Preparing for a Successful Marriage
1, 2. (a) How did Jesus stress the importance of planning? (b) In what field particularly is planning vital?
CONSTRUCTING a building requires careful preparation. Before the foundation is laid, land must be acquired and plans drawn up. However, something else is vital. Jesus said: “Who of you that wants to build a tower does not first sit down and calculate the expense, to see if he has enough to complete it?”—Luke 14:28.
2 What is true of constructing a building also applies to constructing a successful marriage. Many say: “I want to get married.” But how many stop to consider the cost? While the Bible speaks favorably of marriage, it also draws attention to the challenges that marriage presents. (Proverbs 18:22; 1 Corinthians 7:28) Therefore, those contemplating marriage need to have a realistic view of both the blessings and the costs of being married.
3. Why is the Bible a valuable aid to those planning for marriage, and what three questions will it help us to answer?
3 The Bible can help. Its counsel is inspired by the Originator of marriage, Jehovah God. (Ephesians 3:14, 15; 2 Timothy 3:16) Using the principles found in this ancient yet very up-to-date guidebook, let us determine (1) How can a person tell whether he or she is ready for marriage? (2) What should be looked for in a mate? and (3) How can courtship be kept honorable?
ARE YOU READY FOR MARRIAGE?
4. What is a vital factor in maintaining a successful marriage, and why?
4 Constructing a building may be expensive, but caring for its long-term maintenance is costly as well. It is similar with marriage. Getting married seems challenging enough; however, maintaining a marital relationship year after year must also be considered. What does maintaining such a relationship entail? A vital factor is a wholehearted commitment. Here is how the Bible describes the marriage relationship: “A man will leave his father and his mother and he must stick to his wife and they must become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24) Jesus Christ gave the only Scriptural basis for divorce with the possibility of remarriage—“fornication,” that is, illicit sex relations outside the marriage. (Matthew 19:9) If you are contemplating marriage, bear these Scriptural standards in mind. If you are not ready for this solemn commitment, then you are not ready for marriage.—Deuteronomy 23:21; Ecclesiastes 5:4, 5.
5. Although the solemn commitment of marriage frightens some, why should it rather be highly valued by those intending to marry?
5 The idea of a solemn commitment frightens many. “Knowing that the two of us were stuck together for life made me feel pushed into a corner, closed in, totally confined,” confessed one young man. But if you really love the person you intend to marry, commitment will not seem like a burden. Instead, it will be viewed as a source of security. The sense of commitment implied in marriage will make a couple want to stay together through good times and bad and to be supportive of each other come what may. The Christian apostle Paul wrote that true love “bears all things” and “endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:4, 7) “The commitment of marriage makes me feel more secure,” says one woman. “I love the comfort of having admitted to ourselves and the world that we intend to stick together.”—Ecclesiastes 4:9-12.
6. Why is it best not to rush into marriage at a young age?
6 Living up to such a commitment requires maturity. Thus, Paul counsels that Christians do better not to marry until they are “past the bloom of youth,” the period when sexual feelings run strong and can distort one’s judgment. (1 Corinthians 7:36) Young people change rapidly as they grow up. Many who marry when very young find that after just a few years their needs and desires, as well as those of their mate, have changed. Statistics reveal that teenagers who marry are much more likely to be unhappy and seek divorce than those who wait a little longer. So do not rush into marriage. Some years spent living as a young, single adult can give you precious experience that will make you more mature and better qualified to be a suitable mate. Waiting to get married can also help you to understand yourself better—a necessity if you are to develop a successful relationship in your marriage.
KNOW YOURSELF FIRST
7. Why should those planning to get married examine themselves first?
7 Do you find it easy to list the qualities you want in a mate? Most do. However, what about your own qualities? What traits do you have that will help you contribute to a successful marriage? What type of husband or wife will you be? For example, do you freely admit your mistakes and accept advice, or are you always defensive when corrected? Are you generally cheerful and optimistic, or do you tend to be gloomy, frequently complaining? (Proverbs 8:33; 15:15) Remember, marriage will not change your personality. If you are proud, oversensitive, or overly pessimistic when single, you will be the same when married. Since it is difficult to see ourselves the way others see us, why not ask a parent or a trusted friend for frank comments and suggestions? If you learn of changes that could be made, work on these before taking steps to marry.
8-10. What counsel does the Bible give that will help an individual to prepare for marriage?
8 The Bible encourages us to let God’s holy spirit work in us, producing qualities such as “love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, self-control.” It also tells us to “be made new in the force actuating [our] mind” and to “put on the new personality which was created according to God’s will in true righteousness and loyalty.” (Galatians 5:22, 23; Ephesians 4:23, 24) Applying this counsel while you are still single will be like depositing money in the bank—something that will prove very valuable in the future, when you do marry.
9 For example, if you are a woman, learn to pay more attention to “the secret person of the heart” than you do to your physical appearance. (1 Peter 3:3, 4) Modesty and soundness of mind will help you to have wisdom, a true “crown of beauty.” (Proverbs 4:9; 31:10, 30; 1 Timothy 2:9, 10) If you are a man, learn to treat women in a kind and respectful way. (1 Timothy 5:1, 2) While learning to make decisions and shoulder responsibility, learn also to be modest and humble. A domineering attitude will lead to trouble in a marriage.—Proverbs 29:23; Micah 6:8; Ephesians 5:28, 29.
10 Although making the mind over in these areas is not easy, it is something all Christians should work on. And it will help you to be a better marriage partner.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A MATE
11, 12. How may two people find out whether or not they are compatible?
11 Is it customary where you live for a person to choose his or her own marriage mate? If so, how should you proceed if you find someone of the opposite sex attractive? First, ask yourself, ‘Is marriage really my intention?’ It is cruel to play with another person’s emotions by raising false expectations. (Proverbs 13:12) Then, ask yourself, ‘Am I in a position to get married?’ If the answer to both questions is positive, the steps you take next will vary depending on local custom. In some lands, after observing for a while, you might approach the person and express a desire to get better acquainted. If the response is negative, do not persist to the point of being objectionable. Remember, the other person also has a right to make a decision in the matter. If, however, the response is positive, you may arrange to spend time together in wholesome activities. This will give you an opportunity to see whether marriage to this person would be wise.a What should you look for at this stage?
12 To answer that question, imagine two musical instruments, perhaps a piano and a guitar. If they are correctly tuned, either one can produce beautiful solo music. Yet, what happens if these instruments are played together? Now they must be in tune with each other. It is similar with you and a prospective mate. Each of you may have worked hard to “tune” your personality traits as individuals. But the question now is: Are you in tune with each other? In other words, are you compatible?
13. Why is it very unwise to court someone who does not share your faith?
13 It is important that both of you have common beliefs and principles. The apostle Paul wrote: “Do not become unevenly yoked with unbelievers.” (2 Corinthians 6:14; 1 Corinthians 7:39) Marriage to someone who does not share your faith in God makes it more likely that there will be severe disharmony. On the other hand, a mutual devotion to Jehovah God is the strongest basis for unity. Jehovah wants you to be happy and to enjoy the closest possible bond with the person you marry. He wants you to be bound to Him and to each other by a threefold bond of love.—Ecclesiastes 4:12.
14, 15. Is having the same faith the only aspect of unity in a marriage? Explain.
14 While worshiping God together is the most important aspect of unity, more is involved. To be attuned to each other, you and your prospective mate should have similar goals. What are your goals? For example, how do you both feel about having children? What things have the first place in your life?b (Matthew 6:33) In a truly successful marriage, the couple are good friends and enjoy each other’s company. (Proverbs 17:17) For this, they need to have interests in common. It is difficult to sustain a close friendship—much less a marriage—when this is not the case. Still, if your prospective partner enjoys a particular activity, such as hiking, and you do not, does that mean that the two of you should not get married? Not necessarily. Perhaps you share other, more important interests. Moreover, you might give happiness to your prospective partner by sharing in wholesome activities because the other person enjoys them.—Acts 20:35.
15 Indeed, to a large degree, compatibility is determined by how adaptable both of you are rather than by how identical you are. Instead of asking, “Do we agree on everything?” some better questions might be: “What happens when we disagree? Can we discuss matters calmly, according each other respect and dignity? Or do discussions often deteriorate into heated arguments?” (Ephesians 4:29, 31) If you want to get married, be wary of anyone who is proud and opinionated, never willing to compromise, or who constantly demands and schemes to have his or her own way.
FIND OUT BEFOREHAND
16, 17. What might a man or a woman look for when considering a prospective marriage mate?
16 In the Christian congregation, those who are entrusted with responsibility are to be “tested as to fitness first.” (1 Timothy 3:10) You too can employ this principle. For example, a woman might ask, “What kind of reputation does this man have? Who are his friends? Does he display self-control? How does he treat elderly persons? What kind of family does he come from? How does he interact with them? What is his attitude toward money? Does he abuse alcoholic beverages? Is he temperamental, even violent? What congregation responsibilities does he have, and how does he handle them? Could I deeply respect him?”—Leviticus 19:32; Proverbs 22:29; 31:23; Ephesians 5:3-5, 33; 1 Timothy 5:8; 6:10; Titus 2:6, 7.
17 A man might ask, “Does this woman display love and respect for God? Is she capable of caring for a home? What will her family expect of us? Is she wise, industrious, thrifty? What does she talk about? Is she genuinely concerned about the welfare of others, or is she self-centered, a busybody? Is she trustworthy? Is she willing to submit to headship, or is she stubborn, perhaps even rebellious?”—Proverbs 31:10-31; Luke 6:45; Ephesians 5:22, 23; 1 Timothy 5:13; 1 Peter 4:15.
18. If minor weaknesses are perceived during courtship, what should be borne in mind?
18 Do not forget that you are dealing with an imperfect descendant of Adam, not some idealized hero or heroine out of a romance novel. Everyone has shortcomings, and some of these will have to be overlooked—both yours and those of your prospective partner. (Romans 3:23; James 3:2) Further, a perceived weakness can present an opportunity to grow. For example, suppose during your courtship you have an argument. Consider: Even people who love and respect each other disagree at times. (Compare Genesis 30:2; Acts 15:39.) Could it be that both of you simply need to ‘restrain your spirit’ a little more and learn how to settle matters more peacefully? (Proverbs 25:28) Does your prospective mate show a desire to improve? Do you? Could you learn to be less sensitive, less touchy? (Ecclesiastes 7:9) Learning to resolve problems can establish a pattern of honest communication that is essential if the two of you do get married.—Colossians 3:13.
19. What would be a wise course of action if serious problems surface during courtship?
19 What, though, if you notice things that trouble you deeply? Such doubts should be considered carefully. However romantic you may feel or however anxious you may be to get married, do not close your eyes to serious faults. (Proverbs 22:3; Ecclesiastes 2:14) If you have a relationship with someone about whom you have serious reservations, it is wise to discontinue the relationship and to refrain from making a lasting commitment to that person.
KEEP YOUR COURTSHIP HONORABLE
20. How can a courting couple keep their moral conduct above reproach?
20 How can you keep your courtship honorable? First, make sure that your moral conduct is above reproach. Where you live, is holding hands, kissing, or embracing considered appropriate behavior for unmarried couples? Even if such expressions of affection are not frowned upon, they should be allowed only when the relationship has reached a point where marriage is definitely planned. Be careful that displays of affection do not escalate into unclean conduct or even fornication. (Ephesians 4:18, 19; compare Song of Solomon 1:2; 2:6; 8:5, 9, 10.) Because the heart is treacherous, both of you would be wise to avoid being isolated in a house, an apartment, a parked automobile, or anywhere else that would give opportunity for wrong conduct. (Jeremiah 17:9) Keeping your courtship morally clean gives clear evidence that you have self-control and that you put unselfish concern for the other person’s welfare ahead of your own desires. Most important, a clean courtship will please Jehovah God, who commands his servants to abstain from uncleanness and fornication.—Galatians 5:19-21.
21. What honest communication may be needed in order to keep courtship honorable?
21 Second, an honorable courtship also includes honest communication. As your courtship progresses toward marriage, certain matters will need to be discussed openly. Where will you live? Will both of you work secularly? Do you want to have children? Also, it is only fair to reveal things, perhaps in one’s past, that could affect the marriage. These may include major debts or obligations or health matters, such as any serious disease or condition you may have. Since many persons who are infected with HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) show no immediate symptoms, it would not be wrong for an individual or for caring parents to request an AIDS blood test of one who has in the past engaged in sexual promiscuity or was an intravenous drug user. If the test proves positive, the infected person should not pressure the intended mate to continue the relationship if that one now wishes to terminate it. Really, anyone who has engaged in a high-risk life-style would do well to submit voluntarily to an AIDS blood test before beginning a courtship.
LOOKING BEYOND THE WEDDING
22, 23. (a) How could balance be lost when preparing for a wedding? (b) What balanced view should be maintained when considering the wedding and the marriage?
22 During the final months before the marriage, both of you will likely be very busy with arranging for the wedding. You can alleviate much of the tension by being moderate. An elaborate wedding may please relatives and the community, but it may leave newlyweds and their families physically exhausted and financially drained. Some adherence to local customs is reasonable, but slavish and perhaps competitive conformity can overshadow the meaning of the occasion and may rob you of the joy that you should have. While the feelings of others must be considered, the groom is primarily responsible for deciding what will go on at the wedding feast.—John 2:9.
23 Remember that your wedding lasts just one day, but your marriage lasts a lifetime. Avoid concentrating too much on the act of getting married. Instead, look to Jehovah God for guidance, and plan ahead for a life of being married. Then you will have prepared well for a successful marriage.
a This would apply in lands where dating is considered appropriate for Christians.
b Even in the Christian congregation, there may be some who live on the fringes, as it were. Instead of being wholehearted servants of God, they may be influenced by the attitudes and conduct of the world.—John 17:16; James 4:4.