Learning from the School of Marriage
THERE are many courses offered to young people to prepare them for marriage. These might be termed schools for marriage. But every mature married person who is able to view matters objectively will agree that from married life itself there is also much to be learned. So it might be termed the school of marriage.
Not that the experience of marriage is the best teacher. Not at all. God’s Word is the best teacher. As Elihu, God’s spokesman to Job, expressed it: “Who is an instructor like [God]?” (Job 36:22) But marriage affords numerous opportunities for one to apply the laws and principles taught in God’s Word. This helps one to see their value, their reasonableness, their justice and their wisdom.
Yes, when two persons truly love each other and want to make a success of their marriage they can learn a great deal from the experiences they share. Not without good reason has it been noted that “honeymoons are short periods of adjustment, marriages are long ones.” Learning to adjust might be said to be one of the major lessons to be learned in marriage. But as men of science have observed, the human capacity to adjust is almost infinite.
Youth in love imagines that marriage is a bed of roses. And so it may well prove to be. But even when it is, remember that roses have thorns. When marriage seems to have more thorns than roses, some may wish to end it. But, according to Jesus Christ, only adultery gives the innocent one a valid basis to sue for divorce with the right to marry again.—Matt. 19:8, 9.
Although in marriage two persons become one flesh, as it were, they not only are of opposite sexes but may also be of opposite temperaments. They may have differing ways of looking at things: the one intellectually, the other emotionally. Then again, weaknesses or limitations may cause a certain amount of irritation and frustration at times. And there is the simple matter of timing. Two persons just do not always want the same thing at the same time.
The Bible, the Textbook on Marriage
Jehovah God, the Originator of marriage, has also provided a textbook on marriage, his Word the Bible. It tells that God made husband and wife to complement each other, not to compete with each other: “It is not good for the man to continue by himself. I am going to make a helper for him, as a complement of him.”—Gen. 2:18.
So in marriage the male has the opportunity to learn to be a real man, to be strong, to be dependable, to be protective, to take the lead, to be the provider and to love and cherish his wife. The wife, on the other hand, has the opportunity to learn to play the feminine role, to be the complement. This involves submissiveness, for, as God’s Word says, “man was not created for the sake of the woman, but woman for the sake of the man.” Still he is commanded to love her as he does his own body.—1 Cor. 11:9; Eph. 5:33.
That Bible principles really work can be seen from the fact that, time and again, marriages ready to break up have been saved by applying these principles. For example, there was the housewife in Bermuda whose marriage was on the verge of collapsing when one of Jehovah’s witnesses called on her. Due to a Bible study on the Scriptural roles of husband and wife she now has a happy relationship with her husband. Similarly, in Denmark, two Witnesses, while in their house-to-house ministry, met a woman who was ready to separate from her husband even though they had three young children. Both were encouraged to apply Bible principles to their marriage, with the result that their marriage also was saved. They too are now happy together. Likewise, in France, there was a wife and mother who was ready to leave her husband because of his heavy drinking and violent fits of temper. Again Bible principles saved this marriage and brought about a happy family.
The Bible even spells out details in its counsel to the married. It urges wives to be modest, not to put too much emphasis on outward appearance and not to gossip. It counsels husbands to deal with their wives according to knowledge, “assigning them honor” as the weaker vessel. It also commands both husbands and wives to render to each other their conjugal dues.—1 Pet. 3:1-7; 1 Cor. 7:3-7; 1 Tim. 2:9, 10; 5:13.
Learning to Endure
How can marriage aid one in learning Bible principles? For example, by feeling the obligation to make a success of marriage and that one marries ‘for better or for worse,’ one may well learn the virtue of endurance, a quality needed by all Christians. Thus there was a man on the island of Guadeloupe who, because of his becoming a minister of Jehovah, met with strong opposition on the part of his unbelieving wife. To discourage and interfere with his attending Witness meetings, she would fail to prepare his meals, would neglect to wash, iron and mend his clothes. For days on end she would not talk to him at all. But by cultivating the quality of endurance and looking to Jehovah in prayer for help he was able to endure it all. For how long? For some twenty years, after which she gradually had a change of heart. Today he is rejoicing that he endured and that his wife is sharing with him the hope of God’s kingdom.
Then again, there was an American who began to get interested in Bible study. He met up with the most determined and even violent opposition on the part of his wife, whom he greatly loved. Not wanting to break up his marriage, he endured. And what he endured! She annoyed him when he wanted to study the Bible and kept him awake nights to wear him out. She feigned illness and almost broke him financially by her doctor bills. She also threatened to burn their house down and to commit suicide if he did not stop studying with the Witnesses. Then she began throwing dishes at him. But in the end she did change—so much, in fact, that both she and her husband were baptized as Witnesses at the same time. Did he learn something from his marriage? He certainly did—endurance, long-suffering and self-control!
Learning to Lean More upon Jehovah
Many a single person shrinks from the thought of the responsibilities and added burdens that go with marriage. But in one sense this might be viewed as an asset of marriage, for a man can well grow by assuming responsibilities. When responsibilities increase, the wise Christian learns to lean ever more upon Jehovah. And not being able to foretell the future, he must leave it in Jehovah’s hands.
A romantic young person may expect to find perfect understanding from one’s mate, so that one can at all times confide in that one and obtain help for bearing one’s burdens. But not necessarily so. One may fail to get sympathetic understanding at times because one’s burdens may be beyond the ability of the other to appreciate or they may be of such a nature that they cannot be divulged. One learns that, though married, one still needs to ‘throw all one’s anxiety upon Jehovah, because he cares for those serving him.’—1 Pet. 5:7.
Being able to do that, one can confess as did a very happily married father of three fine children: “Had I any idea when I was single of the responsibilities, the problems, the trials and the frustrations that come with marriage, I would not have taken the step. But I am so glad that I did not know, for then I would not have the blessings of a loving, devoted and loyal wife and three beautiful, well-behaved and happy children.”
Learning to Be Reasonable
Another quality that being married may well teach one—if one wants to be taught—is reasonableness. Often that means being willing to yield. Interestingly, the Greek word rendered “reasonable” at James 3:17, which says, “The wisdom from above is . . . reasonable,” is epiekes, which literally means “yielding.”
Husband and wife may have differing tastes or preferences in music. One may prefer classical music, the other popular; the one may prefer it soft, the other loud. Surely there are overlapping areas that will please both. Or it may be vacations. He may want to go sight-seeing; she may want to spend the time with her folks. Being reasonable would indicate alternating the vacations, or making some other arrangement, each one yielding.
Reasonableness would also seem to indicate that generally mere preferences should yield to more practical considerations. She may prefer eating in restaurants, but he may prefer to eat at home because of the expense. Perhaps they cannot afford eating out often, but perhaps they could afford it occasionally. Being reasonable means neither yielding all the time nor having one’s own will all the time. It would seem best not to insist on a pleasure if it really means suffering on the part of the other. Such would be neither reasonable nor loving.
Another quality that can be learned in marriage is humility. If the wife was formerly a single woman living away from her father’s house, she was largely independent, free to make her own decisions. But as a married woman she needs to submit to the headship of her husband. If she learns to do this, not begrudgingly but with a willing heart, she truly is learning humility. She may well have been humble before, but more humility is needed to keep submitting to a husband.
The husband also can learn humility in marriage. He may pride himself on certain skills or knowledge, only to find that his wife excels in these respects. Or she may embarrass him by committing some social blunder. Humility will help him not to take such little things too seriously. Yes, for the sake of your marriage, “gird yourselves with lowliness of mind toward one another.”—1 Pet. 5:5.
Growing in Unselfishness
There is every reason why married people should grow in unselfishness. Marriage furnishes many opportunities for unselfishness and gives ever so many rewards to those manifesting it. Because of inherited imperfection the tendency is to be selfish, to think of oneself first. But a proof of love is thinking of another first. The Bible points husbands to the example of Jesus Christ, who even gave his life for his bride, the Christian congregation. That was loving her more than himself. He said that there is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving; and how true that is any happily married couple can vouch for. As has well been noted, marriage is not just an arrangement to delight and satisfy one’s own taste buds, but it also affords opportunity to delight and satisfy the taste buds of another.—Eph. 5:25; Acts 20:35.
The apostle Paul underscored this principle in his counsel to husbands, saying: “He who loves his wife loves himself, for no man ever hated his own flesh; but he feeds and cherishes it.” (Eph. 5:28, 29) There is just no escaping it. Husband and wife are so closely united, living together, eating together, relaxing together, and so forth, that the mental, emotional and physical condition of the one is bound to affect the other. So to the extent that the husband wisely and lovingly endeavors to make his wife happy and succeeds, to that extent her happiness is bound to rub off on him.
And, of course, the converse is also true. To the extent that the wife wisely and lovingly tries and succeeds in making her husband contented and happy, to that extent his happiness will tend to rub off on her.
God’s’ Word admonishes: “Do not be misled: God is not one to be mocked. For whatever a man is sowing, this he will also reap.” (Gal. 6:7) Is either mate indifferent or insensitive, blind, to the other’s needs, problems, feelings, wishes or well-being? If so, while the one sinned against will suffer, sooner or later the guilty or offending one will also have to pay. It may be in strained relations, in the indifference and insensibility being reciprocated, or there may be even serious psychosomatic effects.—2 Cor. 9:6.
Jesus told Peter that he should forgive, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. In the marital relationship one may be required to forgive even more often. Doing so will result in happiness to both the forgiver and the one being forgiven.—Matt. 18:21, 22.
Truly, marriage is a school from which much can be learned. Many are its opportunities for applying Bible principles, thus enabling one to acquire ever more wisdom with the passing years. Those doing so will be richly rewarded with peace of mind, contentment and happiness and, above all, the approval of the Originator of marriage, Jehovah God.