Anne and William were not looking for marriage. They thought they were happy living their lives as singles. Then one day they met—and although the month was a cool February, for them it might as well have been the Fourth of July! Suddenly they saw glittering stars and fireworks bursting in air accompanied by soaring strains of heavenly music. One year later they married.
Their honeymoon condition lasted six months. One day, William inadvertently asked Anne about something that would normally be of no consequence. But she burst into tears and said, “I am so sorry. I had no idea that bothered you.” William felt so small he could have walked upright under the carpet. “I'm sorry too, and I never intended to ever make you cry.”
Eventually every honeymoon ends and every couple must get down to the reality of making marriage work.
What makes a marriage?
In our supposedly advanced countries, about half of all marriages end in divorce. Think what this means: The husband and wife suffer immediate disappointment and perhaps long-term depression, and children, if there are any involved, are emotionally scarred for years.
When spouses divorce, each often blames the other for their breakup: “It's not my fault; it's her fault. She didn't want to do the things I liked to do.” Or, “He's the one who wouldn't communicate. He's the one who was wrong.” Often there is a “marital iceberg” of hidden differences residing below the surface of their relationship.
But marriage, like life, doesn't have to end this way. You can make your marriage happy (or happier) by choosing to do so. You can start down the road to marital happiness this very day. Happier marriages result from making right choices.
Life's a choice
Life is an ongoing series of choices. Some of the choices we make naturally create anxiety and disagreement while other choices make our lives noticeably happier. Our life experiences are directly related to the decisions we make daily.
Since one major factor in marital happiness is belief in God, let's see how God views the importance of making choices.
Happier marriages appear to be directly related to how much a husband and wife allow God into their relationship. Since God is the one who instituted the marriage relationship, it makes sense that He is the one who holds the keys to a happy marriage.
Here then is the record of how marriage began: “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 2:22-23 Genesis 2:22-23 22 And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her to the man.
23 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.
American King James Version×).
God, not man, instituted marriage. Marital problems often develop when people assume that human beings invented marriage as a convenience.
Human nature, being shortsighted and always wanting to please itself, naturally opts for the quick fix. Many men and women short-circuit their marriages because of overly indulgent selfishness. Floundering marriages don't have to roil in selfish stalemates. By choosing not to be selfish, you can literally choose to make your marriage happier.
Choices in marriage bring good or bad results
God intended that the marriage relationship and making right choices be synonymous. He gives us freedom of choice and reveals that He created us to make choices daily. He tells us, for example, “I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19 Deuteronomy 30:19I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both you and your seed may live:
American King James Version×, emphasis added throughout).
God gives us the opportunity and obligation to make choices throughout our lives. But the divorce record shows that we're not very good at making right choices.
God doesn't stop us from making wrong decisions. He knows that our flesh is weak and that our selfish nature makes us weaker. But He also knows that when we rise above our selfishness, we build good character. If we fail to understand that, we fail to understand a great deal about God and His plan and purpose for us.
Here's a key to understanding choices and their consequences: God has set in motion spiritual laws for human beings that lead to good or bad results, depending on the choices we make. Obey God's laws and good results automatically happen. Break God's immutable laws and bad results happen.
That's why it's important for marriage partners to make unselfish choices relative to each other. Selfishness brings bad results. Un selfishness brings good results. The choice is up to you.
So what choices can we make to improve our marriages? Let's examine several.
Choose mutual submission. The Bible is clear that the husband is the leader of the family, as we will soon see. However, Scripture also emphasizes mutual submission among all people, deferring to one another when possible, whether in marriage or in life.
The apostle Paul, in Ephesians 5:21 Ephesians 5:21Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.
American King James Version×, speaks of “submitting to one another in the fear of God.” Peter advises husbands to “dwell with [their wives] with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life …” (1 Peter 3:7 1 Peter 3:7Likewise, you husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.
American King James Version×).
Modern religion and culture have generally refused this divine instruction. Is there something good to be said about mutual submission, especially in marriage? There certainly is. The opposite of submitting to one another is to oppose each other. When do two wrongs make one right? The way to peace in life and in marriage is to make peace.
Making peace requires humility. Human beings aren't accustomed to humility; this is a dog-eat-dog world. However, there are diminishing returns to always being right. If we happen to be right in a marital disagreement, it's counterproductive to gloat. If we are wrong and we come to realize we're wrong, we should quickly, and genuinely, admit it, apologize if warranted, and move on.
Those who enjoy a happy marriage also realize that humility rules. Good character is built and peace enters the relationship when one person humbles himself or herself to restore balance.
Based on the divorce rate, many couples give little thought to mutual submission. The very idea of humility in life and in marriage cuts across the grain of selfish human nature.
Humility is a gift from God; He is the author of mutual submission. The husband and wife who mutually submit do so with God as their guide. An improved relationship follows automatically.
In a happy marriage, both husband and wife mutually submit themselves to one another. None will do so perfectly, but the right intent and purpose needs to be there. Quite simply, when mutual submission is the prevailing attitude of both spouses, peace pervades and prevails in that marriage.
Choose not to change your spouse. When a man and woman decide to get married, they don't give much thought to changing their partners because they are so enraptured with each other. But time can and does change this amorous and intoxicating condition.
As the husband and wife come to see each other up close day and night, the honeymoon feelings gradually wear off and reality sets in. Suddenly they see traits and habits they weren't aware of or overlooked before, and those formerly inconsequential habits take on greater significance than they did in a forgiving honeymoon dreamland.
Husbands, have you ever hinted that your wife change a habit that has begun to annoy you only to find your wife in tears after the mere mention of it?
The proverbial toothpaste controversy is a case in point. One spouse squeezes the tube from the bottom up; the other squeezes it anywhere he or she grabs hold of it. Disagreements on seemingly insignificant acts suddenly turn into arguments. Arguments can precipitate cruel accusations, suddenly including unrelated nonissues. Before you know it, the honeymoon is over and both husband and wife begin to wonder if they married the right person.
If this situation is familiar, you've just come face-to-face with life and human nature. It is better to absorb the smaller differences and not try to change your spouse on minor issues if you want peace and continued love and respect to govern your marriage.
True, differences of opinion are often subjective, but by any other name, arguments can and do surface at times. Again, such otherwise unexpected marital disruptions come from making choices, usually poor or selfish ones.
Rest assured that you cannot avoid making choices in your marriage, whether you're newly married or you've been married for many years. Couples who understand that all human beings must make choices on a daily basis also realize that their marriage will enjoy greater security and happiness when built on right choices. If you want a happier marriage, there simply is no other choice.
A husband and wife who have remained happily married for many years have accepted each other's faults or differences and learned to work around the minor issues in their marriage. They have deliberately chosen to avoid making mountains out of molehills.
Choose to serve your marriage partner. We've discussed how to rise above the desire to change our spouse, so let's progress from not doing something detrimental to our mates to doing something productive for them. Any good action in marriage, as in life, likely has to do with a deliberate, outgoing service toward another person. You, the husband, can serve your wife, and you, the wife, can serve your husband.
God, through the apostle Paul, provides married couples the perfect formula to mutual submission and a happier relationship: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord … Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her” (Ephesians 5:22 Ephesians 5:22Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands, as to the Lord.
American King James Version×, 25).
The Bible's instruction is clear: Wives should submit to their own husbands as they do to Jesus Christ.
Wives can submit to Jesus Christ since they know that Jesus is merciful, patient and loving. But what about wives submitting to husbands the same way? The thought would probably generate a response something like: “But my husband is not like Jesus Christ. The more I submit to him, the more he takes advantage of me.” No argument so far. This is why Jesus Christ inspired the instruction quoted above for husbands. Notice it again carefully.
Husbands are told to love and serve the wife as Christ loves and serves the Church. How much and in what ways does Jesus love and serve the Church?
He loved and served the Church to His very death and continues that love to this day and forever. His love and service involved giving Himself unconditionally to the very same human beings who took His life. Therefore, husbands, we have the privilege and obligation to love and protect our wives with that same kind of mercy, patience and sensitivity. When a husband and a wife mutually submit to and serve each other, peace happens.
Again, we deliberately choose how we relate to our marriage partner, either to selfishly demand our way or to unselfishly give up our way to make our mate happy and secure.
Naturally, a spouse who takes advantage of the unselfish service of the other on an ongoing basis will create an unbalanced and unhappy marriage. And husbands, in the leading role, are more prone to do this than wives, which is why Paul explicitly instructs husbands to love their wives as Jesus loves the Church—with a wholehearted, outgoing, self-sacrificial love.
However, a selfish spouse, whether husband or wife, is doing harm to himself or herself and to the marriage relationship when he or she selfishly demands his or her own way in a disagreement. Hopefully both husband and wife aren't simultaneously acting selfishly. When both spouses persist in such selfishness, divorce often looms ahead.
Happiness results when both husband and wife make up their minds to serve the other. That means choosing to do the right and considerate thing toward your marriage partner. When both spouses continually make the right choices toward each other, happiness and security bond their relationship, and their union will be blessed with many years of happiness.
Choose to place God first in your life. The most important choice any husband and wife can make in their marriage relationship is to place God first in their lives. Placing God first in your marriage, even above your spouse, is not a competitive act but a complementary one.
The marriage covenant is made with your spouse and with God, who instituted marriage. God expects married couples to remain dedicated to each other through Him. Indeed, the best way to maintain the marriage relationship beyond the public wedding is to remain privately committed in mind and heart to God and His spiritual laws and principles, including those that relate to marriage and personal relationships.
To see our relationship priorities, notice that Jesus Christ gave the two great commandments as, first, love for God and, second, love for neighbor (Matthew 22:37-40 Matthew 22:37-40 37 Jesus said to him, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.
38 This is the first and great commandment.
39 And the second is like to it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
American King James Version×). These two commandments represent the whole of the Ten Commandments. The first four of the Ten Commandments show how we put God first in our lives. The last six commandments show how we love our neighbor, including our spouse, as ourselves.
Putting God first assures that a husband and wife will put each other ahead of themselves in their marital relationship. There is no competition between God and one's husband or wife. Both God and our partner are honored when God is the director of our lives—and no less so in our marriage relationship. When we look to God to guide us in all areas of our lives and especially as our lives affect our spouses, happiness and security reign.
Notice how highly God regards the marriage union: “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. 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 5:30-33 Ephesians 5:30-33 30 For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.
31 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined to his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.
32 This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.
33 Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.
American King James Version×).
Here is a great key to understanding why people get married in the first place. The marriage institution was designed by God from the very beginning for the purpose of procreating and populating the earth (Genesis 1:28 Genesis 1:28And God blessed them, and God said to them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.
American King James Version×), learning to live in peace and harmony through mutual submission and service (James 3:18 James 3:18And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.
American King James Version×) and learning the mutual love and respect shown between Jesus Christ and His Church.
Jesus even tells us that at His return He will marry His Church, after which the two will spend all eternity in a loving, divine relationship:
“Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife [the Church] has made herself ready. And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints [i.e., the members of the Church]. Then he said to me, 'Write: Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!' And he said to me, 'These are the true sayings of God'” (Revelation 19:7-9 Revelation 19:7-9 7 Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife has made herself ready.
8 And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.
9 And he said to me, Write, Blessed are they which are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he said to me, These are the true sayings of God.
American King James Version×).
As Paul told the Ephesians, the marriage union is designed to teach us about the relationship between Jesus Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:32 Ephesians 5:32This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.
American King James Version×). This great key alone can open the door of understanding to a strong and happier marriage.
When both marriage partners deliberately choose to put God first, through reading the Bible, praying together and discussing how they can improve their service to each other based on God's instructions, then happiness comes about automatically.
Choose marital happiness
Although much more could be added to the list of choices a couple can make in marriage, we suggest that you and your spouse sit down together and make your own list of ways that each of you can choose to help and serve the other.
William and Anne, the couple mentioned at the beginning, did just that. When both partners bring new ways of service to the table and discuss them humbly and openly, the chances of securing a happy or happier marriage go through the roof.
God has given every married couple the opportunity to choose marital happiness. He has given us instructions on how to do that. He tells us to choose the way to eternal life, and when we do, we will be blessed, both in this life and in the next.
Choose this day to serve your spouse as never before, and you will find a joy and peace that passes all human understanding. Choose marital happiness! GN