Is God in Your Marriage?
MARRIAGE is more than just the union of two persons of the opposite sex. It consists of many important facets. There are emotional and religious factors, as well as social, recreational, intellectual and financial aspects that must be considered.
In the beginning Jehovah God said: “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.” And so God created Eve and brought her to Adam. From then on, the rule applied: “A man will leave his father and his mother and he must stick to his wife and they must become one flesh.” The words of wise King Solomon, “two are better than one,” can well be applied to marriage.—Gen. 2:18, 24; Eccl. 4:9.
Two are indeed better than one, but for these two to remain strongly and happily united in wedlock, outside help is apparently needed. This can be seen by the great number of unhappy and broken marriages. Those who have made a study of the situation in the United States say that, although all couples marry with the hope of realizing happiness, their chances of doing so are far less than 50 percent. Why, in some lands there is one divorce to every three marriages, and in certain cities the ratio is one to two!
Because of the stresses upon modern marriage, legislators are making it ever easier to obtain divorces. New York state, after allowing only adultery as a ground for divorce for ever so many decades, now grants divorces on a number of other grounds. And in California the only ground required for divorce is the desire of either one or both parties to terminate the marriage because of “irreconcilable differences.”—Time, January 12, 1970.
It has well been said that the chief reasons for unhappy and broken marriages are human weaknesses and selfishness, especially as exemplified by emotional immaturity. The personalities of two emotionally immature persons are bound to grate upon each other. Such immaturity manifests itself by wanting to have one’s own way all the time, by wanting something for nothing (as by gambling), by turning to alcohol to compensate for frustrations, or by giving oneself over to loose or promiscuous conduct. The pressures of earning a living also contribute to the breakdown, as does commercialism, which tempts people to live beyond their means.
And ironical though it may seem, it is nevertheless true that the very things that can bring so much happiness to a marriage—the differences in the sexes—can, if viewed improperly, strain it to the breaking point. For example, the man is more likely to view things intellectually and logically, while the woman is more prone to look at things emotionally and sentimentally.
With the average man sex relations are the more dominant consideration, while with the average woman other considerations are likely to play a dominant role. The incident of the patriarch Judah, son of Jacob, having relations with his daughter-in-law is a case in point. (Gen. 38:1-26) So it has been said with no small measure of truth that man gives affection to get ‘sex,’ and the woman gives ‘sex’ to get affection and love. Thus also we are told that a man will buy a home for the sake of having a wife, while a woman takes a man so that she might have a home of her own.—1 Cor. 7:1, 2.
“A Threefold Cord”
Important to the success of marriage is the desire to please each other, but that is not enough. Something else is needed. It is as we read: “A threefold cord cannot quickly be torn in two.” (Eccl. 4:12) Marriage becomes a threefold cord by bringing God into it. How is that done? By making the marriage vows in the presence of God and recognizing one’s obligation at all times to be pleasing Him, the originator of marriage.
That this should be so is recognized even by educators and university professors who are concerned with marriage problems. Thus, F. Alexander Magoun, who for decades has lectured to college students from one end of the United States to the other, devotes the last chapter of his book on love and marriage to “Religion in the Home.” Says he: “Life and religion cannot be separated . . . Real religion is indispensable to happiness and fullness of life . . . Any material problem always has a spiritual side, and a right material solution is impossible until the spiritual principles have been discovered on which to base that solution.”
In a somewhat similar vein, sociologist J. D. Unwin has noted that, for a marriage to realize its full potential, ‘partners must share an allegiance to some purpose outside themselves and which they consider ultimately more important than even themselves or their relationship.’ The service of Jehovah God furnishes just such a purpose for dedicated Christians.
Pleasing God by Loving One’s Neighbor
To bring God into one’s marriage by pleasing him means to keep his commandments as found in his Word, the Bible. It commands, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” For married folks their closest neighbor is their own mate. They must also apply to their relations with each other Jesus’ further words: “Just as you want men to do to you, do the same way to them.” How strengthening to marriage is the application of these commands!—Mark 12:31; Luke 6:31.
Married couples have vowed to love each other. How does love act? God’s Word tells us: “Love is long-suffering and kind. Love is not jealous, it does not brag, does not get puffed up, does not behave indecently, does not look for its own interests, does not become provoked. It does not keep account of the injury. It does not rejoice over unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” Clearly no marriage tie could possibly be torn in two if these divine commandments are carried out.—1 Cor. 13:4-8.
Married persons, being imperfect, at times transgress against each other. Here again God’s inspired counsel helps: “Become kind to one another, tenderly compassionate, freely forgiving one another just as God also by Christ freely forgave you.” The Bible also tells Christians to cultivate the fruitage of God’s spirit: “Love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, self-control.” Trying to be good Christians will certainly strengthen the marriage, for it will bring God into it.—Eph. 4:32; Gal. 5:22, 23.
God’s Principles Governing Marriage
God, having originated marriage, purposed that it be a great blessing and the source of much happiness. But only by abiding by his rules for marriage can such be realized. These spell out the roles to be filled by each mate.
The role of the husband is that of exercising loving headship: “The head of a woman [wife] is the man.” (1 Cor. 11:3) A family is a miniature organization, and every organization must have a head if it is to survive and realize its purpose. A mature man is mentally, physically, emotionally and biologically fitted to take the lead in the family.
But this in no way authorizes the husband to be a selfish, independent dictator. By no means! That would be sidestepping God, for he counsels: “Husbands, continue loving your wives, just as the Christ also loved the congregation and delivered up himself for it . . . In this way husbands ought to be loving their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself, for no man ever hated his own flesh; but he feeds and cherishes it.” One of the greatest examples of unselfish love is this one of Christ, the one that husbands are to follow.—Eph. 5:25-29.
This matter of headship on the part of the husband cannot be dismissed as old-fashioned and out-of-date. Headship is the divinely ordained inheritance of the man.
Some people would have the family run as a democracy, with all its members voting on the way it should be run. But this is not the Creator’s way at all! One of America’s foremost educators, Elton Trueblood, states: “It is only when the recognition of male headship, as expressed in the Biblical story of creation is fully accepted by both partners to a marriage that the true dignity not only of manhood, but also of womanhood is appreciated.”—The Recovery of Family Life, p. 89.
Even more to the point are the words of David and Vera Mace,* who have studied marriage problems on all five continents:
“All cannot be treated as equals, because in fact they are not so. A man and a woman may be equal as persons in society. But as husband and wife, acting out their masculine and feminine roles in marriage, they are different and complementary; the concept of equality is meaningless here. A parent and a child simply cannot be equal, because the child needs the protective authority of his parents to give him the security without which he cannot grow healthily into an adult.
“We are coming to see in the West, therefore, that by undermining the authority of the man in the family we are not only damaging him, but hurting everyone else as well. The wife cannot function in her feminine role if her husband’s masculine role is taken from him. The family group cannot function as a family if its natural head is dethroned.
“In Western marriage many troubles are arising because the reciprocal husband-wife interaction pattern is out of kilter. If the husband can no longer play his part as leader and initiator, the wife is paralyzed in her responsive function.”—Marriage: East and West (1960), p. 297.
By supporting the Bible’s role of headship for the husband, these persons also support the role it gives to the woman, which is just as biologically sound. Her God-given role as mother, while being unquestionably very rewarding, exacts its own price. Her monthly vicissitudes, pregnancy, childbirth, nursing and care of her offspring, all emphasize her need of security, which her husband can provide. To care properly for every need of an infant (emotional, mental and physical) requires a very gentle, sensitive, feminine nature, just the opposite of an aggressive masculine one.
Truly in wisdom and love the Creator has ordained that the wife should be in subjection to the husband and father. In fact, only by her being submissive can her husband love her as he loves his own body, for his own flesh is submissive to him. That is why the Word of God commands: “Let wives be in subjection to their husbands as to the Lord.” And again, “The wife should have deep respect for her husband.” By both husband and wife playing their God-ordained roles the marriage is strengthened.—Eph. 5:22-33.
Women, by seeking to compete with men and occupy and play man’s role, are actually working against their own interests. They are denying their own femininity. True, man is naturally the leader and the aggressive one, but, in the case of a loving husband and father, is it not used in the interest of his wife and children? Thus one leading woman psychoanalyst and author in New York city, in discussing with women their marital problems, among other things said: “Women must learn to thank God daily for the enormous energy and drive of their men.”
Also strengthening the marriage tie is what God in his Word has to say regarding the intimate aspects of the marital relationship: Neither the husband nor the wife has exclusive control of that one’s own body but each has a claim on the other’s body for the satisfying of basic sex needs. (1 Cor. 7:3-7) Husband and wife are also counseled to limit their sex interest to each other; the only ground for divorce with the right to remarriage is infidelity on the part of a mate.—Matt. 19:4-6, 9.
Walking with God
There is yet another way in which God can be in your marriage so as to strengthen it, and that is by both husband and wife ‘walking with God.’ (Mic. 6:8) What does this mean? It means to have a meaningful relationship with God. This is shown by one’s looking to God at all times for wisdom and strength, and in particular by frequently talking to him in prayer. It means to be like Moses, who “continued steadfast as seeing the One who is invisible.” It means not to “be anxious over anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication along with thanksgiving let your petitions be made known to God.”—Heb. 11:27; Phil. 4:6.
True it is, “two are better than one . . . For if one of them should fall, the other one can raise his partner up.” But better still is “a threefold cord,” for it “cannot quickly be torn in two.” More than anything or anyone else that can help you to have your marriage like a threefold cord, strong—and also happy—is having God as the third strand to your marriage cord.—Eccl. 4:9-12.
D. Mace is Associate Professor of Family Study at the University of Pennsylvania and Chairman of the International Commission on Marriage Guidance.