How to Build a Successful Marriage
MARRIAGE can be likened to a journey, an odyssey that presents many surprises—some exquisite, others painful. Unforeseen “terrain” can present unexpected obstacles, some of which may seem insurmountable. Nevertheless, many people make this journey successfully and happily, with only minor mishaps. Indeed, success in marriage is not measured so much by the highs and lows of the journey as it is by how couples deal with those ups and downs.
What do you think can make the journey through marriage more successful and enjoyable? Many couples feel the need for a ‘marital road map’ to direct them along the way. The most dependable and authoritative “map” for marriage is provided by the Originator of marriage—Jehovah God. His inspired Word, the Holy Bible, though, is not a magic charm. Rather, it contains practical direction that married couples need to follow to enjoy a successful marriage.—Psalm 119:105; Ephesians 5:21-33; 2 Timothy 3:16.
Let us identify some of the Scriptural signposts—key Bible principles—that can help guide you along a successful and happy marital journey.
▸ Treat marriage as sacred. “What God has yoked together let no man put apart.” (Matthew 19:6) The Creator instituted the marriage arrangement when he introduced the first man, Adam, to his wife, Eve. (Genesis 2:21-24) Christ Jesus, who had been an eyewitness to this event during his prehuman existence, confirmed that Adam and Eve’s marital union was intended to be the start of a lasting relationship. He said: “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’? So that they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has yoked together let no man put apart.”—Matthew 19:4-6.
In saying “what God has yoked together,” Jesus was not suggesting that marriages are made in heaven. Rather, he was confirming that the marriage relationship was instituted by God himself and was therefore to be treated as sacred.*
Of course, husbands and wives would not want to be “yoked together” in a cold, loveless coexistence. Rather, they want to enjoy a contented marriage in which both can thrive. They can be happily “yoked together” if they apply the Creator’s practical advice found in the Bible.
Because all of us are imperfect, misunderstandings and differences are inevitable. Often, however, a successful marriage depends less on compatibility than on how couples deal with incompatibility. Therefore, one of the most essential skills in marriage is the ability to resolve disagreements in a loving way, for love “binds everything together in perfect harmony.”—Colossians 3:14, English Standard Version.
▸ Speak respectfully. “There exists the one speaking thoughtlessly as with the stabs of a sword, but the tongue of the wise ones is a healing.” (Proverbs 12:18) Researchers have found that most conversations end the way they start. Hence, if a conversation starts respectfully, it is more likely to end that way. Conversely, you know how hurtful it can be when a loved one speaks thoughtlessly to you. Therefore, make a prayerful effort yourself to speak with dignity, respect, and affection. (Ephesians 4:31) “Even though we see each other’s weaknesses,” explains a Japanese wife named Haruko,* married for 44 years, “we try to respect each other in word and attitude. That has helped us build a successful marriage.”
▸ Cultivate kindness and compassion. “Become kind to one another, tenderly compassionate.” (Ephesians 4:32) When there are strong disagreements, it is easy for anger to beget anger. In Germany, Annette, married happily for 34 years, admits: “It is not easy to keep calm under stress—you tend to say things that upset your partner, which only makes things worse.” By striving to be kind and compassionate, however, you can do much to help smooth the road to a peaceful marriage.
▸ Show humility. “[Do] nothing out of contentiousness or out of egotism, but with lowliness of mind considering that the others are superior.” (Philippians 2:3) Many conflicts arise because marriage mates pridefully try to blame their partners for problems instead of humbly seeking ways to make things better for each other. Lowliness of mind, or humility, can help you suppress the urge to insist on being right in a disagreement.
▸ Do not hastily take offense. “Do not hurry yourself in your spirit to become offended.” (Ecclesiastes 7:9) Try to avoid the inclination to refute your mate’s viewpoint or to leap to your own defense if your mate questions something you have said or done. Instead, listen to and acknowledge your mate’s expressions. Think carefully before making a reply. Many couples learn too late in life that winning a heart is a greater victory than winning an argument.
▸ Know when to keep quiet. “Be swift about hearing, slow about speaking, slow about wrath.” (James 1:19) Good communication is without a doubt one of the most important signposts on the road to marital happiness. Why, then, does the Bible say that there is “a time to keep quiet”? (Ecclesiastes 3:7) This can be a time to do active, purposeful listening—a vital part of communication that involves finding out what your marriage mate really feels and why he or she feels that way.
▸ Listen with empathy. “Rejoice with people who rejoice; weep with people who weep.” (Romans 12:15) Empathy is indispensable to purposeful communication because it enables you to feel your spouse’s deepest emotions. It can help create an atmosphere in which each one’s opinions and feelings are treated with respect and dignity. “When we talk about our problems,” confides Nella in Brazil, married for 32 years, “I always listen very carefully so I can understand Manuel’s thoughts and feelings.” When your spouse is speaking, it is your “time to keep quiet” and to listen with empathy.
▸ Make a habit of expressing appreciation. “Show yourselves thankful.” (Colossians 3:15) Strong marriages are characterized by husbands and wives who make sure their spouse feels appreciated. However, in the day-to-day routine of married life, some marriage mates neglect this vital aspect of communication and merely assume that their spouse feels valued. “Most couples,” states Dr. Ellen Wachtel, “could give each other that feeling of appreciation if they simply thought to do so.”
Wives in particular need their husband’s loving reassurance and expressions of appreciation. You husbands can do much to improve the health of your marriage and the well-being of your wife, as well as yourself, by making a point of commenting appreciatively on your wife’s positive actions and qualities.
Both verbal and nonverbal reassurances are essential. When you husbands give your wife a gentle kiss, a kind touch, and a warm smile, it says more than just “I love you.” It reassures her that she is special to you and that you need her. Give her a phone call or an electronic message and tell her, “I’m missing you” or “How is your day going?” If since your courting days, you have begun to neglect making such expressions, it is a practice well worth reviving. Continue to learn what touches your spouse’s heart.
The words of the mother of King Lemuel of ancient Israel are so appropriate: “Her husband praises her, ‘Many women have done well, but you surpass them all.’” (Proverbs 31:1, 28, 29, Tanakh—The Holy Scriptures) When was the last time you praised your wife? Or, wife, you your husband?
▸ Be quick to forgive. “Let the sun not set with you in a provoked state.” (Ephesians 4:26) In marriage you cannot escape your own faults or those of your spouse. Consequently, the willingness to forgive is essential. Clive and Monica, in South Africa, married 43 years ago, have found this Biblical advice very helpful. “We try to put into practice the principle found at Ephesians 4:26,” explains Clive, “and we try to be quick to forgive each other, knowing that it pleases God. Then we feel good about the situation, go to bed with a clean conscience, and sleep well.”
An ancient proverb wisely observes: “It is beauty . . . to pass over transgression.” (Proverbs 19:11) Annette, mentioned previously, agrees, adding: “A good marriage is impossible without forgiveness.” She explains why: “Otherwise resentment and mistrust grow, and that is poison for a marriage. Through forgiveness, the bonds of your marriage are strengthened and you grow closer together.”
If you have hurt your spouse’s feelings, do not simply conclude that he or she will just get over it. Making peace often requires that you do one of the more difficult things marriage mates need to do: Admit that you have made a mistake. Nevertheless, find a way humbly to say something like this: “I’m sorry, Dear. I made a mistake.” A humble apology will win you respect, help build a trusting relationship, and enhance your own peace of mind.
▸ Stay committed to your mate and to your marriage. “They [the husband and wife] are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has yoked together let no man put apart.” (Matthew 19:6) You have solemnly vowed before God and man and to each other to remain together, despite problems that might arise.* Commitment, however, is not simply a legalistic obligation. Rather, it is motivated by sincere, heartfelt love and is a reflection of respect and honor for each other and for God. So never undermine your sacred marital relationship by flirting; have eyes only for your mate.—Matthew 5:28.
▸ Self-sacrifice reinforces commitment. “[Keep] an eye, not in personal interest upon just your own matters, but also in personal interest upon those of the others.” (Philippians 2:4) Putting your marriage mate’s needs and preferences ahead of your own is one of the ways to strengthen commitment. Premji, married for 20 years, makes a point of helping his wife, who is employed full-time, with the housework. “I help Rita with cooking and cleaning and other work so that she has time and energy to do the things she enjoys.”
Effort Brings Rewards
At times, the hard work involved in building a happy marriage may cause some to be tempted to give up. However, do not let upsets make you abandon your commitment or forfeit everything that you have already invested in your marriage, the distance you have already covered in your journey together.
“If you put forth sincere effort and show that you want your marriage to succeed, you can enjoy Jehovah’s blessing,” suggests Sid, whose marriage has flourished for 33 years. Your loyal support of each other through the difficult times and your mutual enjoyment of the good times will sustain you on a satisfying journey through a successful marriage.
Jesus stated that the only ground for the dissolution of a marriage with the freedom to remarry is fornication—sexual relations outside the marriage.—Matthew 19:9.
Some names in this article have been changed.
The Bible allows an innocent mate the right to decide whether to divorce an adulterous spouse. (Matthew 19:9) See the article “The Bible’s Viewpoint: Adultery—To Forgive or Not to Forgive?” in the August 8, 1995, issue of Awake!
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The Bible is like a map for the journey through marriage
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When You Need to Discuss a Problem
▪ Schedule a time when neither of you is tired.
▪ Avoid criticizing; be positive toward each other.
▪ Avoid interrupting; take turns listening and talking.
▪ Acknowledge your spouse’s feelings.
▪ Express empathy for each other, even when you disagree.
▪ Be reasonable and flexible.
▪ Humbly apologize when you are mistaken.
▪ Express appreciation and affection.
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For a Successful Marriage
▪ Cling to Bible truths that strengthen marriage.
▪ Make time for your marriage and your mate.
▪ Promote warmth, love, and affection.
▪ Be trustworthy and committed.
▪ Be kind and respectful.
▪ Share the workload at home.
▪ Contribute to mutually satisfying conversations.
▪ Share humor and relaxation.
▪ Keep working at strengthening your marriage.
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For Personal Reflection
▪ What do I need to work on most in my marriage?
▪ What steps will I take to do this?