Keep Your Marriage Honorable
“Let marriage be honorable among all.”—HEBREWS 13:4.
1. What question did a newspaper columnist ask, and how did one husband answer?
“IF YOU had it to do over again, would you marry the person to whom you are now married?” asked a popular newspaper columnist. Over half of the 50,000 that responded to this poll answered “Yes.” How would you have answered? A Christian man, married for 33 years, was asked this by his wife. “I sure would!” he beamed. “Looking back, I know there were times it was not easy—we had our problems. But our marriage was really worth the effort. We have something that is very precious!”
2. At Hebrews 13:4, what does “honorable” mean?
2 Since God is its Author, marriage is capable of providing genuine satisfaction and joy. Yet many marriages—even some among dedicated Christians—are strained to the limit. The apostle Paul therefore urged, “Let marriage be honorable [”held as of great price, precious . . . especially dear”*] among all.” (Hebrews 13:4) Because marriage brings “tribulation in [the] flesh,” the challenge is in keeping your marriage honorable. (1 Corinthians 7:28) But how can you do this? First, you must recognize one of the biggest problems.
Lack of Personal Communication
3, 4. (a) What is one of the biggest problems in marriage? (b) What is involved in a couple’s being “one flesh”?
3 One Christian couple had been married nearly 20 years. Suddenly, their marriage was shattered by adultery. How could this happen? “When I analyzed what happened over the years,” said the wife, “I realized that we talked about household matters, even our service to God. But when it came to communication on a personal basis—we had none.” This lack of emotional closeness gradually contributed to a weakening of the marriage commitment and to her husband’s adultery. Such a breakdown of meaningful communications is cited in research studies as one of the major causes for either divorce or “loveless marriages.”
4 Yet Jehovah said: “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) Marriage should thus be the closest of all human relationships. It unites two differing personalities—a delicate task indeed! For such a union to work, each must talk honestly with the other and bare his or her feelings.
5. (a) What hinders personal communication? (b) How can others respect marriage?
5 What hinders such personal communication? At times, aloofness is the custom of the land. Some are reticent, shy about expressing themselves. Still others are captivated by our recreation-oriented and materialistic world. They become more interested in things than in their marriage. Having too many people in one’s marriage, or clinging too tightly to parents can also inhibit your closeness. Certainly, others should respect a married couple’s need for privacy and not take undue liberties nor seek the attention that should rightly go to the mate.—Proverbs 25:17.
6. (a) How can a marriage mate become like a “strong town” and “contentions” become like a fortress “bar”? (b) What questions in the accompanying box help reveal the status of your communication?
6 But perhaps the most common reason for a lack of personal communication is suggested at Proverbs 18:19: “A brother who is transgressed against is more than a strong town; and there are contentions that are like the bar of a dwelling tower.” For example, a wife may confide in her mate. What, though, if her feelings are disregarded or belittled, perhaps even used against her on another occasion? She might react by putting up a strong wall of reserve to avoid further emotional damage, as it were, becoming like a fortified “strong town.” A war of pride might ensue, each refusing to back down. Such needless contentions can shut out personal communication and reconciliation as if the couple were separated by the iron bars of a fortress! But what can you do to improve communication?
Cultivating Personal Communication
7. How does Philippians 2:4 show what is needed to cultivate personal communication?
7 You must maintain a “personal interest” in the concerns of your mate. (Philippians 2:4) This requires taking the time to talk about personal matters together. For instance, one Christian couple sets aside time right after the husband comes home from work to have a cup of tea and talk to each other. For at least 15 minutes they savor each other’s thoughts and experiences before beginning evening chores. They have done this on a regular basis for 27 years!
8. Why is attentive listening so vital?
8 But more is needed than just talking. Asked what she liked best about her husband, a Christian wife replied: “He listens to me. He’s my best friend.” Attentive listening, rather than simply hearing, tells your mate: ‘You are an important person to me. I want to know your thoughts and feelings, share your experiences—even the unpleasant ones.’ Being a good listener is an art of the heart. It requires what Peter called “fellow feeling” (literally, “to suffer with”) along with ‘tender compassion’ and ‘humility.’ (1 Peter 3:8) So confide in each other. Share even trivial matters. Convert your feelings into words.
9, 10. How can a married couple imitate the way Isaac, Manoah’s wife and Elkanah treated their mates?
9 Just imagine the closeness between Isaac and Rebekah. When troubled she was able to pour out her heart to her husband. “I have come to abhor this life of mine,” she lamented on one occasion. Did Isaac make her feel ashamed of these feelings? No, he sympathetically listened and took steps to allay her fears. (Genesis 27:46–28:5) The wife of Manoah noted her husband’s anxiety and offered consoling words.—Judges 13:22, 23.
10 Elkanah was sensitive to his wife’s feelings. After noticing his wife’s depression he strove to ‘draw up’ the intentions of her heart by gentle questions, saying: “Hannah, why do you weep, and why do you not eat, and why does your heart feel bad?” (1 Samuel 1:8) What about you? Are you quick to probe your mate’s feelings? Do you let your mate feel free to express his or her feelings without being made to appear condemned? At times a sympathetic ear is needed rather than a pouring forth of advice.—Proverbs 20:5; 21:13.
Discuss Delicate Problems
11-13. (a) When is personal communication especially hard? (b) Why was Sarah deeply upset? (c) What could she have done, yet what did she do?
11 What if your mate does something or allows something that pains you and that could even damage your marriage? How can you communicate during such times? An episode in the life of Abraham and Sarah provides helpful insight.
12 On the day when her son Isaac was weaned, Sarah noticed Ishmael, Abraham’s son through the slave Hagar, “poking fun” at Isaac.* Undoubtedly, teenage Ishmael taunted his five-year-old half brother, now destined to replace him as the God-appointed heir of Abraham. Sarah was deeply disturbed over this threatening speech. What if her husband suddenly died? Could Hagar perhaps convince others that her son, not Isaac, should be the heir of the promise?—Genesis 17:19; 21:8, 9.
13 Sarah could have feared Abraham’s displeasure and swallowed her feelings, for she knew he dearly loved Ishmael. She may not have made an issue over other matters, allowing her love to cover over. She was noted as a wife who ‘obeyed Abraham, calling him “lord.”’ (1 Peter 3:6) But this was a critical situation. Of course, she could have given Abraham the “silent treatment,” hoping that he would figure out what was troubling her. But no, Sarah communicated! “Drive out this slave girl and her son,” she said, “for the son of this slave girl is not going to be an heir with my son, with Isaac!”—Genesis 21:10.
14. What action did Abraham take, and why?
14 Abraham found this demand very displeasing; at least momentarily he allowed affection for Ishmael to cloud his thinking. But did Abraham retort: ‘How dare you talk to me that way! Who is the head of this family?’ No. In fact, God told him: “Do not let anything that Sarah keeps saying to you be displeasing to you about the boy and about your slave girl. Listen to her voice.” The next morning Abraham did just that. This preserved peace and God’s purpose was carried out—though it pained Abraham deeply.—Genesis 21:11-14.
15, 16. (a) Name some problems that can put a strain on marriages. (b) How can married couples imitate Abraham and Sarah, and with what results? Give an example.
15 Many problems today can put a strain on your marriage. For instance, you may feel that your mate is giving undue attention to another person. Research studies, along with countless actual experiences, show that if a husband or a wife gives too much attention to a personal friend, especially of the opposite sex, it causes considerable marital strain. Or possibly your mate cherishes a job, a hobby or some form of recreation that is having a detrimental effect on your marriage. Maybe your mate has become calloused to your feelings. Do you, like Sarah, discuss such delicate matters and perhaps prevent further damage? And if your mate did bring up something that pained your heart, would you respond like Abraham, seriously considering God’s direction? Would not such a response encourage open communication?—Proverbs 27:5.
16 Of course, “love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8) So do not make an issue over all differences and human flaws. But some have fearfully held back from discussing serious problems; or if they did discuss these, their mate belittled them. Sadly, patterns of conduct are thus established that often lead to marital disaster. One Christian wife was deeply upset for some time because of her husband’s lack of consideration for her emotional makeup during sexual intimacy. She felt she was being “used” for his self-gratification. She considered leaving him. Yet she had not even discussed it with her husband, fearing that he would not understand. Following the advice of a mature Christian, she finally bared her pent-up feelings. He had not realized how his actions were affecting her! He made needed changes and now that problem no longer mars their happiness. Preserve the honorableness of your marriage by cultivating personal communication.
Law of Loving-Kindness Upon the Tongue
17. What “law” should be on a couple’s tongue? Illustrate.
17 But does the need for personal communication give a license for thoughtless speech? “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) Yes, even if you are right and have the best of intentions, a thoughtless remark still “stabs.” For good reason a capable wife is described as having “the law of loving-kindness” upon her tongue. (Proverbs 31:26) So consistent is her kindly speech that it is called a law. When a man fails in some endeavor, how much he appreciates such a law on his wife’s tongue! One Christian man was crushed because of a business loss. “At least you tried,” said his considerate wife. “It’s going to come out better the next time.” How his spirits soared!
18. How did one wife more fully practice this “law”?
18 Especially is kindly speech needed during an argument. The sarcastic speech of a contentious wife can drive a husband away and make him prefer dwelling in a barren wilderness. (Proverbs 19:13; 21:19) Because of contention in her marriage a Christian wife decided to practice this law more fully. How? “When something is bothering me I just don’t blurt it out as I used to,” she explained. “I try to wait for the best time when we are alone. I even control my facial expressions and I don’t put my husband down in front of the children. It sure has made a difference!” Of course, both husband and wife must consider how costly their words might be in terms of the other’s self-esteem.—Proverbs 25:11; Galatians 5:15.
19, 20. (a) Having “insight” involves what? (b) How did insight slow down the anger of one husband, and with what result? (c) What are some revealing questions?
19 But what is needed when emotions become heated? Insight! “The heart of the wise one causes his mouth to show insight, and to his lips it adds persuasiveness.” (Proverbs 16:23) Insight involves looking beyond the obvious. At Nehemiah 8:8 the Hebrew word is rendered “meaning.” How does insight stop an argument? One husband walked in to find his wife throwing silverware across the room in a rage. “You don’t care about me!” she tearfully blurted. “You come home and spend your time in the garden. I need help!” But what was really bothering the wife was physical and emotional frustration. She had just had a baby and now was expecting another. She felt trapped at home. Her husband had insight. Overlooking her unchristian outburst, he perceived the underlying frustration. His reply? “I’m sorry, honey. I should have been in here helping you.” Soon she calmed down. “My respect for him jumped to a new height,” she later revealed.
20 How true are the words of Proverbs 19:11: “The insight of a man certainly slows down his anger, and it is beauty on his part to pass over transgression”! Do you show such insight? Do you look behind the words? Are you able to pass over such a personal transgression? Insight can also add persuasiveness to whatever request you make of the other. Yes, a mate who is discreet, possessing insight, is a gift from Jehovah and contributes to a precious marriage.—Proverbs 19:14.
Allow for Differences and Imperfection
21. How can accepting differences keep your marriage precious?
21 Despite the best of efforts, no couple will agree on everything. Differences will exist. A traveling Christian overseer, married for over 25 years, observed: “Some couples are saying, ‘We are so different!’ Then they concentrate on these differences and soon cannot stand living together. Sure, my wife and I have some different tastes, but we have a lot in common too. By focusing on what we hold in common, our marriage becomes more precious each day.” Are you as willing to accommodate and allow for differences in your marriage?
22. (a) What can help mates to realize satisfaction in marriage? (b) What is the strongest incentive to keep your marriage honorable?
22 The perfect mate does not exist. Satisfaction can be attained by learning to accept differences and to put up with minor weaknesses. (Colossians 3:13) The fact is, our relationship with God, wanting him to remain our Friend, is the strongest incentive to keep our marriage honorable. Truly commendable is the course of those Christians who out of regard for their relationship with Jehovah have striven to make a success of their marriage.
23. How can we keep our marriage precious?
23 Any marriage that is neglected will tarnish. Yet you can restore the luster by putting forth a genuine effort to (1) cultivate personal communication, (2) keep the law of loving-kindness on your tongue and (3) allow for differences and imperfection. This, coupled with God’s blessing, will keep your marriage precious not only to you but to its Grand Author.
A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, by J. H. Thayer. The same word is used to describe the “precious blood” of Christ.—1 Peter 1:19.
The Bible reveals that this was more than mere child’s play. It was ‘persecution.’—Galatians 4:29, 30.
Can You Remember?
□ Why is personal communication so vital?
□ How will following the example of Abraham and Sarah improve communication?
□ How does one show that “the law of loving-kindness” is upon his/her tongue?
□ How does insight add to an honorable marriage?
[Box on page 13]
How is your communication?
(1) How much time do you spend together just talking?
(2) How many of your conversations are purely business (household affairs, the children, possessions, and so forth), rather than a sharing of thoughts and feelings?
(3) Are there certain issues or feelings that you have, but that you do not feel free to discuss with your mate?
(4) How long has it been since one of you gave a gift to the other simply out of affection?
(5) How frequently do you hold hands or touch each other, other than during sexual relations?
[Picture on page 15]
A wife who has “the law of loving-kindness” on her tongue is dearly appreciated, especially during times of stress