15 Basic Marriage Principles You Need to Know
Today's statistics on marriage are a little scary. Current studies show that 47% of all marriages end in Divorce. Numbers are no different between those who do and do not attend church. Kenneth Conner, President of Family Life, says that most of the crime problems we have in America today stem from the breakdown of the traditional American family. People used to get married and stay married. Kids used to have one set of parents their whole life. Today statistics show 1 in 3 children are born out of wedlock and more than half of the children in America do not have a loving mom and dad to share their life with. Nobody goes into marriage thinking that it will end in divorce. It's like buying a new car. They all look and smell good when you take your first ride. So what's the problem? The Bible said there would be days like this.
In the 1st chapter of Corinthians verse 21 Paul says: "….But those who marry will face many troubles in this life."
To give us hope, in the 16th chapter of the Gospel of John verse 33, Jesus says: "I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have troubles, but take heart, I have overcome the world."
Marriage is a union of two imperfect people coming together in a fallen and sinful world, both with good and bad traits, habits, sins, selfish desires…….both like sheep…gone astray and wanting to be happy. Paul says it's a formula for trouble. Jesus says even though you will have trouble, take heart because there is a solution.
People study their profession for years. I am an Engineer and I studied for 7 years. Doctors study for 10 or more. It takes a plumber 6-10 years. How many years did you study marriage before you decided to walk down the aisle? Could we have maybe hit on the solution? Most people do not know the basic principles God laid out for marriages to be successful. So what is that solution and how do we succeed?
Doctor Lance Radbill and I have been researching this subject for over 12 years. We both do marriage counseling along with our lovely wives of 30 years plus and the following is a list of 15 basic principles that we think will make or break a marriage. These principles are aimed at two totally different sets of people.
A. Those who have never been married
B. Those are married and feel like the honeymoon is definitely over.
In Mark chapter 4:34 there is a very interesting verse in the Bible. It says: " He (Jesus) did not say anything to them without using a parable." A parable is simply a word picture, analogy, or story that helps illustrate a principle. With this in mind I will use several analogies as I talk about the 15 principles below.
1. Listen to God ... the way football players listen to a coach. This is a key concept for all the other principles that follow. If you were going to be a football player, how would you prepare? You would LISTEN to the coach. You would spend time studying his instructions about what was involved in the game of football. I am amazed at how many times I ask people if they are having a daily quiet time with God and I usually get one of two answers: A. "Yes, I pray."(That's talking not listening) or B. "Yes I know I should but just don't do it all or the time."
A few verses you might review: Psalm 37:4 says: "Delight yourself in the Lord and HE will give you the desires of your heart." If the desire of your heart is to have a happy marriage, perhaps you need to delight yourself in the Lord. How do you do that?
Proverbs 3: 5-6 says: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean NOT to your own understanding. In ALL your ways acknowledge HIM and HE will make your paths straight." There are hundreds of verses plus an entire Psalm (119) devoted to this subject, but perhaps the most important is the verse found in John chapter 15 verse 5. We insist that the couples we council memorize this verse. John 15:5 "I am the vine, you are the branches. If a man (and woman) abides in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." Think of a grapevine (which is what he was referring to) when you read what Jesus is saying. How could a branch possibly survive if it was not a part of the vine? It could not! And yet we go our merry ways in life and marriage trying to make this relationship work without the author and King of all relationships. I spend every single morning reading God's word, thanking him for his teachings, my health, my wife, my children, etc., and then asking Him to show me how to love my wife and children as well as those He puts me in contact that day. I also ask him to order my day, as I, like you, never have enough time to do all that I have to do. I started this 16 years ago and it is the one thing I would recommend you do above all else. Actually if you get this part right, you can skip the next 14 principles as God will instruct you through this process.
2. Listen to your Spouse. You are taking your last course in college and you simply must pass to graduate. It's a big class. Where do you sit and what do you do? I would suggest that you would sit right in front of the professor and listen to him very intently, as you become a student of that subject with a goal in mind. That is the same intensity we try to train couples to use in their sharing time and we call it "Becoming a Student of your Spouse". Oneness is not automatic, but the result of shared experiences both good and bad. Think about it……How did the two of you fall in love in the first place? Didn't you share with one another for hours upon hours? For some reason we (especially men) forget this after we get married. The men usually clam up and especially do not talk about the bad things in their life and the women spend the little bit of time they can get from their husbands talking about the kids, the problems around the house. That is NOT what we are talking about here. Just like spending time with God, you also have to set a time aside in your busy day to spend quality time with each other sharing the way you feel. We have to train couples to do this in our counseling, as it does not come naturally. The verse we use is found in James chapter 1 verse 19: "Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger". It is an act of love to listen with eye to eye contact to what your spouse is sharing with you. Now that you know it, you will be blessed if you do this. One more thing…..mostly to the guys. When someone shares, do not try and tell them that they should not feel that way and do not try and tell them what to do the next time such and such happens. Just look at them, repeat what they said, and acknowledge that you understand. That's all you need to do. Sound easy? Try it. You will be amazed at how well it works if you can do it.
3. Learn How to Love Each Other Think of a fire that you start while camping. Falling in love was the spark that started your fire, but if you do not know how to continue to add fuel to your love fire it will go out just like that camp fire no matter how hot or big you get it. Most people do not really know what love is and many define love as a special feeling. True love is not a feeling but a decision to seek the welfare of the one whom is the object of your love. When the Jews asked Jesus what was the most important command was, He said it was to love God and love one another. In John 13:34 at the Last Supper He said: "A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." So love is actually a command that we receive from Jesus. He loved us unselfishly and finally gave His life for us and He says that is the way we should love one another. Not always looking to be loved, but instead we are to love one another unselfishly as He loved us. So how do we do that? You need to learn what your spouse's love languages are. There are five love languages that we talk about in our classes: Words, Actions, Time, Gifts, and Touch. Once you know which love languages works best for your spouse, you need to try and use their love languages on them and not your own which is what most of us do. Another way to show love is to serve which is our next topic.
4. Learn How to Serve Each Other in Secret Has your spouse ever served you in secret and then you found about it later? We always ask this trick question: When you serve your spouse do you serve to show them that you love them? That is what most of us do and it is the wrong motive. If you serve expecting a reward and then your spouse does not notice and you don't get a pat on the back, you usually end up getting your feelings hurt. We teach that you should serve in secret and look to Jesus for your reward and not your spouse. When we serve in this way, we are not looking for any reward from our spouse as we are just doing what we are commanded to do. In Mark10: 45 Jesus said: "Even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and give His life for many". Then there is the classic example of Jesus washing the feet of the Apostles found in John 13:15 after which Jesus said: "Now that I your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet." The key to serving is to understand that we are commanded to serve so that when we do serve our spouse it should not be to show THEM we love them but instead we serve in obedience to a command form God to show HIM we love them. Then HE rewards us beyond measure. Try it. Spend a week as a secret servant.
5. Leave and Cleave Think of that happy "just married" couple waving to everyone as they pull off from the wedding headed for their honeymoon. They are leaving everyone so they can cleave to one another. The problem is that many couples do not really leave for good but just for honeymoon. There are 3 places in the Bible that God gives us very clear instructions about this. In Genesis 2:24 God said: "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and they will become one flesh" Jesus repeats the exact same thing in Matthew 19:4. We are amazed to find couples that have been married for years and have still not "left". When you say "home" and mean your parents…..you haven't left. Home is with your spouse. This is a 3-step process that must be followed in order. First you leave, then you cleave, and then you can become one flesh. When you marry your spouse you need to leave your parents, your friends, your old hobbies and habits, activities and anything that keeps you from cleaving to one another. Nothing other than God should be more important than your spouse. Balance is the key to success here. We do not teach that you should not associate or spend time with your parents or friends. It is a matter of where you place your priorities. Have you left "home" yet?
6. Role of Husband = Servant Leader/ Protector/ Provider Sometimes men do not understand what their role as a husband is. Sometimes wives do not allow their husbands to assume the role that God laid out for them. Either way the marriage suffers. Paul teaches us in his letter to the Ephesians 5:25 what the role of the husband is: "Husbands love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. In this same way husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies." Husbands are you doing that? You are responsible to protect your wife from the outside world, from impurity, from physical harm, and from anything that might damage your marriage. You are responsible to provide your wife with a safe place to live, a home that she can be comfortable in and raise a family in safety. You are responsible to work and supply the income needed for food, shelter, and clothing. You are responsible to protect your family from debt. God is holding you accountable and expects you to do what you were designed for. You have the role of a quarterback in calling the plays, but you are to listen to God the coach who ultimately calls the play. You are also responsible to make sure your wife is talking the coach as many times God likes to send plays in with the wife.
7. Role of Wife = Helper/ Team Player/ Nurturer In every single place a wife is mentioned in the Bible, she is portrayed as a "helper". In Genesis 2:18 it says: "The Lord God said it is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a HELPER suitable for him." A "helper" is one perfectly matched to make a team. Note that both players of this team are actively involved with the task at hand. Paul speaks to the wives in the same letter to the Ephesians 5:22-24: "Wives submit to your husbands as to the Lord" Many women have a problem with this idea of submitting, but this is something between them and God. Husbands cannot make their wives submit, but if they love their wives the way God tells them to they should ALWAYS be looking out for the welfare of their wife and be willing to give their lives for them if necessary. Your job as a wife is to allow the man to assume his role the way God intended him to and you are to come along side as a helper. If you decide that you want to lead instead of follow you will be going against God's plan for a happy marriage. We did not write the rules. If you disagree, you will have to take that up with the one who made the rule. Please understand you are not to be a silent doormat or slave. A helper is a player just like a football game. You just can't be the quarterback. If your husband makes a decision that you feel is wrong, you are to voice your opinion but submit to his decision. This is an act of love and God will reward you for it and protect you from harm because you are being obedient. In 34 years of marriage Wanda and I have had very few situations where this ever came up. If steps 1 through 7 are being done correctly it should never be an issue.
8. Learn to Agree = Two people on the same team. It is a fact that you will have disagreements and when you do there are only 3 possible solutions. Either one of you will have to change your mind and go to the other's side, or you will both have to compromise and meet somewhere in the middle. If neither of these work, then you need to agree to take some time to pray……..Call time out in the huddle and talk to the coach. We always recommend that you read and even memorize 3 verses in Phillipians chapter 2 verses 2, 3, and 4 when you are having a disagreement. Verse 2 says, " be like-minded having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose." This means to remember you are on the same team so what are you fighting each other about? Verses 3 and 4 tell you that you should: "Do NOTHING out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others." If you examine your motives, you may find that you are being selfish and wanting your own way. We teach that it is not your way and not your spouse's way, but God's way that you need to seek. If you are in disagreement, you should both ask God what HE wants you to do and "lean NOT unto your own understanding". In Amos 3:3 it says: "Can two walk together, except they be agreed?". Work hard to agree and when you disagree, stop and examine your motives.
9. Develop a Positive Response to Anger = Think of a temperature gauge on a car. What do you do when the temperature gauge shows hot? Would breaking the glass and grabbing the needle and pulling it back down work? Would we not have to stop the car and open the hood to try and determine the cause? When your spouse gets angry, be thankful for the information and work to find out what is wrong and deal with it. If anger is not dealt with, it will destroy a marriage. Anger is the #1 barrier to communication and agreement. Here are some steps to take: A. Confess your anger. In 1st John 1:9 it says: "If we confess our sins, He will forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness". B. Restrain your response. In James 1:19 it says: "Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger." C. Give up your right to be angry. In Ephesians 4:32 it says: "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another just as in Christ God forgave you." And finally D. Replace anger with love and forgiveness. If you just remove the anger and then do not replace with love and forgiveness you will just play the same record over again later. Go back and read Phillipians 2: 2-4. Remember you are on the same team and you should do NOTHING from selfishness. Is your anger caused by selfishness? Pray for each other. In Luke 6:27-28 Jesus says: "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you, Pray for those who mistreat you." Ask forgiveness and kiss and make up……..see next step.
10. Sex and Romance We don't know what it is, but when people get married they have a tendency to get so busy that they forget to keep the romance going. They forget to keep dating one another. Men are off trying to build their career and sometimes forget their first love. Women are busy with running the house, taking care of kids and sometimes working and forget to fix up and do the things they did before they were married to win the affection of their man. Men, it is romantic to take the time and effort to plan a romantic evening just like you did when you were courting. Ladies be ready for your husband when he comes home. Both of you need to take notice and actively love each other. Sex was created by God to bring pleasure to both of you. Read Song of Solomon and 1st Corinthians 7: 1-5 to each other. Understand that God wants you to be sexual and romantic to each other. Wives do not deny sex to your husbands and cause them to sin. Keep your marriage bed pure at all costs. Remember Jesus said: "A new command I give you: love one another." He didn't say if you have time or if you feel like it. He said do it and you will be blessed.
11. Pray for Each Other…….Satin is a roaring lion seeking to destroy your marriage. You must both protect your marriage from affairs at all costs. Do not allow any private meetings with the opposite sex. Do not let yourself be drawn in to mental affairs in thought, pictures, or the Internet. No private lunches with the opposite sex. Do not make even the slightest provision for an affair. In 1st Peter 5:8 it says: "Be self controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion Looking for someone to devour". The devil is cunning and will use every means at his disposal to try and break you up. It all started with Eve. The devil was cunning…..looked like no harm could be done….just a little bite. We see this all the time as a man and woman at work will just talk and try to help each other…..never planning on having an affair. You need to understand what you are dealing with and never give in to this type of temptation. The bible says that you should Flee the devil…..Flee any type of encounter with the opposite sex. Think forward 15-20 years and picture yourself either alone in a retirement home or sitting on porch with the wife of your youth and 3 kids and 20 grand kids all around loving you. Is the future loneliness worth a short fling of self-indulgence? So pray for each other and hold each other accountable. Get a group of friends (same sex) to hold you accountable and pray with you.
12. Plan and make long-term goals with each other. Think of what you want 10-20 years out and start making plans now on how you are going to get where you want to be. Plan your time. There is so little of it, but if you plan to use it wisely you will be blessed. Plan your money, finances, and career (more on that below). Plan your retirement. How will you fund it? Plan your diet and exercise. What good is growing old together if you are in poor health? Plan for romance. Plan date nights and weekend trips to get away…..just the two of you. Take an entire day at least every New Year and pray about what God would have you do. Write out what He tells you and keep this in a journal so that each year you can see how He answers prayer. One of the verses we recommend you memorize is Jeremiah 33:3 which says: "Call to Me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know." Jeremiah 29:11 says: "For I know the plans I have for you" declares the Lord "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." and finally we would recommend you read the Prayer of Jabez by Bruce Wilkinson if you have not already. Pray this prayer. God wants to bless you just like you want to bless your children…..not with material things but with blessings that are eternal in nature.
13. Children = A Gift From God. The last 3 subjects are what we call "rain". Remember that fire you built back in step 3? Well "rain" falls and trys to put that fire out so you have to be aware of it and make provisions for it. Children, money and careers are just 3 of the most dominant. Anger, business, fatigue, debt, and all the things of the world in general are all what we consider "rain". Children are a gift from God and you need to understand what God expects you to do with this gift He gives you. Most people think that their goal with children is to make them happy, but God never says that. What He does say is that you are to: Love, Discipline, and Train them. The biggest child abuse of all is failing to do these 3 things and not keeping your relationship strong in lieu of trying to make your children happy. You are only going to have your children a few short years and your job during that short time is to raise up future husbands and wives that can do all the things we have been talking about. You need to start today with that goal in mind. You children are watching you. Every principle above that we have talked about with you and your spouse also holds true as you love your children. You need to actively love them by spending time with them and using all of the love languages. You need to discipline them. Read Ephesians chapter 6 verses 1,2, and 3 to them which says: "Children obey your parents………that it may go well with you". Proverbs 12:1 says: "Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge but he who hates correction is stupid." We strongly suggest that you lovingly set guidelines and when those guidelines are not followed you discipline the child with a yardstick or "switch" in love…..not with your hand. You cannot hurt the child with something like this, but you will hurt them in later life if you do not discipline them. Proverbs 23:13 says: "Do not withhold discipline from a child. If you punish him with the rod, he will not die." Finally you are to train your children The best training is watching you. Be a good example. Think of what your children would say about you if they were telling a friend in private about their mom and dad. You will be amazed how fast the time goes by and one day they will pull out of the driveway as they pack up and "leave". Make good use of the little bit of time you have. You can play golf with the guys later.
14. Making Money an Asset to your Marriage. Again we always ask a trick question: "How many would have all your money problems solved if we could set you up to receive an extra $1000.00 tax free every month for the rest of your lives?" Most people raise their hands and say that would solve our problems. So why is it that we find the same money problems with couples who make $30,000 or $300,000? Our position is that it is not the amount of money you have that is the problem but your attitude toward money. Would you believe that almost 80% of couples argue over money and spending habits? Why is that and how could it be an asset instead of a problem? Money is just paper….gold trinkets. And yet Jesus knew it would be a problem. There are 3 times as many verses in the Bible addressing money than prayer. The Bible teaches that we should learn to be content with what God gives us and understand that He is in control and will supply all of our needs. We should trust in Him and not money. Read what Jesus says in Matthew chapter 6 verses 19-34. He tells us not to worry about what we will eat or drink and not to worry about storing up treasures on earth. In Luke 12:15 Jesus warns us of greed: "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." In Hebrews chapter 13 verse 5 it says: "Keep your lives free from the love of money and learn to be content with what you have for God has said never will I leave you never will I forsake you." Money arguments are caused because you both come into marriage with different attitudes about how much money you should save, spend and give away. That is all that you can do with it. What you need to do is spend time talking about your attitudes toward money and why you feel that way. The goal is to come to a plan on how much you will save, spend, and give away together. This does not come automatically, but requires time and talk and prayer. The key is to not demand your way, but seek God's way. Make a plan to spend less than what you make over a long period of time. Avoid debt at all costs. Debt is the tool Satin uses to play on your selfishness and then cause problems in your marriage. Do not give him a foothold. If you are in debt, seek guidance from an older couple that has been there before. This is a big topic and if you are having money problems, we recommend Christian counseling. Contact someone at your church.
15. Careers….What do you want to do when you grow up? Why do we talk about this in a marriage class? Because you need to know how to deal with it as Satin can use it as a tool to break up marriages. You need to understand the dangers of : Greed, Power, Pride, Unfaithfulness, and women being under another's authority. No, we do not recommend women have a career outside the home. We find nothing in the Bible that recommends that and it just started 100 years ago. Guess when the divorce rate started going up. Reports and surveys show as many as 80% of Americans are discontent with their careers. What's the problem? Either they are not content where God has placed them or they are just OK with it but want to do something else. The secret is to seek Gods will and not yours. Read the story of Joseph in Genesis chapters 37 - 47. He went from slave to prisoner to house boy to king's assistant, but worked as unto the Lord in whatever position God put him in and God blessed him. Again this is something the two of you need to discuss and plan. If you are unhappy with your career, try and determine what about it is making you unhappy. Is it selfish ambition? Pride? Money? People? Go back through the planning principle and seek God's will together. Seek Godly council from the church and an older couple. The key to happiness is not to seek happiness but seek God's will. When you find yourself in the center of His will, He will bless you with happiness and the desires of your heart.
I will end with a section from James chapter 1 verses 22-25 that says: "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says……….and you will be blessed."