Make Your Marriage a Lasting Union
“What God has yoked together let no man put apart.”—MATTHEW 19:6.
1. What is the basis for marital success among true Christians today?
MANY thousands among Jehovah’s people today enjoy satisfying and enduring marriages. Such widespread success, however, is hardly an accident. Christian marriages flourish when both mates (1) respect God’s view of wedlock and (2) endeavor to live by the principles of his Word. After all, it was God himself who instituted the marital arrangement. He is the One ‘to whom every family on earth owes its name.’ (Ephesians 3:14, 15) Since Jehovah knows what it takes to make a success of marriage, we benefit ourselves by following his guidance.—Isaiah 48:17.
2. What are the consequences of failing to apply Bible principles in marriage?
2 Conversely, a failure to apply Bible principles can result in marital misery. Some experts believe that as many as two thirds of those getting married today in the United States will eventually obtain a divorce. Even Christians are not immune to the stresses and strains of these “critical times hard to deal with.” (2 Timothy 3:1) Economic tensions and the pressures of the workplace can take their toll on any marriage. Some Christians have also been bitterly disappointed by the failure of their mates to apply Bible principles. “I love Jehovah,” says one Christian wife, “but my marriage has been a mess for 20 years. My husband is selfish and does not want to make any changes. I feel trapped.” More than a few Christian husbands or wives have expressed similar sentiments. What goes wrong? And what can prevent a marriage from drifting into cold indifference or outright hostility?
The Permanence of Marriage
3, 4. (a) What is God’s standard for marriage? (b) Why is the permanence of marriage just and beneficial?
3 Even under the best of circumstances, marriage is a union of imperfect individuals. (Deuteronomy 32:5) The apostle Paul thus said that “those who do [marry] will have tribulation in their flesh.” (1 Corinthians 7:28) Some extreme circumstances may even result in separation or divorce. (Matthew 19:9; 1 Corinthians 7:12-15) In most cases, however, Christians apply Paul’s counsel: “A wife should not depart from her husband . . . , and a husband should not leave his wife.” (1 Corinthians 7:10, 11) Indeed, marriage was meant to be a permanent bond, for Jesus Christ declared: “What God has yoked together let no man put apart.”—Matthew 19:6.
4 To someone who feels trapped in a hostile or loveless marriage, Jehovah’s standard may seem harsh and unreasonable. But it is not. The permanence of the marital bond moves a godly couple to confront and seek to solve their problems, rather than beat a hasty retreat from their obligations at the first sign of trouble. One man who had been married for more than 20 years put it like this: “You can’t avoid troubled times. You’re not going to be happy with each other all the time. That’s when commitment is really important.” Of course, Christian married couples feel a primary obligation to Jehovah God, the Originator of marriage.—Compare Ecclesiastes 5:4.
Headship and Submission
5. What is some of Paul’s counsel for husbands and wives?
5 When problems arise, therefore, it is time to seek, not a way out, but a better way to apply the counsel of God’s Word. For example, consider these words of Paul, found at Ephesians 5:22-25, 28, 29: “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, he being a savior of this body. In fact, as the congregation is in subjection to the Christ, so let wives also be to their husbands in everything. Husbands, continue loving your wives, just as the Christ also loved the congregation and delivered up himself for it. In this way husbands ought to be loving their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself, for no man ever hated his own flesh; but he feeds and cherishes it, as the Christ also does the congregation.”
6. How are Christian husbands to be different from men of the world?
6 Men have often abused their husbandly authority and dominated their wives. (Genesis 3:16) However, Paul urged Christian husbands to be different from men of the world, to be Christlike, not tyrants controlling every detail of their wives’ existence. Certainly, the man Jesus Christ was never harsh or domineering. He treated his followers with honor and respect, saying: “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.”—Matthew 11:28, 29.
7. How can a man assign honor to his wife when she has to work secularly?
7 A Christian husband assigns honor to his wife as to a weaker vessel. (1 Peter 3:7) For example, suppose she has to work at a secular job. He will take this into account, being as helpful and considerate as possible. One major reason women have given for divorce is their husband’s neglect of the children or the home. Therefore, a Christian husband seeks to be of help to her at home in meaningful ways that benefit the entire family.
8. What does subjection entail for Christian wives?
8 Being treated with honor makes it easier for Christian wives to be in subjection to their husbands. This does not mean abject slavery, however. God decreed that a wife was to be, not a slave, but a “complement” (“counterpart,” footnote), denoting something fitting for the man. (Genesis 2:18) At Malachi 2:14, a wife is spoken of as a man’s “partner.” As such, wives in Bible times enjoyed considerable freedom and latitude. Concerning the “capable wife,” the Bible says: “In her the heart of her owner has put trust.” Indeed, she was entrusted with such matters as the general managing of the household, supervising the purchase of food, negotiating real-estate transactions, and managing a small business.—Proverbs 31:10-31.
9. (a) How did God-fearing women in Bible times manifest true submissiveness? (b) What can help a Christian wife remain submissive today?
9 Nevertheless, the God-fearing wife recognized her husband’s authority. For example, Sarah “used to obey Abraham, calling him ‘lord,’” not as a polite formality, but as a sincere reflection of her submissiveness. (1 Peter 3:6; Genesis 18:12) She also willingly left behind her comfortable home in the city of Ur in order to dwell in tents with her husband. (Hebrews 11:8, 9) But submission did not mean that a wife could not take responsible action when necessary. When Moses failed to comply with God’s law on circumcision, his wife, Zipporah, forestalled disaster by acting decisively. (Exodus 4:24-26) More is at stake than pleasing an imperfect man. Wives must be “in subjection to their husbands as to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:22) When a Christian wife thinks in terms of her relationship with God, this helps her to overlook minor flaws and inadequacies in her husband, even as he needs to do in dealing with her.
Communication—Lifeblood of a Marriage
10. How important is communication to a marriage?
10 When asked what was the single biggest reason couples split up, a divorce attorney answered: “The inability to talk honestly with each other, bare their souls and treat each other as their best friend.” Yes, communication is the lifeblood of a strong marriage. As the Bible says, “there is a frustrating of plans where there is no confidential talk.” (Proverbs 15:22) Husbands and wives need to be ‘confidential friends,’ enjoying a warm, intimate relationship. (Proverbs 2:17) Yet, many couples flounder when it comes to communication, and thus resentment festers until an eruption of destructive anger occurs. Or marriage mates may hide behind a thin veneer of civility, emotionally distancing themselves from each other.
11. How can communication between husband and wife be improved?
11 Part of the problem seems to be that men and women often have different communication styles. Most women seem comfortable discussing feelings, whereas men generally seem to prefer discussing facts. Women are more inclined to show empathy and give emotional support, while men tend to seek and offer solutions. Still, the potential for good communication exists where both mates are determined to be “swift about hearing, slow about speaking, slow about wrath.” (James 1:19) Make eye contact and really pay attention. Draw each other out with considerate questions. (Compare 1 Samuel 1:8; Proverbs 20:5.) Instead of trying to offer a quick solution when your mate reveals a problem, listen carefully as you work to resolve matters. And humbly pray together, seeking divine guidance.—Psalm 65:2; Romans 12:12.
12. How can Christian mates buy out time for each other?
12 Sometimes the stresses and strains of life seem to leave marriage mates with little time or energy for meaningful talk. However, if Christians are to keep their marriage honorable and safeguard it against defilement, they must remain close to each other. They need to treat their union as something precious, valuable, and must buy out time for it and for each other. (Compare Colossians 4:5.) In some cases the solution to finding time for wholesome talk may be as simple as switching off the TV. Regularly sharing a cup of tea or coffee can help marriage partners to keep in touch emotionally. On such occasions they can ‘consult together’ on various family matters. (Proverbs 13:10) And how wise it is to develop the habit of talking over minor irritations and misunderstandings before they become major sources of tension!—Compare Matthew 5:23, 24; Ephesians 4:26.
13. (a) What example did Jesus set in openness and honesty? (b) What are some ways in which marriage mates can draw close to each other?
13 Confessed one man: “It’s hard for me, quite often, to really speak my mind and really tell [my wife] just exactly the way I feel.” Self-disclosure, though, is an important key to developing intimacy. Note how open and honest Jesus was with the prospective members of his bride class. He said: “I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master does. But I have called you friends, because all the things I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15) So view your spouse as a friend. Trust your mate with your feelings. Make an effort to make simple, honest “expressions of endearment.” (Song of Solomon 1:2) Open communication may at times seem awkward, but when both marriage mates put forth adequate effort, much will be achieved toward making their marriage a lasting union.
14, 15. How can quarreling be avoided?
14 Honest disagreements are sure to arise from time to time. But your home need not degenerate into a ‘house full of quarreling.’ (Proverbs 17:1) Be careful not to discuss sensitive matters when the children might hear, and show consideration for your mate’s feelings. When Rachel expressed distress over her barren state and asked Jacob to give her children, he angrily responded: “Am I in the place of God, who has held back the fruit of the belly from you?” (Genesis 30:1, 2) If domestic difficulties arise, attack the problem, not the person. During a private discussion, avoid “speaking thoughtlessly” or needlessly interrupting each other.—Proverbs 12:18.
15 True, you may have strong feelings about your point of view, but these can be expressed without “malicious bitterness and anger and wrath and screaming and abusive speech.” (Ephesians 4:31) “Discuss your problems in a normal voice,” says one husband. “If a voice is raised, stop. Return after a short period of time. Start again.” Proverbs 17:14 gives this good advice: “Before the quarrel has burst forth, take your leave.” Try discussing matters again when both of you have cooled off.
Stay Faithful to Each Other
16. Why is adultery such a serious matter?
16 Hebrews 13:4 states: “Let marriage be honorable among all, and the marriage bed be without defilement, for God will judge fornicators and adulterers.” Adultery is a sin against God. It also wreaks havoc on a marriage. (Genesis 39:9) Writes one marriage counselor: “Once discovered, adultery hits a whole family like a massive hurricane, smashing homes, shattering trust and self-esteem, battering the young.” Pregnancy or a sexually transmitted disease may also result.
17. How can adulterous leanings be avoided or rejected?
17 Some people nurture adulterous leanings by absorbing the world’s corrupted view of sex as portrayed in books, on television, and in movies. (Galatians 6:8) Researchers say, though, that adultery usually results not simply from a desire for sex but from a perceived need to prove that one is still attractive or from a desire to feel more loved. (Compare Proverbs 7:18.) Whatever the reason, a Christian must reject immoral fantasies. Honestly discuss your feelings with your mate. If necessary, seek help from congregation elders. Doing so may very well prevent a fall into sin. Moreover, Christians need to be cautious in dealing with members of the opposite sex. It would be contrary to Scriptural principles to be married to one person but to look with passion on another. (Job 31:1; Matthew 5:28) Christians should be especially careful about developing emotional attachments with workmates. Keep such relationships cordial but businesslike.
18. What is often at the root of sexual problems in a marriage, and how can these be resolved?
18 An even greater safeguard is a warm, open relationship with one’s mate. Many researchers say that sexual problems in marriage are rarely physical in nature but are usually by-products of poor communication. Problems along these lines are rare when a couple communicates openly and renders the marital due as an expression of love rather than as a duty.* Under such proper circumstances, intimate relations can serve to strengthen the marriage bond.—1 Corinthians 7:2-5; 10:24.
19. What is “a perfect bond of union,” and what effect can it have on a marriage?
19 It is love that is “a perfect bond of union” within the Christian congregation. By cultivating love, a godly married couple can ‘continue putting up with each other and forgiving each other freely.’ (Colossians 3:13, 14) Principled love seeks the welfare of others. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8) Cultivate such love. It will help you to strengthen your marriage bond. Apply Bible principles in your married life. If you do that, your marriage will prove to be a lasting union and will bring praise and honor to Jehovah God.
The article “Communication—More Than Just Talk,” appearing in The Watchtower of August 1, 1993, showed how couples can overcome problems in this area.
How Would You Answer?
□ Why should marriage be a permanent bond?
□ What is the Biblical view of headship and submission?
□ How can married couples improve communication?
□ How can couples handle disagreements in a Christian manner?
□ What will help to strengthen the marriage bond?
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If his wife must work secularly, a Christian husband will not allow her to be overburdened