Working at Improving Marriage
MARRIAGE is the closest of adult human relations. When a husband and a wife mistreat each other, the wound is often deep and lasting. It may seem that divorce is the only answer.
Surely you will agree, though, that breaking up a marriage is serious. Will divorce really bring greater happiness? Or might it be better to work at improving your marriage?
The Need for a Balanced View
Divorce may seem to be an easy way to escape the unpleasantness of marital problems. But a balanced view is needed, for in many cases divorce has only made matters worse for those involved. Psychology Today, of May 1975, contained the following comments: “In spite of all the cheerful books on creative divorce, no-fault divorce, and better living through divorce, people whose marriages fail are miserable.” Especially difficult for divorced persons is loneliness.
‘But why should a divorced person be lonely?’ you may ask. ‘Are not casual relationships of couples who live together without serious commitment to each other popular today?’ Many, however, cannot conscientiously enter such promiscuous relationships. And even if you chose to live that way, could someone who takes pride in ‘not getting involved’ fulfill your need to belong to someone? “Marriage serves a deep need for emotional nourishment and commitment,” notes a New York marriage counselor. “You don’t find that in a casual relationship.” Could it be that divorce would intensify, rather than solve, your problems?
But what if a married person engaged in sexual relations with someone other than his mate, perhaps even with a homosexual? This brings up an interesting discussion of divorce found in the Bible.
“On Every Sort of Ground?”
In the first century C.E. there was a controversy among Jewish scholars as to what were acceptable grounds for divorce. The code of Jewish law known as the Mishnah preserves the following tradition from that time: “The School of Shammai say: A man may not divorce his wife unless he has found unchastity in her . . . And the School of Hillel say: [He may divorce her] even if she spoiled a dish for him . . . R[abbi] Akiba says: Even if he found another fairer than she.”*
In view of these differing opinions, which are similar to ones held in modern times, certain Pharisees asked Jesus Christ: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife on every sort of ground?” (Matt. 19:3) Jesus answered:
“Did you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and his mother and will stick to his wife, and the two will be one flesh’? . . . Therefore, what God has yoked together let no man put apart. I say to you that whoever divorces his wife, except on the ground of fornication, and marries another commits adultery.”—Matt. 19:4-6, 9.
The Greek word porneía, which is here translated “fornication,” includes adultery, homosexuality and unnatural sex acts. Where such things are involved, therefore, the Scriptures allow for a person to get free from the unfaithful marriage mate and to marry again. But there is no Scriptural obligation to seek a divorce.
But what of a situation where one subjects one’s mate to physical abuse, though not committing “fornication”? Here the counsel found at 1 Corinthians 7:10, 11 is appropriate: “A wife should not depart from her husband; but if she should actually depart, let her remain unmarried or else make up again with her husband; and a husband should not leave his wife.”
Thus, while the Word of God permits divorce on the ground of “fornication” and allows for separation, it does not encourage couples to split up. Rather, the admonition is to work at improving marriage, to “make up again.” And the Bible contains simple principles that have helped thousands of couples to improve their marriages. Let us consider some of these principles.
Becoming “One Flesh”
You will recall that Jesus said of husbands and wives: “They are no longer two, but one flesh.” (Matt. 19:6) A couple who function as “one” know each other’s mind and agree on matters. In other words, they communicate. How can you do this?
Did you know that frequently the Scriptures portray God as “listening” and “paying attention” to people, even to their complaints? (Gen. 21:17; Ex. 2:23-25; Deut. 9:19; Ps. 69:33; Mal. 3:16) Are you a good listener? Do you restate what your mate says, prodding to make sure that you understand? Real listening is much different from just cocking one ear to what is being said and perhaps punctuating the “conversation” with an occasional “uh-huh,” while concentrating on something else.
Then there is a need for communicating appreciation and love for each other. The Bible speaks favorably of “expressions of endearment” that passed between a shepherd boy and his beloved Shulammite maiden. (Song of Sol. 1:2, 4; 4:10; 7:12) An occasional warm smile, an affectionate wink, a genuine expression of appreciation such as “You look fine today, dear,” can do much to keep a marriage on solid footing, and to rebuild a tottering one too.
The Principle of Loving Headship
Another matter that steers many marriages toward the divorce court is misunderstanding of the respective roles of husband and wife. Think, though, of how much bickering and strife could be avoided by observing the following Bible principle: “Let wives be in subjection to their husbands as to the Lord, because a husband is head of his wife.”—Eph. 5:22, 23.
Does that sound like a harsh arrangement? Before answering, consider what the Scriptures further state: “Husbands, continue loving your wives . . . 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. . . . Let each one of you individually so love his wife as he does himself.”—Eph. 5:25, 28, 29, 33.
A loving family head pays attention to his wife’s opinion on matters, realizing that she may have greater ability than he in certain areas. He also ‘assigns her honor as the weaker vessel’ physically, not expecting from his wife more than she reasonably can give. (1 Pet. 3:7) Wife, if your husband shouldered his responsibility as family head along with your support, would not your marriage improve?
Improving a marriage, however, requires that a husband and wife avoid an attitude that has become popular today. How so?
Who Is More Important?
You have probably noticed the stress on personal satisfaction today. The publication Physician’s World remarks: “There’s a much higher level of expectation on the part of both spouses these days. They learn from the media that they should expect to retain their youth, enjoy higher status, and keep up their sexual appetites. It’s a crisis that often ends in divorce.”
The Bible, at 1 Corinthians 10:24, urges the very opposite frame of mind: “Let each one keep seeking, not his own advantage, but that of the other person.” For example, with regard to sexual relations the Scriptures counsel:
“Let the husband render to his wife her due; but let the wife also do likewise to her husband. The wife does not exercise authority over her own body, but her husband does; likewise, also, the husband does not exercise authority over his own body, but his wife does. Do not be depriving each other of it, except by mutual consent.”—1 Cor. 7:3-5.
If you viewed your partner’s satisfaction as more important than your own and vice versa, would not your marriage improve?
When Nothing Seems to Work
It must be acknowledged that many persons have struggled for years to make a success out of their marriage, but have not received cooperation from their mates. Is that your situation?
If so, do not lose heart. Take seriously the admonition at Galatians 6:9: “Let us not give up in doing what is fine, for in due season we shall reap if we do not tire out.” Often an obstinate husband or wife has had a change of heart because of a mates good conduct.—1 Pet. 3:1, 2.
But even if that does not happen in your case, there is no need to feel that your good efforts are in vain. The apostle Peter wrote: “If someone, because of conscience toward God, bears up under grievous things and suffers unjustly, this is an agreeable thing.” (1 Pet. 2:19) Sticking to Bible principles under pressure brings God’s favor, which is the most important thing that Christians can “reap.”
Would you like to work at improving your marriage? Jehovah’s witnesses will be happy to conduct a free Bible study with you. They will gladly point out to you the God-inspired principles that can make your marriage a success.
The Mishnah, translated by Herbert Danby, tractate Gittin 9:10.
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Really paying attention when your mate speaks can help to improve the marriage relationship