding the traps and pitfalls that many marriages fall into!
If you’d like to strengthen your marriage even more by studying beyond the subject of how marriage, please request our free booklet Why Marriage! Soon Obsolete?