Your Marriage Can Be Saved!
The Bible abounds with practical counsel that can benefit husbands and wives. This is hardly surprising, for the One who inspired the Bible is also the Originator of the marriage arrangement.
THE Bible paints a realistic picture of marriage. It acknowledges that a husband and wife will have “tribulation” or, as the New English Bible renders it, “pain and grief.” (1 Corinthians 7:28) Yet, the Bible also says that marriage can and should produce joy, even ecstasy. (Proverbs 5:18, 19) These two thoughts are not contradictory. They merely show that despite serious problems, a couple can attain a close and loving relationship.
Is that lacking in your marriage? Has pain and disappointment overshadowed the intimacy and joy that once characterized your relationship? Even if your marriage has been in a loveless state for many years, what was lost can be found. Of course, you have to be realistic. No imperfect man and woman are able to achieve a perfect marriage. Nevertheless, there are steps that you can take to reverse negative trends.
While reading the following material, try to identify which points particularly apply to your marriage. Instead of focusing on the shortcomings of your mate, select a few suggestions that you can put into practice, and apply the Scriptural counsel. You may find that there is more hope for your marriage than you realized.
Let us first discuss attitude because your view of commitment and your feelings toward your spouse are of utmost importance.
Your View of Commitment
A long-term view is essential if you are going to work on your marriage. After all, the marital arrangement was designed by God to link two humans inseparably. (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:4, 5) Hence, your relationship with your spouse is not like a job that you can quit or an apartment that you can escape from by simply breaking the lease and moving out. Rather, when getting married you made a solemn promise to stick with your mate, come what may. A deep sense of commitment conforms to what Jesus Christ stated nearly 2,000 years ago: “What God has yoked together let no man put apart.”—Matthew 19:6.
Some might say, ‘Well, we’re still together. Isn’t this proof that we have a sense of commitment?’ Perhaps. However, as noted at the outset of this series, some couples who stay together are stuck in stagnant waters, trapped in a loveless marriage. Your goal is to make your marriage enjoyable, not just endurable. Commitment should reflect loyalty not only to the institution of marriage but also to the person whom you have vowed to love and cherish.—Ephesians 5:33.
The things you say to your mate can reveal just how deep your commitment is. For example, in the heat of an argument, some husbands and wives make rash statements such as “I’m leaving you!” or “I’m going to find someone who appreciates me!” Even if such comments are not meant literally, they undermine commitment by implying that the door is always open and that the speaker is ever poised and ready to walk through it.
To restore love in your marriage, eliminate such threats from your conversations. After all, would you decorate an apartment if you knew that any day you might be moving out of it? Why, then, expect your mate to work on a marriage that may not last? Determine that you will try earnestly to work toward solutions.
This is what one wife did after going through a turbulent period with her husband. “As much as I disliked him at times, I didn’t think about getting out of the relationship,” she says. “Whatever was broken, we were going to fix it somehow. And now, after two very rocky years, I can honestly say that we are quite happy together again.”
Yes, commitment means teamwork—not just coexisting but working toward a common goal. However, you may feel that at this point it is only a sense of duty that is keeping your marriage together. If this is so, do not despair. It may be that love can be recaptured. How?
Honoring Your Spouse
The Bible states: “Let marriage be honorable among all.” (Hebrews 13:4; Romans 12:10) Forms of the Greek word here translated “honorable” are rendered elsewhere in the Bible as “dear,” “esteemed,” and “precious.” When we highly value something, we make painstaking efforts to care for it. Perhaps you have noted that to be true of a man who owns an expensive new car. He keeps his precious car shining and in good repair. To him even a minor scratch is a major catastrophe! Other people take similar care of their health. Why? Because they value their well-being, and so they want to safeguard it.
Show the same protective care for your marriage. The Bible says that love “hopes all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:7) Instead of giving in to defeatist thinking—perhaps writing off the potential for improvement by saying, “We were never really in love,” “We married too young,” or “We didn’t know what we were doing”—why not hope for better things and work toward improvement, waiting patiently for results? “I hear so many of my clients intone, ‘I can’t handle it anymore!’” says one marriage counselor. “Instead of dissecting the relationship to see which parts of it need improvement, they hastily junk the entire endeavor, including the values they do share, the history they’ve carefully assembled, and any potential for the future.”
What history do you share with your mate? Regardless of the difficulties in your relationship, surely you can think of pleasant times, accomplishments, and challenges that you faced as a team. Reflect on these occasions, and show that you honor your marriage and your marriage mate by sincerely working to improve your relationship. The Bible shows that Jehovah God takes a keen interest in how marriage mates treat each other. For example, in the prophet Malachi’s day, Jehovah censured Israelite husbands who dealt treacherously with their wives by frivolously divorcing them. (Malachi 2:13-16) Christians want their marriage to bring honor to Jehovah God.
A chief factor in loveless marriages seems to be an inability of the husband and wife to manage conflict. Since no two people are exactly alike, all marriages will have occasional disagreements. But couples who are constantly at odds may find that over the years their love has cooled. They might even conclude, ‘We’re just not well matched. We’re always fighting!’
Yet, the mere presence of conflict does not have to be the death knell of a marriage. The question is, How is conflict handled? In a successful marriage, the husband and wife have learned to talk about their problems without becoming, as one doctor calls it, “intimate enemies.”
“The Power of the Tongue”
Do you and your mate know how to talk about your problems? Both should be willing to talk them out. Truly, this is a skill—one that can be challenging to learn. Why? For one thing, all of us occasionally “stumble in word” because of being imperfect. (James 3:2) Then, too, some were raised in homes where a parent’s anger was unleashed on a regular basis. From an early age, they were, in a sense, trained to believe that temperamental outbursts and abusive speech are normal. A boy raised in such an environment may grow up to become “a man given to anger,” one who is “disposed to rage.” (Proverbs 29:22) Similarly, a girl with such an upbringing may become “a bitter-tongued and angry woman.” (Proverbs 21:19, The Bible in Basic English) It can be difficult to uproot strongly entrenched patterns of thinking and interacting.*
Managing conflict, then, involves learning new ways to express one’s thoughts. This is no trivial matter, for a Bible proverb states: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” (Proverbs 18:21) Yes, simple as it may sound, how you talk to your spouse has the potential to destroy your relationship or to revive it. “There exists the one speaking thoughtlessly as with the stabs of a sword,” says another Bible proverb, “but the tongue of the wise ones is a healing.”—Proverbs 12:18.
Even if your mate seems to be the prime offender in this regard, give thought to the things that you say during a disagreement. Do your words hurt, or do they heal? Do they provoke rage or mollify it? “A word causing pain makes anger to come up,” says the Bible. In contrast, “an answer, when mild, turns away rage.” (Proverbs 15:1) Words causing pain—even if they are spoken calmly—will inflame the situation.
Of course, if something disturbs you, you have a right to express yourself. (Genesis 21:9-12) But you can do so without resorting to sarcasm, insults, and put-downs. Set firm boundaries for yourself—some things that you will resolve not to say to your mate, such as “I hate you” or “I wish we had never married.” And although the Christian apostle Paul was not specifically discussing marriage, it is wise to avoid getting caught up in what he called “debates about words” and “violent disputes about trifles.”* (1 Timothy 6:4, 5) If your spouse uses such methods, you do not have to respond in kind. As far as it depends upon you, pursue peace.—Romans 12:17, 18; Philippians 2:14.
Admittedly, when tempers flare, it is difficult to control one’s speech. “The tongue is a fire,” says the Bible writer James. “Not one of mankind can get it tamed. An unruly injurious thing, it is full of death-dealing poison.” (James 3:6, 8) What can you do, then, when anger begins to build? How can you speak to your mate in a manner that will quell the conflict rather than add fuel to it?
Defusing Explosive Arguments
Some have found that it is easier to slow down anger and address underlying issues if they put emphasis on their feelings rather than on their mate’s actions. For example, “I feel hurt because of what you said” is much more effective than “You hurt me” or “You should know better than to say that.” Of course, when expressing how you feel, the tone of your voice should not be laced with bitterness or contempt. Your objective should be to highlight the problem rather than attack the person.—Genesis 27:46–28:1.
In addition, always remember that there is “a time to keep quiet and a time to speak.” (Ecclesiastes 3:7) When two people are talking at the same time, neither one is listening, and nothing is accomplished. So when it is your turn to listen, be “swift about hearing, slow about speaking.” Equally important, be “slow about wrath.” (James 1:19) Do not take literally every harsh word that your mate utters; neither “hurry yourself in your spirit to become offended.” (Ecclesiastes 7:9) Instead, try to perceive the feelings behind your mate’s words. “The insight of a man certainly slows down his anger,” says the Bible, “and it is beauty on his part to pass over transgression.” (Proverbs 19:11) Insight can help a husband or wife look beneath the surface of a disagreement.
For example, a wife’s complaint that her husband does not spend time with her is likely not simply about hours and minutes. It may have more to do with her feeling neglected or unappreciated. Similarly, a husband’s grievance concerning an impulsive purchase that his wife made is probably not just about dollars and cents. It may be more about his feeling left out of the decision-making process. The husband or wife having insight will probe beneath the surface and get to the core of the problem.—Proverbs 16:23.
Is this easier said than done? Absolutely! Sometimes, despite the best of efforts, unkind words will be spoken and tempers will flare. When you see this start to happen, you may need to follow the advice of Proverbs 17:14: “Before the quarrel has burst forth, take your leave.” There is nothing wrong with postponing the discussion until feelings have cooled down. If it is difficult to talk without things getting out of hand, it may be advisable to have a mature friend sit down with the two of you and help you to sort through your differences.*
Maintain a Realistic Outlook
Do not be discouraged if your marriage is not what you envisioned it would be during courtship. Says one team of experts: “Unending bliss is just not what marriage is like for most people. It’s wonderful at times and very hard at other times.”
Yes, marriage may not be a storybook romance, but neither does it have to be a tragedy. While there will be times when you and your spouse will just have to put up with each other, there will also be occasions when you can put your differences aside and just enjoy being together, having fun, and talking to each other as friends. (Ephesians 4:2; Colossians 3:13) These are the times when you may be able to rekindle the love that has faded.
Remember, two imperfect humans cannot have a perfect marriage. But they can find a measure of happiness. Indeed, even with difficulties, the relationship between you and your spouse can be a wellspring of immense satisfaction. One thing is certain: If both you and your mate put forth effort and are willing to be flexible and seek the advantage of the other person, there is good reason to believe that your marriage can be saved.—1 Corinthians 10:24.
Parental influence does not excuse harsh speech directed at one’s mate. However, it may help explain how such a tendency can become deeply ingrained and difficult to uproot.
The original Greek word translated “violent disputes about trifles” can also be rendered “mutual irritations.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses have the resource of congregation elders. While it is not their place to meddle in the personal affairs of married couples, the elders can be a refreshing aid to couples in distress.—James 5:14, 15.
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Do your words hurt, or do they heal?
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THROW THE BALL GENTLY
The Bible states: “Let your utterance be always with graciousness, seasoned with salt, so as to know how you ought to give an answer to each one.” (Colossians 4:6) This certainly applies in marriage! To illustrate: In a game of catch, you toss the ball so that it can be caught easily. You do not fling it with such force that you injure your partner. Apply the same principle when speaking with your spouse. Hurling bitter remarks will only cause harm. Instead, speak gently—with graciousness—so that your mate can catch your point.
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Read letters and cards from the past. Look at pictures. Ask yourself, ‘What drew me to my partner? What qualities did I most admire? What activities did we share in? What made us laugh?’ Then talk about these memories with your spouse. A conversation that starts with the phrase “Remember the time . . . ?” may help you and your spouse to revive the feelings that you once shared.
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NEW MATE, SAME PROBLEMS
Some spouses who feel trapped in a loveless marriage are tempted to start all over with a new mate. But the Bible condemns adultery, stating that a person who engages in this sin “is in want of heart [“is a senseless fool,” New English Bible]” and “is bringing his own soul to ruin.” (Proverbs 6:32) Ultimately, the unrepentant adulterer loses God’s favor—the worst kind of ruin possible.—Hebrews 13:4.
The utter foolishness of an adulterous course is shown in other ways too. For one thing, the adulterer who takes on a new spouse is likely to be confronted with the same problems that plagued his first marriage. Dr. Diane Medved brings up another factor to consider: “The first thing your new mate learned about you,” she says, “was that you’re willing to be unfaithful. He or she knows that you can be deceptive to one you’ve promised to honor. That you’re great with excuses. That you can be distracted away from commitment. That sensory pleasure or ego gratification are bait that you’ll follow. . . . How does spouse number two know that you won’t be lured away again?”
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WISDOM FROM BIBLE PROVERBS
• Proverbs 10:19: “In the abundance of words there does not fail to be transgression, but the one keeping his lips in check is acting discreetly.”
When you are upset, you may say more than you mean to—and later regret it.
• Proverbs 15:18: “An enraged man stirs up contention, but one that is slow to anger quiets down quarreling.”
Stinging accusations will likely make your spouse defensive, whereas patient listening will help both of you work toward a resolution.
• Proverbs 17:27: “Anyone holding back his sayings is possessed of knowledge, and a man of discernment is cool of spirit.”
When you sense that anger is building, it is best to keep quiet so as to avoid a full-blown confrontation.
• Proverbs 29:11: “All his spirit is what a stupid one lets out, but he that is wise keeps it calm to the last.”
Self-control is vital. A temperamental outburst of harsh words will only alienate your spouse.