Divorce is hardly new; celebrating it like a wedding is. A small but burgeoning new industry is giving us divorce greeting cards and cakes—even fairs, where new divorcees can connect with life coaches, financial planners and dating service agencies. This is a full-out assault on the stigma of severing a marriage.
“Open a divorce registry, throw a divorce party (why not?), take a vacation or change your look!” says one website for divorcees. Divorce registry? That’s right: Department stores—including one of Britain’s largest retail chains—are encouraging the newly unhitched to register for and solicit gifts just like couples preparing to wed.
All this frippery is an effort to put lipstick on the ugly truth: that divorce is failure. Everyone marries with the hope of “till death do us part.” But often, as the realities of life impinge, selfishness intrudes. One or both partners become unwilling to invest the effort required to surmount obstacles and make the relationship stronger. They lose trust; they begin to cordon off territory in their hearts. Usually, each spouse figures the problem is mostly with the other. Often, they begin to believe that marital happiness would be theirs if they could only find someone more compatible.
Little wonder, then, that a growing number of people who split up have open ears to vendors, eager for their business, cheering them on: Throw a party—you deserve it! Don’t worry—your real soul mate is waiting.
In reality, most marriages fail not because of a lack of compatibility—but largely because of ignorance about what marriage really is and how it must function.
What that means is, these marriages need not fail. Ignorance can be remedied through right education and the application of right knowledge.
What Are You Getting From Your Marriage?
The basic truth that virtually all of us are ignorant of to at least some degree is just how deeply selfish we are. And selfishness is toxic to a marriage.
Human nature tends to focus on what we can get from the other person. The romantic attraction that draws most couples together is essentially a self-oriented emotion. A “love-struck” individual can easily convince himself that he suddenly has a deep, pure, completely selfless desire for nothing but the other person’s happiness. In reality, however, real love is not even possible without a degree of maturity. Mature love begins slowly and grows. Lust often masquerades as love, but it’s lousy at maintaining the ruse for long.
A relationship based on get is bound to suffer, if not fracture. Once one partner feels his needs aren’t being adequately fulfilled, he will generally show his discontent by giving a bit less of himself in return. A negative cycle begins.
“[T]here exist, overall, only two basic ways of life—two divergent philosophies,” Herbert W. Armstrong wrote in his book The Missing Dimension in Sex. “They travel in opposite directions. I state them very simply: One is the way of give—the other of get.”
Marriage is fundamentally a giving relationship. It is successful—even to the point of being spectacular—to the degree that both husband and wife understand their spouse’s needs and then prioritize fulfilling those needs above their own.
Of these two opposing ways of life, Mr. Armstrong continued, “More specifically, the one is the way of love, humility and of outgoing concern for others equal to self-concern. It is the way of cooperation, serving, helping, sharing; of consideration, patience and kindness. More importantly, it is also the way of obedience to, reliance on, and worship solely toward God. It is the God-centered way, of love toward God and love toward neighbor.
“The opposite is the self-centered way of vanity, lust and greed; of competition and strife; of envy, jealousy and unconcern for the welfare of others.” The more that self-centeredness occupies a marriage, the more friction, hurt and broken trust will result.
There is a reason for that! As Mr. Armstrong explained, “Few realize this vital fact: The ‘give’ way is actually an invisible, yet inexorable, spiritual law in active motion. It is summarized, in principle, by the Ten Commandments.
“It is a law as real, as inflexibly relentless, as the law of gravity! It governs and regulates all human relationships!”
Yes—the very God who created the universe and all the physical laws governing matter with precision also set in motion a spiritual law governing human relations. Every hint of conflict in a marriage, every particle of discouragement or frustration, every speck of sadness or pain in that relationship, is caused by breaking that spiritual law.
How to Make a Marriage Great
True love is “never selfish” (1 Corinthians 13:5, Moffatt translation). This is a crucial point that distinguishes true love from love that is fundamentally selfish. Selfish “love” makes you hold back when you feel your spouse doesn’t “deserve” it. It means you’re unwilling to overcome irritating habits that you know bother your mate, but that you just don’t feel like changing. It means you allow petty personal interests to consume your time that your spouse would be thrilled to see you devote to the family. There are perhaps hundreds of little and big ways that our self-love can manifest itself in our marriage.
Society today tends to exalt self-love as the highest virtue. It tries to convince us we all have a natural-born right to put ourselves first. Scripture reveals that this is the get way. It is contrary to the spiritual law of God, which is true love. Though we probably don’t want to admit it, self-love does not make us happy—it actually creates tension, offense, hurt and grief within our marriage and within ourselves.
God’s love is always, always outflowing. It does not wait for the other guy to begin acting unselfishly before reciprocating with unselfishness. Jesus Christ died for us while we were yet sinners.
The principle of striving always to put your spouse’s needs above your own is fundamental to making a marriage great. If each of you is looking out for the other over and above yourself, then there is plenty of overlap to ensure both your and your spouse’s needs are amply met. That is true love! It’s not, “I’ll give you this if you give me that.” It is never selfish. It is unconditional.
This is a difficult lesson to learn. That is why the marriage relationship is uniquely suited to teach it. Because it begins with each spouse making a lifelong commitment, a couple must find a way to stick together through whatever trials life may present, and come out stronger on the other side.
A Simple—and Difficult—Command
One of the first biblical commands regarding marriage is found in Genesis 2:24: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” What does God mean when He commands a husband and wife to cleave to one another? The Hebrew word is dabaq, which means to cling or adhere, or to catch by pursuit. Elsewhere in the Bible, it is translated abide fast, follow close, be joined, pursue hard and stick.
What practical instruction on how to love! In the midst of life’s hubbub, actively cleaving to your spouse in love doesn’t happen accidentally. Children, work, friends, chores, errands, bills, diversions, spiritual obligations—so many concerns compete for your attention. The command to cleave requires that you structure your priorities so as to regularly, actively pursue one another!
God commands that you become “one flesh”—not just sexually, but in every way. He insists that you build oneness by sharing your thoughts, attitudes, emotions, bodies and the physical things in life. Why? Because that is how you practice and grow in true godly love.
The command to cleave is simple enough—but it takes real effort to obey in spirit. You must spend real time at it. Share your life! Read together, listen to music together, take walks together, talk together, study the Bible together, do things together. Rekindle the flames of romance that drew you together. Court each other! Get a babysitter for your children and go out for a date, and not too infrequently. Take short trips alone—perhaps two to three days long, two to three times a year.
How is your communication? You should have more to talk about together the longer your marriage lasts. If you are making a vigorous effort to love and to cleave, then your common interests and your ability to relate will grow with time. You will feel close emotionally, and your shared understanding and affection will make your marriage a joy.
For some marriages, a mountain of mutual effort is required to restore the relationship to where it should be. If the idea of loving each other in this way seems overwhelming, that is a good indication you and your mate would benefit from getting some spiritual counsel.
Till Death Do Us Part
God created the marriage institution as the nucleus of family. He had a transcendent reason for that, but in very practical terms the fact is it provides a day-to-day training ground for learning how to apply the spiritual law of give—which is real love.
A marriage will be great inasmuch as both husband and wife pursue this goal. It will be harmonious and happy, rewarding and rich, to the extent that each mate drives out self-love and replaces it with true love. And real, mature love grows stronger through trial—and sweeter with age.
That is a lesson that needs the security of a “till death do us part” commitment in order to become manifest. It is instruction that divorce robs us of. Those breaking that commitment and celebrating it truly don’t know what they’re missing.
If you want more sound biblical instruction on what marriage is—including the knowledge of God’s transcendent purpose for creating it—as well as how to make it work according to the divinely ordained pattern, request Herbert W. Armstrong’s booklet Why Marriage! Soon Obsolete? as well as his masterful book The Missing Dimension in Sex. Both are free. ▪