“Each one of you must love his wife as he does himself; . . . the wife should have deep respect for her husband.”—EPHESIANS 5:33.
1. Although marriage usually begins with joy, what can those who marry expect to experience? (See opening picture.)
WHEN a groom first sees his beautiful bride on their wedding day, the couple’s joy is limitless. While they were dating, their love for each other grew so much that they wanted to be married, and they thus promised to stay faithful to each other. After their wedding, as they start their life together, they will need to make changes in order to remain united. Jehovah, the Creator of marriage, wants each couple to have a happy and successful married life, so he has given wise advice in his Word, the Bible. (Proverbs 18:22) Even so, the Bible tells us that imperfect humans who get married will have problems, or “tribulation in their flesh.” (1 Corinthians 7:28) How can couples minimize those problems? And how can Christians make marriage a success?
2. What kinds of love should marriage mates show?
2 The Bible teaches that love is an important quality. But there are different kinds of love that couples need to show in a marriage. For example, they need to show tender affection as well as romantic love. And if they have children, love between family members becomes even more important. But it is love based on principle that makes a marriage truly successful. The apostle Paul described this kind of love when he said: “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.”—Ephesians 5:33.
A CLOSER LOOK AT THE RESPONSIBILITIES 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.” (Ephesians 5:25) Christians today imitate Jesus’ example by loving one another just as Jesus loved his disciples. (Read John 13:34, 35; 15:12, 13.) A Christian husband and wife should love each other so much that they are willing to die for each other. But when there are serious problems in a marriage, some may not feel that their love is very strong. What can help them? Love based on principle, which “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” That kind of love “never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:7, 8) A couple must remember that they made a vow. They promised to love each other and be faithful to each other. Remembering this will motivate Christian couples to seek Jehovah’s help and work together to resolve any problems.
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 Paul described the responsibilities of each marriage mate when he said: “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.” (Ephesians 5:22, 23) This does not mean that a husband is better than his wife. Jehovah spoke about the valuable role of a wife when he said: “It is not good for the man to continue to be alone. I am going to make a helper for him, as a complement of him.” (Genesis 2:18) A wife should help her husband to be a good family head. And a husband needs to imitate the loving example of Jesus, who is the “head of the congregation.” When a husband does this, his wife feels secure and it is easier for her to respect and support him.
“We have drawn so much closer as a couple by doing things Jehovah’s way”
5 Cathy, who is married to Fred, admits: “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.” (See endnote.) 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 Marriages can be strong if couples “continue putting up with one another and forgiving one another freely.” Because they are imperfect, both mates will make mistakes. When that happens, they can learn from their mistakes, learn to be forgiving, and show love based on Bible principles. This love is “a perfect bond of union.” (Colossians 3:13, 14) Marriage mates can show this love by being patient and kind and by not keeping “account of the injury.” (1 Corinthians 13:4, 5) When there are disagreements, a couple should try to resolve these as soon as possible, before the end of the day. (Ephesians 4:26, 27) It takes humility and courage to say “I am sorry for hurting you,” but doing so helps to solve problems and draws marriage mates 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 good advice that can help a couple to have the proper view of sex in marriage. (Read 1 Corinthians 7:3-5.) It is essential for a husband and a wife to consider each other’s feelings and needs. If a husband is not tender with his wife, she may find it difficult to enjoy sexual relations. Husbands should deal with their wives “according to knowledge.” (1 Peter 3:7) Sexual relations should never be forced or demanded but should come naturally. A man can often respond more quickly than a woman. But emotionally the time should be right for both the husband and the wife.
8 The Bible does not give specific rules about the kinds and limits of displays of affection between a husband and a wife. But it does mention such affection. (Song of Solomon 1:2; 2:6) Christian marriage mates should treat each other with tenderness.
9. Why is sexual interest in anyone who is not one’s own marriage mate unacceptable?
9 When we have strong love for God and for neighbor, we will not allow anyone or anything to threaten our marriage. Some have weakened or even ruined their marriage by becoming addicted to pornography. We need to resist any attraction to pornography or other kinds of improper sexual interests. We even need to avoid doing anything that makes it seem as if we are flirting with someone who is not our marriage mate, because that would be unloving. We have to remember that God knows all our thoughts and actions. This will help us to strengthen our desire to please him and to remain loyal to our mate.—Read Matthew 5:27, 28; Hebrews 4:13.
WHEN THERE ARE PROBLEMS IN A MARRIAGE
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 When serious problems are not solved, some couples may decide to separate or divorce. In some countries, more than half of all couples get divorced. Of course, this trend is not as common in the Christian congregation. However, more and more Christian couples are having serious problems in their marriage.
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 Corinthians 7:10, 11) Some couples may feel that their problems are so severe that they need to separate. However, Jesus showed how serious separation is when he repeated what God had originally said about marriage and then added: “What God has yoked together, let no man put apart.” (Matthew 19:3-6; Genesis 2:24) So Jehovah wants husbands and wives to stay together. (1 Corinthians 7:39) All of us need to remember that we are accountable to Jehovah for our actions. This can help us to resolve problems quickly before they become more serious.
Christian couples are able to find solutions to their problems because they allow God to guide them
12. What may lead a marriage mate to consider separation?
12 Why do some couples experience serious problems? For some, their marriage is not what they hoped for and they feel disappointed or angry. Often, problems are a result of differences in the way people were brought up or the way they react emotionally. Difficulties with in-laws or disagreements on how to spend money or raise children can also cause problems. However, it is good to see that most Christian couples are able to find solutions to their problems because they allow God to guide them.
13. What are valid reasons for separation?
13 There may be valid reasons for a couple to separate. Extreme situations such as willful nonsupport, severe physical abuse, and the absolute endangerment of a Christian’s spiritual life are reasons why some have chosen to do so. When there are serious problems, marriage mates should ask the elders for help. These men have a lot of experience and can help a couple to apply God’s counsel in their lives. And when marriage mates ask Jehovah for his holy spirit, it can help them to apply Bible principles and to show Christian qualities. (Galatians 5:22, 23)—See endnote.
14. What does the Bible say to Christians married to mates who are not worshippers of Jehovah?
14 The Bible shows that there are good reasons for a couple to stay together even when one of the mates does not worship Jehovah. (Read 1 Corinthians 7:12-14.) The unbelieving mate is “sanctified” because of being married to a servant of God. The couple’s young children are considered “holy” and are therefore under God’s protection. Paul encouraged Christian mates: “Wife, how do you know whether you will save your husband? Or, husband, how do you know whether you will save your wife?” (1 Corinthians 7:16) There are many good examples of Christian husbands and wives who have helped their mates to become servants of Jehovah.
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.” Rather than speaking about her beliefs all the time, a wife may be more likely to help her husband accept the truth when she shows a “quiet and mild spirit, which is of great value in the eyes of God.”—1 Peter 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 Corinthians 7:15) Although separation may bring some peace, the Christian mate is not free to remarry according to the Bible. But he does not have to try to force his mate to stay. In time, the unbelieving mate may decide to return, wanting to restore the marriage. And in the future, the unbelieving mate may even become a servant of Jehovah.
WHAT IS OUR FIRST PRIORITY IN MARRIAGE?
17. What should be the first priority of Christian married couples?
17 Because we live at the end of “the last days,” we experience “critical times hard to deal with.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5) That is why we need the protection of a strong relationship with Jehovah. “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 Corinthians 7:29-31) Paul did not mean that married couples should neglect their mates. But because we are living in the last days, we need to give priority to our worship of Jehovah instead.—Matthew 6:33.
18. Why is it possible for Christians to have a happy and successful marriage?
18 In these difficult times, we see many marriages failing. Is it possible to have a happy and successful marriage? Yes, if we remain close to Jehovah and his people, apply Bible principles, and accept the guidance of Jehovah’s holy spirit. When we do this, we honor “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.”