Earlier this year, a friend asked this question on Facebook: What do you believe keeps a marriage together? It’s a great question, and it led to an interesting discussion.
My children are in their early 20s, so our family is just beginning to celebrate engagements and marriages of the “kids” we’ve watched grow up. Beautiful moments of joy, expectation, and hope surround that final walk to the altar. And even during our odd season of quarantine, when so many young couples had to shift their wedding plans, I still find the entire experience magical. God gave marriage as a gift. He created man and woman distinctly for holy union (Genesis 2:24), and its Biblical significance remains a powerful reminder of God’s love for us.
However, maintaining a strong bond does require hard work and commitment, and if you’ve been married for any amount of time, you know this to be true. It’s heartbreaking to watch marriages fracture and collapse, to see shifts in attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that you know are leading a couple down dark roads. I have friends who have been married many years who find themselves now struggling and others who already understand the sting of divorce.
Marriage in a Filtered World
No one enters into a marriage expecting it to fail, but reaching “until death do us part,” requires a healthy dose of compromise, forgiveness, and grace. And in a filtered world of Insta-worthy happiness, we need to guard our marriages against the cultural creep of “you do you.” A healthy marriage doesn’t forsake one another’s individuality, but it’s also not a solo endeavor.
Before we go any further, let me say this. If you’re looking for expert advice, I don’t have it. What I can share, though, are my thoughts based on personal experiences and lessons learned after almost 27 years of marriage. Just as I would characterize myself as “perfectly imperfect,” so is my marriage. But when the road gets bumpy, we don’t give up.
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”1 Peter 4:8
Is It Possible to Divorce-Proof Your Marriage?
When Doug and I were newly married, a guy in our Sunday School class passed along this piece of advice: Don’t do anything in the first six months that you don’t want to be doing for the rest of your life.
We haven’t kept in touch with this couple, so I can’t share the status of their marriage. However, if you are engaged or newly married, please don’t start things off with this mindset! That, to me, is a recipe for disaster!
So what does it take? While I think it’s safe to say you can’t boil a marriage down to three simple ideas, these are the ones that rise to the top for me and lay the foundation for all other behavior.
Seeking Holiness: 3 Principles to Sustain a Healthy Marriage
- It Takes Two.
In that conversation I had with a friend about what sustains a marriage, I always come back to this idea of “It takes two.” It takes two people to remain sacrificially committed to their marriage. Marriage is not a casual affair, and you have to stay intentional in nurturing that relationship.I have no experience with divorce, so I know I can’t speak personally to it. However, I can point to plenty of marriages that ended because one person simply stopped trying to make it work. While fault often lies on both sides of a broken marriage, the decision to walk away starts long before someone files for divorce. Guarding against this leads me to my second point.
“However, each one of you must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” – Ephesians 5:33
- Faith First.
Christian couples are not immune to divorce. However, two people who are growing and maturing in their faith position themselves for success. As Doug and I were discussing this topic, he shared this: God cares more about your marriage than you do. Hear that, please. God cares. Your marriage—complete with its irritations and imperfections—matters, and if you seek Him first, He will sustain you.
Several years ago, I joined a women’s Bible study focused on marriage using the book, On the Other Side of the Garden of Eden: Biblical Womanhood. It’s guaranteed to step on your toes and challenge your thoughts, but it’s also a book I would recommend. It shifted my perspective in meaningful ways to better understand Biblical marriage. Recognizing that God uses every experience and circumstance to draw us closer to Him helps keep my eyes up. I pray for Doug and for wisdom to be a godly wife; the rest I try to leave for Jesus.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs….It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” – 1 Corinthians 13:4-5, 7
- Don’t Confuse Love and Happiness.
I think some marriages fail because they equate love with happiness. But as my wise husband says, “Marriage is about holiness, not happiness.” Happiness fluctuates, and it’s an unreliable measure for marriage.
A friend’s mother once told her, “I’ve always loved your father, but there were times I didn’t always like him.” Sadly, too often, people decide that feeling unhappy equates to being “out of love.” I have known more than one person whose marriage fell apart under the weight of statements like these: “I just don’t love you anymore” or “We’ve just grown apart.” Both, in my opinion, are the result of choices made and examples of immaturity.
“If happiness is our primary goal, we’ll get a divorce as soon as happiness seems to wane. If receiving love is our primary goal, we’ll dump our spouse as soon as they seem to be less attentive. But if we marry for the glory of God, to model His love and commitment to our children, and to reveal His witness to the world, divorce makes no sense.” – Gary Thomas as quoted in God’s Design for Marriage by Carol Heffernan
Does that mean you shouldn’t be happy in your marriage? Of course not! But that, too, goes back to “it takes two.” People who love one another will work toward reconciliation and forgiveness. They will seek ways to reconnect. I love my husband, and that holds true even when my “happiness” wanes.
Building careers, raising children, and navigating life’s peaks and valleys can strain a marriage. It’s nothing like dating, and there will be seasons of joy and seasons of pain. But when you have two people committed to one another, who love unconditionally, your “ever after” will follow.
“Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away.”– Song of Solomon 8:7
One important caveat, though, on all of the above:
There is NOTHING about what I’ve said that allows for violence in a relationship. I do believe God can change hearts and restore brokenness, but that does not mean you should “stick it out” if you are in an abusive relationship. Your safety always comes first, and if you need help, please seek it.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline | www.thehotline.org