1, 2. (a) For how long was marriage designed to last? (b) How is this possible?
WHEN God united the first man and woman in marriage, there was no indication that the union would be only temporary. Adam and Eve were to be together for life. (Genesis 2:24) God’s standard for an honorable marriage is the uniting of one male and one female. Only gross sexual immorality on the part of one or both mates provides Scriptural grounds for divorce with the possibility of remarriage.—Matthew 5:32.
2 Is it possible for two individuals to live together happily for an indefinitely long time? Yes, and the Bible identifies two vital factors, or keys, that help to make this possible. If both the husband and the wife put these to use, they will unlock the door to happiness and many blessings. What are these keys?
THE FIRST KEY
3. What three kinds of love should be cultivated by marriage mates?
3 The first key is love. Interestingly, there are different kinds of love identified in the Bible. One is a warm, personal affection for someone, the kind of love that exists between close friends. (John 11:3) Another is the love that grows between family members. (Romans 12:10) A third is the romantic love that one can have for a member of the opposite sex. (Proverbs 5:15-20) Of course, all of these should be cultivated by a husband and a wife. But there is a fourth kind of love, more important than the others.
4. What is a fourth kind of love?
4 In the original language of the Christian Greek Scriptures, the word for this fourth kind of love is a·gaʹpe. That word is used at 1 John 4:8, where we are told: “God is love.” Indeed, “we love, because [God] first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) A Christian cultivates such love first for Jehovah God and then for fellow humans. (Mark 12:29-31) The word a·gaʹpe is also used at Ephesians 5:2, which states: “Go on walking in love, just as the Christ also loved you and delivered himself up for you.” Jesus said that this kind of love would identify his true followers: “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love [a·gaʹpe] among yourselves.” (John 13:35) Notice, too, the use of a·gaʹpe at 1 Corinthians 13:13: “There remain faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love [a·gaʹpe].”
5, 6. (a) Why is love greater than faith and hope? (b) What are some reasons why love will help make a marriage last?
5 What makes this a·gaʹpe love greater than faith and hope? It is governed by principles—right principles—found in God’s Word. (Psalm 119:105) It is an unselfish concern for doing to others what is right and good from God’s standpoint, whether the recipient appears to deserve it or not. Such love enables marriage partners to follow the Bible’s counsel: “Continue putting up with one another and forgiving one another freely if anyone has a cause for complaint against another. Even as Jehovah freely forgave you, so do you also.” (Colossians 3:13) Loving married couples have and cultivate “intense love [a·gaʹpe] for [each other], because love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8) Notice that love covers mistakes. It does not eliminate them, since no imperfect human can be free from error.—Psalm 130:3, 4; James 3:2.
6 When such love of God and of each other is cultivated by a married couple, their marriage will last and be happy, for “love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:8) Love is “a perfect bond of union.” (Colossians 3:14) If you are married, how can you and your mate cultivate this kind of love? Read God’s Word together, and talk about it. Study Jesus’ example of love and try to imitate him, to think and act like him. In addition, attend Christian meetings, where God’s Word is taught. And pray for God’s help to develop this elevated kind of love, which is a fruit of God’s holy spirit.—Proverbs 3:5, 6; John 17:3; Galatians 5:22; Hebrews 10:24, 25.
THE SECOND KEY
7. What is respect, and who should show respect in marriage?
7 If two married people really love each other, then they will also have respect for each other, and respect is the second key to a happy marriage. Respect is defined as “giving consideration to others, honoring them.” God’s Word counsels all Christians, including husbands and wives: “In showing honor to one another take the lead.” (Romans 12:10) The apostle Peter wrote: “You husbands, continue dwelling in like manner with [your wives] according to knowledge, assigning them honor as to a weaker vessel, the feminine one.” (1 Peter 3:7) The wife is counseled to “have deep respect for her husband.” (Ephesians 5:33) If you want to honor someone, you are kind to that person, respectful of that one’s dignity and expressed views, and ready to fulfill any reasonable request made of you.
8-10. What are some ways that respect will help to make a marriage union stable and happy?
8 Those who wish to enjoy a happy marriage show respect for their mates by “keeping an eye, not in personal interest upon just [their] own matters, but also in personal interest upon those of [their mates].” (Philippians 2:4) They do not consider what is good only for themselves—which would be selfish. Instead, they consider what is best also for their mates. Indeed, they give that the priority.
9 Respect will help marriage partners to acknowledge differences in viewpoint. It is not reasonable to expect two people to have identical views on everything. What may be important to a husband may not be as important to a wife, and what a wife likes may not be what a husband likes. But each should respect the views and choices of the other, as long as these are within the boundaries of Jehovah’s laws and principles. (1 Peter 2:16; compare Philemon 14.) Further, each should respect the dignity of the other by not making that one the object of demeaning comments or jokes, whether in public or in private.
10 Yes, love of God and of each other and mutual respect are two vital keys to a successful marriage. How can they be applied in some of the more important areas of married life?
11. Scripturally, who is the head in a marriage?
11 The Bible tells us that the man was created with attributes that would make him a successful family head. As such, the man would be responsible before Jehovah for the spiritual and physical well-being of his wife and children. He would have to make balanced decisions that reflect Jehovah’s will and be a good example of godly conduct. “Let wives be in subjection to their husbands as to the Lord, because a husband is head of his wife as the Christ also is head of the congregation.” (Ephesians 5:22, 23) However, the Bible says that the husband also has a head, One with authority over him. The apostle Paul wrote: “I want you to know that the head of every man is the Christ; in turn the head of a woman is the man; in turn the head of the Christ is God.” (1 Corinthians 11:3) The wise husband learns how to exercise headship by imitating his own head, Christ Jesus.
12. What fine example did Jesus set both of showing subjection and of exercising headship?
12 Jesus too has a head, Jehovah, and he is properly subject to Him. Jesus said: “I seek, not my own will, but the will of him that sent me.” (John 5:30) What an excellent example! Jesus is “the firstborn of all creation.” (Colossians 1:15) He became the Messiah. He was to be the Head of the congregation of anointed Christians and the chosen King of God’s Kingdom, above all the angels. (Philippians 2:9-11; Hebrews 1:4) Despite such a lofty position and such elevated prospects, the man Jesus was not harsh, unyielding, or overly demanding. He was not a despot, constantly reminding his disciples that they had to obey him. Jesus was loving and compassionate, especially toward the downtrodden. He said: “Come to me, all you who are toiling and loaded down, and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am mild-tempered and lowly in heart, and you will find refreshment for your souls. For my yoke is kindly and my load is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) It was a delight to be in his company.
13, 14. How will a loving husband exercise his headship, in imitation of Jesus?
13 The husband desiring a happy family life does well to consider Jesus’ fine traits. A good husband is not harsh and dictatorial, wrongly using his headship as a club to browbeat his wife. Rather, he loves and honors her. If Jesus was “lowly in heart,” the husband has even more reason to be so because, unlike Jesus, he makes mistakes. When he does, he wants his wife’s understanding. Therefore, the humble husband admits his mistakes, even though the words, “I’m sorry; you were right,” might be difficult to say. A wife will find it much easier to respect the headship of a modest and humble husband than that of a proud and stubborn one. In turn, the respectful wife also apologizes when she is in error.
14 God created the woman with fine attributes that she can use in contributing to a happy marriage. A wise husband will recognize this and will not stifle her. Many women tend to have greater compassion and sensitivity, qualities that are needed in caring for a family and in nurturing human relationships. Usually, the woman is quite adept at making the home a pleasant place in which to live. The “capable wife” described in Proverbs chapter 31 had many wonderful qualities and excellent talents, and her family benefited fully from them. Why? Because the heart of her husband “has put trust” in her.—Proverbs 31:10, 11.
15. How can a husband show Christlike love and respect for his wife?
15 In some cultures, a husband’s authority is overemphasized, so that even to ask him a question is considered disrespectful. He may treat his wife almost like a slave. Such a wrong exercise of headship results in a poor relationship not only with his wife but also with God. (Compare 1 John 4:20, 21.) On the other hand, some husbands neglect to take the lead, letting their wives dominate the household. The husband who is properly subject to Christ does not exploit his wife or rob her of dignity. Instead, he imitates the self-sacrificing love of Jesus and does as Paul counseled: “Husbands, continue loving your wives, just as the Christ also loved the congregation and delivered up himself for it.” (Ephesians 5:25) Christ Jesus loved his followers so much that he died for them. A good husband will try to imitate that unselfish attitude, seeking the good of his wife, rather than be demanding of her. When a husband is subject to Christ and displays Christlike love and respect, his wife will be motivated to subject herself to him.—Ephesians 5:28, 29, 33.
16. What qualities should a wife display in her relationship with her husband?
16 Some time after Adam was created, “Jehovah God went on to say: ‘It is not good for the man to continue by himself. I am going to make a helper for him, as a complement of him.’” (Genesis 2:18) God created Eve as “a complement,” not as a competitor. Marriage was not to be like a ship with two competing captains. The husband was to exercise loving headship, and the wife was to manifest love, respect, and willing submission.
17, 18. What are some ways that a wife can be a real helper to her husband?
17 However, a good wife is more than just submissive. She tries to be a real helper, being supportive of her husband in the decisions he makes. Of course, that is easier for her when she agrees with his decisions. But even when she does not, her active support can help his decision to have a more successful outcome.
18 A wife can help her husband to be a good head in other ways. She can express appreciation for his efforts in taking the lead, instead of criticizing him or making him feel that he can never satisfy her. In dealing with her husband in a positive way, she should remember that a “quiet and mild spirit . . . is of great value in the eyes of God,” not just in the eyes of her husband. (1 Peter 3:3, 4; Colossians 3:12) What if the husband is not a believer? Whether he is or not, the Scriptures encourage wives “to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sound in mind, chaste, workers at home, good, subjecting themselves to their own husbands, so that the word of God may not be spoken of abusively.” (Titus 2:4, 5) If matters of conscience come up, an unbelieving husband is more likely to respect his wife’s position if it is presented with a “mild temper and deep respect.” Some unbelieving husbands have been “won without a word through the conduct of their wives, because of having been eyewitnesses of [their] chaste conduct together with deep respect.”—1 Peter 3:1, 2, 15; 1 Corinthians 7:13-16.
19. What if a husband asks his wife to break God’s law?
19 What if a husband asks his wife to do something forbidden by God? If that happens, she must remember that God is her primary Ruler. She takes as an example what the apostles did when they were asked by authorities to violate God’s law. Acts 5:29 relates: “Peter and the other apostles said: ‘We must obey God as ruler rather than men.’”
20. What is a vital area in which love and respect are essential?
20 Love and respect are essential in another area of marriage—communication. The loving husband will converse with his wife about her activities, her problems, her views on various matters. She needs this. A husband who takes the time to speak with his wife and really listens to what she says demonstrates his love and respect for her. (James 1:19) Some wives complain that their husbands spend very little time conversing with them. That is sad. True, in these busy times, husbands may work long hours outside the home, and economic circumstances may result in some wives holding a job also. But a married couple need to reserve time for each other. Otherwise, they may become independent of each other. It could lead to serious problems if they felt compelled to seek sympathetic companionship outside the marriage arrangement.
21. How will proper speech help to keep a marriage happy?
21 The way wives and husbands communicate is important. “Pleasant sayings are . . . sweet to the soul and a healing to the bones.” (Proverbs 16:24) Whether a mate is a believer or not, the Bible counsel applies: “Let your utterance be always with graciousness, seasoned with salt,” that is, in good taste. (Colossians 4:6) When one has had a difficult day, a few kind, sympathetic words from one’s mate can do much good. “As apples of gold in silver carvings is a word spoken at the right time for it.” (Proverbs 25:11) The tone of voice and the choice of words are very important. For example, in an irritated, demanding manner, one may tell the other: “Shut that door!” But how much more “seasoned with salt” are the words, said in a calm, understanding voice, “Would you mind closing the door, please?”
22. What attitudes do couples need in order to maintain good communication?
22 Good communication flourishes when there are gently spoken words, gracious looks and gestures, kindness, understanding, and tenderness. By working hard to maintain good communication, both husband and wife will feel free to make their needs known, and they can be sources of comfort and help to each other in times of disappointment or stress. “Speak consolingly to the depressed souls,” urges God’s Word. (1 Thessalonians 5:14) There will be times when the husband is downhearted and times when the wife is. They can “speak consolingly,” building each other up.—Romans 15:2.
23, 24. How will love and respect help when there are disagreements? Give an example.
23 Marriage partners manifesting love and respect will not see every disagreement as a challenge. They will work hard not to be “bitterly angry” with each other. (Colossians 3:19) Both should remember that “an answer, when mild, turns away rage.” (Proverbs 15:1) Be careful not to belittle or condemn a mate who pours out heartfelt feelings. Instead, view such expressions as an opportunity to gain insight into the other’s viewpoint. Together, try to work out differences and come to a harmonious conclusion.
24 Recall the occasion when Sarah recommended to her husband, Abraham, a solution to a certain problem and it did not coincide with his feelings. Yet, God told Abraham: “Listen to her voice.” (Genesis 21:9-12) Abraham did, and he was blessed. Similarly, if a wife suggests something different from what her husband has in mind, he should at least listen. At the same time, a wife should not dominate the conversation but should listen to what her husband has to say. (Proverbs 25:24) For either the husband or the wife to insist on his or her own way all the time is unloving and disrespectful.
25. How will good communication contribute to happiness in the intimate aspects of married life?
25 Good communication is also important in a couple’s sexual relationship. Selfishness and a lack of self-control can seriously damage this most intimate relationship in marriage. Open communication, along with patience, is essential. When each unselfishly seeks the well-being of the other, sex is rarely a serious problem. In this as in other matters, “let each one keep seeking, not his own advantage, but that of the other person.”—1 Corinthians 7:3-5; 10:24.
26. Even though every marriage will have its ups and downs, how will listening to God’s Word help married couples to find happiness?
26 What fine counsel God’s Word offers! True, every marriage will have its ups and downs. But when spouses submit to Jehovah’s thinking, as revealed in the Bible, and base their relationship on principled love and respect, they can be confident that their marriage will be lasting and happy. They thus will honor not only each other but also the Originator of marriage, Jehovah God.