Attending a wedding is one of the most exciting, encouraging and happy events people can experience. When we receive the invitation, we begin to plan what gift we might give the couple. We go on to share our thoughts about the bride and groom and how we wish them all the happiness in the world.
A wedding portrays a confirmation of joy in the marriage union. Who doesn’t want this for all married couples? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all brides and grooms had happy and productive marriages for the rest of their lives? We all wish this, but sadly it often doesn’t come to pass.
“Researchers report that approximately 50 per cent of first marriages, 76 per cent of second marriages, and 84 per cent of third and subsequent marriages fail” (Larry Russell, “Why Marriages Fail and What to Do About It,” FocusontheFamily.ca). Many people enter holy matrimony unprepared. Some couples seek counseling before marrying, but even that is no guarantee a marriage will blossom into a long-lived union.
Is the institution of marriage for this life only, or is it designed to last forever? Could the marriage union picture something greater than what we know—something perfect and divine? That, my friends, would truly be heavenly bliss.
Enduring after the honeymoon
Consider the story of Daniel and Dawn, a couple who enjoyed a wonderful first six months after they were married. After a few months, they thought their bliss would last all their lives! They had met on a volleyball court, quite by accident. When Daniel saw Dawn, he suddenly had difficulty focusing on the game his team was winning.
Dawn, on the other hand, seemed well-composed and exchanged greetings with everyone on the court. Time passed, and Daniel finally got up the courage to ask Dawn for a date. They went dancing and fell in love. About a year later, they were married.
For the first six months of their marriage, Daniel and Dawn did everything they could to serve each other. There wasn’t a cross word between them. Instead, they complimented each other—often. This was a marriage made in heaven—so they thought.
The honeymoon period eventually fades. And that’s okay. God designed this process to take place in marriage for a reason.
One day, Daniel mentioned to Dawn that she might consider another way of doing something in the house. Dawn broke down and cried. Daniel felt terrible and tried to console her. Slowly, incrementally, their honeymoon period began to fade. They began to realize later that marriage is more than the honeymoon, as both began to see things in each other they had overlooked before.
From that time on, though, they set themselves to look at each other’s strengths and minimize any perceived weaknesses. They eventually became happy parents and even happier grandparents. Is this your story too? Or perhaps things haven’t gone so well—or you have yet to experience marriage.
Know that marriages can indeed be happy and healthy. It takes marriage partners showing tender loving care toward each other. Successful marriages are built on sacrifice and service to one another. This is difficult because we look more to our own wants and needs than we do to those of others. Yet God didn’t intend for it to be as difficult as we might make it. He desires that marriage be a union of utmost focus and care, and great happiness, with His help.
Marriage established by God
The very first marriage is found in the Bible in the book of Genesis. Here’s the account of the first man and woman, Adam and Eve, being brought together:
“But for Adam there was not found a helper comparable to him. And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. Then the rib which the Lord God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man. And Adam said: ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’ Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:20-24).
Becoming “one flesh” is the operative phrase here, for it describes the purpose and goal of the institution of marriage. Remember this!
God, not man, established the marriage union at creation. By Him marriage exists, not only for now but forever. The word forever is used deliberately. When we come to understand that the marriage union typifies the oneness of God the Father and Jesus Christ and human beings, then the concept of marriage takes on much deeper meaning (compare John 17:11).
Committing to love beyond infatuation
A man and woman often assume that the bliss they feel before marriage will automatically continue throughout their lives. They don’t realize that God formed us in such a way to be initially drawn to a potential spouse. We call it chemistry, and in fact it is.
Dr. Pat Love has written: “The delightful influence of infatuation makes us dangerously inclined to make decisions we may later regret . . . It is important, though, to realize that infatuation is merely the earliest stage of love. Do not mistake this temporary power surge for a permanent condition, or confuse it with true love” (Pat Love, The Truth About Love, 2001, p. 31). We will see more about this shortly.
In any case, as we’ve already seen, the honeymoon period eventually fades. This is inevitable. God determined in our makeup to allow this process to take place in marriage, and for good reason. He has a great purpose for human beings—that we learn and build godly character in order to share eternity with Him in His family forever.
When a honeymoon fades, a young couple suddenly begins to face the truth about true love—involving each partner respecting, loving and serving the other. Now the newly married husband and wife can get down to working on their marriage in order to make the marriage work. The marriage union can be cultivated and brought to a deeper love. God can and will help you in this.
Other people offering sound counsel can help too. There are of course many publications on the subject. You might, for example, read Dr. John Gottman’s book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (2015).
What about cohabitation or living together?
Before going further, we should consider the fact that many today think the way to head off marital troubles is through a trial run of cohabitation or living together before marriage—often even maintaining this lifestyle and never marrying.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops reports: “It’s no secret that many couples are cohabiting, that is, living together in a sexual relationship without marriage. Currently, 60% of all marriages are preceded by cohabitation, but fewer than half of cohabiting unions end in marriage.
“Many couples believe—mistakenly—that cohabitation will lower their risk of divorce. This is an understandable misconception, since many people are the children of divorce, or have other family members or friends who have divorced. Other reasons for living together include convenience, financial savings, companionship and security, and a desire to move out of their parents’ house” (“Cohabitation,” ForYourMarriage.org).
According to an article at the nonpartisan Pew Research Center: “Changes in marriage and childbearing have reshaped the American family over the past half-century. Adults are marrying later in life, and a rising share are forgoing marriage altogether. The rise in unmarried people, in turn, has contributed to increasing shares of U.S. births outside of marriage and children living with an unmarried parent” (Gretchen Livingston, “Family Life Is Changing in Different Ways Across Urban, Suburban and Rural Communities in the U.S.,” June 19, 2018, emphasis added).
James, a university instructor, was surprised when some of his students spoke freely about cohabitation as if it were a new and wise lifestyle. Of course, people have lived in such relationships throughout history, but not to the degree we see today of being so commonplace and even an expected relationship step.
Does God regard this as wise? His Word tells us, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12; Proverbs 16:25). In fact, God declares all sexual relations outside of marriage to be sin.
What is so important about marriage?
Still, many ask: Why marry someone if you can cohabit with him or her? Given what various circumstances may reveal, the disparities of perspectives, and desire to maintain or improve one’s economic situation, doesn’t this make sense?
Yet God desires and established marriage because it involves a covenant commitment that provides oneness. The apostle Paul explained how human marriage is to parallel a higher, divine-level relationship:
“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.
“So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones. ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’” (Ephesians 5:22-31).
Paul further notes: “This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the Church. Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband” (Ephesians 5:32-33). While the earthly marriage relationship is only for this physical life, it represents a higher spiritual marriage between Christ and His people that will never end.
Obviously there’s more to human marriage than the “love cocktail,” the chemistry that brings a man and woman together. Yet this is an important step that God has provided to bring a man and woman together as one to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28). “And why one? He seeks godly offspring” (Malachi 2:15). God designed marriage and family to facilitate moral upbringing in His ways (Deuteronomy 6:6-7), with the ultimate goal being to bring billions of children into His divine family (Hebrews 2:10).
“Falling in love”
Of course, God designed the process of bringing couples together in the first place. It starts with an emotional attraction, as is well recognized even in medical science.
Dr. Pat Love writes: “The brain is an incredible creation; it begins working long before your birth and doesn’t stop until you fall in love. The infatuation syndrome is truly an example of Mother Nature at her finest [or rather, as we understand, the handiwork of the Creator God]. All the predictable behaviors that accompany the falling-in-love experience are brought on by a naturally orchestrated, drastic change in brain chemistry . . . Our brain becomes saturated with a love cocktail comprised of PEA [phenylethylamine] and several other excitatory neurotransmitters, including dopamine and norepinephrine . . . Infatuation is nature’s way of getting you to meet, mate, procreate, and produce healthy offspring” (pp. 28-31).
This represents what we call “falling in love.” Bells ring. Whistles scream. Suddenly two are in love! The taste for food and drink diminishes. Other material desires dissipate. Remember that God’s instruction to a man and woman was to multiply and fill the earth? This is how it all begins. God has ingrained within us the drive to marry and have children. Thunderstruck, we throw logic to the wind. Wisdom can wait, right?
Infatuation is only the first step to a true or lasting love. When the honeymoon is over, that’s when true love begins.
This initial feeling is often misunderstood as the way a marriage will continue “’til death do us part.” When it doesn’t, some jump ship, sometimes into “shark-infested waters.” Not a good move.
Infatuation is only the first step to a true or lasting love. When the honeymoon is over, that’s when true love begins. True love takes dedicated work, exercising conscientious efforts to care for your spouse. This isn’t always easy. If it were, everyone would do it. There would be no divorce.
Why isn’t this easy? Because human flesh is weak (Matthew 26:41; 2 Corinthians 12:9), and corrupted human nature through Satan’s influence makes us even weaker and resistant to what’s right (Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 8:7; Ephesians 2:2). These are hard thoughts to accept, though they are nevertheless true.
How then can we go beyond the honeymoon stage and keep our marriages happy and healthy? Here are some actions that may seem small, but God said that if we’re faithful in small things, He will give us greater things.
Five ways to build a good marriage
Let’s consider some practical ways to enjoy the blessings of a good working marriage. The five pointers listed here are a good starting point. With further thought and study, you can make your own list to include many more.
1. Be each other’s best friend.
Is your spouse your best friend? If so, you might already be doing what follows here.
Be creative about making time for each other. Spend time together at home and wherever you go—and time alone with each other when you can. If you have young children, it may be a challenge to go out on dates. But try to find times for that, perhaps lunch or dinner out, maybe asking close friends or family to watch your kids. During these dates, leave the problems behind and focus on what you love and like most about your husband or wife. This is no time to argue or compete. Ask about your spouse, what his or her goals are and how you can serve as a better partner. This works.
Marriage is not a 50/50 proposition. God expects us to give 100 percent to one’s marriage partner. Your husband or wife is the closest to you of all people—who has your back at all times. Show kindness, sensitivity and generosity in little ways. Give your husband or wife your attention, consideration and love. Next to God, make your spouse the center of your world—again, your best friend!
2. Help and provide for each other.
One way to deepen your friendship is by helping to meet each other’s needs and wants.
Husbands, if your wife asks or even hints about some needs around the house, like cleaning out the garage or a room in the house, or for help in the kitchen after a meal, set yourself to do these things.
With our demanding society and job requirements, it’s easy to work eight hours and then come home and crash, asking your wife to bring you a cold drink and serve you dinner in front of the television. If you want a happier marriage, try fulfilling your wife’s wishes around the house. And take her out shopping—for herself. As actor John Candy said in the 1987 movie Planes, Trains & Automobiles, “Like your job; love your wife.”
Wives, if your husband asks for something in the home that might improve it and you can accommodate that, try to do so. Your husband might not talk much about his desires, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t think about them.
Find ways to help meet your spouse’s needs and longings. He or she has likely already hinted about them. Showing love for one another in this way will help keep loving feelings alive. God tells us, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when the desire comes, it is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12).
3. Comfort each other.
At times, one or both of the partners in a marriage will feel badly about some circumstance. It might be deeply traumatic, such as the loss of a family member or friend. As the closest friends to one another, husbands and wives are there to help and comfort one another always, especially during hard times.
Of course, our foremost reliance in everything is on God. And we should be praying to Him for help and guidance, each spouse praying for one another, as well as husband and wife praying to God together. You might also consider asking friends or a good counselor about ways to comfort your spouse through difficulties.
Do not sell short the opportunity to comfort your spouse in times of stress or grief. Ask God to help you provide the comfort he or she needs during challenging times.
4. Have fun together.
Of course, marriage is not just about sharing the hard times—it’s also about enjoying good times together.
An important way to deepen a loving friendship with your spouse is to take the time to have fun together. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. People love to laugh, a wonderful activity that’s healthy for us in our marriages.
One husband said his wife always seemed to laugh at him, not necessarily with him. He took it in stride: “There’s no extra charge for laughing at me!” He told her that if he’d known how funny he was, he would have been a comedian. She said he already was! Be grateful for the small gifts God has given you, and try not to take yourself too seriously.
And find fun things to do together, whether just the two of you or with family and friends. It could be playing cards, dancing, bowling, dining out, sporting activities, shopping, jigsaw puzzles, taking walks, sharing a hobby, entertaining others, playing video games, visiting attractions, to name but a few.
You can even have fun in the two of you sitting down at the table and jotting down activities you can enjoy together. Enjoy one another’s company and make some good memories.
5. Be sweet to each other.
Something most wives want is for their husbands to be sweet to them. “Sweet” here might sound feminine to many men, but it just means treating someone with caring and sensitive kindness. Speak to and treat your spouse in a thoughtful and endearing way. That’s being sweet.
Can a man be sweet? In a book of the Bible devoted to love between a man and woman, we see the man saying to the woman, “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, come with me” (Song of Solomon 2:10, New International Version). And he offers much more praise besides—as the woman also does to him.
Husbands and wives should call one another by such endearing terms and let each know how precious they are to the other—speaking words of love and praise. This does not mean saying sweet words in the ear to get what we want. We should say sweet words of honor to our spouses and mean them.
One husband remarked that his wife wanted to hear him say something sweet to her more than once, and even at least once a day. That’s not asking too much. Successful marriages are built in part on saying kind and sweet words to each other.
Remember, then, to be your husband or wife’s best friend, to help and provide for each other in even little things, to comfort one another, to have fun together and to be sweet to each other. These are vital ingredients to a happier and healthier marriage—to make your marriage last through this physical life and, in maintaining covenant commitment and care, helping prepare you for life in the ultimate spiritual marriage relationship with Christ that will continue on forever.
A Higher Purpose in Marriage
Is close human companionship, reproduction and child-rearing all there is to marriage? Or was there a greater goal or purpose behind its institution?
Amazingly, the human marriage union, divinely designed and instituted by God (Genesis 2:24), was meant to portray, in physical type, the marriage between Jesus Christ and the Church, the assembly of God’s called out and spiritually converted people, also known as true Christians or saints.
The apostle Paul shared marital instructions for a good and healthy marriage in Ephesians 5. And toward the end of the chapter, he provided a glimpse of the ultimate fulfillment of the marital relationship: “For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church” Ephesians 5:30-32, emphasis added).
The great mystery is that the human marriage union is a precursor to Christ’s marriage to His Bride, the Church (2 Corinthians 11:2; Revelation 19:7-8). And there’s more to this great mystery.
Heavenly Jerusalem and marriage
Jesus shows us that the ultimate fulfillment of our marriage to Him, the Lamb, leads everyone to the New Jerusalem, which will come down from heaven. The apostle John described a vision of that future in which an angel told him: “‘Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God” (Revelation 21:9-10).
This highlights the saints’ part in the New Jerusalem, but we also know that this heavenly city to yet come down will include the salvation of all of willing humankind for all time: “But the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all” (Galatians 4:26). This includes the salvation of all humanity who will ultimately follow God (see 1 Timothy 2:4; Romans 11:35; John 3:16-17).
The saints of the Church of this age are the “firstfruits” of a much greater harvest of human lives (see James 1:18), the greater ingathering to take place during the 1,000-year period of Christ’s coming reign over the nations and the last judgment period to follow (Revelation 20:4-6; Revelation 20:11-13).
Scripture shows that Christ is now preparing a place for the saints and eventually all mankind (John 14:2) in the heavenly Jerusalem, the mother of all God‘s spiritual children, for all time.
Marriage is forever!
The marriage union of oneness was designed for human beings in covenant with one another and God, and it will be ultimately fulfilled when all human beings who desire to be saved will enjoy a perfect oneness in covenant with Jesus Christ and the Father (see 1 Corinthians 15:22-28; Revelation 21:22). This is what earthly human marriage is meant to depict.
The marriage union of oneness experienced in our physical lifetime today is a type of humankind’s ultimate marriage to Christ that will never end (Ephesians 5:31-32). So by the design and will of God, the divine institution of marriage is forever! Again, not the particular marital unions of today but marriage itself. (Still, we will no doubt remain close to our earthly spouse and others we are close to in this life throughout eternity in God’s divine family.)
Be sure to learn more about what God intended in the marital union in our eye-opening free study guide Marriage and Family: The Missing Dimension.