How to Strengthen Marriage Bonds
“IS IT lawful for a man to divorce his wife on every sort of ground?” asked the Pharisees who were trying to trap the Great Teacher, Jesus Christ. He answered them by referring to the first human marriage and set out a standard on the matter: “What God has yoked together let no man put apart.”
The Pharisees contended that Moses made provisions for divorce by prescribing the issuing of “a certificate of dismissal.” Jesus answered them: “Moses, out of regard for your hardheartedness, made the concession to you of divorcing your wives, but such has not been the case from the beginning. I say to you that whoever divorces his wife, except on the ground of fornication, and marries another commits adultery.”—Matthew 19:3-9.
Originally, marriage was to be a permanent bond. Even death would not have parted the first married couple, for they were created as perfect humans with everlasting life in view. However, they sinned. Their sin marred human marriage. The enemy death began to separate married couples. God views death as the end of a marriage, as we read in the Bible: “A wife is bound during all the time her husband is alive. But if her husband should fall asleep in death, she is free to be married to whom she wants, only in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 7:39) This is very different from such religious ideas as suttee, wherein a wife at the time of her husband’s death is persuaded or coerced into burning herself to death in the belief that the marriage bond continues on into some afterlife.
Mosaic Law Provision
By the time the Mosaic Law was given, marital relationships had deteriorated to the point that Jehovah, out of regard for the Israelites’ hardheartedness, made a provision for divorce. (Deuteronomy 24:1) It was not God’s purpose for the Israelites to misuse this law to divorce their wives because of petty faults, as is evident from his command that they were to love their fellow as themselves. (Leviticus 19:18) Even the issuing of a certificate of divorce served as a deterrent because, as part of the process of writing the certificate, the husband wanting a divorce had to consult duly authorized men, who would have endeavored to effect a reconciliation. No, God did not give this law to establish any right to divorce one’s wife “on every sort of ground.”—Matthew 19:3.
However, the Israelites eventually ignored the spirit of the law and exploited this clause to get divorced on whatever basis suited their whims. By the fifth century B.C.E., they were dealing treacherously with the wives of their youth, divorcing them on all sorts of grounds. Jehovah firmly told them that he hated a divorcing. (Malachi 2:14-16) It was against this background that Jesus condemned divorce as the Israelites were practicing it in his day.
Only Legitimate Basis for Divorce
Jesus did, though, mention one legitimate basis for divorce: fornication. (Matthew 5:31, 32; 19:8, 9) The word here translated “fornication” includes all sorts of illicit sexual intercourse outside Scriptural marriage, be it with someone of the same sex or the opposite sex or with an animal.
Even so, Jesus was not recommending divorce from unfaithful partners. It is up to the innocent mate to weigh the consequences involved and decide whether he or she wants a divorce. Wives contemplating a divorce on this Scriptural basis may also want to consider God’s statement when he passed judgment on the first woman for her sin. In addition to the death sentence, God specifically told Eve: “Your craving will be for your husband, and he will dominate you.” (Genesis 3:16) The Commentary on the Old Testament, by C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, describes this “craving” as “a desire bordering upon disease.” Admittedly, this craving is not that strong in every wife, but when an innocent wife is considering a divorce, she would be wise to take into consideration the emotional needs that women have inherited from Eve. However, as extramarital sex on the part of a guilty mate could lead to an innocent mate’s being infected by sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS, some have decided to resort to divorce as explained by Jesus.
Seeds of Family Trouble Sown
People’s hardheartedness finds its origin in the sin that the first human couple committed against God. (Romans 5:12) The seeds of family strife were sown when the first human pair sinned against their heavenly Father. How so? When the first woman, Eve, was tempted by a serpent to eat from the forbidden tree, she went right ahead and ate the fruit. It was only after she had made that significant decision that she talked to her husband about what the serpent had told her. (Genesis 3:6) Yes, she had acted without consulting her husband. Here is the prototype of problems faced by many families today—lack of heart-to-heart communication.
Later, when faced with the consequences of their sin, both Adam and Eve resorted to the same tactics that many couples employ today when in trouble, namely, blaming others. The first man, Adam, blamed what he had done both on his wife and on Jehovah, saying: “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree and so I ate.” The woman in turn said: “The serpent—it deceived me and so I ate.”—Genesis 3:12, 13.
Jehovah’s pronouncement of judgment on Adam and Eve forecast yet another factor in the troubles that would develop. Concerning her relationship with her husband, Jehovah told Eve: “He will dominate you.” Many husbands today, like Isao mentioned in our first article, dominate their wives in a ruthless way without regard for their wives’ feelings. Still, many wives continue to have a craving for their husbands’ attention. When that craving is not satisfied, the wives may demand that attention and act selfishly. With many a husband dominating and many a wife craving, selfishness prevails, and peace flies out the window. In a paper entitled “How to Analyze Today’s Divorces,” Shunsuke Serizawa said: “If we overlook the tendency at the heart of the issue of ‘having one’s own way,’ namely, giving priority to one’s own interests, it would suddenly become impossible to analyze divorces today.”
Jehovah has, however, provided guidance in his Word so that obedient married couples can enjoy a measure of marital happiness even in their imperfect state. Isao followed God’s direction and is now enjoying a happy family life. Let us see how Bible principles help people to strengthen the marital bond.
Talk Things Out
In many marriages, a lack of communication, the tendency to blame others, and selfish attitudes make it difficult for husband and wife to understand each other’s emotions. “Preconditioned on the sharing of feelings, intimacy requires consummate trust. And today trust is in short supply,” says researcher Caryl S. Avery. An accumulation of shared innermost feelings builds up such trust. This requires heart-to-heart communication between husband and wife.
Proverbs uses an illustration to encourage the sharing of intimate thoughts, saying: “Counsel in the heart of a man is as deep waters, but the man of discernment is one that will draw it up.” (Proverbs 20:5) Marriage mates must be discerning and draw up the thoughts deep down in their spouses’ hearts. Imagine that your mate is upset. Instead of responding: “I’ve had a hard day myself,” why not kindly ask: “Did you have a hard day? What happened?” It may take time and effort to listen to your spouse, but it is usually more pleasant, satisfying, and timesaving to spend time that way than it is to ignore your mate and have to deal with charged emotions that erupt later.
To gain trust, each must be honest and try to express feelings in a way that the other mate can understand. “Speak truth,” urges God’s Word, “because we are members belonging to one another.” (Ephesians 4:25) Speaking truth requires discernment. Suppose a wife feels that she is not being heard. Before she speaks, she should consider the proverb: “Anyone holding back his sayings is possessed of knowledge, and a man of discernment is cool of spirit.” (Proverbs 17:27) Rather than accuse her husband, “You never listen to me!” it would be far better calmly to express her feelings before frustration and disappointment build up within her. Perhaps she could reveal how she feels by saying something like, “I know you are busy, but having a little more time with you would make me very happy.”
Really, “there is a frustrating of plans where there is no confidential talk.” (Proverbs 15:22) Your mate loves you, but that does not mean that she can read your mind. You must let your mate know how you feel in a tactful way. This will help you, as a Christian married couple, to make loving adjustments in order “to observe the oneness of the spirit in the uniting bond of peace.”—Ephesians 4:2, 3.
Take Kazuo, for example, who was a henpecked husband with an itch for gambling. He found himself bogged down with debts amounting to several hundred thousand dollars. Borrowing money to pay off his debts, he sank deeper into the mire. Then he started to study the Bible and finally mustered up the courage to tell his wife about his problems. He was prepared to face her accusations. However, he was taken by surprise when his wife, who had been studying the Bible longer, calmly answered: “Let’s try to figure out how we can pay off the debts.”
Starting the following day, they visited their creditors and began to pay their debts, even selling their house. It took almost a year to settle the debts. What changed Kimie, his wife? She says: “The words found at Philippians chapter 4, verses 6 and 7, are indeed true. ‘Do not be anxious over anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication along with thanksgiving let your petitions be made known to God; and the peace of God that excels all thought will guard your hearts and your mental powers by means of Christ Jesus.’” She added: “A friend of mine, surprised at seeing how cheerful I was despite hardships, started studying the Bible with me.” Kazuo and his wife have since been baptized and are now enjoying a happy family life.
In addition to trusting each other by telling the truth, the husbands and wives who had the above experiences did something that helps couples to solve their marital problems. They communicated with the Originator of the marriage arrangement, Jehovah God. Despite pressures and difficulties that couples face, he will bless them with the peace of God that excels all thought if they do their best to apply his principles and leave the rest in his hand. Praying together is especially helpful. The husband should take the lead and ‘pour out his heart’ before God, seeking his guidance and direction on any problem that he and his wife are facing. (Psalm 62:8) Jehovah God will definitely hear such prayers.
Yes, it is possible to strengthen the bond of marriage. Even now, living with all our imperfections in a turbulent society, married couples can find considerable joy in their relationship. You can find additional practical suggestions and godly counsel in the book Making Your Family Life Happy, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc. Moreover, couples who earnestly work to apply Bible principles have the hope of being bound together in love in the soon-to-come new world of God’s making.