What Is Needed for a Successful Marriage?
Would you choose to dive into a river without first learning to swim? Such a foolish act could be harmful—even deadly. Think, though, of how many people jump into marriage with little awareness of how to take on the responsibilities involved.
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) What is true of building a tower is also true of building a marriage. Those who want to get married should carefully count the cost of marriage to make sure they can meet the demands.
A Look at Marriage
Having a mate with whom to share life’s joys and sorrows is truly a blessing. Marriage can fill a void caused by loneliness or despair. It can satisfy our inborn craving for love, companionship, and intimacy. With good reason, God said after creating Adam: “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; 24:67; 1 Corinthians 7:9.
Yes, being married can solve some problems. But it will introduce some new ones too. Why? Because marriage is the blending of two distinct personalities that are perhaps compatible but hardly identical. Hence, even well-matched couples will experience occasional conflict. The Christian apostle Paul wrote that those who marry will have “tribulation in their flesh”—or as The New English Bible renders it, “pain and grief in this bodily life.”—1 Corinthians 7:28.
Was Paul being pessimistic? Not at all! He was simply urging those considering marriage to be realists. The euphoric feeling of being attracted to someone is not an accurate gauge of what married life will be like in the months and years following the wedding day. Each marriage has its own unique challenges and problems. The question is not whether they will arise but how to face them when they do.
Problems give a husband and wife opportunity to show the genuineness of their love for each other. To illustrate: A cruise ship may seem majestic as it sits idle, moored at a pier. Its true seaworthiness, however, is proved at sea—perhaps even amid the crashing waves of a storm. Similarly, the strength of a marriage bond is not solely defined during peaceful moments of romantic calm. At times, it is proved under trialsome circumstances in which a couple weathers storms of adversity.
To do so, a married couple needs commitment, for God purposed that a man would “stick to his wife” and that the two would “become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24) The idea of commitment frightens many people today. Yet, it is only reasonable that two people who truly love each other will want to make a solemn promise to stay together. Commitment accords the marriage dignity. It provides a basis for confidence that, come what may, a husband and wife will support each other.* If you are not ready for such a commitment, you are not really ready for marriage. (Compare Ecclesiastes 5:4, 5.) Even those who are already married may need to enhance their appreciation of how vital commitment is to an enduring marriage.
A Look at Yourself
No doubt you can list the qualities you would want in a mate. It is much more difficult, however, to look at yourself to determine how you can contribute to a marriage. Self-scrutiny is vital, both before and after taking the vows of wedlock. For example, ask yourself the following questions.
• Am I willing to make a lifelong commitment to my mate?—Matthew 19:6.
In the days of the Bible prophet Malachi, many husbands left their mates, perhaps to marry younger women. Jehovah said that his altar was covered with the tears of the abandoned wives, and he condemned men who thus “dealt treacherously” with their mates.—Malachi 2:13-16.
• If I am thinking about getting married, am I past the youthful age when sexual feelings run quite strong and can distort good judgment?—1 Corinthians 7:36.
“It is very risky to get married too young,” says Nikki, who was 22 when she married. She cautions: “Your feelings, goals, and tastes will continue to change from the time you are in your late teens until you are in your mid-to-late 20’s.” Of course, readiness for marriage cannot be measured by age alone. Nevertheless, marrying when one is not past the youthful stage when sexual feelings are new and especially strong can distort one’s thinking and blind one to potential problems.
• What traits do I have that will help me contribute to a successful marriage?—Galatians 5:22, 23.
The apostle Paul wrote to the Colossians: “Clothe yourselves with the tender affections of compassion, kindness, lowliness of mind, mildness, and long-suffering.” (Colossians 3:12) This counsel is appropriate for those who are contemplating marriage as well as for those who are already married.
• Do I have the maturity needed to support a mate through difficult times?—Galatians 6:2.
“When problems occur,” says one doctor, “the tendency is to blame the mate. Who is to blame is not what is most important. Rather, it is how both husband and wife can cooperate to improve the marital relationship.” The words of wise King Solomon apply to married couples. “Two are better than one,” he wrote, “for if one of them should fall, the other one can raise his partner up. But how will it be with just the one who falls when there is not another to raise him up?”—Ecclesiastes 4:9, 10.
• Am I generally cheerful and optimistic, or am I predominantly gloomy and negative?—Proverbs 15:15.
A negative person views each day as bad. Marriage does not miraculously change this attitude! A single person—man or woman—who is largely critical or pessimistic will simply become a married person who is just as critical or pessimistic. Such a negative outlook can put a terrible strain on a marriage.—Compare Proverbs 21:9.
• Do I keep calm under pressure, or do I give in to uncontrolled expressions of rage?—Galatians 5:19, 20.
Christians are commanded to be “slow about wrath.” (James 1:19) Before marriage and during marriage, a man or a woman should cultivate the ability to live by this counsel: “Be wrathful, and yet do not sin; let the sun not set with you in a provoked state.”—Ephesians 4:26.
A Look at Your Prospective Partner
“The shrewd one considers his steps,” states a Bible proverb. (Proverbs 14:15) This is certainly true when selecting a marriage mate. Choosing a marriage mate is one of the most important decisions a man or woman will ever make. Yet, it has been observed that many people spend more time deciding which car to buy or which school to attend than which person to marry.
In the Christian congregation, those who are entrusted with responsibility are “tested as to fitness first.” (1 Timothy 3:10) If you are thinking about getting married, you will want to be sure of the “fitness” of the other person. Consider, for example, the following questions. Though they are presented from the standpoint of a woman, many of the principles also apply to a man. And even those who are married can beneficially consider these points.
• What kind of reputation does he have?—Philippians 2:19-22.
Proverbs 31:23 describes a husband who is “known in the gates, when he sits down with the older men of the land.” The older men of the city sat at the city gates to render judgment. So, evidently, he had a position of public trust. The way a man is viewed by others tells something about his reputation. If applicable, consider also the way he is viewed by those under his authority. This may indicate how you, as his mate, will in time come to view him.—Compare 1 Samuel 25:3, 23-25.
• What kind of morals does he have?
Godly wisdom is “first of all chaste.” (James 3:17) Is your prospective mate more interested in his own sexual gratification than in his and your standing before God? If he is not putting forth an effort to live by God’s moral standards now, what basis is there for believing that he will do so after marriage?—Genesis 39:7-12.
• How does he treat me?—Ephesians 5:28, 29.
The Bible book of Proverbs tells of a husband who “has put trust” in his wife. Moreover, “he praises her.” (Proverbs 31:11, 28) He is not obsessively jealous, nor is he unreasonable in his expectations. James wrote that the wisdom from above is “peaceable, reasonable, . . . full of mercy and good fruits.”—James 3:17.
• How does he treat members of his own family?—Exodus 20:12.
Respect for parents is not just a requirement for children. The Bible says: “Listen to your father who caused your birth, and do not despise your mother just because she has grown old.” (Proverbs 23:22) Interestingly, Dr. W. Hugh Missildine wrote: “Many marital difficulties and incompatibilities might be avoided—or at least foreseen—if the prospective bride and groom visited one another’s homes casually and observed the relationship between the ‘intended’ and his parents. The way he looks at his parents will be the coloration through which he will see his spouse. One must ask: ‘Do I want to be treated as he treats his parents?’ And the way his parents treat him will be a good indication of how he will treat himself and how he will expect you to behave toward him—after the honeymoon.”
• Is he given to fits of anger or abusive speech?
The Bible counsels: “Let all malicious bitterness and anger and wrath and screaming and abusive speech be taken away from you.” (Ephesians 4:31) Paul warned Timothy of some Christians who would be “mentally diseased over questionings and debates about words” and who would give way to “envy, strife, abusive speeches, wicked suspicions, violent disputes about trifles.”—1 Timothy 6:4, 5.
In addition, Paul wrote that one who qualifies for special privileges in the congregation should be “not a smiter”—according to the original Greek, “not dealing blows.” (1 Timothy 3:3, footnote) He cannot be one who strikes people physically or browbeats them verbally. A person who is prone to become violent in a moment of anger is not a suitable marriage partner.
• What are his goals?
Some pursue riches and reap the inevitable consequences. (1 Timothy 6:9, 10) Others drift aimlessly through life with no goals to reach. (Proverbs 6:6-11) A godly man, however, will show the same determination as did Joshua, who said: “As for me and my household, we shall serve Jehovah.”—Joshua 24:15.
Rewards and Responsibilities
Marriage is a divine institution. It was authorized and established by Jehovah God. (Genesis 2:22-24) He designed the marital arrangement in order to form a permanent bond between a man and a woman so that they might be mutually helpful to each other. When Bible principles are applied, a husband and wife can expect their lot in life to be a joyful one.—Ecclesiastes 9:7-9.
It must be realized, though, that we are living in “critical times hard to deal with.” The Bible foretold that during this period of time, people would be “lovers of themselves, lovers of money, self-assuming, haughty, . . . disloyal, having no natural affection, not open to any agreement, . . . betrayers, headstrong, puffed up with pride.” (2 Timothy 3:1-4) These traits can have a potent impact upon one’s marriage. Thus, those who are considering getting married should soberly count the cost. And those who are now married should continue to work at improving their union by learning and applying divine guidance found in the Bible.
Yes, those contemplating marriage will do well to look beyond the wedding day. And all should consider not only the act of getting married but also the life of being married. Look to Jehovah for guidance so that you will think realistically rather than just romantically. By doing so, you will be more likely to enjoy a successful marriage.
The Bible allows only one ground for divorce with the possibility of remarriage, and that is “fornication”—sex relations outside the marriage.—Matthew 19:9.
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“The Best Description of Love I’ve Ever Read”
“How do you know if you’re really in love?” writes Dr. Kevin Leman. “There’s an ancient book that contains a description of love. The book is nearly two thousand years old, but it is still the best description of love I’ve ever read.”
Dr. Leman was referring to the Christian apostle Paul’s words found in the Bible at 1 Corinthians 13:4-8:
“Love is long-suffering and kind. Love is not jealous, it does not brag, does not get puffed up, does not behave indecently, does not look for its own interests, does not become provoked. It does not keep account of the injury. It does not rejoice over unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”
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Emotions Can Be Deceptive
The Shulammite girl of Bible times was evidently well aware of the deceptive power of romantic feelings. When being wooed by powerful King Solomon, she told her girl companions “not to awaken or arouse love in me until it feels inclined.” (Song of Solomon 2:7) This wise young woman did not want her friends to pressure her into being ruled by her emotions. This is practical, too, for those considering marriage today. Keep a strong grip on your feelings. If you marry, it should be because you are in love with a person, not merely with the concept of being married.
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Even those long married can strengthen their marriage bonds
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How does he treat his parents?