What It Takes to Be Happy in Marriage
APPLYING God’s standards will make any marriage work better. They will provide married couples with the basic tools with which to solve problems where other persons fail.
No, doing things God’s way will not result in perfect marriages. That is not a realistic expectation at this time. But the closer we come to God’s laws and principles for the marriage arrangement, the happier we will be.
Of the various things that need to be considered, one has to do with the way man and woman were created. Understanding this properly will help to eliminate some difficulties at the very beginning of a marriage.
It is obvious that God created man and woman with some similar physical features, and with some different ones. They were also created with some similar mental and emotional qualities, but also with some that are quite different.
Why the differences? They were designed to help each to fulfill a different role. Each was made with a need that the other had the ability to fulfill. So while the two persons do not bring the same strengths and abilities to marriage, the differences would balance each other.
Do these differences mean that one is “superior” or “inferior” to the other? No. Each difference was superior for its own purpose. To illustrate: Is a hammer superior to a saw because it is different? If a person tried to hammer with a saw, or to saw with a hammer, he would soon find out that each was superior in its own way, but that mixing the roles would bring difficulties.
Although different, a hammer and a saw support, or complement, each other. So do the differences created in man and woman. Each has superior qualities that the other does not have, due to their different roles. But they complement, or support each other’s qualities. That is why God said that the woman would be “a helper” for the man, made “as a complement of him.”—Gen. 2:18.
So when a husband and a wife understand and appreciate each other and cooperate within their assigned differences, they fit each other like a hand in a glove. But if they ignore the differences, or fight against them, it is like trying to put a doubled-up fist into a glove. It just will not fit.
A marriage or a family needs leadership. Fundamentally, the man was the one created with this potential, for he was given a greater measure of the qualities and strengths required to be a family head. (Eph. 5:23) This is practical, for when there is no leadership, there is discord and confusion.
Having a marriage, and a family, without such headship would be like trying to drive an automobile without a steering wheel. Or, if the wife were to try to take over such headship, it would be like having two drivers in the car, each with a steering wheel controlling a separate front wheel. It does not take much imagination to see what confusion that would bring.
In modern times especially, this role of headship has been confused and misunderstood by both men and women. The result? Dr. Harold Voth of the Menninger Foundation in America says that this “blurring of sexual roles in the family” is having a “disastrous” consequence. He recommended: “We’ve got to start looking at the family structure as it existed in the old pioneer days of this country. The man was undisputed head of the family. He was strong. His family could rely on him.”
Yet, many women complain that their husbands do not take a proper lead. And this is true. In some cases, the husband is primarily at fault, being concerned more with his own selfish interests. In other cases he may even be lazy. Some do not want the responsibilities that go with headship, and so abandon it.
At other times, however, the attitude of the wife could be a major part of the problem. When a wife becomes overly aggressive and begins to compete with her husband’s headship, he will usually resent it. He may react by letting his wife do what she wants to do, although showing his disapproval in many other ways.
The resentment by wives of a husband’s poor headship and the resentment by husbands of competing wives are major stumbling blocks to marital happiness. But what can be done to assure that the arrangement will work the way it was designed, the way that will be best for the marriage?
Right Kind of Husband
A husband who wants a happy marriage, and a happy wife, needs to cultivate the right kind of attitude toward his headship. There is simply no substitute for proper headship if there is to be a genuinely happy marriage.
Some men, not familiar with God’s ways, think that being the head means being the “boss,” a “dictator.” To have such an attitude is to make a bad mistake. It will produce a hostile reaction in most normal women.
The kind of headship God requires of a husband gives him no license to oppress or brutalize his wife, or to reduce her to the condition of a ‘second-class citizen.’ God never purposed for a husband to be that kind of head.
On the contrary, the husband is commanded to learn how to be kind, gentle, understanding, actively interested in his wife’s welfare. God’s standard is, “husbands ought to be loving their wives as their own bodies,” being willing to make sacrifices for them.—Eph. 5:28.
To what extent? Notice: “Husbands, continue loving your wives, just as the Christ also loved the congregation.” How far did Christ go in doing this? When it became necessary, he “delivered up himself for it,” the Bible answers. Yes, Jesus Christ set a fine example of giving himself fully to those he loved. He was even willing to die for them.—Eph. 5:25.
The right kind of husband will make a conscious effort to let his wife know that he loves her and appreciates her contribution. He should do this, not just by what he does for her, but also by what he says to her. “Pleasant sayings are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and a healing to the bones,” says Proverbs 16:24. Women were made with the emotional need to be shown that they are wanted, needed and appreciated. And it is not a sign of unmanliness or weakness for a husband to show this.
The husband who lets his wife know of his love by what he says and does usually gets a favorable response from her. Most normal women will respond by showing even greater love and respect for such a husband. They will be more willing to do things in his behalf. Why is this so?
Because God created women to respond to kindness, tenderness and affection. The more that a man shows his love for his wife, the more she is likely to respond. And, interestingly, the more she responds, the more likely the husband is to want to continue doing things for her. Yes, it is a case of ‘reaping what you sow.’
The Bible’s “blueprint” provided for the family head even says: “You husbands, continue dwelling in like manner with them according to knowledge, assigning them honor as to a weaker vessel, the feminine one.”—1 Pet. 3:7.
How do you ‘assign honor’ to other persons? By being considerate of their opinions, their likes and dislikes. By giving them the preference when there is no major issue at stake. By not belittling or embarrassing them, either privately or in front of others. Yes, by caring for them, and showing it.
This consideration should carry over to the sexual aspect of marriage. When the husband is tender and considerate he will find that his wife usually is more responsive. She was not created to respond to a harsh, demanding, greedy mate, and will lose respect for that kind of man.
When a husband is the right kind of head, his wife will not find his headship a burden. Instead, she will find it a relief from burdens that she was not made to carry.
When Wives Do Their Part
A wife who does her part can do much to encourage a husband to be the right kind of head. Wives who work at being ‘in subjection to their husbands’ are often astonished at the results.—Col. 3:18; Titus 2:4, 5.
How can a wife do this? She can begin by showing a willingness to regard her husband as the God-ordained family head. She should avoid competing with him or constantly nagging him. When problems arise, she can ask for his suggestions and guidance. This shows that she looks to him for leadership and values his opinions. When he makes mistakes, she will want to avoid belittling him. When no major issue is involved, she should not argue against his decisions. And when he begins to show a willingness to take the lead, the wife should express appreciation.
One wife who began doing this said: “I can hardly believe the difference. A few months ago my husband and I were on the verge of splitting up. But today we’re like—well—honeymooners, only better.” The dramatic change was caused by “wifely submissiveness.”
Regarding wifely submissiveness, Woman’s Day magazine stated: “It’s a philosophy of marriage that has won thousands of devoted converts—women who are so pleased with the results” that they do not mind letting the husband be the head. They prefer it, since they have found that usually the husband becomes far more responsive to the wife’s needs, more willing to make concessions in her behalf.
In most cases, even a partial attempt by the wife to work at her role of supporting a husband’s headship had a considerable effect on the marriage. And the more the wife adapts herself to the role for which she was designed, the better the results are likely to be. Doing otherwise can only result in conflict, like trying to drive the wrong way on a one-way street.
Coping with Imperfection
Another reality to reckon with is human imperfection. We are all born with the tendency to make mistakes. “We all stumble many times,” says the Bible.—Jas. 3:2; Ps. 51:5; Rom. 5:12.
By accepting this reality at the very beginning, one marriage mate will not demand what the other cannot produce—perfection. Instead, they will allow for each other’s mistakes. Hence, they will not expect perfect happiness, since imperfect people cannot produce it. As psychologist Larry Cash wrote in Canada’s Chatelaine magazine:
“Even though I’m part of the ‘human potential’ movement, I have to admit I’m angered by that movement. Unintentionally, we’ve misled a lot of people into expecting they can be 99 44/100-percent happy, when in real life you’re really beating the odds if you achieve 70-percent happiness.”
Of course, a husband and a wife will want to work at avoiding what irritates the other mate. Nevertheless, shortcomings will occur and may be painfully evident. How should these be handled? By making a ‘mountain out of a molehill’? No, the Bible’s sound counsel is: “Love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Pet. 4:8) It does not keep exposing mistakes or “rehashing” them. It says, in effect, ‘Yes, you made a mistake. But so do I at times. So I’ll overlook yours, and you may do the same for me.’
When marriage mates do not try to pretend that they are perfect, or infallible, they will not try to win every argument over differences. A person may win an argument, but lose the war, so to speak. A goal in marriage should be solving problems, not winning arguments.
When couples are willing to admit mistakes and try to correct them in humility, a mountain of additional arguments and heartaches can be avoided. As one woman said:
“I try harder to make this marriage work. I avoid irritating my husband. I try not to be selfish and to see his point of view. I’m willing to compromise. Winning every argument, getting my own way, is no longer important. We are considerate of each other.”
That kind of consideration is vital for another reason. It is because God has created us as free moral agents. That is, he allows us to exercise a wide range of freedoms of choice within the boundaries of his righteous laws and principles.
Therefore we should not expect that any two persons will have exactly the same views, likes and dislikes. By allowing for differences, there will be no disappointment or irritation when one mate has a preference not exactly the same as the other’s.
For instance, the wife may have certain tastes in home decorating that are different from the husband’s. But since the woman was created with a generally greater ability in this area, the wise husband allows her much latitude in such things. Similarly, the husband’s preferences are not always the same as his wife’s. She should allow for them, particularly in areas where he is better suited, such as in headship, when making major purchases, or in regard to where to live and work.
But what if differences exist in areas where, really, both have a “right” to their own wishes, such as in the choice of food? Well, why not serve one kind of food one day, the other kind another day? Or a little of both each day? In this way both preferences are allowed for, and individuality is not squashed.
Considering each other’s feelings in this way is in harmony with Bible principles, for “love is patient and kind; it is not jealous . . . or selfish.” (1 Cor. 13:4, 5, Today’s English Version) So marriage partners need to follow the rule of “keeping an eye, not in personal interest upon just your own matters, but also in personal interest upon those of the others.”—Phil. 2:4.
However, there will likely be things that come up in a marriage that are very difficult to resolve. Both mates may feel strongly about them and may want their way. Even when all the foregoing principles are put into practice, what should take place when there is still an irreconcilable difference? Then the Bible rule is: ‘Let wives be subject to their husbands in everything.’ (Eph. 5:24) In other words, where there has to be a final decision, the wife who abides by God’s viewpoint must let her husband make that final decision, provided he is not asking her to break God’s laws. True, he may make a wrong decision. But, then, so could she. In any event, he is given the responsibility of making such final decisions.
Yet, more often than not, a loving, submissive wife will no doubt find that her husband will choose to favor her preferences. So at those times when he exercises the right to make a final choice different from her preference, the wife should cooperate.
Often the real blame for marriage problems rests with the frustrating and unsatisfying world we live in. However, when a person knows what God’s purpose is, many of those frustrations fade away.
The Bible identifies our very generation as the “last days” of this present system. It shows that this era, with its “critical times hard to deal with,” will soon come to an end. (2 Tim. 3:1) Then God will replace this decaying system with a righteous new order of his making. (2 Pet. 3:13) In that new order, people will have opportunities for life and happiness that we can only dream of now. Yes, “the world is passing away and so is its desire, but he that does the will of God remains forever.”—1 John 2:17.
As the Bible says, those who do not have this knowledge of the future “become faint out of fear” because of deteriorating conditions. But those who are fortified with accurate knowledge of God’s purposes ‘raise themselves erect and lift their heads up, because their deliverance is getting near.’ (Luke 21:25-28) This outlook has made a tremendous difference in the marriages of God-fearing persons.
Too, marriage mates who turn to God for guidance can expect something else. The Bible says that God “acts for the one that keeps in expectation of him.” (Isa. 64:4) God’s powerful active force, the force that created this awesome universe, will operate for such ones.
Hence, they can have a “power beyond what is normal” helping them in their married lives. (2 Cor. 4:7) And what can God’s active force, or holy spirit, produce in receptive couples? “The fruitage of the spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, self-control.” (Gal. 5:22, 23) What an amazing array of positive qualities those are, working for the happiness of a marriage!
You can understand, then, why people who acknowledge God as the originator of marriage, who let his laws and principles be their guide, and who receive help from him, have the happiest and most rewarding marriages now possible.
No. Marriage is not on the way out! What is on the way out is this present unsatisfactory world with its debased ideas of marriage. On the way in is a new order of God’s making. And since God created marriage, we can be confident that his purpose for it will be fully realized, both now and then.
Thus, where marriage is concerned, we have a choice. We can follow this world’s degraded standards and reap its bitter fruitage. Or, we can follow our Creator’s standards and reap the benefits of a happy married life now and even greater happiness to come in the future.
[Blurb on page 18]
Are you doing your part to make your marriage happy?
[Picture on page 21]
Yes, marriage can survive and be happy by . . .
. . . Respecting God’s blueprint for marriage
. . . Accepting individual roles
. . . Cooperating not competing
. . . Allowing for imperfections
. . . Making room for individual choice
. . . Being united in the hope ahead