How to Strengthen Your Marriage
IMAGINE a house that has fallen into a state of disrepair. The paint is peeling, the roof is damaged, and even the lawn lies untended. Obviously, this building has weathered some severe storms over the years, and it has suffered from neglect. Should it be demolished? Not necessarily. If the foundation is strong and the structure is stable, the house can likely be restored.
Does the condition of that house remind you of your marriage? Over the years, severe storms, so to speak, may have taken a toll on your marital relationship. A degree of neglect may be involved on the part of one or both of you. You may feel as did Sandy. After 15 years of wedlock, she stated: “We had nothing in common but being married to each other. And that wasn’t enough.”
Even if your marriage has reached this point, do not hastily conclude that it should be terminated. Likely, your marriage can be restored. Much depends on the level of commitment that exists between you and your mate. Commitment can help to give a marriage stability in times of trial. But what is commitment? And how can the Bible help you to strengthen it?
Commitment Involves Obligation
According to one dictionary, commitment refers to “the state of being obligated or emotionally impelled.” At times, the word is applied to something impersonal, such as a business agreement. For example, a builder might feel obliged to fulfill the demands of a contract he has signed to construct a house. He may not personally know the one who commissioned the work. Still, he feels compelled to live up to his word.
Although marriage is not a cold business deal, the commitment involved includes obligation. You and your mate likely have solemnly vowed before God and man to stay together, come what may. Jesus stated: “He who created [man and woman] from the beginning made them male and female and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and his mother and will stick to his wife.’” Jesus added: “What God has yoked together let no man put apart.” (Matthew 19:4-6) When problems arise, then, you and your mate should be firmly resolved to honor the commitment you made.* Says one wife: “It wasn’t until we stopped considering divorce as an option that things began to improve.”
There is more to marital commitment, though, than obligation. What else is involved?
Teamwork Strengthens Commitment to Marriage
Commitment to marriage does not mean that marriage mates will never disagree with each other. When a conflict occurs, there should be an earnest desire to resolve the matter not only because of an obligatory vow but because of an emotional bond. Regarding husband and wife, Jesus said: “They are no longer two, but one flesh.”
What does it mean to be “one flesh” with your mate? The apostle Paul wrote that “husbands ought to be loving their wives as their own bodies.” (Ephesians 5:28, 29) In part, then, being “one flesh” means that you feel as concerned with the welfare of your mate as you are with your own. Married people need to shift their thinking from “mine” to “ours,” from “me” to “we.” One counselor wrote: “Both partners must stop being single at heart, and come to be married at heart.”
Are you and your spouse “married at heart”? It is possible to be together for many years and yet not be “one flesh” in that sense. Yes, that can happen, but the book Giving Time a Chance says: “Marriage means sharing a life, and the more two people share, the more there is to grow on.”
Some unhappy couples stay together for the sake of their children or for financial security. Others endure because they have strong moral objections to divorce or because they fear what others will think if they break up. While it is commendable that these marriages endure, remember that your goal should be to have a loving relationship, not simply a lasting one.
Unselfish Acts Promote Marital Commitment
The Bible foretold that during “the last days,” people would be “lovers of themselves.” (2 Timothy 3:1, 2) True to that prophecy, the emphasis today seems to be on a worshipful devotion to self. In all too many marriages, to give of oneself without guarantee of reciprocation is viewed as a sign of weakness. In a healthy marriage, however, both mates display a self-sacrificing spirit. How can you do so?
Instead of dwelling on the question, ‘What am I getting out of this relationship?’ ask yourself, ‘What am I personally doing to strengthen my marriage?’ The Bible says that Christians should be “keeping an eye, not in personal interest upon just [their] own matters, but also in personal interest upon those of the others.” (Philippians 2:4) While pondering this Bible principle, analyze your actions during the past week. How often did you perform an act of kindness solely for the benefit of your spouse? When your mate wanted to talk, did you listen—even if you did not feel particularly inclined to do so? How many activities did you engage in that interested your mate more than you?
In weighing such questions, do not worry that your good deeds will go unnoticed or unrewarded. “In most relationships,” says one reference work, “positive behavior is reciprocated, so do your best to encourage your partner to behave positively by behaving more positively yourself.” Self-sacrificing acts strengthen your marriage because they show that you value it and want to preserve it.
A Long-Term View Is Essential
Jehovah God values loyalty. Indeed, the Bible states: “With someone loyal you [Jehovah] will act in loyalty.” (2 Samuel 22:26) Remaining loyal to God entails remaining loyal to the marriage arrangement that he instituted.—Genesis 2:24.
If you and your mate are loyal to each other, you enjoy a sense of permanence about your union. When you think about the months, years, and decades ahead, you see yourselves together in the picture. The thought of not being married to each other is utterly foreign, and this outlook brings security to your relationship. One wife says: “Even when I’m maddest at [my husband] and I’m most upset about what is happening to us, I’m not worrying about our marriage coming to an end. I’m worried about how we are ever going to get back to where we were. I don’t have a doubt in the world that we’re going to get back—I just can’t see how right then.”
A long-term view is an essential part of commitment to one’s mate, yet it is sadly lacking in many marriages. During heated exchanges, one spouse may blurt out, “I’m leaving you!” or, “I’m going to find someone who really appreciates me!” Granted, most often such words are not meant literally. Still, the Bible notes that the tongue can be “full of death-dealing poison.” (James 3:8) Threats and ultimatums send out the message: ‘I do not view our marriage as permanent. I can leave it at any time.’ Implying such a thing can be destructive to a marriage.
When you have a long-term view, you expect to be with your mate through thick and thin. This has an added benefit. It will make it far easier for you and your mate to accept weaknesses and mistakes and to continue putting up with each other and forgiving each other freely. (Colossians 3:13) “In a good marriage,” says one handbook, “there’s room for both of you to fail, and for the marriage to hold together in spite of it.”
On your wedding day, you made a commitment, not to the institution of marriage, but to a living person—your mate. This fact should have a profound effect on the way you now think and act as a married person. Do you not agree that you should remain with your mate not only because you strongly believe in the sanctity of marriage but also because you love the person you married?
In extreme cases, there may be valid reason for a married couple to separate. (1 Corinthians 7:10, 11; see The Secret of Family Happiness, pages 160-1, published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.) In addition, the Bible allows for divorce on the grounds of fornication (sexual immorality).—Matthew 19:9.
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What You Can Do Now
How does your marriage fare with regard to commitment? Perhaps you see room for improvement. To strengthen your commitment, try the following:
● Make a self-examination. Ask yourself: ‘Am I truly married at heart, or am I still thinking and acting as a single person?’ Find out how your mate feels about you in this area.
● Read this article with your spouse. Then, in a calm manner, discuss ways that you can strengthen your commitment to your marriage.
● With your mate, engage in activities that strengthen your commitment. For example: Look at photographs of your wedding and other memorable events. Do things that you enjoyed during courtship or in the early years of your marriage. Study together Bible-based articles from The Watchtower and Awake! that pertain to marriage.
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In Marriage, Commitment Involves . . .
● Obligation “What you vow, pay. Better is it that you vow not than that you vow and do not pay.”—Ecclesiastes 5:4, 5.
● Teamwork “Two are better than one . . . For if one of them should fall, the other one can raise his partner up.”—Ecclesiastes 4:9, 10.
● Self-Sacrifice “There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.”—Acts 20:35.
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When your mate wants to talk, do you listen?