“Each one of you must love his wife as he does himself; . . . the wife should have deep respect for her husband.”—EPH. 5:33.
1. Although marriage usually begins with joy, what can those who marry expect to experience? (See opening picture.)
WHEN a lovely bride appears before her handsome bridegroom on their wedding day, words can hardly describe their joy. During courtship, their love has grown so much that they are ready to vow that they will be faithful to each other in marriage. Of course, adjustments are needed as two lives are blended and a new household is established. But God’s Word provides wise advice for all who choose to get married, for the loving Originator of marriage wants each couple to have a good measure of success and happiness in their married life. (Prov. 18:22) Yet, the Scriptures clearly tell us that imperfect humans who get married “will have tribulation in their flesh.” (1 Cor. 7:28) How can such tribulation be kept to a minimum? And what will make Christian marriage a success?
2. What kinds of love should marriage mates show?
2 The Bible emphasizes the importance of love. Tender affection (Greek, phi·liʹa) is needed in a marriage. Romantic love (eʹros) brings delight, and love for family (stor·geʹ) is vital when children enter the picture. However, it is love based on principle (a·gaʹpe) that ensures the success of a marriage. Concerning this love, the apostle Paul wrote: “Each one of you must love his wife as he does himself; on the other hand, the wife should have deep respect for her husband.”—Eph. 5:33.
A CLOSER LOOK AT THE ROLES OF MARRIAGE MATES
3. How strong should love be in a marriage?
3 Paul wrote: “Husbands, continue loving your wives, just as the Christ also loved the congregation and gave himself up for it.” (Eph. 5:25) Imitating Jesus’ example requires that his followers love one another just as he loved them. (Read John 13:34, 35; 15:12, 13.) Marital love shown by Christians should therefore be so strong that either mate would be willing, if necessary, to die for the other. That may be the last thing one would be inclined to do if a serious disagreement were to develop. Nevertheless, a·gaʹpe love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Yes, “love never fails.” (1 Cor. 13:7, 8) Remembering their vow to love each other and to be faithful to each other will help God-fearing marriage mates work together in harmony with Jehovah’s lofty principles to resolve any problems that may arise.
4, 5. (a) What is a husband’s responsibility as a family head? (b) How should a wife view headship? (c) What adjustments did one married couple need to make?
4 Focusing on the personal duties of each marriage mate, Paul wrote: “Let wives be in subjection to their husbands as to the Lord, because a husband is head of his wife just as the Christ is head of the congregation.” (Eph. 5:22, 23) This arrangement does not make a wife inferior to her husband. It actually helps her to fulfill the role God had in mind for a wife when he said: “It is not good for the man [Adam] to continue to be alone. I am going to make a helper for him, as a complement of him.” (Gen. 2:18) Just as Christ, the “head of the congregation,” displays love, a Christian husband is to exercise loving headship. When he does so, his wife feels secure and finds satisfaction in being respectful, supportive, and submissive.
5 Admitting that marriage calls for adjustments, Cathy says: “As a single sister, I was independent and took care of myself. Marriage was an adjustment for me as I learned to rely on my husband. It has not always been easy, but we have drawn so much closer as a couple by doing things Jehovah’s way.” Her husband, Fred, says: “Making decisions was never easy for me. In marriage, taking two people into consideration adds to the challenge. But by seeking Jehovah’s guidance in prayer and really listening to my wife’s input, it gets easier every day. I feel that we are a real team!”
6. How does love serve as “a perfect bond of union” when problems develop in a marriage?
6 A solid marriage is made up of two people who make allowances for each other’s imperfections. They ‘continue putting up with each other and forgiving each other freely.’ Yes, both mates will make mistakes. When that happens, however, there are opportunities to learn from these errors, to be forgiving, and to let love have full sway as “a perfect bond of union.” (Col. 3:13, 14) Moreover, “love is patient and kind. . . . It does not keep account of the injury.” (1 Cor. 13:4, 5) Misunderstandings should be cleared away as soon as possible. A Christian couple, therefore, should try to settle any issue between them before the day ends. (Eph. 4:26, 27) Sincerely saying “I am sorry for hurting you” takes humility and courage, but it goes a long way in solving problems and drawing marriage partners closer together.
A SPECIAL NEED FOR TENDERNESS
7, 8. (a) What advice does the Bible give regarding sexual relations in marriage? (b) Why do marriage mates need to show tenderness?
7 The Bible gives sound counsel that can help a couple to have a balanced view of the marital due. (Read 1 Corinthians 7:3-5.) Loving consideration of the mate’s feelings and needs is essential. If a wife is not treated tenderly, she may find it difficult to enjoy this aspect of marriage. Husbands are told to deal with their wives “according to knowledge.” (1 Pet. 3:7) Sexual relations should never be forced or demanded but should come naturally. The man can often respond more quickly than the woman, but emotionally the time should be right for both mates.
8 Although the Bible does not provide specific rules about the kinds and limits of love play that might be associated with natural sexual intimacy, it mentions displays of affection. (Song of Sol. 1:2; 2:6) Christian marriage partners should treat each other with tenderness.
9. Why is sexual interest in anyone who is not one’s own marriage mate unacceptable?
9 Strong love for God and neighbor will not allow anyone or anything to interfere with the marriage bond. Some marriages have been strained or even ruined by a mate’s addiction to pornography. Any tendency toward being attracted to this or toward sexual interests of any sort outside marriage should be firmly resisted. Even giving the appearance of flirting with someone to whom one is not married is unloving and should be avoided. Remembering that God is aware of all our thoughts and actions will reinforce our desire to please him and to remain chaste.—Read Matthew 5:27, 28; Hebrews 4:13.
WHEN MARRIAGE TIES ARE STRAINED
10, 11. (a) How common is divorce? (b) What does the Bible say about separation? (c) What will help a marriage mate not to separate quickly?
10 Serious problems that persist in marriage may lead one mate or both mates to consider separation or divorce. In some lands, more than half of all marriages end in divorce. This trend is not as common in the Christian congregation, but increasing marital problems among God’s people are a cause for concern.
11 The Bible gives these instructions: “A wife should not separate from her husband. But if she does separate, let her remain unmarried or else be reconciled with her husband; and a husband should not leave his wife.” (1 Cor. 7:10, 11) Separating from one’s marriage partner should not be viewed lightly. Though separation may seem to be the answer when serious difficulties arise, it often causes more problems. After repeating what God had stated about a man leaving his father and his mother and sticking to his wife, Jesus said: “What God has yoked together, let no man put apart.” (Matt. 19:3-6; Gen. 2:24) This also means that neither a husband nor a wife should ‘put apart what God has yoked together.’ Jehovah views marriage as a lifelong bond. (1 Cor. 7:39) Bearing in mind that all of us will render an account to God should move marriage mates to make earnest efforts to resolve problems quickly so that these do not become more serious.
12. What may lead a marriage mate to consider separation?
12 Unrealistic expectations may be at the root of a marital problem. When dreams about a happy marriage do not come true, a person may feel dissatisfied, cheated, even bitter. Differences in emotional nature and upbringing may become issues, or disagreements may arise regarding money, in-laws, and child-rearing. However, it is commendable that the vast majority of Christian married couples find mutually acceptable solutions for all such problems because they let God guide them.
13. What are valid reasons for separation?
13 Separation might at times be justified. Willful nonsupport, extreme physical abuse, and the absolute endangerment of one’s spiritual life are exceptional situations that some have viewed as reasons for separation. Christian marriage mates who have serious problems should seek help from the elders. These experienced brothers can assist married couples to apply the counsel of God’s Word. In resolving marital problems, we should also pray for Jehovah’s spirit and his help in applying Bible principles and displaying the fruitage of his spirit.—Gal. 5:22, 23.
14. What does the Bible say to Christians married to mates who are not worshippers of Jehovah?
14 In some cases, a Christian is married to one who is not yet a servant of Jehovah. Under those circumstances, the Bible gives good reasons why they should remain together. (Read 1 Corinthians 7:12-14.) Whether the unbelieving mate realizes it or not, he or she is “sanctified” because of being married to a believer. Any children born to them are considered “holy” and thus have a standing with God. Paul reasons: “Wife, how do you know whether you will save your husband? Or, husband, how do you know whether you will save your wife?” (1 Cor. 7:16) Nearly every congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses has married couples in which the Christian has been instrumental in ‘saving’ his or her mate.
15, 16. (a) What counsel does the Bible give Christian wives whose husbands are not servants of God? (b) What is the position of a Christian “if the unbelieving one chooses to depart”?
15 The apostle Peter counsels Christian wives to be in subjection to their husbands, “so that if any are not obedient to the word, they may be won without a word through the conduct of their wives, because of having been eyewitnesses of your chaste conduct together with deep respect.” By conduct reflecting “the quiet and mild spirit, which is of great value in the eyes of God,” a wife may do more to win her husband over to true worship than she would by being too forward in speaking about Christian beliefs.—1 Pet. 3:1-4.
16 What if an unbelieving marriage mate chooses to separate? The Bible says: “If the unbelieving one chooses to depart, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not bound under such circumstances, but God has called you to peace.” (1 Cor. 7:15) This does not mean that the Christian is now Scripturally free to remarry, but there is no obligation to try to force the unbelieving mate to remain. Separation may bring a measure of peace. And the Christian can hope that the departing mate will return with a willingness to work together in preserving the marriage and will eventually become a fellow believer.
MARRIAGE AND OUR FIRST PRIORITY
17. What should be the first priority of Christian married couples?
17 Because we are living deep in “the last days,” we are experiencing “critical times hard to deal with.” (2 Tim. 3:1-5) Yet, keeping spiritually strong will do much to offset this world’s negative influences. “The time left is reduced,” wrote Paul. “From now on, let those who have wives be as though they had none, . . . and those making use of the world as those not using it to the full.” (1 Cor. 7:29-31) Paul was not telling married couples to neglect their marital duties. In view of the reduced time, however, they needed to give priority to spiritual matters.—Matt. 6:33.
18. Why is it possible for Christians to have a happy and successful marriage?
18 Although we are living in very trying times and marital relationships are failing all around us, it is possible for us to make marriage happy and successful. Indeed, married Christians who stick with Jehovah’s people, apply Scriptural counsel, and accept the guidance of Jehovah’s holy spirit can preserve “what God has yoked together.”—Mark 10:9.
 (paragraph 5) Names have been changed.
 (paragraph 13) See the book “Keep Yourselves in God’s Love,” appendix, “The Bible’s View on Divorce and Separation.”